Shortly after stepping out of my new home with my
hound for our first stroll through the historic seacoast village of Mystic,
Connecticut, a woman pulled over in her van and yelled, "Excuse me."
Assuming she was a tourist wanting directions to
Mystic Pizzaor some other attraction, I wasn't prepared
for what she really wanted to know: "Do you realize the back of your skirt
is tucked into your underwear?"
What a debut in my new hometown—I don’t think this
is what National Geographic meant when they named Mystic one of the top
100 adventure towns in the United States.
Once recovered from my wardrobe “malfunction,” I continued
toward downtown Mystic with Bailey, a beagle/basset hound mix, to embark on a
new life and shake off my old, sedentary landlubbing ways.
No longer did I want to be known as the lady who
always talks about losing weight but never does it. No longer would I sit
around daydreaming about becoming thin and famous so I could hire someone else
to clean my house. I had a real shot at it now that I lived in a place where I
couldn’t help but fall into a swash-buckling adventure—the kind that might
inspire me to write a bestseller.
Straddling both sides of the Mystic River in the
towns of Groton and Stonington, the village of Mystic takes its name from an
Indian word, “river running to the sea.” Others call the Mystic River an arm of
the sea for it’s not technically a river, but a long, narrow bay. With its
scenic views of tall ships, islands, lighthouses and secluded coves, it has
attracted such legendary honeymooners as Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. It
is a place where those who cross the oceans gather to swap stories and repair
their boats. It is where famous explorers are born, visit, get married, or
embark from on their way to becoming lost at sea.
To launch my new career as an adventuress, I
decided to walk Bailey to the haunts and homes of such celebrated voyagers as
Amelia Earhart, the first woman to fly solo
across the Atlantic, and Dr. Robert
Ballard, the discoverer of Titanic’s watery grave.
the time for me to join their ranks, to start living life on the edge. Maybe I
could even become thin and famous like Amelia Earhart. Like her, I am fairly tall, my middle
initial is M, I have a gap between my two front teeth, and until I looked it
up, I couldn’t spell medieval either (more on that and her nearby secret wedding
later). Unlike Amelia, I wasn’t thin, but that was about to change. I would
stop lying around reading about adventurers and do what it took to become
My husband, Jim, and I were transferred to the
Mystic area from New York by his company, which meant I had to quit my job as a
full-time writer for a college in campus communications. Searching for a new job
in a community revolving around life at sea was not easy for a confirmed desk
sitter like me. Finding the area already teeming with underemployed writers and
publicists, I was glad when my former employer hired me back as a consulting
writer. Although freelancing allowed me to work from home in my pajamas, it
offered no retirement benefits. Being famous would help pay the bills.
Perhaps I could follow the path of prominent
authors such as Herman Melvillewho went
to sea on a whaler (a ship designed to catch whales and process their oil) when
he couldn't find a job. Although he deserted and had to live among cannibals
for a time, he found the inspiration to write his first novel. Further sea
adventures, which included mutiny and learning about a whale that rammed and
sank the Essex, led to the creation of his magnum opus: Moby Dick. I, myself, could barely
get through this “Great American Novel,” but someone must like it. Now that
I lived within walking distance of the last wooden whaleship in the world, the Charles
W. Morgan, I wondered if that was a
sign. Perhaps I could enlist as a deck swabber on its next epic voyage. The
house we purchased was adorned with a brass, whale-shaped door knocker. Now that
had to be a sign.
If following in the footsteps of a whaling writer
didn’t work, there was always the chance I could get famous by finding a dead
body—just like Bailey and our older daughter had. Although it didn’t make her into
an international celebrity, I use it as a party stopper whenever I want to be
the center of attention. Of course, I should really find my own body,
preferably of a well-known person. Celebrities were always coming to Mystic to vacation
or film movies.
Since I couldn’t count on finding a dead body,
famous or otherwise, and wasn’t sure yet how to embark on an epic voyage, I
decided to start small by becoming known in my new community. To begin, I would
write a story and title it, “The 7 Wonders of Mystic.” I finally became known
as a freelance writer in my former community when I wrote the feature article, “The
7 Wonders of Rockland County,” for Rockland Magazine. It didn’t make me
popular with the residents, however. Many were outraged when I didn’t write
about their favorite site, so the magazine held a vote for the 8th
Wonder—which, of course, created more excited readers. As they say (whoever
“they” are), “There is no such thing as bad publicity.”
Another benefit to writing “The 7 Wonders of
Mystic” would be the handy list of suggested sites to shout to visitors who held
up traffic asking what they should see (besides my underwear).
I also decided to design a “Mystic Seafarer’s
Trail.” When Jim and I visited Boston, we loved walking its “Freedom Trail”
because it gave us a clear self-guided path to follow with tidbits of
information along the way. Mystic, full of maritime wonders with fun facts,
certainly deserved to have its own trail.
National Geographic suggests that Mystic
visitors bike what it calls the 25-mile Vineyard Loop, which includes “some
hairy climbs that stops at two of the best wineries.” Hairy climbs? Although I
hoped to get thin, I didn’t want to have to hike or bike uphill to do it. No, I
would design the Mystic Seafarer’s Trail to avoid hills where possible. It
would include “The 7 Wonders” (once I figured out what they were), plus the stomping
grounds of legendary explorers, heroes, traitors and shipwreck survivors—as
well as those who went down with the ship.
With so many potential wonders to consider and adventures to try, I had a lot of ground—and water—to cover. So, every afternoon,
I checked my skirt and off Bailey and I went to follow a scent of our own...
at Fort Griswold, led by traitor Benedict Arnold in 1781, is no secret. But
what continues to puzzle historians is the whereabouts of British Major William
through with long pikes when leading a charge over the fort wall, Montgomery
was quickly avenged by his regiment who swarmed over the wall after him. When
Col. William Ledyardsurrendered the fort to the British, the fight
went from a battle to a massacre.
massacre, the living and dead were plundered of their possessions, including
their clothes.In the meantime, Benedict
Arnold ordered New Londonburned.
Arnold, a native of nearby Norwich and former general in the Continental Army,
used his knowledge of the American gun firing code to trick the colonists
at Fort Griswoldand New Londoninto thinking the approaching vessels were
American. More than half of the 160 vastly outnumbered colonists against the
800 British soldiers at Fort Griswold were killed, or some would say murdered,
in the massacre. Of those taken prisoner, many were never heard from again.
Those unable to walk were loaded into an artillery cart for transport to the
Thames River. The cart was let loose and careened out of control toward the
Thames River until it ran into an apple tree. One of the wounded, Stephen
his ride 45 years later in a letter to a newspaper: “The pain and anguish we
all endured in this rapid descent, as the wagon jumped and jostled over rocks
and holes, is inconceivable; and the jar in its arrest was like bursting the
cords of life asunder, and caused us to shriek with almost supernatural force.
Our cries were distinctly heard and noticed on the opposite side of the river,
(which is a mile wide) amidst all the confusion which raged in burning and
sacking the town.”
soldiers took the badly wounded defenders to the Ebenezer Avery House and left
them unattended and bleeding on the wooden floor boards. Hempstead recalled
that first terrible night: “None of our own people came to us till near
daylight the next morning, not knowing previous to that time, that the enemy
had departed…Thirty-five of us were lying on the bare floor—stiff, mangled, and
wounded in every manner, exhausted with pain, fatigue and loss of blood,
without clothes or any thing to cover us, trembling with cold and spasms of
extreme anguish, without fire or light, parched with excruciating thirst, not a
wound dressed nor a soul to administer to one of our wants, nor an assisting
hand to turn us during these long tedious hours of the night; nothing but
groans and unavailing sighs were heard, and two of our number did not live to
see the light of the morning, which brought with it some ministering angels to
Warner, who wanted to enlist to fight the hated British herself, learned her
uncle Edward Mills lay at the Avery House mortally wounded, she ran home for
his infant son and placed him in his dying arms. Now she hated the British even
One Mystic girl
recorded an account she read of the massacre in her diary: “There were more
than forty women of the Congregational Church in Groton who that day were made
widows, and no man was left at the next communion to pass the bread and wine.”[i]
Legend has it
that Major Montgomery was buried sitting up inside the ravelin (a V-shaped
mound of dirt), which protected the gate of Fort Griswold. Other British
soldiers were buried in the ditch outside the ravelin. According to Jonathan
Lincoln, Park Supervisor of Fort Trumbull State Park Management Unit, the
British later exhumed their dead for proper burial. Yet when Major Montgomery’s
niece came from England to claim her uncle’s body, all she retrieved from his
grave was his skull.
In 1985, when
ground penetrating radar was used to do an archeological survey, no bodies were
found. Since digging is not allowed, I thought I’d try my handy dandy EMF
detector despite my promise to myself not to use it again. Maybe his bones
would emit some sort of electromagnet frequency. No luck—not even when I
slipped through the tunnel-like passageway located under the mound where he was
can visit Fort Griswold to see the ravelin, the sword used to murder Col.
Ledyard and the plaques marking where Montgomery and Ledyard met their ends,
this once blood-soaked ground refuses to give up the rest of Major Montgomery’s
body. Could the spirit of Anna continue to hate the British so much she is
preventing the discovery of Montgomery’s headless bones?
marrying a veteran of that battle, Elijah Bailey, Anna Warner Baileybecame famous in the War of 1812 for removing
her red flannel petticoat in the middle of the street when soldiers needed
wadding to load their muskets in anticipation of a British attack. Anna and her
husband had no children and became inn keepers. She died in her 90s when a
spark from the fireplace landed on her clothes while she slept.
blood stains have long since faded on the floor boards of the Avery
House, the home still speaks to visitors at Fort Griswold State
Park. Inside is featured the very table where Lt. Ebenezer Avery had his
last breakfast before getting killed that day on September 6, 1781. Although
traitor Benedict Arnold is still burned in effigy in New London, the British and Americans have
long since mended their wounds and moved forward as friends and allies. Perhaps
the spirit of Major Montgomery has been invited to dine by the spirit of Lt.
Avery at his table until Montgomery’s body is recovered and reunited with his
head back in England. If the spirit of Anna Warner Baileyhas been invited to dine there as well, who
knows when that will be. (Acidic soil could have dissolved the bones, but
that’s not as interesting to contemplate.)
possibility is that colonist Captain
Shapley is hiding Major Montgomery’s bones
until his name is featured on the plaque marking the site where Montgomery met
his end. History states that Jordan
yet in Stephen Hempstead’s account of
the battle, he wrote that Major Montgomery was killed “having been thrust
through the body whilst in the act of scaling the walls at the S.W. bastion, by
Capt. Shapley." Did I just
discover something that could change a few words in a history book? I asked
Jonathan Lincoln, Park Supervisor, about the discrepancy.
replied, “We did a little
investigating. One of the other contemporary accounts of the Battle of Groton
Heightsby George Middleton states that Capt. Adam
Shapley andJordan Freemankilled Major Montgomery with long pikes. Rufus
Avery’s account does not mention the manner of Major Montgomery’s death at all.
Stephen Hempstead’s narrative is the only one that only
mentions Capt. Shapley in the killing of Major Montgomery. I think it is safe
to say that both participated in the death of Major Montgomery.”
I don’t blame Captain Shapelyif he is annoyed his
name didn’t make it on a plaque after doing something historically significant.
If I ever do something for the history books, I’d want a plaque too!
of the American Revolution named their Groton-based chapter after Anna Warner
Bailey. As a member, I attend their
meetings held at the Fort Griswold Museum. When I enter and leave the main meeting
room, I often take a moment to gaze at Anna’s portrait in search of clues in
her expression. Does she hold the secrets to this sacred ground?
Now that I lived closer to the Atlantic Ocean than
ever before, would I have more hurricanes to fear?
Hurricanes produce an endless supply of stories
and uncover secrets as they rearrange the landscape. In the mid-1950s, a hidden
underground chamber was revealed in Groton when a tree toppled over in a
hurricane. The raised root system revealed the opening of what some believe was
a tomb—a great addition to the collection of mysterious ruins hidden in the
woods in an area called Gungywamp .
intriguing ruin at that site is the calendar chamber. In pure Indiana Jones
fashion, during the spring and fall equinox, a small vent in the calendar
chamber allows the mid-afternoon sun to shine into it. The sunlight creeps
along the wall until it reaches a smaller connected chamber, which it then illuminates.
Theories about the original builders of these
ruins, which were once homes and animal shelters among Stonehenge-like rock configurations,
alternate from aliens and Celtic monks, to Native Americans and colonists. With
artifacts ranging from arrowheads and stone tools, to a copper 1742
"ha'penny" and a century-old whisky bottle, it is obvious that
several cultures throughout the ages called this site home.[ii]
hurricane could reveal more in Gungywamp, or better yet,a shipwreck might become exposed—something I
could discover while walking along the shore.
Summer Solstice at Gungywamp
June 21 @ 2:30 pm - 4:30 pm
457 North Gungywamp Rd,Groton, CT United States+ Google Map
At Gungywamp the woodland warblers are singing. The pileated woodpeckers are calling and mysterious stone structures of Gungywamp are saying nothing. Let’s take an afternoon walk through the woods and see if we can “hear” what they can tell us. $5/member; $8/nonmember Call 860-536-1216 or click here to register online. Find out more »