In Episode 179, Jeff Belanger and Ray Auger explore the shores of Beaver Lake in Derry, New Hampshire, searching for the Derry Fairy. In the 1600s, Tsienneto, came to the lake and built shelter on an enchanted island in the middle. While hunting near the lake, he had a run-in with the local Pawtucket people. The capture lead to prophecy and legend with later ties to colonists and even (possibly) the United States space program.
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[WALKING THROUGH WOODS]
RAY: So Jeff, you said we’re looking for a kind of flower here by Beaver Lake in Derry, New Hampshire?
JEFF: We are. Some call it a Jack in the Pulpit flower because as it starts to bloom, this large, glossy green leaf with crimson streaks rises above the central stigma that’s kind of encircled by the bottom part of the leaf. So it looks almost like a person standing at some old church pulpit with the angled board above the head to project the preacher’s voice. But it’s also been called a bog onion.
RAY: Okay, and what happens once we find it?
JEFF: Right, well, the flower itself isn’t really the objective here today. It just means, maybe we’re getting close.
RAY: So what is the objective?
JEFF: We’re walking the shores of Beaver Lake searching for the Derry fairy.
JEFF: I’m Jeff Belanger and welcome to episode 179 of the New England Legends podcast. If you give us about ten minutes, we’ll give you something strange to talk about today.
RAY: And I’m Ray Auger. Derry, New Hampshire, is the next stop on our journey to chronicle every legend in New England one story at a time. We appreciate you coming along with us and being part of our community of legend seekers. We love it when you share our podcast with a friend or two, and please consider posting a review for us on Apple podcasts. It just takes a minute, and really helps others find us.
JEFF: The more people in our community, the more story leads that get shared. We love this grass-roots, crowd-sourced feel! You know what else we love, Ray?
RAY: What’s that?
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JEFF: Okay, Ray, are you ready to search for the Derry fairy?
RAY: (LAUGHING) Okay, I know we’ve looked for some weird stuff over the years.
JEFF: We have.
RAY: But fairies? We’re at the fairy portion of our quest now?
JEFF: I think we collectively have a problem with the word “fairy.” Maybe not a problem, so much, but when we hear that word we automatically think of Peter Pan’s Tinkerbell, or various other animated Disney creations.
RAY: Sure, we tell our kids FAIRY tales, so when I hear the word, I immediately think of fiction. Fun! But fiction.
JEFF: I get it, and this is one of the many examples of when labels do us a disservice. The fact is, talk of fairies has been around for many centuries. Fairy used to be a kind of umbrella term for all kinds of strange creatures such as hobgoblins and brownies and bug-aboos, even ghosts or the Irish banshee just to name a few. Some of these creatures can help you, others can hurt you, some can fly, some are scary to look at.
RAY: I get it. So fairy is a broad term.
JEFF: Only in more modern times do we think of fairies as little pixies with wings. The Derry Fairy is NOT a little pixie with wings, but when something strange lurks in a town named Derry…
RAY: It’s tough not to rhyme with the town’s name.
JEFF: Right! This story takes place on an enchanted island right in the middle of the lake.
RAY: Okay, Jeff. I looked this up. Beaver Lake is 137 acres in size and 46 feet deep at its deepest point. It’s not that big. I can clearly see across it, and I don’t see an island anywhere. Not even a tiny one.
JEFF: Well, to figure this out, we’re going to head back to the year 1610 and set this up.
RAY: The year is 1610, and this land by the lake is still very much wild. Beavers build dams near the water’s edge and in the streams nearby. There’s plenty of deer, and right in the middle of the lake is an island with a bunch of trees, but one tall pine tree in the middle stands above all of the others.
JEFF: One afternoon, Tsienneto arrives on the shores of the big lake. Tsienneto is a great hunter, a great magician, he’s well-travelled, and new to the waters of this region. Though his skiff is battered, Tsienneto paddles out to the Isle of Great Enchantment.
[ROWING IN WATER]
JEFF: Once he reaches the island, he builds a lodge from some of the nearby trees.
JEFF: And then he rests.
RAY: The Pawtucket people quickly realize there’s a stranger in their midst. They approach the lake…
RAY: They can see Tsienneto out there on the island. But they know the island is enchanted. So they don’t dare go out there. Still, they view this strange man as a threat, so they decide to set up an ambush.
RAY: When night falls, they head up to the hills a short distance from the northeastern side of the lake. And they wait.
RAY: It’s almost dawn when Tsienneto sneaks up the hill looking for game.
RAY: And that’s when the Pawtucket jump out and grab him.
JEFF: Tsienneto is brought before the Pawtucket council of chiefs.
JEFF: And there, the strange, foreign man, Tsienneto begins to prophesize a horrible misfortune that’s coming to this land of the beaver. He says a peculiar people, with pale-hued faces will come from beyond the big water. They will devastate the forest and live on the cleared land. He explains that the deer will move out after this, the beaver will leave, and the fires of the Pawtucket shall go out forever. And that enchanted island in the middle of the lake? It will disappear forever.
RAY: The council of chiefs obviously don’t like the news they’re hearing. But they also have their doubts. So they ask Tsienneto for a sign to prove his power.
JEFF: Outside, Tsienneto points to the great pine tree in the center of the enchanted island. Tsienneto explains the tree contains the guardian spirit that enchants and protects the island. That’s when Tsienneto lifts a nearby boulder, he leans back, then throws the boulder toward the island. The Pawtucket stand in awe as the boulder flies over the water of the lake toward the island…
JEFF: Striking the tree near the trunk, and knocking the great pine to the ground. But the boulder continues to fly straight through the trunk, and clear across the lake to the far shore where it settles.
RAY: The Pawtucket are convinced, and let Tsienneto go free. No longer enchanted, the island disappears after the next storm. And that brings us back to today.
JEFF: Of course we know what happens next. Europeans soon arrive by the boatload and slowly take over the land. And today… if you look out on the lake, you can see there’s no island out there.
RAY: No there isn’t. And it turns out the boulder Tsienneto threw is still there… sort of. It was called Point Rock and could be seen when the lake waters were low. Since the damn was built here, that doesn’t happen very often anymore.
JEFF: Our source for this legends dates back to 1907 when Robert N. Richardson wrote the story down in an essay called: “Tsienneto: A Legend of Beaver Lake.” In his story, Robert is admiring a Jack-in-the-Pulpit flower when he lays down to take a nap. When he wakes up, he’s eye-to-eye with a gray wood nymph who tells him the story of Tsienneto.
RAY: There’s another entirely different version of Tsienneto as well. And this one comes from a 1945 book called New Hampshire Folk Tales that contains an essay written by Mrs. J.G. MacMurphy. In MacMurphy’s telling of the tale, Tsienneto is a fairy queen… yes, queen, as in female, who lives on Beaver Lake. MacMurphy claims the fairy was known by the local Native people as Neto (NEATO), short for Tsienneto, a fairy that helps those in distress. In this version, the year is 1697 when Indians kidnap Hannah Dustin and her children in Haverhill, Massachusetts. The prisoners are taken north to a camp on the shores of Beaver Lake. Neto visits Hannah Dustin to help her. The fairy of the lake puts a spell on all of the Indians so Hannah can get free and kill all of the sleeping natives, then save her children.
JEFF: This version of the story is odd. I mean, why would Tsienneto help the invading colonists to kill all of the native people who were hear first? The implication is that the supernatural beings recognize right and wrong, and of course help the good Christian captives. It’s worth noting that MacMurphy was the wife of an Episcopal minister.
RAY: MacMurphy’s version of the tale also made it into the May 21st, 1961 Boston Globe newspaper. The article recounts Tsienneto story, and reminds readers that Tsienneto protects local people, then goes on to speculate that maybe Tsienneto helped get America’s first astronaut Alan Shepard back home safely!
JEFF: That’s right! Shepard was a Derry native, and became the first American in space just 16 days before this article was published. I love that Tsienneto became a protector spirit.
RAY: And there must be something to Tsienneto, because driving up here, we drove along Tsienneto Road to get to the lake. But now I’m wondering is the Derry Fairy Tsienneto, or that gray wood nymph?
JEFF: I’d be thrilled to find either one. No matter what, we have the road, we have the lake, and clearly there’s no island out there anymore. I can’t help but wonder if the Derry Fairy is here to warn us, or protect us.
RAY: As with anything, it depends on your perspective, right?
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RAY: We’d like to thank our sponsor Nuwati Herbals, and our theme music is by John Judd.
JEFF: Until next time remember… the bizarre is closer than you think!