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Deserted haunt

10/07/04 12:00AM By Joe Citro
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(Host) With Halloween just around the corner, commentator Joe Citro takes us on a visit to a deserted haunt of unknown origin.


(Citro) Last month I visited a mysterious stone building in Upton, Massachusetts. Well, I can't honestly say I visited it; there was a gate on the door and a "No Trespassing" sign on the gate.

I was too late. For centuries it has been open and freely accessible to anyone. But recently a developer bought the land and there's nothing to stop him from bulldozing the building into oblivion.

Called "The Upton Tunnel," it is among the largest and most perfectly preserved of New England's mysterious stone chambers. Like hundreds more, its origin remains a mystery.

In 1893 Daniel Fiske called the tunnel "A Deserted Haunt of Unknown Origin." He wrote, "From [my] youth [I] have occasionally sought information [from] the oldest citizens whose ancestors lived [here]from 150 to 200 years ago and they were as ignorant of its origin as we of today."

The tunnel's 3 by 4 foot entrance leads to a narrow passageway 14 feet long. This connects with an interior, circle-shaped room about 12 wide and 11 feet high. It's big enough to shelter fifteen adults. Overhead, a circular dome is achieved by laying flat granite stones, tier upon tier, overlapping gradually inward, and culminating with a thousand pound capstone. No mortar was used in its construction; gravity holds everything in place.

Further, there is no indication of tools, drills, or inscriptions on walls or ceiling. The structure is obviously the work of skilled and hardy artisans. But who were they?

In 1990 two scientists discovered that by and looking out the entrance tunnel as if it were a telescope, certain star configurations line up precisely with three stone cairns on a nearby hill.

Myriad theories explain the structure. The most conservative claim it's nothing more than an ice house, a root cellar, or a leather tanning site. But these are unlikely:

First, the labor and skill involved far exceeds those applications. The entrance conduit is too cramped for easily moving goods. And the interior is simply too wet and poorly ventilated to preserve vegetables.

More exotic explanations have greater appeal. Was it constructed by Vikings? Irish Culdee Monks? Or some unknown race of pre-colonials now lost to history and Native American memory?

We may never know. The shadow of the wrecking ball gets closer and closer.

I'm delighted to see the citizens of Upton organizing to rescue their megalithic treasure. It's indisputably as old as the colonies. Why not afford it the same protection as those Colonial buildings with hand-hewn clapboards and diamond-shaped windowpanes?

But for now, the future of Uton's "Deserted Haunt of Unknown Origin" is every bit as mysterious as its past.

This is Joe Citro.

Novelist Joe Citro is a native Vermonter. He lives in Burlington.


copyright 2004 Joseph A. Citro
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