Massachusetts January 04, 2018
7 Horrifying Massachusetts Stories You Didn’t Learn About In History Class
Massachusetts has a proud history filled with innovation and accomplishments. However, it also has borne witness to more than a few dark and gruesome events. From satanic murders to a bizarre urban disaster that killed dozens with nothing but sugar, here are some of the most horrible pieces of Massachusetts history that you’ve probably never heard about.
1. A satanic cult sacrificed locals in the forests of Fall River.
Fall River was once terrorized by a murderous group who styled themselves as devil-worshipers and killed at least three women between 1979 and 1980. Carl H. Drew and Robin Murphy were convicted of the murders of Donna Levesque and Karen Marsden after it came to light that the pair were part of a cult that reportedly killed every thirty days, conjured demons and offered human sacrifices to the powers of darkness. The group tortured their victims and mutilated their bodies, even playing soccer with the decapitated head of one woman. Read more about this story
2. A massive tsunami of molasses devastated Boston.
The Great Molasses Flood of 1919 killed 21 people and injured hundreds more. On January 15, a storage tank filled with boiling molasses burst and sent more than two million gallons of the hot, sticky substance surging through Boston’s North End. The disaster swept away buildings and trapped animals, children, vehicles, and entire families in searing-hot molasses.
3. A murderous nurse nicknamed "Jolly Jane" once secretly killed more than 30 people.
Jane Toppan was one of the most dangerous serial killers in American history, and no one suspected her until the very end. Born in 1854 in Boston, Toppan was committed to an orphanage as a young child before being hired out as an indentured servant to a wealthy family in Lowell. She later trained as a nurse, but would become an angel of death. Jane Toppan would eventually use her medical training to kill at least 31 people, including her foster sister Elizabeth Toppan and other members of her own family. Toppan would poison her victims with a lethal cocktail of drugs and fondle them as they died. She reported enjoying seeing her victims' eyes drain of life. After her eventual arrest in 1901, Toppan stated that her ambition was "to have killed more people — helpless people — than any other man or woman who ever lived."
4. A library book was once bound in a criminal’s flesh.
Yup. There’s a book in the Boston Atheneum that is literally bound in human flesh. It’s the biography of the highwayman James Allen, who was executed in the 1830s and requested that the story of his life (and crimes) be bound in his own skin after his death. Incredibly, the Allen asked that the book be given to the man who accused him of the crime for which he eventually died, John Fenno Jr. Before donating it to the Boston Athenaeum, the Fenno family reportedly used the book to spank naughty children.
5. This tunnel is nicknamed the "Bloody Pit" because so many people have died inside it.
More than 200 people have died within this dark tunnel. The five-mile Hoosac Tunnel in the Hoosac mountain range runs from North Adams to Florida. The construction of the tunnel lasted a whopping 24 years from 1851 to 1875. Multiple building accidents claimed dozens of lives, including one particularly gruesome incident where 13 men were plunged down a 583-foot shaft and presumed dead. Months later, searchers seeking their bodies discovered the remains of a makeshift raft at the bottom of the shaft. The evidence suggested that the doomed men had survived for at least a week at the bottom of the pitch-black pit, waiting for rescue. Read more about this story
6. Multiple towns were drowned to create the Quabbin Reservoir.
Several Massachusetts towns were flooded in order to make room for the Quabbin Reservoir. The towns of Dana, Enfield, Greenwich and Prescott were all dis-incorporated in April of 1938 and drowned to create the state’s largest inland body of water. The residents were forced to move to neighboring towns and many of the old buildings are still sitting beneath the water today.
7. And finally… someone once stole the Sacred Cod.
We’ve saved the most dastardly tale for last. I know what you're thinking: what on earth is a Sacred Cod?
The Sacred Cod is nearly five-foot-long carved wooden effigy of an Atlantic codfish that hangs in the Massachusetts State House. The current fish dates from 1784 and is actually the third Sacred Cod to protect the Bay State — the first was burned up in 1747 and the second was misplaced or stolen during the American Revolution. In 1922, the Sacred Cod was codnapped by the editors of the Harvard Lampoon. In their efforts to find the fish, the city dragged the Charles River and searched a landing airplane in New Jersey. The Cod was also briefly stolen again in 1968 by students at the University of Massachusetts Boston.
For more strange Massachusetts history (and not just the horrifying kind) check out
these bizarre Bay State history facts that will surprise you.