In Episode 188, Jeff Belanger and Ray Auger explore the woods of Narragansett, Rhode Island, in search of a strange configuration of stone monuments locals call the Druid’s chair and Witch’s Altar. In the 1880s, these monuments and the house across the street were built by eccentric Spiritualist Joseph Peace Hazard. Though Hazard built these structures, he would tell you the design was dictated by spirits, but for what purpose? He never knew.
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JEFF: Okay, so we’re looking for an old cemetery… well kind of a cemetery… off of Gibson Avenue, here in Narragansett, Rhode Island.
RAY: We just passed a few houses relatively close together, but now we’re next to a forest. (BEAT) I see a stone wall up ahead.
JEFF: Yup, that’s Rhode Island Historic Cemetery Number 3.
[CAR STOPS DOORS CLOSE]
RAY: Another historic cemetery. Who are we looking for?
JEFF: In this strange case, it’s not WHO we’re looking for. More like WHAT we’re looking for. This cemetery sign just means we’re close.
RAY: Okay, then WHAT are we looking for?
JEFF: Ray, we’re heading back to the woods behind this cemetery in search of the Druid’s Chair and Witch’s Altar.
JEFF: I’m Jeff Belanger.
RAY: And I’m Ray Auger, and welcome to Episode 188 of the New England Legends podcast. If you give us about ten minutes, we’ll give you something strange to talk about today.
JEFF: Narragansett, Rhode Island, is the next stop on our mission to chronicle every legend in New England one story at a time. We appreciate you riding along with us. We’re a community of legend seekers who are sharing stories, whether in our super secret New England Legends Facebook group that you should join, our free smart phone app, or on our Web site. We love the strange tales from the fringe of New England. And thank you to all of you who have picked up my brand-new book The Call of Kilimanjaro: Finding Hope Above the Clouds. I appreciate all the great feedback so far.
RAY: So before we go searching for Druids and Witches, Jeff, we want to take just a minute to tell everybody about our sponsor, Nuwati Herbals.
JEFF: Yes we should!
RAY: It’s finally spring, which means the weather is warming up. We’re going to be spending more time outside in the sunshine, so it’s the perfect time to grab a cup of a sweater tea from Nuwati Herbals.
JEFF: They have so many great flavor blends, but some of my favorite, and my daughter’s too, is their Lemon Sun, Strawberry Moon, Chocolate Chai, and RootBerry tea, just to name some of them.
RAY: My kids love adding a spoonful of sugar or honey to these teas to turn them into a great afterschool treat. As the weather gets warmer, we’re going to try chilling the teas to make Nuwati Herbals iced tea.
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RAY: Okay, Jeff. So we’re heading toward the back of Rhode Island Historic Cemetery Number 3.
RAY: Rhode Island is unique. It’s the smallest U.S. state in the country. I think a lot of people already know that. It’s made up of 39 municipalities – that’s 8 cities and 31 towns. But guess how many cemeteries?
JEFF: You have to figure there’s at least three or four in every town, right? I don’t know. 150? 200?
RAY: I just looked this up. Rhode Island has 2,833 cemeteries!
RAY: That’s an average of 73 cemeteries per town!
RAY: Rhode Island has been meticulous about logging every burial site they can find, from family plots with just one or two graves, to the big ones that are well-maintained and still in use today.
JEFF: I guess if you include every family plot, that would add up quickly. It turns out Historic Cemetery Number 3 is one of those family plots with a big connection with the house right across the street. A house called Druidsdream.
RAY: I can see from here Druidsdream is a stately, two-and-a-half-story home built from granite blocks. It’s an English Manor-style home that looks like it’s pulled right from the pages of some New England architecture magazine.
JEFF: That house has been featured in a bunch of those magazines. But we’re mainly focused on this curious cemetery. You may notice we don’t see any headstones.
RAY: No. Just some round, stone pillars up ahead and a pointed stone surrounded by some smaller rocks.
JEFF: This would be the place they call the Witch’s Altar. And that larger stone over there they call the Druid’s Chair.
RAY: It’s obvious the granite pillars are man-made and deliberately placed in a circle, it’s also clear those rocks were placed there by someone. But who did this? And why?
JEFF: To answer that, we’re going to travel back to 1884 and meet an eccentric named Joseph Peace Hazard.
RAY: It’s the spring of 1884 and construction workers are putting the finishing touches on an English Manor-style home called Druidsdream.
RAY: The stone house is the vision of Joseph Peace Hazard, a guy you can definitely call…. Eccentric? Into some strange things?
JEFF: While these workers finish up this house, we should tell you a little more about Joseph Peace Hazard. The Hazard family are a Narragansett Plantation family that first settled this part of Rhode Island in the early 1700s. They’re Quakers. They’re rich and influential. Joseph’s parents established a successful woolen textile manufacturing business and village at Peace Dale, soooo Joseph is born into some bucks.
RAY: Kind of like a trust fund kid.
JEFF: Kind of. Without the stress of living hand-to-mouth, and with plenty of capital, Joseph can pursue whatever interests him. In 1835, Joseph inherited the 200-acre family farm at Point Judith in Narragansett, and then he opened an axe factory, but farming and making axes didn’t interest him all that much.
RAY: Joseph Hazard is rich, he never got married, and he’s got this wanderlust.
RAY: Joseph travels around the United States…
RAY: He travels over to Europe, then to the Middle East, and Asia. He even makes his way down to South America.
JEFF: All the while Hazard maintains a journal detailing his life and his philosophies. He loves trees. He starts to collect specimens to bring home to plant at his Rhode Island estate. But it’s in England and France where his interests turn more spiritual…. More metaphysical… more supernatural. Joseph explains.
JOSEPH: I have ever entertained an ardent interest in all that relates to the mysterious side of the Druids.
RAY: The Druids are kind of like the spiritual and philosophical leaders of the Celtic people. They’re mysterious because they left no written account of their knowledge. Most of what we know about them have been passed on by others. For most of us, when we think Druids, we think of the famous Stonehenge site in England.
JEFF: That does seem to be the biggest landmark left behind. The Druids come on the scene around the second century BCE. Some believe them to be sorcerers or wizards. Though the Druids drift into obscurity about a millennia later, there’s a revival in interest in them by the 1700s and 1800s, which is when they catch the attention of Joseph Hazard. Joseph fills his journals with notes on his studies of mysticism and transcendalist philosophies. When Spiritualism emerges out of New York in the mid-1800s, Joseph is quick to embrace the belief in communing with spirits.
RAY: During the construction of Druidsdream, he writes that its design was influenced by spirits.
JOSEPH: The well and the house came into my mind with urgency and character of their own. My role was to simply fulfill the message’s requirements.
RAY: Hazard has a long history of finding insight from the spirit world. His journals and letters are filled with stories of attending séances, communicating with spirits, and exploring haunts. On a trip to London he visited an ill friend named Mr. Clark. Doctors were perplexed at what could be the cause of the illness, so Joseph recommended consulting a higher authority.
JOSEPH: I soon mentioned the subject of Spiritualism to Mr. Clark, and he soon became interested in the subject; and thereafter, he accepted my proposal to hold a spiritual sitting. Accepting this, we seated ourselves at a table near the coal fire, that was in my room, night and day, and in a minute or two, the table began to move, and before the close of the evening, it would rock most vigorously; and on the following evening, this Table would frequently run all about the room.
Having continued these sittings, a week or two, it occurred to me to ask the Spirits, if they could not advise Mr. Clark of some remedy that might alleviate his care.
At this suggestion, the Table commenced running about the Room in the most Frantic manner. This subsiding, I asked what we should do, and received for reply in writing, a prescription, that was so badly written that neither of us could imagine what it was; until I happened to remember that when I was a boy, a Physician advised me to take a few drops of ‘Black Cohosh’ – this by writing through Mr. Clark’s hand.
At this, the Table immediately became Frantic again, for some time.
JEFF: It’s 1882 and 75-year-old Joseph Peace Hazard is beginning to feel his mortality. He know the inevitable comes for everyone, so he wants to build this manor house and this unique tomb. He turns to a familiar source for inspiration.
RAY: Joseph, under some kind of divine guidance, designs an intricate tomb. There are eight, three-foot-tall granite pillars arranged in a circle with a diameter of exactly 27 feet. Half of the pillars have a bowl like impression at the top designed to collect rain water so birds can bathe in them. In the center is a central monument. To the side is a massive L-shaped rock he had brought here from the coast. Joseph called it the Druid Chair. Joseph never intends to live in Druidsdream, but he was still compelled to build it. It all began with digging a nearby well.
JOSEPH: It suddenly came to me that I had been used by spirits, as are no doubt the waterfinders of the west. This well must be dug for some explicit purpose though I could not then imagine what the might be, but… I determined to build a stone house near the well, and to name it Druidsdream, but for what purpose I have never been able to determine to this day in June 1884 — excepting that someone will need it… but who? I have never yet been able to imagine.
RAY: Druidsdream applies to the entire location including the tomb. Not just the house. Joseph Peace Hazard dies in 1892, and that brings us back to today.
RAY: When Joseph died in 1892, he was NOT buried in the tomb he designed, but in the family’s burial ground in Portsmouth, Rhode Island.
JEFF: Joseph Hazard referred to the area around the tomb as Kendal Green. Upon his death, Joseph left this property to his sister, Anna Hazard, and it remained in the family’s hands until the mid-1900s. At that point the Wells family of Philadelphia purchased the house as a summer home and then sold it in 1986. The house has had various owners, but this strange monument is still here.
RAY: When you first mentioned the names Druid’s chair and Witch altar, I figured it was some nickname locals give the site over the years. But it was Joseph Hazard who named the L-shaped rock the Druid’s Chair. And he was quoted as saying that only near the end of his life had it occurred to him that the stone circle looked Druid in nature.
JEFF: Almost like some Narragansett Stonehenge in miniature. All designed and built by an eccentric who believed it was the spirit world guiding all of his construction activities.
RAY: AND all for reasons he claims he didn’t fully know or understand.
JEFF: And here we are still talking about him thanks to this unique and mysterious location in the woods.
RAY: Hmmm maybe he built that house and this strange monument to be immortal. So his legend would live on long after he was gone.
JEFF: I can appreciate that. We’re trying to build something bigger than ourselves with New England Legends, and we can’t do that without our patreon patrons! These legendary people kick in just $3 bucks per month to get early access to new episodes, plus bonus episodes and content that no one else gets to hear. Just head over to patreon.com/newenglandlegends to sign up.
RAY: Be sure to subscribe to our podcast if you don’t already. You can find us wherever you get your podcasts. And we really appreciate it when you post a review and share your favorite episodes so your friends can find us.
JEFF: We’d like to thank our sponsor Nuwati Herbals, we’d like to thank Michael Legge for lending his voice acting talents this week, and our theme music is by John Judd.
RAY: Until next time remember… the bizarre is closer than you think.