Weird New England and Old George


A while ago I was preparing to write about two odd places that I remembered from my childhood in New England. More like landmarks really.  We had encountered them on those Sunday family drives.  I hesitated at that time because I wanted to check the details about them online.

The first was called the Witch’s Den. I think it was situated in a wooded area or park somewhere in the Saugus area. To reach it we had to park the car and follow a path that wound through the woods. The “den” itself was little more than a huge boulder behind which the path passed. There was an entrance on the side away from the path. Perhaps the word “entrance” is too generous. It was more of a cleft on the bottom of the boulder. The whole place had a creepy feel to it. Not for any supernatural type reason. Litter was scattered around and a pervasive smell hung over the vicinity. More than likely it was the night time haunt of teenagers.

But when I looked for the Witch’s Den online, I could find no trace of it.

The second landmark was called the Devil’s Footprint. When I went looking for it, my search returned a list of a dozen similarly named sites.  And none of them sounded like the one I remember. It was highly visible from the road. My father called our attention to it as we drove by.  We must have stopped or at least pulled over for a minute, for I got a good look at it. It was another immense boulder, the flat face of which was viewable from the direction from which we were coming. Near the top there was a foot-like impression, one with three toes.  (So much for cloven hooves.) I wondered if it were not a dinosaur footprint. The terrible lizard.

I was surprised, and pleased to discover that one of the links from my search query for the Devil’s Footprint had a reference to one of my favorite personages of the 18th Century – George Whitefield. He was a contemporary of the Wesleys and like them preached on both sides of the Atlantic, and was instrumental in what is known as the Great Awakening. The website points to a church in Ipswich, where a flat rock on its grounds bears a single, might I say, shoe print. According to the story, Old Scratch popped in when George was preaching there, and was forcefully evicted.

I included George as a pivotal character in my first screenplay. I set the action in the London of the 1740s at the time when George was preaching in the open air to fairgoers at Moorfields. It’s a backdrop to the story of a young chimneysweep, questing throughout the city for a father figure.

I dearly hope to see it filmed some day.