The Straight Lines of the Great Pond
By Richard Flavin
The "Hatch" section of Lake Cochichewick, North Andover, Massachusetts. © 2005 RDF.
While driving through North Andover, MA recently, I stopped near Lake Cochichewick to satisfy a sudden urge to appreciate nature. Roads and sidewalks get the job done and are good to physically get from one point to another, but there’s nothing like a few moments with nature to spiritually (read: mentally) lead you to a different place. And, besides, the lake was a major local player with much history and I hadn’t yet given greetings.
North Andover originally began as Cochichewick Plantation (var. Cochiechewick), a deeded agricultural area set aside by the Massachusetts Bay Colony General Court in 1634, but not settled until 1643. Cochichewick is said to be Algonquian and to mean “Place of the Great Cascade.” The early English settlers knew of many Algonquian speakers who passed through the area, but recorded that the Pennacook tribe seemed most numerous.
Tradition has it that a Pennacook chief, Cutshamache, relinquished rights to some land that included what is now the town of Andover for "six pounds of currency and a coat." For many years afterwards the Pennacooks provided essential advice to the colonists. Historically attested, Chief Passaconaway of the Pennacooks ruled peacefully over the present Merrimack Valley north to today’s Dover, NH, and is respected for forming the Pennacook Confederacy, a coalition of Algonquin-speaking tribes which united against the aggressive Mohawks.
The plantation incorporated as Andover (named after the English village) in 1646, developed separate living areas based upon two neighboring (and competing) parishes, and after the early and mid-19th century mill industrialization, split into two towns in 1855, with the southern parish assuming the name Andover and the oldest area of settlement becoming North Andover.
The Great Pond, a large lake of 374 acres (a 1795 estimate), has remained the most influential and important body of water to the area (apart from the seaward flowing Merrimack River) from its earliest settlement until the present day. In 1900, the name was changed to Lake Cochichewick. The local Freemason meeting-house is named the Cochichewick Lodge and was founded in 1874. Clearly the name had significance to the citizens of North Andover.
A parking lot off Pleasant Street seemed appropriate and I pulled over. Through a small section of woods I could see the cultivated beach of Stevens Pond, but my attention was pulled to the other direction and several fishermen. The required “Caught anything?” was asked and I was surprised by the merry affirmatives. They fished from a built-up earthen trail with Stevens Pond on one side and a small triangular pond on the other. Behind them was a rather imposing stone bridge with more woods visible on the other side. I left the fishermen and went underneath the stone bridge. A small, stone building just past the bridge, on the edge of Lake Cochichewick, commanded my interest and I obeyed.
A small stone building on the southwestern tip of Lake Cochichewick. © 2005 RDF.
It was the work of powerful dwarves. Short, yet stout, the small, stone building seemed monumental and grandiose. The building recalled the Massachusetts practice of stealing large chunks of the Granite State to the north and laying curbstones in Lawrence and Haverhill, as well the associated stoneworks of Boston’s highly regarded Emerald Necklace and other public park structures erected by Frederick Law Olmsted and his firm from the early 1870s to 1895.
I pondered who constructed the stone building, its age and purpose. Examining the building on all sides, my heart nearly stopped in surprise when at the base of the building facing Lake Cochichewick I noticed marks which seemed to be writing, more specifically, the ancient Irish oghamic script!
A series of marks which resemble ogham, an ancient Irish alphabet. © 2005 RDF.
As a young adult I had been introduced to ogham by the recommendation of a friend when queried about hypothetical ancient ways of communicating with finger numbering and position. He suggested I read The White Goddess by Robert Graves (a book I’d not yet read, but was familiar with as trivia, as together with Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings they were the inspiration for Led Zeppelin’s rock classic, “Stairway to Heaven”). Later, after reading Graves’ King Jesus and of Jesus’ exposure to ogham while training in Egypt, ogham became for me a potent symbol of a pagan past before Christianity.
My next significant encounter with ogham occurred in 1983 with the reading of a brief story in a newspaper (Barach, Malcolm. “Names and Faces,” The Boston Globe. Boston, MA: February 24, 1983) about the possibility of ancient oghamic script in West Virginia. The claim was made by a retired marine biologist, Howard Barraclough “Barry” Fell (emeritus; invertebrate zoology, Harvard). Between 1976, when I first read The White Goddess, and 1983, when Fell advanced his translations of the Boone County and Horse Creek petroglyphs, Fell had published three very popular books on pre-Columbian diffusion from the Old World to the New. [Fell, Barry. America B.C.: Ancient Settlers in the New World. New York, NY: Quadrangle/The New York Times Book Co., 1976; Fell, Barry. Saga America. New York, NY: Times Books, 1980; and Fell, Barry. Bronze Age America. Boston, MA: Little, Brown, 1982.]
Though the books sold well, the critics weren’t open to Fell’s work and three major rejections also appeared during those years. [Daniel, Glyn. “Review of America B.C. Ancient Settlers in the New World. By Barry Fell. Illustrated 312 pp, New York: Quandrangle/The New York Times Book Company. $12.50.:They Came Before Columbus. By Ivan Van Sertima. Illustrated. 288 pp. New York: Random House, $15,” The New York Times Review of Books, The New York Times. New York, NY: March 13, 1977 (2 pp.); Cook, William L. (Editor) Ancient Vermont: Proceedings of the Castlton Conference, Castleton State College, October 14-15, 1977; Rutland, VT: Academy Books, 1978 (Comments by Anne Ross, p. 88); and Fitzhugh, William H. and Ives Goddard. “A Statement Concerning America B.C., for the Department of Anthropology, Smithsonian Institution,” Man in the Northeast. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution, 1978; pp. 166-72.]
Prof. Howard Barraclough "Barry" Fell (1917-1994), his rendition of the oghamic script, and a manuscript style example.
Still, the magick worked, albeit on a sentimental and mythopoetic level, and ever since the rock structures of New England, especially those with mysterious markings on them, have continued to bewitch me with their enigmatic allure.
The work of Fell has been most often criticized for his radical insistence on reading certain straight lines as not only oghamic script, but an advanced form of ogham written without vowels he referred to as “ogham consaine." Yet, the marks at the base of the small stone building seemed more than Fell’s controversial consonantal ogham. There was an “X” and a marking which could be a curved “C,” reminiscent of diphthongs in the ogham alphabet (the "forfeda"), and other possible letters. Was I looking at ogham in North Andover?
The "Iargalon Stone" found in Vermont by Fell in 1975 and his transcription of the marks. He translates: "Ianod Daiada Iargalon or 'Precincts of the Gods of the Land Beyond the Sunset'." From Ancient Vermont, p. 176; used without permission.
In Ancient Vermont (p.140), Peter Reynolds and Anne Ross summarized their rejection of Fell’s ogham claims with: “Almost without exception it is possible to provide perfectly good and acceptable alternatives for the origins of the markings, ranging from normal erosion patterns and organism trails well evidenced in geological literature (e.g. Conybeare and Crook, 1968) to plough marks subjected to further erosion once exposed to the elements or even at the base of the ploughsoil” [Conybeare, C. E. B. and K. A. W. Crook. "Manual of Sedimentary Structures." Department of National Development Bulletin 102. Canberra, Australia. (1968); updated as Conybeare, C. E. B. and K. A. W. Crook. Manual of Sedimentary Structures. Canberra, Australia: Bureau of Mineral Resources, Geology and Geophysics (1982). RDF] These couldn't be plough marks!
In “Straight Lines: Selected Reviews," I wrote : “Ogham (var. ogam) is thought to mean ‘skilled use of words,’ was originally ‘a peculiar form of cryptic speech, in which, for instance, the names of letters replaced in certain syllables the letters themselves,’ and a term for the entire spoken composition. [Diringer, David. 1948. The Alphabet: A Key to the History of Mankind. New York: Philosophical Library; p. 525. Diringer’s assessment may have been based on: Meyer, Kuno. 1909. The Secret Languages of Ireland. Journal of the Gypsy Lore Society (new series). 2: 241-246.] At some later point, perhaps even immediately afterwards, ogham was also used to describe an engraved inscription in oghamic script (as one pens a letter, so one would notch or cut an ogham). Both uses involve explicit occult cryptology and an implicit sense of cleverness.” (Flavin, Richard. Straight Lines: Selected Reviews. Flavin’s Corner; pt. II, par. 4; http://www.flavinscorner.com/reviews.htm.) Was something being said with these straight lines?
The "Blanchard Stone" from Vermont and Fell's transcription; photograph from Ancient Vermont, p. 180; used without permission. According to Fell, it’s a prayer for rain inscribed in a form of Gaelic used by Iberian Celts.
Diffusionists turned into genuine hyperdiffusionists with the suggestion that certain New World petroglyphs were proto-ogham and examples of a global, prehistoric form of communication. [Barron, David. Ogam–A Precursor of Written Language. The Epigraphic Society Occasional Publications 10, pt. 2. (1982) 235: 48.] In Ancient Celtic America, the diffusionist authors use “Old People style” to describe a series of heavily patinated straight lines combined with other symbols (thought by Fell to represent the Thamudic script). Later, they use the term "Archaic Geometric" for the same petroglyphs. [McGlone, William R. and Phillip M. Leonard. Ancient Celtic America (appendix by Rollin W. Gillespie). Fresno, CA: Panorama West Books; pp. 201-202 (1986).] Other diffusionists have used "Old People's Script" for straight lines that are "unreadable."
In the same volume of ESOP as Barron’s article, Prof. Fell chased his own early claim for ogham past left field, out of the ballpark, down the street, turned a sharp corner and kept on running. He had the temerity to announce that an “ogam consaine amulet,” which he thought dated to 2000 BCE, spelled out: “B-YA-N M-T D-N D-M, or Byanu mat, dion diom, that is ‘Good Mother Goddess, a protection for me’.” [Fell, Barry. An Ogam Consaine inscribed artifact from Windmill Hill, Wiltshire, England. Epigraphic Society Occasional Publications 10, pt. 1 (1982) 247:110-111.] The current estimate with refinements in radiocarbon dating suggest c. 3500-3400 BCE as likeliest for the Windmill Hill incised amulet. Readers are encouraged to consult any recent and reputable work on the origins of writing and the invention of the alphabet to better appreciate the absurdity of Fell’s claim of a Late Neolithic alphabet.
Fell maintained an impossibly early connection between Europe’s Megalith Builders and the ancient Celts. Interesting, however, is that many megalithic structures are near water, with even the sufficiently landlocked Stonehenge being dependent on maritime technology. The massive blue stones of Stonehenge have been determined to have originated 240 miles from Salisbury Plain, in Pembrokeshire, south west Wales. Coastal and river rafting were among the European Late Neolithic bag of tricks. Stone, water, wood and land! I looked at straight lines on big rocks near the edge of the small fishing pond, some locals call “The Triangle.” My imagination seemed to be having its way with my sense of reason.
An abandoned railbed on top of the Old Stone Arch Bridge and nearby straight lines. © 2005 RDF.
After I climbed the earth embankment which abutted the bridge, I gazed down a dirt trail which disappeared in the distance. No debris or garbage was visible and it was like looking into the past, only not so far back as a Europe’s Megalith Builders. The railroad tracks had been ripped up long ago, but it was closer to dozens of years and not thousands. When did the railroad first come to North Andover?
I’d personally come to terms with Fell’s claim of “Ogam Consaine” for my “Straight Lines” article. After years of reading conflicting arguments, I finally checked the source material for myself. In one my notes, I explain: “ O Hehir, Brendan. 1989. The Origin, Development and History of the Ogam Script: Facts and Conjectures (Abstract handout sheets from the Ridgecrest Meeting of the American Rock Art Research Association 1988 Symposium, Ridgecrest, California May 28, 29 and 30). Epigraphic Society Occasional Publications 18: 30-34. O Hehir writes about a claim of McGlone's ... ‘From Eoghan Rua he mistranscribes a line of verse, An ogham fada [should be fhada], aereach aosta chonsainidhe with an accompanying 'translation': 'The Ogam of Long Ago, Peculiar, Archaic and using only consonants.' This translation is completely wrong, whether McGlone or Fell or a third party is to blame. What the line of verse speaks of is, 'The consonanted, aged, airy, long ogam.' 'Consonanted' ogham is not 'ogham written using only consonants,' and 'long' is not 'of long ago,' nor is 'aged' necessarily 'archaic.' It seems the phrase (‘o. consaine, consonantal ogham’) is found in a dictionary used by Fell. McGlone and others, but O Hehir says this is an error. See: Dinneen, Patrick S. 1975. Foclóir Gaedhilge agus Béarla - An Irish English Dictionary (revised and expanded from 1927/1934 editions). Dublin: Irish Texts Society; under ‘Ogham.’ ‘Eoghan Rua’ or Eoghain Ruaidh Uí Shúilleabháin (Ang. Owen Roe O’Sullivan) was an eighteenth century bard, drunk, sailor and soldier who barely lasted three dozen years after leaving the womb. I couldn’t imagine a better source and citation for Fell to use. It’s actually quite clever.” [Flavin, Richard. “Straight Lines: Selected Reviews. Flavin’s Corner; Note 24; http://www.flavinscorner.com/reviews.htm.] These straight lines weren't plough marks or Fells "Ogam Consaine." They were something different. Walking back to the parking lot, I knew I'd be returning soon.
Examples of straight lines outside the bridge. © 2005 RDF.
The Irish have been here a long time, but certainly not as early as the hyperdiffusionists suggest, and probably not during the early Medieval period (the St. Brendan theory), though some proceeded the Norse into the Atlantic accorded to Icelandic accounts, it’s highly doubtful the Irish were in North America before Columbus’ 1492 voyage of discovery.
My great, great, great, great grandfather is said to have immigrated here from Ireland and died working on the Erie Canal (1819-1825). Other Irish followed en masse with the Potato Famine of 1845-1849. Perhaps some of those Irish found work laying track or cutting stone. The marks weren’t writing, just scars from a chisel.
The base of the stone building after a risen water-level of Lake Cochichewick. © 2005 RDF. Click for larger pics.
According to the online open-source encyclopedia, Wikipedia, the beginnings of the railroad in the area are: “The Andover and Wilmington Railroad was incorporated March 15, 1833 to build a branch from the Boston and Lowell Railroad at Wilmington, Massachusetts north to Andover. The line opened to Andover on August 8, 1836. The name was changed to the Andover and Haverhill Railroad on April 18, 1837, reflecting plans to build further to Haverhill (opened later that year), and yet further to Portland, Maine with the renaming to the Boston and Portland Railroad on April 3, 1839, opening to the New Hampshire state line in 1840.
The Boston and Maine Railroad was chartered in New Hampshire on June 27, 1835, and the Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusetts Railroad was incorporated March 12, 1839 in Maine, both companies continuing the proposed line to South Berwick, Maine. The railroad opened in 1840 to Exeter, New Hampshire, and on January 1, 1842 the two companies merged with the Boston and Portland to form a new Boston and Maine Railroad.” [Wikipedia. Boston and Maine Railroad; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boston_%26_Maine_Railroad.]
The Old Stone Arch Railway Bridge was constructed in 1840 to support the Lawrence Extension line (a.k.a. the Essex Railroad); the line closed and was dismantled in 1926. The tool marks of the bridge were different than those at the base of the nearby stone building, but I needed to get away from ogham and start thinking clearly again. What marks are usually associated with lakes? Water level? When I returned some weeks later, depth marks proved a correct guess.
Marks indicating a water level of eleven feet. © 2005 RDF.
Early in its public works history the Town of North Andover realized the need to regulate the water level of Great Pond and constructed a drainage system at its southwestern tip (an area known as the "Hatch").
The stone building which houses a still functioning sluice-gate was erected in 1868. As the Portugese and Italian immigrants had yet to move into the North Shore in any appreciable numbers, the straight lines of the Great Pond may have been made by the Irish, but it wasn’t oghams they were paid to cut!
As the magick dissolved within and around me, I smiled and was quietly thankful I’d not wasted the time of local diffusion and epigraphy colleagues. Chances are they wouldn’t have enjoyed the straight lines nearly as much as I did.
Lake Cochichewick with the sluice-gate building in the lower left-hand corner. © 2005 RDF.
I'd like to thank the reference staff of the North Andover Stevens Memorial Library and Linda Hmurciak, the Assistant Superintendent and Lab Director, of the Water Treatment Plant of the North Andover Water Department for their speedy help and fingertip facts.
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