America’s Stonehenge

"Something there is that doesn't love a wall,
That wants it down.' I could say 'Elves' to him,
But it's not elves exactly, and I'd rather
He said it for himself."
-Robert Frost, "Mending Wall"

Yesterday my lovely bride Abbey and I went to America’s Stonehenge, a possibly archeological site just outside of Salem, New Hampshire. (Salem, NH, by the way is an unnecessarily confusingly close 37 miles from Salem, MA. Manchester, NH and Manchester, MA, and Concord, NH and Concord, MA are in a similar vein. As are Burlington, MA and Burlington, VT, although those last two at least have the decency to be separated by 200 miles. But that’s not what we’re here today to discuss…)

A short trail through the woods…

…leads to the main site…

which contains a maze of stone walls and chambers…

…about which several theories have been floated.

Some claim it to be a Native American megalithic site, for which there’s some decent evidence. Charcoal pits, pottery and other artifacts found on site have been dated to between 2,000 and 100 BC. There’s even evidence of a a stone slab being quarried in situ nearby.

Some researchers have even lined up walls and standing stones on the site with astronomical alignments, as a map there explains:

This stone, for example, would have had the summer solstice rise directly above it circa 1,800 BC:

As always, there are a few wrinkles with this theory, such as the fact that, given enough stones or lines, some are always going to line up with something. When I visited the Nazca lines in Peru in 2009, museums and guides in the area noted that 20% of the lines could be lined up with astronomical occurences. 20% could be lined up with sources of water. 20% could be lined up with mountain peaks and other features of the landscape. In other words, there were so many of them that 20% could be lined up with almost anything you choose.

It’s also worth noting that many of these stones have been “set up” from presumed “fallen” locations, and that 20th century clearing of the trees has occurred to create openings in the skyline. I.e., it would be very difficult at this point to know what the exact arrangement of stones, or view of the sky from them, was when the site was originally inhabited.

Further muddying the waters, the site was the location of the farm of one Jonathan Pattee (and family) in the early 1800s. Historical records show he used stone structures there for storage (cellars etc.) and also rearranged and cleared a lot of stone off of the site. Signs there also made reference to more stone being carried of in the 19th century when the site was used for quarrying purposes.

In the 1930s, the site, already of interest to picnickers, occultists, and my dear friend H.P. Lovecraft, was purchased by William Goodwin, who “restored” many of the structures there. Some people seem to be of the opinion that Goodwin only did maintenance-type work, setting up obviously toppled stones, restoring rocks that had been scattered from walls, etc. Others have the suspicion that he extensively rearranged things to support his pet theory, that Irish monks had established a settlement in the area around 900 AD.

Barry Fell, a subsequent researcher, believed that the site may have been even older, and contained evidence of Phoenician occupation. There is a small museum on site, which includes petroglyphs said to resemble Old World languages including Phoenican and Celtic:

Whatever one makes of all these claims, somebody clearly built a lot of something there. My own personal feeling is that there was some kind of original megalithic site in the area. Subsequent occupants made such extensive changes, though, that it’s very difficult at this point to determine what was there, or how it was arranged. Whatever it was or is, though, it’s pretty damn neat!

My favorite was the Oracle Chamber, guarded below by the lovely Abbey, which really is kind of eerie inside, and features some advanced drainage and acoustics:

I’d kind of like to go back there for a ghost hunt sometime:

It should be noted that the current owners since the late 50s have been careful stewards, making restorations only according to historical photographs, and sponsoring archaeological research at the site. On top of which, they have an alpaca farm there, which firmly establishes them as awesome in my book:

The opening quote, by the way, besides being suitably stone wall and elf-themed, was inspired by the fact that Robert Frost wrote “Mending Wall”, and many other of his most well-known poems, at a family farm in Derry, New Hampshire, right next-door to Salem. If you should happen to be in Derry you might, as Abbey and I did, stop off at the super-yummy Windham Junction Country Kitchen:

Some might fine meatloaf there, let me tell you!

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