May 28, 2017

Wild Men In The Woods: Strange Creatures Seen In Haverhill, Massachusetts

I was born and grew up in Haverhill, Massachusetts. Like most classic New England mill towns, it was big enough to qualify as a city but small enough so I felt like I knew everything about it. I was wrong. Something I didn't know when I lived there: it was also home to a couple of hairy wild men. Hideous subhuman monsters lurked in the woods surrounding the city.

Maybe I suspected this even as a child. When I was quite small I saw Lon Chaney Jr. in Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein. Chaney of course played the Wolfman in this low-budget 1948 comedy. The movie also featured Frankenstein's monster (Glenn Strange) and Dracula (the great Bela Lugosi himself), but somehow only Chaney's lycanthropic anti-hero managed to worm its way into my brain.

Lon Chaney Jr. in Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein
After seeing Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein I had a nightmare where I looked into a mirror and saw myself as a werewolf. I woke up screaming. Later I had a dream that I was in my backyard when two hairy hands grabbed me from behind. Again, I woke up screaming.

Around the same time I saw a movie called Dinosaurus (1960). The plot involves construction workers accidentally awakening hibernating dinosaurs and a Neanderthal caveman. The dinosaurs didn't scare me, but the caveman did. A scene where the Neanderthal looked into a house's windows haunted my dreams, and I had a nightmare where a caveman was peering into my family's living room through the windows.

Perhaps these were just the dreams of a little kid who was easily terrified by bad movies, but maybe I knew deep down that something weird, hairy and humanoid was lurking around Haverhill. Recently my childhood suspicions have been confirmed: two wild men have been seen there in the past.

A still from Dinosaurus
In the summer of 1826, a Haverhill man named Andrew Frink came down with a heavy fever. His family treated it the best they could, but he grew worse and worse by the day. Eventually Frink became completely delirious. While his family was not looking he climbed out of bed and ran from the house.

Several days later, people reported seeing a "wild man" at the edge of town. Hoping that it was really Andrew Frink, a search party scoured the woods. Much to their surprise, the wild man was not Frink, but was "literally a wild man from the woods."

The story comes from George W. Chase's The History of Haverhill, Massachusetts (1861), and Chase goes on to write:

It was supposed from his appearance he was some unfortunate, who, having perhaps met with some disappointment in life, had, in a fit of insanity fled from society.

Chase doesn't say what happened to the wild man. Perhaps they just let him go back into the woods. Poor Andrew Frink was found several weeks later. His body was found in a stream where he had apparently drowned while delirious.

A wild man reappeared in Haverhill in July of 1909. Here is an article from the July 14, 1909 issue of The Boston Post:

WILD MAN HUNT ON IN HAVERHILL

Haverhill, July 12 - The police of this city have been searching the woods near Gile Street and towards Newton, N.H. for a wildman who has been terrorizing the residents in that vicinity. He appears at dusk, very lightly clad. 

That's it. I couldn't find any more information. Did they catch the wild man, or did he escape to have lightly-clad adventures elsewhere?

Wild man stories were common in nineteenth century and early twentieth century newspapers. Sometimes the wild men were described as apelike beings similar to Bigfoot, as was the case with the Winsted wild man from Connecticut. At other times the wild men seemed more human, as if they were primitive forms of mankind that had yet to emerge from the wilderness. Or perhaps they were civilized humans that were devolving to a more animalistic state.

Wild men have been part of Western civilization for thousands of years. Somewhere out there, where the fields turn to forests and the roads end, strange animalistic men have always lurked. In the Sumerian epic Gilgamesh, the gods send a wild man named Enkidu to harass King Gilgamesh. The ancient Greeks and Romans believed the forests were full of satyrs, wild half-human creatures, and they are even mentioned in the Bible.

But wild beasts of the desert shall lie there; and their houses shall be full of doleful creatures; and owls shall dwell there, and satyrs shall dance there. (Isaiah 13:21)

John the Baptist, who roamed the wilderness wearing animal skins, also has some characteristics of the wild man archetype, although he's portrayed more positively than the satyrs that Isaiah fulminated against. In Medieval and Renaissance Europe, wild men were believed to haunt the forests, and nobles often covered themselves with leaves and hair to impersonate them during masquerades. Today, Americans see Bigfoot or Sasquatch hiding among the trees.

If wild men can be found in so many places, why not also in Haverhill, Massachusetts? Now that I'm an adult I'm not frightened by scary movies (well, maybe a little), but I do still wonder if there are wild men out there in the woods, waiting for the right moment to show themselves and peer into the living room window.

1 comment:

Anne Mason said...

Great read; however, now I'm thinking I won't be able to sleep tonight for fear of wild men peering into my windows!