Near a small Massachusetts village called Nahant, is a cave that few people are aware of. It’s roughly 24 yards deep with a ceiling over six feet high. I had stumbled upon an old print of the cave while researching caves of New England. Intrigued by my discovery, I spent some time following up on it. It was difficult to find anything written about the cave. Eventually, I discovered a short description that mentioned a witch haunted it. That was more than enough to put it on the top of my to-do list. I scanned through topographical and nautical maps and found its location. Spending a few more hours digging through the archives, I uncovered the story behind Swallow Cave.
In 1675, during the King Philips war, 40 Indians canoed from Cape Cod and raided Lynn, Massachusetts. The settlers of Lynn fought back and forced the Indians to retreat. When The Natives reached the cliffs of Nahant they noticed the opening and quickly hid inside the cave. The men chasing the Indians soon realized they had lost them and returned to Lynn. Over the next few weeks, they began training to find and fight these Indians. When they were ready, they consulted Witch Wonderful, a fortune-teller from Salem. Witch Wonderful proclaimed that she knew what their quest was and where the natives could be found. “They are on the shores of Nahant waiting to attack again, she told them. I’ve been counting the clouds and watching the cattle all week,” Wonderful proclaimed. Then she began to recite a devilish incantation,
“Mingle mingle, Mingle mingle,
Away apart, together single,
The Indians on shore you’ll see,
your death or life, remember me.”
They thanked Wonderful and quickly proceeded to the shores of Nahant. They soon found the Indians hiding in Swallow Cave. Just as the captain of the soldiers was about to fire on the Natives, Witch Wonderful came up behind him and warned him not to shed any blood. She said she would speak to the Indians and convince them to surrender. With Wonderful’s, help an agreement was reached, and the Indians returned to Cape Cod.
Witch Wonderful eventually predicted her own death and was found dead in her home two weeks later. The people of Lynn buried her body atop the hill overlooking Swallow Cave, where she brought peace between the Indians and them. Since then, people have seen the ghost of Witch Wonderful walking on the rocky shore and in the cave.
I went to Nahant to find this cave. Unfamiliar with the area I spent the beginning of my day traversing the rocky cliffs in and around the North Eastern University Marine lab and speaking with the locals. By noon I had located the cave. I entered in the south end, a narrow split in the rock facing the ocean. The ceiling was 20 feet high with a very rough texture. It appeared to have been chiseled out by the waves rather than gently eroded. The walls were rough and irregular and the floor was covered with barnacles. Once I had entered the cave, I could see that it widened to a second entrance on the other end. Unfortunately, the tide had already turned and the south entrance was already partly filled with a foot or more of water. The passage was fairly narrow, and I considered wedging myself against each side and scramble into the dry center. Soon, I realized that some of the footings were rather slick and it could end in disaster. So I removed my shoes, rolled up my pants and waded through 10 feet of icy cold ocean water.
Though it had gotten its name from the great number of swallow that nested there, I only noticed two birds exit as I arrived. Whether they were swallows I’m not sure, I was too busy admiring the cave and only briefly noticed them as they were fleeing to safety. Inside I discovered sea life of all sorts; Small crabs scurried around the floor. Snails and barnacles could be found on each side and at every turn I found starfish of all sizes. The view from the cave was beautiful. How nice it would be to relax in the cool interior of Swallow Cave on a hot summer day. I would highly recommend visiting the cave. Though it was in itself worth the trip, it was only one of the highlights of the area. The cliffs and tide pools of the Marine Lab are filled with fantastic sights and sea life of all sorts. How great it was to handle a sea urchin in its natural habitat. Castle Rock, Pulpit Rock, Spouting Horn, and Forty Steps are just a few of the other sights. Each has their own story to share. Sometime this summer, I’ll make a return trip to Nahant; not only to dig up another lost tale from shores of New England, and explore the rocky shore and cave once again. Though I never did see any sign of Witch Wonderful, I thought that if I lingered at the cave until late in the evening I could scare up some company. If so I would then pay my respects to the woman that prevented a conflict between the Indians and the people of Lynn.
~ Strange New England
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