Dearest Miss Bronwen,
I never had the opportunity to finish telling you about the legends of Mount Misery and Sweet Hollow Road, and I knew you would spend the rest of your life wondering about them no doubt. So I’m taking this opportunity to flesh out the details so to speak. Forgive the typos and grammatical errors, which ordinarily you would have handled quite summarily.
You know the weirdest thing I’ve ever seen on Mount Misery? This winter when I hiked up there alone during the snow – you know how I hate going up that hill at the best of times. But when I got to the top and was going down the trail I found I was following a footprint. A single footprint. Somehow, a one legged person had made it up there, and without benefit of cane or crutch. For as long as I cared to follow it there was that single footprint. I still can’t explain that one …
“Mount Misery is the tallest point on Long Island and a place where several towns intersect. ”
Now Bill Knell – I’m sure you remember Bill Knell from the first part of our story – Bill Knell makes this point not once, but twice, and that provides a clue to his wackiness. As I said before, he calls the entire area, from Manetto Hill Road on the West, to Route 110 on the east, Jericho Turnpike on the north to Old Country Road on the south, Mount Misery. Jayne’s Hill, which is distinct from Mount Misery is the highest point on Long Island. If you climb down the western flank of Jayne’s Hill you hit Sweet Hollow Road. Actually you hit a fence. But if you take the right trail, you hit the road. Crossing Sweet Hollow Road, the landscape rises to a point nearly as high as Jayne’s Hill, and encompasses a number of houses, as well as the western part of West Hills County Park. This section is Mount Misery. I did finally find it labelled as such on a Coast Guard Survey map of 1836-40.
Another error in his story is the claim that Mount Misery wasn’t suited for farming. Taking his theory that Mount Misery encompasses the whole Jayne’s Hill/West Hills/Sweet Hollow area, it can be easily proven that this area was once rich in farms and agriculture. In fact, if you climb to the top of the large hill directly across from the cemetery on Sweet Hollow Road, where we hiked in the first part of this article, you’ll find evidence of an irrigation system which one ran water from the highlands to the hollow below.
Now for much of the early part of the twentieth century and before, this area was known by another name, which explains another subset of the myths of Mount Misery, that which claims the area was sacred or taboo to the early native Americans of the area. The name it was known by was Manetto, a concept which stretches back at least to the early part of the 19th century. Historians now discredit the idea that Mount Misery was the Mannetto of the native Americans, but for much of its history, the two were certainly associated with each other.
Even geologists seem to have confused the two. Consider this, from Charles Merguerian and J.E. Sanders “Pleistocene Geology of Long Island’s North Shore,” utterly fascinating reading by the way, quoting an earlier manuscript … “The Mannetto gravel was named from the Mannetto Hills (West Hills), on the crest of which just west of Melville some of the best exposures of this gravel on the island were found.”
It’s worth noting, which I shall do now, that the crest of the hill just west of Melville is where the southern section of Mount Misery Road meets Old Country Road.
Which might also explain why early maps, and indeed even today, part of the road on the western slopes of Mount Misery is called Manetto Hill Road.
If you follow the elevation of Mount Misery down and to the south, you indeed come to the site of Moscopas, once considered a sacred swamp. In a land deed for the Bethpage Purchase, dated 1695 transferring ownership of the area to Thomas Powell, and signed by, among others, Sowwamacus, Moscopas is described as a “hole of dirt and water.” It’s also worth noting that native Americans at the time didn’t consider the concept of owning land to be the same as what the white folks did. To them, it was more like renting, allowing them the use of the land, along with the native Americans, and also meant that the colonists would assist them in their defense, if necessary. This deed spells out that the native Americans reserve the “liberty of hunting and gathering huckleberries.”
Now Manetto Hill was certainly considered sacred. According to Daniel Tredwell, writing in 1853, Mannetto HIll was the home of the great spirit Manitou, and in fact it was originally called Manitou Hill. He goes on to claim that Manitou HIll was the radiating point of several native American traditions. The most famous story, is that during a great drought, the chief climbed to the top of Manitou on the instruction of the spirits, who told him to shoot an arrow from the heights and where the arrow landed, they would find water. Which according to the story, is just what he did. And where the arrow landed, water sprung up from the ground, which became known as Moscopas.
We know where Moscopas was. It was filled in for the construction of the H.B. Mattlin Middle School, at the corner of Manetto Hill Road and Washington Avenue in Plainview, the site of the actual swamp being where the athletic field is now. During the early years of the school, it would frequently flood by water seeping up from the ground, which many joked was the native American’s revenge for filling in Moscopas.
It’s generally agreed by most historians, that Manetto Hill was actually where it is located now, in the village of Plainview. In fact, the high point, where it is assumed the chief shot his arrow from is located where the water tower is now. Which makes more sense. Granted, it would still take a helluva pull on a bow to get an arrow from there to Moscopas. But not nearly as much as from the high point of Mount Misery.
So my guess is that most of the legends associated with Mount Misery that relates to the native Americans, were transferred there by mistake. Much as the stories about the military hospital that probably refers to Edgewood was mistakenly attributed to Mount Misery.
Knell isn’t alone in his identification of Mount Misery over a wide, geographic area, which is a clue about how he gets off track. He appears to get much of his information from the author of the Mothman Prophecies himself, John A. Keel.
If the legends of the Mothman and men In black have a father, it is Keel. Keel’s history as an author began in the 1950s with a book on the mysteries of India. Returning to the states he became immersed in the study of UFOs and all things paranormal. By 1967 he had abandoned the idea that UFOs were extraterrestrials, and instead began forming a construct that they were a form of invisible intelligence that manifests itself in whatever manner the visitee happens to believe. His concept, which isn’t easy to understand and even harder to explain, attempts to tie everything from fairies to vampires to the mysterious sightings on Mt. Misery to this invisible intelligence. He came up with the term “utlraterrestrials,” and pushed forth the idea that they are actually of this world, but an advanced civilization living here among us.
Now to me, the concept that Melville could be a hotbed of an advanced civilization seems a bit of a reach, though the bacon cheeseburger at the Sweet Hollow Diner is indeed out of this world.
Keel states that the local expert on Mt. Misery in the sixties was a local D.J. named Jaye P. Baro, who not only spun discs on the radio but chased after them in the skies over Melville too. According to Keel, Jaye managed to get a photo of a moving black object, of something that resembled a human, with a disfigured face and long, wild black hair, dressed all in black. It ran away into the bushes, and Baro and her accomplice ran in the opposite direction. The photo was published in Beyond magazine in July 1969, with another article on the mysteries of Mt. Misery.
Keel also reports that the sightings seem to have begun, or at least reports of them since 1966. He also appears to give the report of the first mothman sighting in the area, attributed to unidentified “neckers.” He claims that many saucer and cigar shaped objects have been seen there, and this while Bill Clinton was still not inhaling, so Clinton is cleared on the cigar shaped objects there.
Okay, so I have to admit that I’m a bit skeptical about Beyond and other magazines which were popular in the sixties, who seemed to really only need a witness willing to make a claim to take a subject seriously and present it as fact. Also, much of Keel’s work has been thrown into question by people who have investigated his writings, and noticed that certain tales seem to change over time with his telling of them.
A slightly more believable source would be the New York Sun, which printed a letter by one Mr. M.H. Smith. In the letter, he wrote of a winged, human form that performed acrobatics in the skies about Coney Island from 1877-1880. According to the New York Times in September of 1880, many reputable persons saw him flying off toward New Jersey, dressed all in black sporting bat wings, and appeared to be swimming through the sky whilst wearing a cruel and determined expression. But to throw a bit of cold water on the tale, it is also said that he was flying at around 1,000 feet, and one wonders how his expression could be so clearly seen at that height?
Of course the internet is rife with reports of people going into the woods at Mt. Misery at night and spotting the mothman, all in black with huge wings and glowing red eyes. My first inclination is to say “too much weed.” But I’m also reminded of a story back from southern Illinois where I grew up. A group had come down from Chicago to go deer hunting, and came into town to visit the game warden with the albino deer they had shot, which had curious black markings on it. I imagine the wardens eyes rolled at the description, and wasn’t in the least bit surprised to see the cow that they had bagged in the back of their truck.
Simply put, most Long Islanders aren’t used to the woods at night. I’ve been on Mt. Misery at night, and it’s very dark, and if you go down the trails and not just the wide path at the end of the northern section of the road, it’s easy to get turned around. And it’s easy to panic. To one not accustomed to the woods and the creatures that live there, it’s not surprising that one might not expect to see a large bird.
Particularly in the 1960s in the area of West Virginia where the Mothman Prophecies take place, the Sandhill Crane was quite often spotted, and those buggers can have a wingspan of about seven feet and an impressive shriek. Even owls can have quite an expansive wingspan, and at night, to someone already on edge and unfamiliar with the critters, it’s easy to see how someone can make a mistake. To have an owl light from a tree near you in the dark, the sound of the wings flapping and the shadow passing over you can be a frightening experience, and it’s easy to see how young people tanked up on beer might wet themselves trying to get away. Of course there is the red, glowing eyes issue, but even that can be explained by headlights or flashlights in many occasions.
And there’s the theory that the Mothman is the Thunderbird of the native Americans. But the native American’s didn’t need supernatural explanations to explain natural phenomena. Their deities were often totally natural creatures, but also endowed with supernatural or mystical qualities.
I remember the mid to late sixties, when a lot of these stories seem to have sprung up. The Twilight Zone and Outer Limits had just gone off the air, but had made an impression on popular culture. Godzilla and his son, Ghidorah, Mothra and others were rampaging through the cinema, and of course there was the whole space program and the race to the moon, along with the underlying fear of the Ruskies getting up there and putting nuclear weapons in space.
Rural areas have frequently been beset by strange lights in the skies and strange creatures on the ground. The area where I grew up had it’s own shaggy haired, bigfoot style monster, and I can recall mysterious lights in the skies that one evening kept the local police force quite busy. I remember one afternoon as a child, looking up into the sky, and I swear this is true, saw a rocket directly above me. Which might not be so odd after all, as there have been rumors that my area of southern Illinois was home to nuclear missile silos, which might have been used for testing. In short, there were odd things afoot for real, and when a populace is already stimulated to believe in such things, it doesn’t take much to set them off.
The men in black stories are so poorly documented, and so strange as to be laughable. Keel’s experts and witnesses, and Knell’s as well since he seems to draw exclusively from Keel, have all seem to have disappeared without a trace, and when you do find references to them the reference invariably leads back to Keel. He does refer to articles in various magazines, most of which he had connections to, which carried then the same reputation for authenticity that supermarket tabloids do today. Of course, that the sources have disappeared is only further proof for those who see a conspiracy in keeping this evidence supressed. And who knows? Perhaps they’re right. But unless the government or the M.I.B.s themselves open up the archives, we’ll never know.
In the end, the tales of UFOs, the mothman and M.I.B.s on Mount Misery and the Sweet Hollow Road area fall into the realm of legends, or good stories well told. The film version of the Mothman Prophecies is itself a testimony to how Keel and Knell have no hesitation to play loose and fast with the truth. Knell, supposedly an advisor on the film, speaks of how it barely resembles the book, and one wonders why Keel would have allowed a work supposedly so carefully researched to be turned into what can only be called a complete work of fiction, based loosely on certain historic events. The reason of course, is that it’s entertainment, supposed to heighten the pulse and stimulate the imagination.
A walk through the forest of Mount Misery at night will certainly do that. And perhaps if you go, you’ll see something that can’t be explained. There’s certainly enough circumstantial and anecdotal evidence to suggest that something strange has gone on in this area for a long time. But like the flying object of the same name, whatever extraterrestrial or ultraterrestial life lurks on Mount Misery will for now remain, unidentified.
There are more stories of course, still more Mary stories, the mysterious black dog, the man carrying the basket of human heads, but those will have to wait for a later day.
Till then I hope this finds you and yours very well, and I remain …
Real ghost stories and the places that inspired them