Monday, March 23, 2009
Curses and Legends of Charles Island
This is the final edition of our day at the beach. I saved the most interesting for last. Silver Sands State Park is in Milford. To reach the beach over a marsh is a 200ft boardwalk. Supposedly through the marsh are remains of 75 cottage foundations--all that's left from Hurricane Diane in 1955. We couldn't see any foundations, but we did not know about them or a quarter of all we learned about Silver Sands until later.
If you click on the pictures you can enlarge them. What looks like a big clump of trees in the ocean is Charles Island. George was tired so I ventured out alone on the sandbar, which I learned is also called a tombolo. I was determined to make it to the end where the ocean was meeting itself from both sides. It was on that sandbar that I found the unique rocks with the shells melded on them. I also found some sea glass. It was intriguing looking at Charles Island from the end of the tombolo, but not sure what I would have thought standing there had I known its history. I would not have given it a second thought, however, as George was resting back on the beach, he, as he often does, became engaged in a conversation with a local person. This person had a metal detector looking for treasures. We have one but haven't had much success with it. Anyway, this person told him some of the history of Charles Island and I had to research it more when I got home.
Charles Island is only half a mile from the beach and as it turns out is accessible via the sandbar during low tide. They recommend if you do it to pay attention because you only have a two hour or less window of opportunity (depending on phase of moon, time of year and weather) and sometimes if the sandbar does not get all the way uncovered, they say do not go. It is too dangerous. The way I understand it most of the island is fenced in as a bird sanctuary for heron and egrets. It is one of the largest wading bird rookeries in the state. It sounds like you can just walk around the edges of the island.
Charles Island was discovered by Adrian Block (founder of Block Island, my favorite place)in 1614. The first inhabitant was Sachem Ansantawae, chief of the local Pauguessett tribe, using it as his family's summer home. In 1639 he sold it to early settlers for six coats, ten blankets, one kettle, twelve hatchets, twelve hoes, twenty-four knives and twelve small mirrors. I wonder how that was decided upon--did they add items one by one bargaining?
In 1657 Charles Deal's plans for a tobacco plantation failed. It was the first of several unsuccessful enterprises tried there which earned it the nickname of "Hard Luck Island".
The first permanent residence was constructed by John Harris. It went through several different owners after his death and in 1852 was turned into Charles Island House, a summer resort. Later it was renamed Asantawae House. It closed after the Civil War.
The island was next leased to George Miles Company for fish fertilizer operations. When they left the island was unused until the 1930's when Dominican Priests used it as a Catholic Retreat. They built a chapel, small cabins, dining hall and shrines along paths on the island. The Aquinas Retreat closed in the late 1930's and some remnants of it still remain. Now our local informant said that the island is said to be haunted and that the priests are still trying to remove the demons. After doing some research, I found that there are several mentions of ghosts and curses.
The first curse is supposed to be from a 17th century Indian chief (my resources don't mention if it was Anstantawee, but I would guess so). I found two different accounts of this. One says that he put a curse on the island in response to the kidnapping of his daughter. Another legend says the tribe fought for the land and felt that it was sacred and "spirited" ground. When settlers defeated the Indians, the chief is said to have cursed it saying, "Any shelter will crumble to the Earth, and he shall be cursed." Since no building has ever lasted too long, some believe this curse. I will have to research more, however, since I am confused by the timeline...if settlers won the land, why is it said to have been sold from the Indians for six coats, etc.?
The legend of the second curse was by Captain Kidd. Supposedly he put a curse on anyone attempting to dig up his treasures with sudden death.(How do people have the power to pronounce curses?). Anyway, he was heading to Boston in 1699. He buried treasure on Gardiniers Island off the tip of Long Island and that was later retrieved. It was speculated that he may have buried some of this treasure on the mainland or on Charles Island as this was his last trip before he was arrested for piracy and murder. I think it would have been a smart move to bury it in different spots--don't put all your eggs in one basket or all your treasures in one chest.
1721 is the time of the third curse. Mexican emperor, Guatmozin evidently had a treasure stolen from a cave by five sailors. They brought it back to CT. Guatmozin put a curse on the stolen treasure. Four of the five sailors suffered a tragic death and the fifth one hid the treasure in the basement of the Old Milford Inn. Well, a drunken customer found it in the cellar while searching for beer and so the fifth sailor rowed out to Charles Island and buried it bringing along the third curse.
None of the legendary treasures have ever been found, however, it is said that two treasure hunters almost did in 1850. Supposedly when they opened the chest that they found, a "screeching, flaming, skeleton descended from the sky" and landed in the pit with a shower of blue flames. The guys fled but returned the next day to find that their digging tools were gone and the spot had been smoothly covered up as if they had never been there. Legend continues to say that they both ended up the rest of their lives in insane asylums.
The legends live as people in recent years claim to have seen glowing ghosts in trees and voices and music. Some think the ghosts are phantom monks making their processionals through the monastery ruins.
I don't profess to believe any of this, but it is fun to read about the history and legends so close to home and yet I never knew about it. I think I'd like to go back again just to look and reflect upon its history. I don't think I would try to go on the island. I do have a fear of being surrounded by water and although I am not like the cowardly lion in the "Wizard of Oz" who confessed, "I do believe in ghosts, I do believe in ghosts", I think I'd just leave well enough alone. An uninhabited island is romantic, intriguing and alluring--curses and all, but especially from a safe distance.