Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Legend of Mad Mare's Hill

Gather round, my fainthearted friends.  It's a Halloween tale of ghosts and ghouls and the Mad Mare of Hamden's Hills.  She was a monster, black as night, standing 16 hands high.  Bred of Mustang and Shire Horse, she was wild and ill-tempered.

But when the moon rises on All Hallow's Eve, something evil awakens in her very soul.  Nostrils flared, searching the air; the red tint of her crazed eyes glowing like fire in the moonlight.

With a chilling whinny, an ear splitting neigh, she goes mad on Halloween night, terrorizing any who are fool enough to cross her hill...

hmmhmmwah ha ha...

I found a link to this 19th century story about the making of a legend, and the story of Mad Mare's Hill (the breadth of Google Books is either a researcher's dream or a publisher's nightmare - but that's a post for another blog).  The Quinnipiac Trail travels along the hills and ridges of Hamden and Cheshire, most with common run-of-the-mill names -  High Rock, Mount Carmel and Mount Sanford.  But the name Mad Mare's Hill certainly sounds like there should be story.  Here's the entry from Oliver Optic's Magazine from 1875:


 PROBABLY all of the young readers of "Oliver Optic " have read stories founded upon a something of which they knew nothing, but which is, nevertheless, the basis of many, and called a Myth. Learn, then, what is this basis of much in literature that will continue through life to give you exquisite pleasure.

But even your elders, many of whom know about Myths, do not know that modern days have anything to do with them, save to record and draw inferences from these old, and, until lately, unquestioned oracles, speaking now with philology, the scientific comparison of living and dead languages, of the most ancient history of the human race. Yet they are mistaken. We will show both them and you, how, within a very few years, a certain story has grown from a mere speck to enormous proportions; and you will thus see, from a single instance, how fables may grow from a mere name, and realize fully the meaning of Myth, and the part that it has borne in the dark ages of the world.

It was our especial good fortune, about two years since, to go, by the merest accident, to this Myth's birthplace, before it had got rid of its swaddling-clothes (although it was then nearly forty years old : but a Myth is a mere infant at that age), and it can never deny its parentage, at least to us. It was about two years since, as we said, that, accosting a man chopping wood by the road-side, a few miles from the city of New Haven, Conn, near some high land called Mount Carmel, we inquired, —
“Do you know of a place hereabouts called ' West Rock Ridge ‘?”

   "Wa'al, I can't say as I know jist whar it is," was the polite reply of the man, who saw that if he owned up, plumply and plainly that he did not know, he would lose his chance for a rest and gossip.

Taking the cue, we promptly seated ourselves on the end of a big log, plucking a straw and nibbling it, country-fashion, to show that we were socially inclined; whereupon our friend also took a social straw, and the other end of the log. The practice of strawnibbling is one of the most remarkable resources known to man. Like gaping, it goes around. It is the cheapest and most informal welcome to a stranger; the very antithesis, say, of presenting to him the freedom of a city, with its keys in a gold box. Philosophically considered, it may be favorable to rumination; perhaps existence, the study of mankind, nay, the aspect of the universe itself, may thus present themselves as all-pervading mental juleps. Certain it is that the bumpkin receives through this medium his loftiest inspiration, and the city loiterer in fields takes to it as a natural taste.

But let us “return to our mutton," or, rather, to our Mare, which we left to give an idea of the social atmosphere in which it grew. We and our friend on the other end of the log discussed politics, crops, rain, cider, prices, religion, measles ; and, after an arctic voyage, from which it required skilful navigation on our part to avoid seeming anxious to be homeward bound, we found ourselves suddenly back among the hills, as he remarked discursively, —

“There’s a hill, a matter of half an hour's walk from here, called Mad Mare's Hill, a'cause a mare wunst went mad on't and wouldn't never let nobody come nigh fit."

In a flash we had it. Suddenly, and to our astonishment, we had been put in presence of a veritable modern Myth. The fact is, that the name mentioned was that of the hill for which we had inquired by its other name, as, being English, more likely to be known than that in French. In 1836, the hill had been occupied by a party of Swiss surveyors, beginning a geodetic survey; who, in accordance with practice, in finding a hill unnamed, or ill-named, christened it. The hill was thus christened "Madame Mare's (Mare's) Hill;" the Madame shortened into Mad. in writing. It was so called, without doubt, — at least in our mind, taking into consideration the circumstance of the near date, and of these gentlemen being Swiss,— after the mother of Napoleon, commonly called Madame Mere; that is, Madame Mother. In the course of less than forty years, the name of Mad. Mere had become confounded with the idea of a demoniac steed, holding the hill as a citadel, striking terror into the souls of infantile beholders, and even when invisible among the bushes, impressing as with the sense of a mysterious presence, which, in ancient times, tradition would have handed down as that of an irate god (or goddess, perhaps, as it was a mare) in the semblance of a beast.

Oliver Optic’s Magazine – Our Boys and Girls, Vols 17, 18 – 1875.  Pg 622

On this Halloween night, I think the story of a demonic steed is more fitting than that of a hill named for Napoleon's Mom.  What do you think?

1 comment:

  1. How cool! Definitely 'Mad Mare"! Although "mommy dearest" has a certain connotation as well! :-)



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