Throughout New England there are a number of sites where standing stones, stone circles, underground stone structures, and stone “huts” can be found. Over the years archaeologists and historians have debated their origins. Some believe they were built by Native Americans, others say they are from much earlier cultures, but may have been used by Native Americans. Identifiable artifacts and some that cannot be identified have been found at these sites. None of them is quite as mysterious as Mystery Hill in Salem, New Hampshire.
I first visited Mystery Hill in the late 1980s when I had just moved to New England. At that time it was relatively unknown. There was a small visitor's center where you could see some of the excavated artifacts and buy a map of the walking trails that was basically just a hand-drawing that had been photocopied. On the afternoon I was there only one other group of visitors were present—a family with a little girl named Victoria who found me much more interesting to go exploring with than her parents.
It was a dark dreary day and, though I am always reluctant to claim any sensitivity toward the mysterious, the little chatterbox who accompanied me that day out-talked any spirits that might have tried to capture my attention.
|Entrance to the Oracle Chamber|
Ten years later I took a job in the town of Salem just a few miles from Mystery Hill, which was now re-branded as America's Stonehenge. Occasionally, I went by on my way home from work. By then the visitor's center had been enlarged and a number of television shows about it brought in plenty of tourists. Mystery Hill lost its mystique.
|Some of the stone structures around the main site|
In 1983 a Harvard marine biologist, Barry Fell, did a thorough study of the site and included his findings in his book, America B.C. Fell was convinced the site bore inscriptions in Phoenician and Iberian. Another research team that investigated one of the monoliths found much evidence of early tool-making comparable to the work of early ancestors of Native American tribes.
Regardless of its origins, it is safe to say that whatever the purpose of the original site, it was built upon and used over time by native people, early farmers, and may even have been part of the Underground Railroad in the early nineteenth century.
|An aerial view of the site|
The basic layout of the monoliths was definitely astronomical. Though many of the original standing stones have now fallen, an aerial view of Mystery Hill shows stones in a pattern that conforms to an astronomical calendar aligned with solstice and equinox solar positions.
|Inside the Oracle Chamber|
The features most speculated about are the Oracle Chamber, an underground space with a “speaking tube” through which voices are amplified to the area outside. When I went in to the Oracle Chamber I found it damp and cold and a more than a little claustrophobic.
|The Sacrificial Table|
In front of the Oracle Chamber is 15' x 4.5' flat rock balanced on other stones with a drainage groove carved into its perimeter. They call it a Sacrificial Table and I am sure you can guess what it is supposed to have been used for. There is also the possibility it was used as a lye-leeching table where farmers leeched lye from wood ashes.
|William Goodwin standing at the Sacrificial Table in 1943|
Over at least two centuries the site has served various uses. In 1936 the property was purchased by William Goodwin who, it is believed, may have incorporated some “improvements” of his own in order to use the site as a tourist attraction.
It is likely we will never know the origins of Mystery Hill and so it will remain a mystery tucked in the woods of New Hampshire where so many other mysteries reside.
Thanks for reading.