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Things That Go Bump Day, Night : Connecticut Town Is Known for Its Mysterious Noises

Charles Hillinger's America

October 31, 1985|CHARLES HILLINGER | Times Staff Writer

MOODUS, Conn. — "It's kind of spooky and creepy, like Halloween all year long, living in Moodus," 16-year-old Angela Urbano mused.

"We have the weirdest noises from time to time at various hours of the day and night. Noises that have been heard for centuries and Charles Hillinger's

America

remain a mystery to this day," explained Moodus high school science teacher Jim Meyer, 49, who did his master's thesis for Central Connecticut State University on the Moodus noises.

The noises have been described as sounding like thunder coming up from deep in the earth, the firing of guns, the popping of popcorn, the rumbling of trucks down highways. . . .

Geologists and other scientists theorize the noises are caused by small earthquakes localized under Moodus, pop. 1,000.

The name of the town comes from the Wangunk Indian word machemoodus, meaning place of strange noises.

"Wangunks, who assimilated with other Connecticut Indians after the first settlers arrived in the 1600s, had a religious cult based on the noises," said Moodus' Nathan Hale High School science teacher Alison Guinness.

Guinness also wrote her master's thesis on the mysterious Moodus noises. She completed her thesis earlier this year for Wesleyan University.

Dwelled in a Cave

"Their god was Hobomoko, the God of Evil who dwelled in a cave beneath Moodus," she said, adding that this was reported in writing of Pilgrim preachers.

Wangunks believed the noises occurred when Hobomoko became angry with witches that dwelled in the cave with him and that the strange sounds were witches being blown out of the cave by Hobomoko.

The Puritans were about as superstitious about the sounds as were the Indians and built up a store of folklore about the Moodus noises.

Meyer noted that when America first became a nation local residents were describing the weird noises like those of musket fire or the rolling of a cannonball across the floor.

In his thesis he theorized that the noises possibly came from water eroding a network of shallow underground caves causing rocks to be ripped off walls and ceilings and hurled against the cave.

"The noise is most prevalent near the opening of a cave in a local hill called Mount Tom," Guinness said. "I believe the noise of shifting rock formations underground is amplified by the cave."

One local story is about a British scientist named Dr. Steele (his first name has long since been forgotten) who came to Moodus in 1765 to study the phenomenon, crawled into a cave and was never heard from again.

Ghost of Dr. Steele

Some say it is the ghost of Dr. Steele who is making all the noise.

"It's something we live with 365 days a year. Sometimes we are shaken from our sleep by the strange underground rumblings, but we've grown accustomed to it," said Peg Sievers, 59, the high school secretary.

Very seldom is any California-style shaking felt in Moodus. Usually it's only the strange noises.

"Sometimes people say it's just the 125-year-old Moodus Fife and Bugle Corps practicing," Sievers said. "The noise has a distinctive sound of playing drums very loudly."

Several universities have drilled holes in the ground and made studies of the area but haven't been able to pinpoint the exact cause except to say it is apparently some type of localized seismic activity.

The noise is unpredictable. In 1981, seismographs set up in Moodus recorded more than 500 small earth movements. Sometimes several weeks pass before the odd sounds are heard.

Cathy Wilson, 43, has been able to tape the noise a half dozen times at the request of Weston University in neighboring Massachusetts. "On tape it sounds like the pop, pop, popping of popcorn in a popper," she said.

The Moodus Nathan Hale High School basketball, baseball and track teams are called The Little Noises. "Let's make a big noise for the Little Noises," is one of their cheers. It is believed to be the only school in the country with that team name.

Down the road from Moodus is Devil's Hopyard State Park where eroded rocks are called the Devil's footprints and ghosts supposedly dwell in a haunted house. But that's another story.

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