Europeans landed in the New World and began spreading across what
was later to become America, they discovered what the Amerindians
there were some strange places in this new
land. Certain locations were "strange" because the early
explorers and settlers would see, hear, smell or feel strange
things-weird globes of light, eerie screechings, sickening sweet
odors, cold drafts of air as well as unknown aerial phenomena,
mystery animals and other "inexplicables." The interface between
these newcomers and the decidedly unexplainable phenomena
produced place-names that attempted to reflect the notion that
the locales were special, different and, indeed, strange. The
names can take many forms, but I have long noticed an American
historical acknowledgement of Forteana-ridden places by the use
of the work "devil" in the naming of these locations. A few
examples will illustrate this point.
Some of the more frequent sightings of California's phantom
black panthers occur in the Diablo (Spanish for "devil") Valley
east of San Francisco. The Las Trampas Regional Park booklet
notes the black cat is referred to as "The Black Mountain Lion of
Devil's Hole" because it is frequently seen on the slopes of Mt.
Diablo and in the Devil's Hole area of the park. Mystery lights
also turn up in the Mt. Diablo-Diablo Valley area frequently.
In 1873, a live frog was found in a slab of limestone in a mine
on Mt. Diablo, and in 1806, Spanish General Vallejo encountered a
man-like apparition (which had exotic plumage and made "diving
movements") while battling the Bolgones Indians. Monte del Diablo
is a very strange place.
The territory known as Devil's Kitchen in southern Illinois was
avoided by the region's Amerindians because of their awareness of
its sinister nature. Southern Illinois, in general, is a frequent
host to mystery animals and UFOs as well as the site of
pre-Columbian stone walls which form a rough alignment between
the Ohio and Mississippi rivers.
Near Grand Tower, also in southern Illinois, is a small rocky
hill known as the Devil's Bake Oven. South of that prominence is
a longer hill known as the Devil's Backbone. Speaking of the
Devil's Bake Oven, folklorist John W. Allen observes: "On those
nights when the hill was flooded with gentle moonlight, visitors
would report that they had seen a weird and mistlike
creature...floating silently across their pathway to disappear
among the rocks or in the dense bushes on the hillside. This
disappearance was often followed by moans, wails and shrieks such
as only a ghost can make."
Devil's Lake of Wisconsin has its share of geological oddities
such as glacier scratches on unusual rock formations and
petrified sand waves of an ancient sea, but it is the Amerindian
mounds that are especially interesting. Three major effigy mounds
are located in Devil's Lake State Park. One in the shape of a
bear and another, which resembles a lynx, are at the north end of
the lake. A bird-shaped mound is at the southern end. Did the
moundbuilders wish to acknowledge real animals or phantom
creature forms that haunted the shores of Devil's Lake?
From nearby Baraboo (a mere three miles north of Devil's Lake on
Wisconsin 123), stories were circulating in the seventies of
giant ghost elephants. Or were they mastodons? August Derleth,
author and follower of H. P. Lovecraft, likes this area of
southcentral Wisconsin because he felt it contains "Cthulhu power
During the summer of 1970, campers at Devil's Lake complained of
shadowy "somethings" prowling around their tents. Department of
Natural Resources personnel stated that no bears are found in the
area. However, Bigfoot accounts are well known from Wisconsin.
Devil's Lake is also the location of an 1889 lake monster report.
Additionally, the surface of the lake is broken with the ghostly
wake of a phantom canoe seen in the mists of cold, still nights.
The place does have an aura about it. Folklore tells of an Indian
maiden and her lover leaping to their deaths. In general, the
site is said to be a "place of many dead."
Devil's Lake, Wisconsin, is a spooky spot.
One of my favorite examples of the reflection of Fortean
phenomena via a "devil name" comes from one corner of the inland
town of Chester, New Hampshire, on Rattlesnake Hill. A cavern
there of "great notoriety in all the country round" bears the
name Devil's Den. According to local legends, the path leading to
the cave "was always kept open, in summer and winter, by the
passing to and fro of the evil spirits who frequented the place,
though themselves invisible to the eyes of mortal men."
The poet J. G. Whittier put the Devil's Den traditions into
verse, and the following two stanzas from his poem "Devil's Den"
give deep insight into bedeviled places in general:
'Tis said that this cave is an evil place
The chosen haunt of a fallen race
That the midnight traveller oft hath seen
A red flame tremble its jaws between,
And lighten and quiver the boughs among,
Like the fiery play of a serpent's tongue;
That sounds of fear from its chambers swell
The ghostly gibber, the fiendish yell;
That bodiless hands at its entrance wave,
And hence they have named it The Demon's Cave.
* * *
Yet is there something to fancy dear
In this silent cave and its lingering fear,
Something which tells of another age,
Of the wizard's wand, and the Sybil's page,
Of the fairy ring and the haunted glen,
And the restless phantoms of murdered men:
The grandame's tale, and the nurse's song
The dreams of childhood remembered long;
And I love even now to list the tale
Of the Demon's Cave, and its haunted vale.
Simply stated, the strange events of the past are often
remembered in the geographical names of the area. Place names can
be a Fortean's clue to the "haunted vale." By 1983, I had found
one hundred and twenty-five places with "devil names" in the
United States, and I am finding more correlations with this list
and Forteana every day. (See Appendix V.) I suspect many more
etymological connections exit. My list of "devil names" is just
the tip of the pitchfork. Indeed, Henry Franzoni, a researcher
living in the Pacific Northwest with a remarkable names database,
told me that as of 1998, he had found 2,635 places named (or
which were named) Devil, Diablo, or Diabla in the United
In a related vein is the native Algonquian word for the
Devil-"Hockomock"-which I have written more about in Curious
Encounters. Franzoni has found a total of ten places in the US
named "Hockomock," six in Maine, where I now live, two in
Massachusetts, one in New Jersey (Hockamik), and one in Minnesota
(Hockamin Creek). One of these, the Hockomock Swamp in the
Bridgewater (Massachusetts) Triangle, is discussed in the next
chapter. It is a place where people vanish and creatures like
giant snakes, Bigfoot, Thunderbirds, and phantom panthers are
seen. I first talked to Hockomock-area residents and Native
Americans about the meaning of the name "Hockomock" to discover
its link to the word "Devil." Then I looked in a Depression-era
Writers Project Administration (WPA) guide, the one on
Massachusetts, and found it defined the variant name for the
swamp, "Hoccomocco," as "evil spirit."
By the way, the WPA guides are wonderful books for tracking down
the origins of place names. One of my favorites is the story
behind Lake Manitou, Indiana. "Manitou" is an Indian word
demonstrating some power and connection to the unknown-"The Great
Spirit," similar in a fashion to what we are talking about here
regarding "devil." According the WPA guide for Indiana (page
436), Lake Manitou was inhabited by three "monster devilfish"
that began destroying all the fish there after arriving from Lake
Michigan. "They even drove the wild game away, for when the
buffalo, elk, deer, and other animals came to the lake to drink,
fearsome serpentine tentacles shot out and dragged them beneath
the surface of the murky water." The prayers of the Natives
exterminated the monsters and out of gratitude, they named the
lake after the Great Spirit. While the exact details of the
encounters may be shrouded in folkloric overtones, the underlying
nature of such stories are an intriguing bit of evidence for some
historical links to real events, as we have seen over and over
again. The land reveals its secrets for those who wish to
The United Kingdom, likewise, abounds with fertile devil sites
for the curious researcher. Evan Hadingham in Circles and
Standing Stones writes: "There are countless names and stories
connecting ancient sites with giants and devils, such as the
Devil's Arrows alignments at Boroughbridge, Yorkshire, or the
name Devil's Quoits associated with Stanton Drew."
Geographical "devil names" worldwide may indicate, as they seem
to in America, locales high in Fortean energy and strangeness.
These places deserve some extra attention, for from the stray sod
to the fairy ring, from the haunted glen to the Devil's Den,
there lies many a riddle to unfold.
Copyright © 2000 Loren