Spectral Evidence

By Jack Sheedy

Continuing with odd stories of Cape Cod…

This week the waxing moon rides the Halloween sky like a witch on her broom, casting beams down to bewitch jack-o’-lanterns perched upon front steps.

The Mid-Cape region has a witch in the form of Liza Towerhill, the locals’ moniker for an 18th century woman named Elizabeth Blatchford who lived in the woods of Barnstable along the old trail leading to Hyannis. Nowadays, that twisting route is known as Mary Dunn Road.

Elizabeth was born around 1711 in a hut in the woods. Her mother died when she was young, so she was raised by her father who taught her the ways of the forest. She married William Blatchford, and the couple built a home near Half Way Pond, now called Mary Dunn Pond, in the very same forest. They had eight children together. Elizabeth was a member of the church; William joined the church just prior to his death in 1755. The local villagers, not understanding Elizabeth's “odd” lifestyle of living alone in the forest, believed she was in league with the Devil and considered her a witch. She died in 1790 at nearly 80 years of age and was buried in the church cemetery as a member of the East Parish congregation.

Many stories are attached to Liza Towerhill which have been told and retold over the centuries. For instance…

A Mr. Wood of West Barnstable charged her with changing him into a horse at night and riding him to Plymouth in order to attend witches’ Sabbaths. Thankfully, this fantastic claim was dismissed due to lack of physical evidence. (It is important to note that at the Salem Witch Trials in the 1690s spectral evidence was allowed.)

A similar story concerns a gentleman from East Sandwich named Benjamin Goodspeed, who claimed that she would on occasion turn him into a horse and ride him throughout the night, returning him to human form in the morning.

To escape the bewitching Goodspeed went to sea as a crewmember on a vessel far-removed from the Barnstable woods. Yet, the witch appeared one night as her familiar, a black cat, which swam after the ship, came aboard, and transformed itself into Liza Towerhill. She then turned Goodspeed into a horse and rode him across the nighttime hours.

Exhausted by these nocturnal visitations, Goodspeed took the advice of a shipmate and the following evening when the cat swam up to the vessel he rolled a page of the Bible into a pellet and, using a musket, shot the cat and thus killed the witch. Or so the story goes…

Until next time, Happy Halloween!

Jack Sheedy is co-author of Cape Odd and Cape Cod Collected.   

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