Following is a brief history of my research into various events in the history of the City of Providence. While I realize that these incidents seem disconnected in isolation, when taken as a whole, they paint a real and imminent danger to the citizens of our town. As I explain to my many readers, listeners and followers, this story is true, and some of it really happened.
—Mark Binder, Summer, 2013
Roger Williams joked about it in his diary journal.
“After a sparse meal of fish and corn, Cannonicus, the Sachem, warned me not to build my home on the hill. He said that was where ‘The Old One,’ a horrific monster, lived and fed. His vivid description reminded me of the demonic stories told by Popish priests to cow the superstitious. Most probably a rabid bear.”
Roger Williams was wrong. Seventeen years later, his second son, Elijah mysteriously vanished and was discovered three days later at the mouth of a cave concealed by a fallen apple tree. The boy’s hair and skin had turned white. Three fingers on his left hand were gone, as if they had been gnawed off. Elijah had lost his mind and never spoke again.
Roger Williams’ heart was broken. He spent much of the rest of his life abroad in England. A scrap of paper with a crude drawing of an anchor
In 1860 when his bones were dug from the family plot to be re-interred beneath his statue in Prospect Park, the popular story was that an apple tree had eaten through his corpse, and the roots had taken the shape of his leg bones. The truth was much darker.
In his diary, Stephen Randall, a witness wrote,
“The stench that emitted from the opened grave was beyond imagining. There lay Roger Williams, looking as well-preserved as the day he was interred. Yet his eyes were open, his mouth peeled back baring his teeth in a rictus of horror. When Elder Brown bent down to close the poor man’s eyes, the body disintegrated into thousands of wriggling worms. Those who were present fled, and when we returned all that remained were the roots of the apple tree, looking strangely like a leg bone.”
Moses Brown discovered the mangled corpse of a slave girl in the basement of his East Side Home in 1773. No one knew who she was or how she had died,
“The corpse’s condition was appalling. Her back was scarred with lines that John said betrayed the excessive use of a lash, but reminded me of both the jagged tares rendered by an animal’s claw and the infected ruin of a child caught in a wave of jellyfish tentacles.”
A short time later, Moses Brown freed his slaves and began working for abolition.
Edgar Allen Poe, the author, was the next to write of the thing that lived beneath the Hill. In the margin of the original manuscript for the famous poem, “The Raven”
Poe wrote in a crabbed hand,
“Only in the form of a black bird I can indicate the monstrosity. I have tried again and again to describe the Old One, but language fails me, and the words I use seem unnatural and unreal.”
Following his failed courtship of Sarah Helen Power (Whitman), Poe spent weeks wandering up and down Benefit Street in a laudanum-induced haze. Many say that he never recovered.
The most direct references to the creature came from Howard Phillips Lovecraft, who is still famous for his horrific tales of the Necronomicon and “The Great Old Ones” with unpronounceable names. Lovecraft lived most of his life on Providence’s East Side, at the tip of a triangle between the land near where Elijah Williams was discovered, and the basement of Moses’s Brown’s house.
“…that cellar in our childhood house was my constant nightmare,” Lovecraft wrote to his brother Peter near the end of his life. “While you and Emily laughed and played, I peered into the darkness. I fear that soul-destroying blackness corrupted me somehow.”
More recently, on May 1, 1993, a party thrown by a group of Rhode Island School of Design Students in an abandoned train tunnel ended in horror.
The Providence Journal reported that, “After the tear gas and pepper spray cleared, police found thirteen naked students, their backs bleeding as if they had been struck with a whip. One girl was dead. Police have no suspects, but report the probability of drug abuse.”
In 2003, when more than 30 house cats were reported missing, the Providence Journal attributed the disappearances to a coyote roaming the neighborhood, yet suggested that “small pets and children remain inside after dark.” In 2009, three homeless men who had been reportedly sleeping under a nearby bridge were also declared missing, by the police, but “presumed to have left the state.:
An article in an alternative The Agenda suggested in 2006 that the changing landscape of the City was bringing the horror to the surface.
“The rivers have been uncovered, a highway is shifting, and a billion dollar project has dug underground sewage overflow tanks beneath the hills where Roger Williams once planted his crops. What else have the construction crews dug up?”
Shortly afterwards, the sidewalk behind the First Baptist Church in America on Benefit Street began to disintegrate and cave in. It took several years to effect the repairs on the sidewalk and fence behind the First Baptist Church.
A city contractor reported in a brief memo that has since gone missing, “…every time we tried to fill it, the sinkhole beneath Benefit Street would fill with slimy brown ichor. We finally had to lay in rebar and cement in layers going down fifteen feet. It is possible that the missing day worker fell in and wasn’t noticed, but I doubt it.”
Even now, week after week, at WaterFire in Providence bonfires are lit in the river and haunting music is played while tens of thousands of people wander through the smoke as an ancient ceremony is reborn and recreated.
Less than six months ago, the mutilated body of a missing Brown University student was found in at the site of an old Narragansett burial ground. The details were hushed up, photographs of his corpse were deleted and television cameras were kept far from the scene.
When asked to comment bout the rumors that these and the other events documented in this article were the work of the Old One, the Mayor refused to answer. “This was clearly the work of a sick human being,” he said. “We have far more pressing problems in this city in terms of education and infrastructure. Don’t bother me about this nonsense.”
Have the shifting lands disturbed the creature? Are the fires and the people drawing the monster closer, bringing it nearer and nearer to the surface?
It is hard to tell with all the noise. But if you listen carefully, as you wander the darkened streets of Providence late at night, perhaps you will hear a sound, a soft and slurping sound, as if a moistened finger was caressing the cartilage next to your ear.
If you hear this sound, do not stop. Do not turn around. Do not scream. It feeds on fear and despair.
Enjoy your breath. It may be your last.