January 15, 2008
Dark Woods: Cults, Crime, and Paranormal in the Freetown State Forest
By Christopher Balzano
Publisher: Schiffer Publishing (December 2007)
Pages: 184 - Price: $14.95
Interview by Jeff Belanger
Ghostvillage.com author interview
Why are some places haunted and others not? Do some areas of the world simply have an air of disasters about them, or do bad events draw bad people to the locations and the evil compounds on itself? When bad things happen at a location, often paranormal phenomenon follows. In the case of the Freetown State Forest in southeastern Massachusetts, perhaps the paranormal was here before the people, cults, and criminals came to the woods. In Christopher Balzano's debut book, Dark Woods, the founder of Massachusetts Paranormal Crossroads explores the cults, crime, and paranormal in and around the Freetown State Forest, which lies right in the middle of the infamous Bridgewater Triangle. Ghostvillage.com caught up with Chris to ask him about his new book.
What drew you to the paranormal phenomena in the Bridgewater Triangle in Massachusetts, and more specifically to the area in and around Freetown State Forest?
Christopher Balzano: "Drew" is the right word to use. I had set my Web site up to record the activity in Massachusetts, but I was constantly being called out to follow up on experiences and haunted places in the Triangle. More and more stories were coming out, and the more I wrote on them, the more people responded from that area. When I met Alan Alves, the former police detective from Freetown who went on to become one of the leading experts in the country on occult crime, I started to make the connection between the unexplained and unsolved crimes there, and the ghosts and monsters people were seeing in the forest.
Why do you think some areas of the world garner these paranormal reputations and others don't?
Many locations have a heightened number of paranormal experiences. It might be due to geography and geology, or another energy capturing source, or it may be due to tragedy that occurs there. What is more important is that the paranormal becomes part of the culture, and more importantly how it becomes part of the community's identity. In the Merrimack Valley in Massachusetts, near Salem, the activity is about witches or it's a "cute" haunting. You can get yourself a drink and hear a good ghost story. In Southeastern Massachusetts there is a darkness to the supernatural. There are not haunted restaurants, there are eyes that are following you as you drive home. The stories become part of the history of the place, and people are more likely to observe something themselves because they are expecting it.
In your book, Dark Woods, you discuss a virtual smorgasbord of paranormal phenomena, from murder, to ghosts, to strange lights, bizarre beasts, and those rascally Pukwudgies. I know you've joked in the past about being the "Pukwudgie Guy." Could you indulge Ghostvillagers and tell us what a Pukwudgie is, and are there sightings of these creatures still happening?
Pukwudgie is a Wampanoag (the tribe native to that part of Massachusetts) word for a small, hairy, troll-like creature. It was originally a nuisance for the people, but somewhere along the line it became evil and killed off the Wampanoag creator god and his sons. They began killing the people and setting villages on fire. Pukwudgies were known to shift shapes, use magic, and use the souls of the dead to draw victims to places where they could attack them. These souls were in the form of orb light, and most people were drawn to rocky cliffs they fell from, or water they drowned in. Every culture has something like them, the name just changes. They are still seen in Massachusetts and New Hampshire, and I have a sighting from California and Virginia. I even have a report of a woman who wrestled one.
You devote a chapter to cults and Satanists in Dark Woods. Do you feel that these groups hear about the strange phenomena and crimes in an area and decide to "set up shop" in that area, or are some areas simply inherently evil?
Most people come because there is an ambience to the location and it is far from peering eyes. There are different levels of practitioners in the woods, and some I spoke to, on both the light and darker side of witchcraft and cult worship, say there is an energy there they feel and use. The more serious, organized groups originally chose it because it was central to their operations and out of the way, but they were also able to tap into a dark force there.
In your investigations throughout the Freetown State Forest, did you personally encounter anything strange?
There was nothing there I found to prove or disprove any of the stories I had heard. The stillness of the Reservation still gets to me and the foundation from the witch's house had an emotional effect you cannot measure with instruments, but which can make you a believer in unseen hands. Of course, the time I cut my leg in thorns and then had to walk in the pouring rain while bugs the size of small birds bit at my neck was supernatural in a way, especially the way none of that seemed to bother you. [Editor's note: Jeff Belanger accompanied Christopher Balzano on one trip to the Freetown State Forest. Though Belanger was also "attacked" by these bugs and thorns, he is impervious to pain.]
If money and resources were no object, what kind of equipment and team would you assemble to check out the paranormal phenomena in Freetown State Forest?
I would take it from two angles. I would hit the most haunted location, the Assonet Ledge, with equipment to measure the energy in the rocks, because I feel that accounts for some of the paranormal activity there. It has a way of changing a person's personality and I believe that is due to emotion trapped in the stone. I would also like to visit locations such as the Reservation and some of the trails with a psychic and someone who is a spiritual Wampanoag with some psychic ability to try and tap into the spirits there from that angle.
Do you have a favorite location from your book that you come back to again and again?
The haunted police station keeps me coming back. These are cops, but one was willing to come forward and tell his story. They are not overjoyed I wrote the book because they feel it will draw attention to the forest, but some are now willing to talk about what they experienced in the station. I cannot wait to get back there and possibly experience it for myself.
What future books are you working on right now?
I have a book coming out in June called, Ghostly Adventures, which is a collection of first-hand stories and some resources on the paranormal. Later in the summer I have Picture Yourself Ghost Hunting coming out, which is a manual for any would-be investigators, and then in October I have, Ghosts of the Bridgewater Triangle coming out. That is the first record of some of the ghost stories from that area.
If someone was driving their car in the state of Massachusetts and they really wanted to crack the oil pan on their automobile, is there a road you could recommend that they drive down? Perhaps a road you mention in your book, Dark Woods? Perhaps a road that you yourself cracked your car's oil pan on?
Definitely hit the unknown, unseen ghost of the Mad Trucker of Copicut Road in Freetown, and when you car explodes, donate it to charity for the tax write-off.