The Friends support the mission of Schoharie Crossing State Historic Site in their dedication to the interpretation and preservation of the Erie Canal. Contact us to join and help by either a monetary donation or by volunteering your time, energy &/or resources.
For centuries the specter of
witchcraft has hung ghastly over the new world.
Children’s tales are full of
knobby fingered, warty nosed screeching witches that devour them if they are
allowed to be lead astray. But what if
the threat of witchcraft came to them? What
if it came at night, when they slept in their beds at home?
Iroquois for centuries believed
in the fearful ways of witchcraft, and sentenced those among them thought to be
a witch to a gruesome death. Those
beliefs did not change greatly as European settlers from the Netherlands,
England or Palatine began their migration into the valley. In fact, those Europeans brought their own
set of witch tales with them, along with “superstitions”
about those that practiced the craft.
Seldom openly discussed and nearly void in the archival records, witches
were feared and indeed a part of New York history.
Long after the sensational and now
in Salem, Massachusetts, New York proposed to dig a canal across the state;
across land which held spiritual meaning for more than just the remaining
Native American population. It is said
that there were others on the land that were cast off for their beliefs and, choosing
to live a life of nearly total isolation, had fled into the unsettled stretches
of the Mohawk Valley. For them the River
was a life force, the blood that sustained their practices and gave power to
their conjuring ways.
Once that grand canal, the Erie Canal, opened across the state, it
meant the decline of the relative spiritual peace that had existed along the
Mohawk River. Some have said that the
natural world screamed out as it was cut and dug for the canal, and the
harbinger of death hung like the smoke of burning sulfur all along its
path. Those witches that for so
many years hide themselves along the waterway harkened to the call and placed a
curse on the canal.
Many who did not ply their trade nor work along the canal could never
fully realize the horror that the curse brought along the artificial
river. Seldom brought up, the murmurs of
laborers along the canal that the witches grasp on their souls was strong would
be faint and often hid by those who wanted to see the canal succeed not matter
what. Disease and declining morality
along the stretch from Albany to Buffalo was seen as a result of progress, the necessary
evil in creating a booming economy and freer society overall. Gradually the wisps of that sulfur smoke
would overtake the Valley…
The Witches' Chimney at Schoharie Crossing State Historic Site
To protect themselves, people
settling into the new towns and cities that grew from the fertile canal subtly
employed the superstitious into their practical designs. All along the Canalway there are architectural
remnants of such things, from shoes concealed within the walls of the building
to salt and witches bottles and tobacco pipes to the ever interesting witches’
chimney. In Fort Hunter, a hub of canal
activity and even the location of several broom manufacturers, there is
evidence that those apotropaic
magic designs existed.
Within the building that now
houses the Schoharie
Crossing Visitor Center, a witches’ chimney still protects those that are
inside from the dreadful prospect of broom welding witches
making their way in through the chimney.
A Witches Chimney is slanted from the top downward as a way to keep
flying witches from entering. And with
so many fine brooms being made in Fort Hunter, perhaps they were frequent
A portion of that original canal,
Clinton’s famous “Ditch” remains in the now sleepy hamlet of Fort
Hunter, NY and while the locals may not speak of it, if you are there you
can sometimes hear the fading screeches of the witches …………..