Monday, September 29, 2014

The Truth About Dudleytown

Every fall, as we get closer to Halloween, the Cornwall Historical Society receives an increased number of requests to visit "Dudleytown." The answer is always NO. Here's why:

First of all, the Society does not have the right to grant permission. The area of Cornwall popularly known as "Dudleytown" is private property. It does not belong to the town, and it certainly does not belong to the Historical Society.

Secondly, the people who live in "Dudleytown" are completely fed up with thrill-seeking, would-be ghost hunters. Imagine if someone wrote that your home was haunted, even though it wasn't, and you suddenly had total strangers wandering around your yard, peering in through your windows, setting fires and leaving litter, invading your privacy on a regular basis. You wouldn't like it very much, and neither does anyone in Cornwall.

Be forewarned that if you should, unfortunately, decide that your curiosity is more important than the privacy and property rights of Cornwall residents, you will be arrested for trespassing.

If you would like to visit the forested ruins of old buildings, or if you would like to visit a stunningly beautiful forest, Mohawk State Forest will satisfy your interests. Cunningham Tower is full of eerie ambiance, if that's what you're looking for.

Gargoyle, Cunningham Tower, Mohawk State Forest

If you would like to pursue the thrills and chills of possible supernatural encounters, book yourself a room at the Yankee Pedlar Inn in nearby Torrington. Even before The Innkeepers was filmed there, it offered a spooky atmosphere for those who looked for it.

Historical Background of Dudleytown

Some of you might be interested in knowing the true story of Dudleytown. Our research has uncovered the following information:

Dudleytown was never an actual town. The name (nickname, really) was given at an unknown date to a portion of Cornwall that included several members of the Dudley family. The area that became known as Dudleytown was settled in the early 1740s by Thomas Griffis, followed by Gideon Dudley and, by 1753, Barzillai Dudley and Abiel Dudley; Martin Dudley joined them a few years later. Other families also settled there.

Chimney stone from a Dudleytown house. Collection of Cornwall Historical Society.

As with every other part of Cornwall, Dudleytown was converted from forest to farm land. Families tilled the land for generations. Located on top of a high, steep hill, Dudleytown was not ideally suited for farming. Access is difficult, and the growing season is shorter than down in the valleys.

When more fertile and spacious land opened up in the mid-West in the late 19th century, and as the local iron industry wound down, Cornwall's population declined. Those residents who remained in Cornwall tended to live close to the train stations or the Town Green, the commercial hubs of the community, or on farms that were better suited for farming than those at Dudleytown.

During the early 20th century, many old farms in Cornwall were sold to New Yorkers seeking a better life in the countryside. Much of the Dudleytown area land was acquired by the Dark Entry Forest Association, which planted thousands of trees. During the 1930s, New York's Skidreiverein Club spent their winter weekends skiing on trails they built in Dudleytown; in the summers, they canoed down the Housatonic River.

What was once farm land has been re-cultivated as forest, part of a vital ecosystem for neotropical migratory birds and other wildlife.

It should be noted that none of 20th century residents or vacationers have ever noticed anything supernatural going on in Dudleytown. Descendents of the original members of the Dark Entry Forest Association still live in Dudleytown today, free from any curses or other supernatural activity.

The Dudleytown Legend

According to popular legend, the area of Cornwall known as Dudleytown is home to supernatural activities ranging from hauntings to untimely deaths. Would-be ghost hunters make frequent trips to Cornwall hoping for a thrilling adventure, much to the consternation of the people who live there.

The Dudleytown area is private property. Because so many of the ghost hunters visiting the area have caused problems ranging from littering to rude behavior to setting fires, residents have no patience for trespassers. Police are notified whenever there are trespassers and arrive promptly to make arrests.

For Cornwall residents, Dudleytown is nothing more than a beautiful forest in the southwestern part of town, one of the many breathtaking forests found here. Dudleytown's residents include families who have lived there for generations without a single supernatural encounter. One resident, in fact, likes to tell the story of when she and her horse were mistaken for ghosts by a large group of trespassing ghost-hunters-the newspaper account the next day declared that she was a spectral figure and that her horse's hoofs never touched the ground.

The "Curse" Begins

The supposed "curse of Dudleytown" appears to have begun with the 1926 publication of Edward C. Starr's History of Cornwall. For reasons that have yet to be explained, Starr wove together a fanciful and inaccurate two-page account of Dudleytown residents over the centuries. No accounts of the supernatural in Dudleytown have been found prior to the publication of his book.

It should be noted that Starr's history of Dudleytown did not allude to anything supernatural. He placed emphasis on anecdotes of misfortune and bad luck, adding a little bit of name dropping to spice things up. Starr's use of the phrase "doom of Dudleytown" was not intended to be supernatural. It was strictly an unfortunate, hyperbolic, literary flourish.

Starr's account has formed the basis of every story published since then about Dudleytown. Sometimes Starr's account is reprinted almost word for word, with an emphasis on anything that sounds even remotely spooky. Other times it is embellished to make it more exciting for new readers. Still other times portions are reworked, changing names and other details. The Dudleytown legend is strictly one of fiction, spun out from repeated retellings of Starr's fanciful account.

The true story of Dark Entry Forest's first few decades was presented in our 2012 exhibition, "Out of the Woods: The Story of Cornwall's Forests." The forest that exists there today was largely planted by the Dark Entry Forest group, and continues to be maintained by them today.

Myth vs. Fact 

Dudleytown enthusiasts should note the following corrections and clarifications to Starr's history and a few of the more popular Dudleytown myths:

  • MYTH: The Dudleys of Cornwall were descended from cursed English royals. 
  • FACT: The Dudley family of Cornwall has no connection to English nobility. 

  • MYTH: Horace Greeley's wife, Mary Cheney, grew up in Dudleytown and later committed suicide because of the Dudleytown curse. 
  • FACT: Mary Cheney Greeley never lived anywhere in Cornwall. She and the rest of the Cheneys lived in Litchfield. Visit the Litchfield Historical Society's website for more information. 

  • MYTH: Abiel Dudley was driven insane by the Dudleytown curse. 
  • FACT: Abiel Dudley did not go insane. His neighbors described him as "distracted" and unable to care for himself beginning around 1756 or earlier. In their 1771 petition to the Connecticut General Assembly for reimbursement for taking care of him, Dudley's neighbors made no mention of anything unusual about him or his mental incapacities. They noted that he never had any wealth, only land that he did not cultivate. Most likely, Dudley suffered from a very ordinary form of senility.

  • MYTH: General Heman Swift was driven insane by the Dudleytown curse. 
  •  FACT: General Heman Swift lived to be 81 years old; if, as Starr suggests, he suffered from dementia in his later years, natural causes seem far more likely than supernatural ones. 

  • MYTH: General Swift's wife was killed by supernatural forces in the form of lightning. 
  • FACT: Swift's wife, Sarah, was indeed killed by lightning in 1804; however, this was not an uncommon occurrence in the 1800s, when many houses were not protected by lightning rods. Newspapers from all over the country, throughout the 19th century, had frequent accounts of dramatic lightning strikes rolling through living rooms and kitchens.

  • MYTH: John Patrick Brophy's wife died under mysterious circumstances, their children mysteriously vanished, and Brophy was driven insane by the curse. 
  •  FACT: In the original version of the story, in Starr's History of Cornwall, an unnamed Irish laborer suffered a series of misfortunes: his wife died of consumption (a common cause of death in the 1800s); his sons left town after they were caught stealing; and his house burned down. None of these events can be attributed as supernatural. In later retellings, the Irish laborer's name is sometimes John Brophy, sometimes Patrick, sometimes other generic Irish names.

  • MYTH: A Polish immigrant named Joseph Matyas was one of the last residents of Dudleytown and was driven insane by the curse. 
  • FACT: Starr referred to an unnamed "solitary Pole" who "failed to make good, lost his farm, and removed." No mention of insanity was included in the original story. A few retellings have assigned the name Joseph Matyas to this man, while others have left him nameless (while embellishing the story with a surprising amount of detail, considering that his identity is unknown). It seems unlikely that Starr was referring to Matyas, as he lived in Cornwall with his wife and children long after Starr's book was published (and was Hungarian, not Polish).

  • MYTH: Dr. William C. Clarke moved to Dudleytown and built a rustic cabin for himself and his wife. One day, Dr. Clarke was called back to New York City for an emergency, leaving his wife alone in Dudleytown. When he returned, he found that his wife had become completely insane and spent the rest of her life in an insane asylum. 
  • FACT: This is perhaps the strangest piece of misinformation in Starr's History of Cornwall, which relates that Dr. William Clarke's wife slowly lost her mind before committing suicide, and that Dr. Clarke left Cornwall forever. However, Dr. Clarke continued to live in Cornwall, as do his descendents. The true story of Dr. Clarke can be found in our history of Dark Entry Forest Inc. We don't know why Starr chose to include a somewhat cruel and very fanciful story about the death of Dr. Clarke's wife. Perhaps he chose to sacrifice truth for the sake of telling a romantic story that might help the sale of his book; or perhaps he simply didn't do enough research.

  • MYTH: The name "Dark Entry Forest" was chosen because the forest is haunted. 
  • FACT: The name "Dark Entry" does not and never was intended to have ominous overtones. It is actually a fairly common name, found in several other town. The name most likely refers to the cool, dark shadows of a dense forest, something that is usually considered a positive thing, especially on a hot summer day.

  • MYTH: There are no birds or other wildlife in Dark Entry Forest (Dudleytown). 
  • FACT: There are just as many birds singing in the Dark Entry Forest as there are in any other forested area of Connecticut. In fact, Cornwall has one of the largest and most diverse populations of breeding birds anywhere in the country.

1 comment: