New England Myths: The Legend Of Purgatory Chasm
Slightly southeast of Worcester, Massachusetts lies the town of Sutton, and within it, Purgatory Chasm State Reservation. Geologists say that the 70-foot chasm was carved approximately 14,000 years ago when a massive tidal wave of dammed-up water was released from a towering glacier.
The sheer force of the gushing water was enough to tear cleanly through the rock in one fell swoop, creating smooth, straight walls and a chasm that resembles a wound from the world’s largest hatchet.
That’s the scientific explanation for this geological wonder, but according to a legend circulated by early colonial settlers, the chasm was formed by a very different method.
The tale states that an Algonquin woman killed a white settler. As she walked back toward her camp, she came across another settler, who gave her an uneasy feeling. She tried to run away, but the stranger grabbed her wrist.
When she began to fight, the settler revealed himself to be the god, Hobomoko – a Native American deity known for his restlessness and rage. Hobomoko carried his captive to Purgatory Chasm where he beat her head against a rock and attacked her with a tomahawk.
Legend has it that the bowl-like depressions permanently etched into the stone are the areas where the woman’s head hit the boulder and the deep crevasses are where the tomahawk struck.
The colonists said that it was Hobomoko’s actions on that day that formed the chasm, but historians argue that the settlers had ulterior motives.
Creating the story may have been part of their attempt to convert the Native Americans to Christianity by further demonizing one of their gods and instilling fear. The parable also created a handy warning against attacking white settlers.
Nowadays, Purgatory Chasm State Reservation is a popular hiking and picnic spot for tourists and local families. The chasm itself can be entered by visitors – if they are slender enough. One particular area of the gorge is known as Fat Man’s Misery!
The park includes hiking trails, indoor washrooms, a visitor’s center, an eating area, an impressive playground, and even a food truck that parks nearby.
The chasm itself is a bit of a hike into the woods and includes a good deal of climbing and clamboring to reach the 1/4-mile-long gorge, so be sure to wear proper hiking shoes and bring plenty of water along.
Featured Image via Facebook/Lisa Shea Author