Puritans venture into the mysterious marsh outside their town to learn whether the stories of its dangers are true.
At the western extremity of the Massachusetts territory, attainable within three hours to a passenger starting on foot from the town square, is situated a system of marshes supposed by many to be a place of evil, and never to be entered without a pure heart. The legends told by our grandfathers hold that these marshes are inhabited by witches who fashion chairs, and baskets, and other such domestic articles, from the wicker which is the principal – nay, exclusive – vegetation of the marshes. These articles they barter to the Indian tribes of the wooded lands to the west, for the price of a sin and lock of hair. Some believe the story to be truth, while others dismiss it as superstition; yet all of the present generation have been taught to shun the wicker marshes.
And we are teaching the next generation to shun them also, by word and by example. Children are forbidden by their fathers to venture outside the town in any direction, and particularly to the west. The legend of the wicker marshes is the first story son and daughter learn on Mother’s knee. A woman, trimming the heads of her family, will always burn the trimmings. On a stroll through town, it is not uncommon to encounter a smell of burning hair issuing from some doorway. A balding man’s friends will in jest accuse him of visiting the marshes.
As viewed from my window, the outward aspect of the marshes is that of a thin cloud of dingy cotton which has settled on the horizon. There is frequent argument whether the branches occasionally revealed by the shifting mists bear any resemblance to wicker. Travelers returning from Boston, where wicker is fashionable, will, with absolute certainty, swear by the Holy Witness that the glimpsed woods are wicker, or that they are not. An article of wicker had not been seen at Hannah’s Rock for generations, until Warren and Sophia Fuller displayed two chairs and a couch, all of wicker, in their sitting-room, prompting a town council on the same night.