“I can’t believe you haven’t figured out where we’re going yet!” My sister hollered at me from behind the steering wheel. It was a beautiful spring day. Warm, bright blue skies warmed us on the ride. The threat of a light rain hours away. Mom was happy to be hanging out with two of her children, and we were all happy to be together again after a long year separated by COVID. Who really needed to worry about a destination on a day like this? We were heading to America’s Stonehenge!
We ended up at America’s Stonehenge. It was a huge surprise. My sister ran into the visitor’s center to grab the pre-ordered tickets and I mugged for some pictures in front of the sign delicately hung on the chain link fence. Finally, all three of us made it into the visitor’s center which seemed like the start of a big winning streak of weird roadside madness: a hodgepodge of rocks on display with an alternating array of ordinary over-explanations and uniquely bizarre descriptions, complete with quotes about ‘the most beautiful things we can experiences are true art and true science’.
Somewhere between art and science was a nine foot cast of the ‘Westford Knight’. It was a slab of rock with a series of divots forming a pattern of a knight holding a sword. My heart raced a bit at the in congruence of this depiction of a Scottish knight who explored Newfoundland and New England in 1345 among a pile of animal bones and rocks. My thirst for the bizarre unexplained mysteries of the world that I’ve harbored since early in my childhood was about to be fully quenched.
In Search of…
I have vivid memories of watching a strange TV show in the late 70’s/early 80’s about unexplained phenomena. The crystal skull in the opening credits immediately lured me in. It was my mission to absorb as much of each mysterious show as I could. I worried about these shows being lost to time and the knowledge that would be lost forever. What would become of the Loch Ness Monster? Bigfoot? Human combustion? UFOs? Mysterious rocks and formations?
Later on in life I realized I had been watching In Search Of… hosted by Leonard Nimoy. The show astounded me – all the mysteries and bizarre knowledge. It was presented somewhat matter of fact, and let the viewers decide the authenticity of its programs. My younger self was entertained and mystified to no end. The shows had all the qualities I’ve found since found in other entertainment media – religious relics, the circus sideshow revealing life’s bizarre and salacious underbelly, the spectacle, long odds and glitz of game shows, and the fast talking, empty promises of infomercials and televangelists that require hulking amounts of suspension of disbelief.
‘America’s Stonehenge’ was the backbone of an In Search Of episode entitled ‘Ancient Visitors’, back when this roadside attraction was still named ‘Mystery Hill’. Located in southeastern New Hampshire, this collection of ancient rock structures, walls, and standing stones have many origin stories mired in their own mysteries. One was that Irish monks traveled the open seas and built a settlement in what would become Salem, New Hampshire hundreds of years before Columbus accidentally discovered the Americas. The other was that a sailing group of ancient Greek Minoans left their island home in the Mediterranean around 1200 BC and once again, found the future home of Salem, New Hampshire to be a wonderful place to create the beginnings of a new civilization.
As it turns out, the reality is a lot less exciting, or clear…
Diving Right In
Barely giving the artifacts in the visitors’ center their due time, we quickly whisked ourselves out the door and into the self guided wilderness to see the archeological attraction of ‘America’s Stonehenge’. Our first stop was a giant sundial that wildly impressed my sister. The time it kept was dead on. It would serve as a subtle microcosm for the larger timekeeping mechanism we were standing on.
I quickly downloaded the audio tour onto my phone and we were on our way. We set out on the well worn pathway towards the woods, looking for displays and signs along the way. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary, some displays/exhibits/structures were just some rocks and twigs. The audio tour pointed out wells, fire pits, rough cooking racks, and turtle ponds. It looked like every other wooded area that exists everywhere throughout New England.
We continued our way up the path and finally entered some of the oldest stone structures. It turned out these first rock structures were all built around the Revolutionary War, by some family named the Pattees. They held fireplaces, cellars, storage spaces, but no mystical secrets, yet.
Beyond Mystery Hill
The caves and some of the stone structures on the land were mentioned in books and papers as early as 1907. The site was bought by insurance executive William Goodwin in 1937. He dubbed it ‘Mystery Hill’ and believed the stonework was the handiwork of Irish Monks who sailed across the Atlantic. It was his own research that formed his belief.
He detailed all of his theories in his surely concise 424 page book “The Ruins of Great Ireland in New England”. The book’s premise is that an Irish culture built several rock structures through New England (and New England alone) that could only point to the Celtic or Culdee tribes in Ireland. This was before any Norse/Viking/Scandinavian exploration of the New World, which is detailed in his other tome, “The Truth About Leif Ericson and his Voyages to New England”.
God bless Goodwin, a self professed expert who started naming, rebuilding and moving structures around Mystery Hill shortly after he bought the property. He moved with a swagger that would make Heinrich Schliemann blush. It was Goodwin’s early efforts with this forgotten land that would turn Mystery Hill into a tourist trap complete with a gift shop by the mid 50’s. The site soon became a godsend for the pseudo-archeological types. It made an appearance in 1976’s America B.C.: Ancient Settlers which theorizes the litany of Bronze Age explorers who made their marks across the North American continent.
This Way to the Sacrifice Table
As we snaked our way through the ever expanding grounds, filled with caves made out of stacked stone, stone walls and linear carvings in the stone explained to us as being for drainage, the air of sarcastic oohs and ahhs started to grow. The audio and printed guides started telling all the multiple histories of the site. One minute the site was a native settlement, thousands of years old, with carbon dating to prove it. The next emphasized the Revolutionary War structures, and most unexpectedly, the site was even a stop along the Underground Railroad, one of the last stops before slaves finally found freedom in Canada.
The bat shit crazy Minoan and Celtic theories disappeared. Also gone were the repeating elements that connected this site and its ancient people to the ancient people at Great Britain’s Stonehenge. Instead, all the fun, runaway theories and speculative ideas were replaced with what remained of the facts of the site. I have no problem with the historical nature of the site, but its been muddied for so long.
It was hard to tell what was real or fake on the site. The stone structures were flanked by fresh clearing and wood chips. Reconstructed stone walls circled the area. Ominously, bulldozers stood by ready to clear more land. The standing stones attributed to the native population stood at the end of long clearings similar to modern clearings yards away.
As a child, I found all the unexplained mysteries as wildly amusing and interesting diversions. The world is a large place, and why can’t there be a giant ape living sight unseen outside Seattle? America’s Stonehenge promised to be a part of those mysteries, but it wasn’t. Some American of vaguely Irish descent (surely, we’ve all met one) wrote a book leaning in on the legends of St Brendan. This linked the myth to this site in his backyard he didn’t understand. I can’t go into the motives for doing something like this, but the facts don’t prove this in any way. The site has backed off from his original vision, leaving a murky mess behind.
So many folks in the world have ignored facts long enough. The debate of science and history is just exhausting. Flat earthers aren’t funny, anti-vax people aren’t funny and fucking god damn Q people showing up at America’s Stonehenge aren’t funny. Thanks Q asshole for feeling the need to add your graffiti to the site. Everything is not always about you, sorry.
America’s Stonehenge Revealed
So the trip to America’s Stonehenge was a fun day out. The owners of the site clearly make a lot of money off field trips. They’ve likely changed the mission of the site a number of times to remain profitable. That’s all accepted and fine in America – every sideshow needs a new attraction as public tastes change. I went to the site wanting to see the weirdest collection of fake artifacts and ridiculous theories I could imagine. I found remnants of that roadside attraction. Ultimately, middle of the road described the site well. None of the crazy and only half the facts.
Stories can be fun. They can entertain, warn us, teach us things. I love telling a good story, and I love hearing a good story. I love seeing the places all around the world that have their own stories. Interesting people tell interesting stories. Some of those people even write them down! But it’s time to stop mixing stories and personal narratives with facts. I’ve had it with people not agreeing with facts because they don’t bend to their story. Those people can just fuck off.
At the beginning of the day, I was drawn to one corner of the visitor’s center/gift shop. In that corner, a giant map of the world hung on the wall. It had the paths of intercontinental explorers drawn on it linking all the stone time keeping structures around the world. I could only think of one thing when I saw it, and it was our dufus ex president, when he held up a map covering one of his stupid misspoken statements, including Alabama in the path of a hurricane with a sharpie. Unfortunately, truth didn’t win out then, and it’s not winning out now either.
Stewart Lee describes the situation eloquently: