The other day, my friend Denise and I took a walk around Waughop Lake. It had been over a year since we last did anything of the kind, and there was too much to say than a single loop around the lake would have held. So, we made it to a bench on which we easily spent an hour. Denise said, she always likes to read the plaques that go with benches. So do I. So, we both had a look, and it happened to be the very German name “Heinzelmann”. The English plural equivalent is brownies, pixies, or “the good folk”.
I grew up with the legend of the “Heinzelmännchen“ of Cologne. I even remember watching a short film at the movies when I was a child. The story goes like this: Once upon a time in the German city of Cologne, people could afford to be very lazy. Because at night, when everybody was asleep, the Heinzelmännchen would enter their houses and do all the work that needed to be done. Until one day the curious wife of a tailor’s wanted to know what they looked like. She scattered peas onto the stairs in her home, and when the good folk came, they slipped and fell down the stairs. They never returned, and, thus, the people of Cologne had to go about their work themselves from then on.
This triggered the thought that only yesterday, I had read about another German legend attached to a lonely mill. And another one to a hillside. Actually, Europe is full of such local yarns. Which in turn made me wonder whether Washington State had any of its own. And I’m not talking the spooked homes that allegedly are all around here and that are attached to people who were quite well-known back in the day. But something vaguer of fairy-tale-like quality. And, indeed I ran into some pretty interesting stuff.
Of course, the Sasquatch or Big Foot would be one of these legendary characters of half human, half beast qualities. It is not just tied to Washington State, though, but quite a few other states also lay claim to it.
Caddy the Sea Monster or Sea Serpent is the maritime equivalent to Nessie, the monster of Loch Ness; its home is all the way from costal Alaska down to coastal California. Allegedly there have been over 300 sightings in the past 200 years, and some indigenous tribes seem to have painted its image across their canoes in order to ward off an encounter with what could be anything from a herd of seals to a giant pipefish. As its appearances are most often mentioned around Vancouver Island and Puget Sound, I have a hunch that low-hanging clouds and sea fog explain the frequency of sightings there.
Or have you ever heard of the ghosts of Gravity Hill some ten miles north of Prosser, Washington? This video shows how a car come to a full stop and then put into neutral gear is moving … uphill!
Legend has it that if you put enough dust on the back of your car, it will spread across the road; and once you are on top of the hill, you’ll find all the tiny footprints of the ghosts who have pushed your car.
And then, there is the legend of the 13 Steps to Hell in Maltby Cemetery, some 20 miles outside the city limits of Seattle. This story has it that some people never returned from their short trip underground into what used to be a family crypt, others returned visibly shaken and never able to speak of what they encountered. In the end, the site was covered with soil.
To be honest, the only of these four stories I’m really intrigued by is the one of Gravity Hill, as it might have a scientific explanation. Something like a greater impact of the magnetic pole and a lot of iron in the ground to work like a magnet. Or something even stranger. I would love to know whether any horse-drawn cart would have the same experience. Road trip anyone? I’m almost willing to put this on my bucket list.
Anyhow, between indigenous lore and Old-World-type tales there are many yarns of yore around Washington State. It might have to do with a lot of fog and rain and murky light in the western part; but that wouldn’t explain the tales of the dry and clear east. Maybe it’s simply that after a long day of very real work the human mind needs something surreal to wonder at, to be mystified by, to huddle up with friends and family in cozy awe.