Local author Jeff Belanger likes to say that life in Massachusetts was pretty normal until about 10,000 years ago - when the first people showed up.
Since then, the Bay State has been a hotbed of paranormal activity, mysterious land formations, quirky inventions, UFO sightings, buried-treasure rumors, swamp creatures, curses, sea serpent sightings and, of course, mass production of plastic pink flamingos.
Our state’s quirky and often bizarre history - from the Puritans’ 22-year ban on celebrating Christmas to the Gingerbread House of Tyringham - has been recorded for posterity by Belanger in “Weird Massachusetts” (Sterling, $19.95), the latest in the “Weird” book series that began as a scrappy 1989 newsletter in New Jersey.
“If you scratch the surface a little bit, there are a lot of skeletons in our closet,” said Belanger last week as he stepped away from Dungeon Rock in Lynn, the dark, winding cave that in the 1660s housed pirate-turned-hermit Thomas Veal - as well as his rumored treasure booty. The area is now open to the public, nestled deep within the eerie quiet of Lynn Woods.
“There are a lot of cool things and mysteries to uncover, or at least ponder,” said Belanger, who has written eight books and created the Ghost Village Web site, the largest paranormal community on the Internet. “I used to think UFO and ghost sightings were rare. Not anymore. I think more people have seen something than not.”
The first documented UFO sighting in the state dates back to 1630, according to Belanger, and since the 1980s several people have claimed to have spotted a Sasquatch-like creature near October Mountain in Lee. In 1817, a sea serpent allegedly terrorized Gloucester Harbor each day for almost a month, and a similar beast supposedly resurfaced near Marshfield in 1962.
Part of what makes these legends grow is the environment that creates and supports them.
“We have cold winters here, and we hibernate,” Belanger reasoned. “There are all these stories that are told and retold, and they evolve a little bit. The legends continue. It’s as much a part of our history as the real stuff.”
The real stuff is pretty interesting, too.
Drive west out to Webster, and you’ll find Lake Chargoggagoggmanchauggauggagoggchaubunagungamaugg, which boasts the sixth-largest name of any location in the world. In Springfield, Dr. Seuss’ sculpture garden features some of the writer’s most beloved characters - bronzed. In Becket, the Chester-Hudson Quarry granite post would eventually become a rusted, outdoor museum decades after workers abruptly walked off the job in the 1960s. And Leominster is the unsuspecting home of Union Products, which churned out about 20 million sets of pink plastic flamingos for the world to garishly decorate its lawns.
“That’s a piece of kitsch Americana, and it’s ours,” Belanger said.