Birder's Journal: Old Curse Haunts New England Forest

Robert Winkler
for National Geographic News
October 30, 2002

Was Connecticut's tiny Dudleytown, which was settled in the mid-1700s, cursed from the start? That's the only explanation many people have for the disproportionate number of horrors that befell the residents of the town before it was abandoned a century ago.

According to some local historians, the town's remains have witnessed madness, suicide, fatal accidents, natural disasters, and vanishings.

The remnants of Dudleytown lie on a hill in northwest Connecticut, near the village of Cornwall Bridge. Stone foundations and cellar holes, surrounded by New England's ubiquitous stone walls, stand as solemn memorials to the small, troubled community that once existed there.

Rocky soil and cold winters—banes of the New England farmer—have been blamed for Dudleytown's demise. But many people insist that a curse was responsible for driving settlers away, turning the once-pastoral landscape into a dark, haunted forest.

The curse has been traced to an English nobleman, ancestor of the Dudley brothers who settled the town. Back in England, old Edmund Dudley got his head chopped off for plotting against King Henry VII. Someone or something put a curse on Edmund that followed his family to the New World and took root in Dudleytown.

In what is often cited as the first manifestation of the curse, one of the Dudley brothers went insane. Other strange incidents: At a barn raising, a man fell to his death (or was it murder?). Lightning struck and killed a Dudleytown woman, right on her porch.

A sheep-herder watched helplessly as the curse destroyed his family. His wife died of tuberculosis, and his children disappeared. When his house burned down, he wandered into the woods, never to return.

According to the chroniclers of Dudleytown, New York Tribune editor Horace Greeley should have followed his own advice to "Go West, young man," and taken his wife with him: Mrs. Greeley, better known as Mary Cheney, is said to have hanged herself in Dudleytown in 1872.

Another View

Rev. Gary P. Dudley, a Texas resident and the author of The Legend of Dudleytown: Solving Legends through Genealogical and Historical Research (Heritage Books, 2001), disputes these accounts of the troubled town.

In tracing the genealogy of his name, he found virtually no historical basis for Dudleytown's cursed reputation—no genealogical link to Edmund Dudley, no mysterious illnesses or deaths. As for Mary Cheney, he says she never set foot in Dudleytown.

By most accounts, the final resident of Dudleytown was Dr. William Clarke, a New York City physician who built a vacation home there in the early 1900s. The traditional story alleges that Mrs. Clarke was left alone overnight while her husband was summoned to an emergency in the city, and she descended into madness. Rev. Dudley says Mrs. Clarke committed suicide, but in New York, not in Dudleytown.

Continued on Next Page >>


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