FATE Magazine: Mysterious World 'Name Game"
In November 1998, FATE Magazine published an article on the work of Henry Franzoni
I have enjoyed playing the name game for decades, and thank the readers who have asked to hear more about this. The name game is a recreational activity that anyone can engage in from the comfort of their home, driving around town, or while on vacation. All you need, usually, is a map and a curious mind. Pick a location that has an intriguingly interesting sounding moniker (perhaps one of the many I'll mention in this column) and see if you can discover the strange story, bizarre encounter, or weird sighting of a specific creature that has left its imprint on the landscape. You might have to talk to a historical museum docent, look up the name in a local book, or dig a bit, but it is a good way to begin research on a fun topic.
I have written about these lexilinks before, of course, in *Mysterious America* and *Curious Encounters*. Most notably, I talked about a frequent bond between places named Devil and Forteana. Europeans coming to America were quite taken with the sinister experiences they had or they would hear about from the Native Americans already here, and these colonists started giving the name Devil to all the locations that were tied to unexplainable phenomena. Over two decades ago, I wrote my first article about this, and people are still looking into it. In this column, through sharing some of this new work, I think you'll get some hints at some great places to visit. Thanks to the people that have written me; there¹s exciting work being done in this arena. A researcher with a remarkable names database living in the Pacific Northwest, Henry Franzoni, just told me that as of August 1998, for example, he had found 2,635 places named (or which were named) Devil, Diablo or Diabla in the United States.
In a related vein is the Algonquin Indian word for the Devil - Hockomock. Franzoni has found a total of 10 places in the US named Hockomock, six in Maine, where I live, two in Massachusetts, one in New Jersey (Hockamik), and one in Minnesota (Hockamin Creek). I once traveled to, explored thoroughly, and wrote about one of the most famous Hockomocks in the country - the Hockomock Swamp in the Bridgewater (Massachusetts) Triangle. It¹s a place where people vanish and creatures like giant snakes, Bigfoot, Thunderbirds, and phantom panthers are frequently seen. I have talked to Hockomock-area residents and Native Americans about the meaning of the name "Hockomock" to discover its link to the word Devil. Then I looked in a Depression-era Writers Project Administration (WPA) guide, the one on Massachusetts, and found it defined the variant name for the swamp, "Hoccomocco," as "evil spirit".
WPA guides are wonderful books to try to track down the origins of place names. One of my favorites is the story behind Lake Manitou, Indiana. Manitou is an Indian word demonstrating some power and connection to the unknown, to the Great Spirit. According the WPA guide for Indiana (page 436), Lake Manitou was inhabited by three monster devilfish that began destroying all the fish there after arriving from Lake Michigan. They even drove the wild game away, for when the buffalo, elk, deer, and other animals came to the lake to drink, fearsome serpentine tentacles shot out and dragged them beneath the surface of the murky water. The prayers of the Natives exterminated the monsters and out of gratitude, they named the lake after the Great Spirit. While the exact details of the encounters may be shrouded in folkloric overtones, the underlying nature of such stories are strong evidence of some historical links to real events, as we have seen over and over again. The land reveals its secrets for those that wish to look.
Most libraries have another book that is somewhat helpful in the playing of this game, George R. Stewart's *American Place Names* (NY: Oxford University Press 1970). The book contains and defines the meanings of 12,000 place names, and is a wonderful resource. But Stewart does not always get it completely correct.
Stewart, for instance, writes that "Hockanum, Hockamock, and Hocquan" are Algonquian for "the general idea of being hook-shaped." I know from my research about Hockomock in Massachusetts and Maine, that¹s not the whole story. Stewart goes on, however, and relates the words "Hobomak, Hobbomoc, Hobbomocka [as] Algonquian, with reference to an evil spirit (cf. Medicine, Waban) or the idea of a place being haunted; by the colonists taken to be 'the Indian devil,' [the name is found in connection to] several features in New England." (p. 207)
In Maine, of course, the "Indian devil" was a Bigfoot-like creature in the mountains, seen up until the turn-of-the-century, or a panther-like beast in sighted in some forests.
Stewart is not to be totally trusted. For example, even though he clearly senses a relationship between the "evil spirit" origins of his "Hobomak" and "Waban", he defines "Waban" elsewhere in his book as "Algonquin, a name for the east wind." (p. 516)
Another word that seems very tied to past close encounters of the monstrous kind is the name Booger. Booger is related to the same origins as boogey man and is a generalized place name now for areas where any kind of strange beasts have been seen. Henry Franzoni has found sixteen Booger locations in the USA and Canada. There is a Booger Pond in South Carolina, Booger Den Hollow, Booger Hill, Booger Hollow and Boogertown Gap... all in Tennessee, Booger Canyon in New Mexico, Booger Branch and Boogertown in North Carolina, Booger Hole Slough in Mississippi, Booger Hollow in Kentucky and one in Arkansas, Booger Canyon and Booger Spring in Arizona, The Booger Hole and Boogerhill cemetery in Alabama, and Booger Lake in Ontario. There are more out there, as lots of Booger Creeks in the South just are not on some newer, bigger maps.
Like Booger, another weirdness-linked place name - Wampus - can be found around the country. Stewart has this for "Wampus" - "In NY the pond is from the name of a local chief. In OR the butte is from a legendary monster of the forest." (p. 520) I have found in old Southern newspaper accounts that "Wampus" was a name used for an unknown monster cat as well as other mystery animals. It is very akin to how the name "Booger" was used, mostly for hairy unknown primates' habitat in that case, but sometimes for mystery panther haunts, as well. Franzoni has found a total of 18 places in the US and Canada named for Wampus, including Wampsville NY, and Wampos lake in Saskatchewan. Whereas I usually relate the name Wampus to felines, Franzoni points to a connection with the big hairy fellows and not 'phantom panther' sightings in particular. He notes the word catawampus (cattywampus), which means "Cater-Cornered; slant wise, or Evil; malicious" in the American Heritage Dictionary, seems to be a neutral piece of evidence. However, around Oregon, a Wampus is "legendary monster of the forests" (from page 881 of Lewis A. MacArthur's 1992 sixth edition of "Oregon Geographic Names"), which Wampus Butte, the Town of Wampus, Wampus Post Office, Wampus Campground, Wampus Springs, and Wampus Cat Canyon in the Warm Springs Nation are all named for in Oregon.
Still, the feline connection is there: three high schools in Texas, Arkansas and Louisiana use Wampus Cats as their mascots. E. Randall Floyd¹s Great Southern Mysteries summarizes the story of the mysterious wampus cat. Early pioneers visiting the South went back East with all sorts of tales of terrifying beasts and swamp creatures they had allegedly encountered in the woods and waters of the region. Among these creatures was a particularly savage beast called the Wampus Cat, an animal reported to roam the Southern bottomlands and described as ". . . an impossibly hideous critter said to have the head of a man, the body of a wildcat only larger, and the soul of a demon." The Wampus Cat, according to Floyd, was known to lurk along murky river bottoms and feast upon hapless hunters, fishermen and travelers and anybody else who wandered too far away from civilization. Although common in the early 19th century, wampus cat stories and sightings became less and less frequent after the War Between the States. A reminder of their former reign of terror lies in the names on the land.
Henry Franzoni¹s interest in the name game goes back to his first experience with the unknown in 1993. At a place called Skookum Lake, Oregon, Franzoni and his companion encountered what he would later call the Bigfoot phenomenon. Franzoni began collecting Native tales, and started noticing the links between the name game of the locations¹ names and the sightings of the creatures. Not coincidentally, Franzoni discovered that Skookum was another name for Sasquatch or Bigfoot. He has identified 214 Skookum place names all found in Oregon, Washington State, British Columbia, Idaho, and Alaska; it being a very Pacific Northwest centric name, just like the reports of the classic Bigfoot or Sasquatch.
Franzoni writes me about Skookum: The modern Chinook jargon meaning is Big, strong, and swift whilst the original Chinook village meaning is 'Evil God of the Woods'. Places have to be examined as to when they were named, and often a correlating old story has to be located to really suggest that a particular Skookum place is worthy of our bigfoot interest. A number of Skookum places fit the bill just fine after being investigated though. Places like Mt. Duckabush in the Olympic Range was once named Mt. Arleta by Lt. Patrick O'Neill, who led the second group ever across the Olympic Mountains in 1890. O'Neill mentioned in his diary that the native guides he had with him called it Skookum and believed their gods lived on it. His native guides abandoned him and his group when a panther shrieked at their camp continuously one night. Oddly enough, most native peoples of the Olympic Peninsula did not venture into the interior, because their thought their gods lived their.
The work of Henry Franzoni is to be congratulated. I look forward to hearing from any other readers who play the name game, explore their Mysterious Worlds and might wish to share their discoveries or even your lucky close encounters.
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