Never Try, Never Win

I just realized today that a year ago, on Sept. 11th, we visitedĀ Centralia, PA, an abandoned town that has an enormous, uncontrollable coal fire burning underground, which is expected to continue burning for another 250-1000 years or so. As of 2010, the population there is 7 people- and from what we observed from our visit- one bichon frise.

We didn’t do this on purpose, but this year on Sept. 11th we visited another abandoned town, this time in Cape Ann, MA. Dogtown is the name of the woods where the last resident, a freed slave named Cornelius “Black Neil” Finson, was found freezing and half dead in 1830. It was first settled in 1693 and after the Revolutionary War, its population dwindled and the widows of the soldiers all had dogs for company and protection. The dogs ran free in the streets, along with the orphaned dogs of dead former residents. The abundance of these dogs is one suggestion as to how Dogtown got its name. All that’s left of Dogtown are the cellar holes where the houses once stood. They are labeled and I especially liked the home of Dorcas Foster, who may have been a witch. Hardly anyone is named “Dorcas” anymore, it seems. Once Dogtown was loaded with little else but dogs and old women, it was rumored that it was an entire town of witches. Back then, pretty much any old woman without family was considered a witch, it seems.

The terrain is terrible for agriculture, which may suggest why it was eventually abandoned, even though at one point in history its location offered some shelter from pirates and Indians. The crummy land is due to the Laurentide ice sheet from the Wisconsin glaciation, between 95,000 and 20,000 years ago. The land is a terminal moraine, which meant that the glacier was leaving colossal stone turds all over the land.

Dogtown 1

There were thousands, if not tens of thousands of these turds within the 3600 acres of Dogtown.

I had the best time there, because unlike the woods behind the house I grew up in, these woods seemed to be fairly untamed, and very, very dense. I’ve heard from several sources that it’s dangerously easy to get lost in Dogtown because after awhile every tree and every one of the 1000+ boulders start to look alike after awhile. We had printed out a map ahead of time and there’s no way we would have been able to navigate these woods without it. And I’m a fairly experience woods-walker, too. At first I was nervous about getting lost and made a point to leave a few markers every now and then, and sometimes to take a minute to stop and take in the area, to recognize my surroundings, but I became more relaxed once we started finding the Babson Boulders. They’re much more obvious markers than the ones I was leaving.

Roger Babson, of Babson College fame, was an eccentric Prohibitionist millionaire who wanted to inspire people during the Great Depression and instill values in the people of Dogtown, so he commissioned unemployed stonecutters to carve scolding commands on dozens of the glacial turds, also known as glacial erratics. for our day in Dogtown, we made it our mission to find every one of them.

Dogtown 2 Dogtown 3 Dogtown 4 Dogtown 5 Dogtown 6 Dogtown 7 Dogtown 8 Dogtown 9

I can’t even express just how much I loved these rocks. Many of them are slightly off the trails and you have to hunt a little to find them, and just while you’re wandering around the woods, a rock appears looming ahead, nagging you to get a job and follow good hygiene. I imagined that the rocks were talking, and they sounded like the Voice of God. And to me, the Voice of God is like those rock faces in the movieĀ Labyrinth, who tell you to BEWARE! and TURN BACK! EVIL COMES THIS WAY! Remember those guys?

There are too many inspirational boulders for me to post here and besides, Jon will detail it more thoroughly in his next post, I’m sure. I do think it’s funny though that there is ample evidence that the local kids use Dogtown’s boulders as sites for drinking. I wonder which scolding rock is the favorite one to drink on.


This rock was my favorite. Instead of giving me orders on how to live a good, honest life, this one told me what kind of geological feature I was encountering at Dogtown:

Dogtown 10


Kind of says it all, I’d say.