In Episode 210, Jeff Belanger and Ray Auger stroll the shores of Lake Winnipesaukee in Meredith, New Hampshire, searching for a mysterious stone unearthed back in 1872. This fist-sized, egg-shaped artifact has several images carved on it, including a face, corn, and other geometric shapes. It appears to be Native American in origin, but matches nothing seen by tribes local to this region. This rock raises so many questions that some have speculated it could be a Thunderstone–a rock forged in the sky by some deity and then dropped to the earth. The mystery stone has perplexed archaeologists ever since it was discovered.
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JEFF: There’s not a lot of summer left, Ray. But still a few days to enjoy Lake Winnipesaukee in New Hampshire.
RAY: The summers go by so fast. (BEAT) The last time we came out to Lake Winnipesaukee was way back in Episode 131 when we visited the lake’s smallest island. A place called Becky’s Garden.
JEFF: That’s right! We saw the little house. On this trip we’re not heading out on the water.
RAY: What are we looking for this time?
JEFF: We’re heading to the shores of Lake Winnipesaukee to search for an old stone pulled from the ground almost 150 years ago. A rock that’s had archeologists scratching their heads ever since it saw the light of day. We’re on the hunt for the Lake Winnipesaukee Mystery Stone.
JEFF: I’m Jeff Belanger, and welcome to episode 210 of the New England Legends podcast. If you give us about 15 minutes, we’ll give you something strange to talk about today.
RAY: I’m Ray Auger. Thanks for joining us on our mission to chronicle every legend in New England one story at a time. Be sure to subscribe to our podcast because it’s free, and we don’t want you to miss one minute of weirdness. We love it when you get more involved sharing the great history and legends that make New England unique.
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JEFF: Okay, Ray, we’re heading into the town of Meredith, New Hampshire, which sits on the western shores of Lake Winnipesaukee.
RAY: And we’re looking for something called the Lake Winnipesaukee Mystery Stone?
JEFF: We are. It’s well-named, too. It was unearthed in 1872. It was clearly carved. It’s not naturally-occurring. But who carved it and why? And when? And where? Some people believe this stone is something called an Out-Of-Place Artifact… or OOPArt as it’s known in certain circles.
RAY: I’ve heard of those! An Out-Of-Place artifact, is just that. It’s an old artifact that doesn’t look like it should come from that location or time period. The most famous would be the Antikythera (anti-kith-eera) Mechanism found off the coast of Greece. It dates back to the second century B.C. and appears to be some kind of mechanical navigation computer. Which, if true, could really shake up everything we thought we knew about the ancient Greeks.
JEFF: Exactly. And we love it when the history books get a shake up because new information and discoveries happen all the time, and that forces us to rethink what we thought we knew. To figure out the Winnipesaukee Mystery Stone, let’s head back to 1872.
RAY: It’s early June of 1872 here in Meredith, New Hampshire. We’re approaching the farm of Seneca A. Ladd.
JEFF: Seneca Ladd is a prominent local businessman. He’s a justice of the peace, he’s a banker, he owns a carriage and wagon manufacturing company, and a piano-making company. He’s a big deal here in Meredith. But his hobby and passion is rocks and minerals. He’s an amateur geologist and archeologist.
RAY: We’re approaching the Ladd farm, where some workers are digging holes to put up a new fence.
RAY: It’s not too hot today, so the work is moving pretty quickly. The fence is going up near Lake Winnipesaukee at a place called Hodgson’s Mill. Digging holes is monotonous. But then a worker sticks his shovel into the ground…
RAY: He hits what he believes to be a big rock.
JEFF: Which is no surprise, of course. Rocks are New England’s most abundant natural resource. But there’s something different about this rock.
RAY: You’re right. I can see him pulling the rock out of the ground now. It’s maybe the size of a watermelon. And it looks like it’s crumbling apart.
JEFF: Yeah… I don’t think it’s a rock at all. It looks like clay that’s breaking apart. There’s something different about this lump. Something… out-of-place. He’s breaking up the clay with his shovel. The other workers are standing around curious now.
RAY: Check it out! There’s something inside there!
JEFF: There is! It looks egg-shaped. It’s some kind of dark, polished stone about the size of my fist. There’s some engravings on the sides, but it’s tough to make out because there’s still clay caked inside.
RAY: Here comes Seneca Ladd. I guess he wants to see what all the commotion is about.
JEFF: Mr. Ladd seems pretty excited about the find. He’s carrying it back to his house. Let’s follow him.
RAY: What a strange rock. Buried underground and encased in clay. I guess the clay was meant to protect it?
JEFF: You’re probably right.
[DOOR OPENS THEN CLOSES]
JEFF: Okay, Ladd is cleaning up the stone.
RAY: The stone is about four inches tall, and maybe two-and-a-half inches wide. I can see an embossed face on one side of the stone. Not a lot of details, but clearly an oval face with a mouth, a nose, and two eyes. On the side of the egg-shaped stone there’s an embossed carving of what looks like an ear of corn. Another engraving looks like a Native American tipi. There’s a moon, a spiral, and there are a few other geometric shapes. All told there’s nine carvings on this small rock.
JEFF: Ladd believes he’s found some kind of Indian artifact. But what its purpose was is a mystery. So he starts showing it to a few people. Then the New Hampshire Patriot and State Gazette newspaper runs a story, and pretty soon a buzz starts to build around this archeological find.
RAY: The carving on this rock was obviously done by a craftsman. A skilled hand or hands made this.
JEFF: I agree. But there’s already some issues with this stone.
RAY: Like what?
JEFF: It may be an old Native American artifact. The corn is significant, as is the tipi. But some local experts are quick to point out that the Native Americans who lives in New England didn’t live in tipis. Tipis are used by the Great Plains Indians and other groups out west. The other things that sticks out about this find, is that generally speaking, the local Native Americans didn’t really carve rocks like this, otherwise we’d have tons of examples.
RAY: Both good points. But there is a stone face in New Hampshire that was discovered back in 1803 that just about everyone knows around here.
JEFF: Which face is that?
RAY: The Old Man in the Mountain face near Franconia Notch.
JEFF: That’s right!
RAY: Some people still argue if that was a naturally-occurring formation, or if the local Native Americans carved it for some higher purpose.
JEFF: And now this rock surfaces… literally… and has everyone thinking of other stone faces in the state. That makes sense.
RAY: So maybe this is an artifact from the Great Plains region that made its way here?
JEFF: It could be. But how long ago? It was encased in clay to protect it, and there’s no way to tell how long it’s been buried. Was it buried ten years ago by someone who stole it? Or buried centuries ago by someone else? And why?
RAY: The more Ladd and his friends and colleagues think about this stone, the more perplexed they get.
JEFF: These unanswered questions only fuel the fire. Amateur scientist, Daniel J. Tapley of Danvers, Massachusetts, studies the mystery rock and proclaims it to be a remarkable Indian relic. He’s even giving lectures on this archeological find.
RAY: Archeologists in Europe are also taking notice. Partially because Native American-anything is intriguing in Europe. They can’t seem to get enough of the stories, the pictures, and the history. Every few years a new article will pop up somewhere. And Ladd, always the enterprising businessman, knows his little mystery stone is reaching legendary status, so he proudly displays the find in the lobby of the Meredith Savings Bank where he works.
JEFF: Seneca Ladd dies in 1892, and the Winnipesaukee Mystery Stone is passed on to his daughter, Francis Ladd Coe. She keeps the stone on display at the bank for several years after her father’s death, but eventually takes it back home. Not sure what else to do with it, she donates the mystery stone to the New Hampshire Historical Society in 1927. And that brings us back to today.
JEFF: Now that modern science has taken a look at the Winnipesaukee Mystery Stone we know a little bit more about it. The rock is called quartzite. A stone NOT native to New Hampshire. In fact, the closest place you might find some quartzite is parts of Pennsylvania. It’s more common in the Upper Midwest, the Rocky Mountain region, and the American southwest.
RAY: Do we have any idea how old the rock is?
JEFF: We don’t. You can’t carbon date a rock. And just because the rock isn’t from here, doesn’t mean it wasn’t brought here and then carved here.
RAY: The other discovery made about this rock has some small holes drilled into the top and bottom. Some experts believe it could have been some kind of power drill because it’s so smooth. Of course those holes could have been drilled later and never documented. Some speculate they may have been drilled as part of some attempt to display the rock.
JEFF: Right. So we find more answers, but that just leaves more questions. And when there are too many questions, that leaves room for alternate theories. Like calling this an Out-Of-Place Artifact or OOPArt.
RAY: I love the term “OOPart.”
JEFF: It sounds like a funny noise you make after wings and beer, doesn’t it? So when there are no obvious answers, and no one to ask. AND… we should point out, no folklore to trace either. Meaning there are no stories circulating about this rock before 1872, that leaves us room to look for relevant legends elsewhere that may apply.
RAY: So maybe there’s a stone like this somewhere else in the world?
JEFF: There’s the legend of thunderstones all over.
RAY: It sounds like an AC/DC song.
JEFF: It could be. A Thunderstone is a mysterious rock that allegedly falls from the sky. The belief is that these rocks are formed by lightning – by some kind of god of thunder, and then fired down to earth, where they’re discovered later either on the ground or below the surface. These rocks are often carved with symbols, and since they often lack a clear origin, they can be seen as some message from the gods that needs to be interpreted.
RAY: I’d also read that one historian named Joe Graveline, believes the Winnipesaukee Mystery Stone could be a kind of birthing stone. Smooth stones like this could be warmed up and placed inside an expecting mother to help relax the muscles during complicated childbirth.
JEFF: That’s interesting. I could almost see how the carved face could look like a sleeping baby. I guess it’s possible. But the tipi engraved on the side still throws off the possibility that this stone originated from this region.
RAY: Still others think maybe this was some kind of death artifact, and had Seneca Ladd’s workers dug a little deeper, they may have found graves. But given the exact location where it was dug up has been lost to time, there’s not much more research that can be done. Today the Winnipesaukee Mystery Stone is still in the hands of the New Hampshire Historical Society where they sometimes display the artifact in their Concord museum. They say this stone is their most asked-about exhibit.
JEFF: I’m always bothers when some people look at an artifact like this and assume our ancestors from a few centuries ago couldn’t have done this. That it must be supernatural in origin. Ideas like that completely undermine human ingenuity. People are pretty clever. We’ve invented some incredible things. It’s not like the human brain has developed much since a few hundred years ago, we just have more access to information and better technology. But the same brains from an evolutionary standpoint.
RAY: Yet even with our access to information and smart brains, we can’t figure out every mystery. The Winnipesaukee Mystery stone stares us right in the face almost mocking us for not having the answers to its origin.
JEFF: Almost like it’s some kind of message from long ago… begging us to find an interpretation.
RAY: If you’d like to see a picture of the Winnipesaukee Mystery Stone, head over to our Web site and click on Episode 210. While you’re there you’ll find an interactive map to all of the stories we’ve covered so far, plus video clips from the New England Legends television series that you can watch on Amazon Prime right now.
JEFF: If you want to get even more involved with us, please consider joining our patreon patrons! This group helps us with all of the costs associated with bringing you a new podcast each and every week form more than four years now. For only $3 bucks per month they get early access to new episodes, plus bonus episodes and content that no one else gets to hear. Just head over to patron.com/newenglandlegends to sign up.
RAY: Each week we like to tell you about a podcast we’re listening to. I’ve been digging a podcast called: How Did This Get Made? Each episode, they cover a movie that’s so bad… it’s amazing. It’s worth checking out.
JEFF: We’ve all got a list of movies like that, don’t we? Also, our theme music is by John Judd.
RAY: Until next time remember… the bizarre is closer than you think.