It’s true that sticks and stone might break your bones, but once in a while, the real question to be asking is who is throwing them? At least that’s the question that has plagued many locations over many hundreds of years. Mysterious invisible stone-throwing assailants and rocks falling out of thin air might be a rare occurrence, but the number of incidents spanning across time is impressive.
In the United States, one of the earliest documented cases of hurled stones coincides with the witchcraft hysteria which swept across New England during the 17th Century. In a place called Great Island—today known as New Castle, New Hampshire—a tavern owned by George and Alice Walton became the center of strange activity in 1682. The poltergeist activity was so feared and famed that they gave it a name: Lithobolia.
Richard Chamberlain, secretary of the New Hampshire colony, was a boarder at the tavern during the incidents and was a first-hand witness to the unusual activity which included rocks being thrown against the sides of the building, objects inside the tavern moving of their own accord, disembodied footsteps, and “snorting” sounds (attributed to a “daemon”). It wasn’t until 1698 that he published his account of the “stone-throwing devil” in a London pamphlet.
The poltergeist-style attacks, including one incident when George Walton was struck hard in the head by a flying rock, were blamed on an elderly neighbor named Hannah Walford Jones who was suspected of being a witch. By sheer coincidence, George wanted some of the land that Hannah owned and was relentless in trying to pressure her into giving it to him. Hannah’s mother Jane had been acquitted on witchcraft charges in 1656, making Hannah an easy target for such allegations.
Not far away in Sharon, Connecticut, another incident in 1754 involving flying stones was not quite caused by the same “Diabolick Inventions” written about by Chamberlain. The town endured hurling stones, accompanied by whistlings and whoops, after evicting the native tribes from their land. By moonlight, men were seen around the town and residents took up arms and fired upon them, yet the gunshots had no effect on these seemingly bulletproof beings. Yet after the townspeople gave a handsome amount of money to the tribes as compensation for their displacement, the stone assaults ended.
Fast forward half a century to 1802. This time, the center of the activity was a tailor shop in Salisbury, Connecticut, tucked away in the Berkshire Hills. Charles Skinner wrote a brief account of it in his 1896 book, Myths and Legends of our Own Land:
In 1802 an epidemic of assault went through the Berkshire Hills. The performance began in a tailor’s shop in Salisbury, Connecticut, at eleven of the clock on the night of November 2, when a stick and lumps of stone, charcoal, and mortar were flung through a window. The moon was up, but nothing could be seen, and the bombardment was continued until after daylight. After doing some damage here the assailants went to the house of Ezekiel Landon and rapped away there for a week. Persons were struck by the missiles, and quantities of glass were destroyed. Nothing could be seen coming toward the windows until the glass broke, and it was seldom that anything passed far into a room. No matter how hard it was thrown, it dropped softly and surely on the sill, inside, as if a hand had put it there. Windows were broken on both sides of buildings at the same time, and many sticks and stones came through the same holes in the panes, as if aimed carefully by a gunner.
A hamlet that stood in Sage’s ravine, on the east side of the Dome of the Taconics, was assailed in the same way after nightfall. One house was considerably injured. No causes for the performance were ever discovered, and nobody in the place was known to have an enemy—at least, a malicious one.
Incidents involving stones thrown by unknown forces or assailants are not limited to New England. They’ve occurred in Indiana (as mentioned on Cryptomundo as a possible Sasquatch/Wendigo incident in 1870) and Ohio—where Mark Twain’s nephew reported on stones falling from thin air in 1878 in Akron—among other states and around the world including a 1921 incident at Guyra, New South Wales, in Australia and the 1981 Birmingham Poltergeist Case in England. Considering that one of the earliest known accounts of stone-throwing specters dates back to 858 AD in Bingen, Germany, that makes this phenomenon over 1150 years old!
Many theories have been put forward for a more mundane cause of these stone-throwing incidents. From hoaxes perpetrated by the victims and their families to a supernatural blame for domestic violence, there are nearly as many skeptical guesses as there are paranormal conjectures. Witchcraft? Alternate dimensions? Sasquatch? As for the happenings at the Walton’s tavern in New Hampshire, it’s highly probable that Richard Chamberlain either partly or completely fabricated the events to make Jane Walford’s property acquirable. Yet given the sheer number of similar cases throughout North America and Europe spanning more than a millennium, there seems to be more to these poltergeist-attributed cases than copycat hoaxing. Stones, pennies, frogs, apples, and various other random objects have fallen in quantity on different locations at different times.
Were New England colonists simply caught up in the witchcraft hysteria brought with them from Europe, or were there mysterious forces at work which still defy explanation? Share your thoughts with us on Twitter, Facebook, and in the comments below.