In Episode 233, Jeff Belanger and Ray Auger explore the woods of Glocester, Rhode Island, searching for a legendary beast spotted twice in the 1800s, decades apart. This dragon-like creature has ties to pirates, buried treasure, and has the people of Glocester scratching their heads for centuries.
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[WALKING ON ROAD]
RAY: Early February isn’t the most ideal time for a walk in this remote section of Glocester, Rhode Island.
JEFF: No, I get that, but this time of year does give us one advantage in the woods.
RAY: What’s that?
JEFF: With no foliage, we can see a pretty good distance among the trees on either side of this road.
RAY: That’s true. So I take it we’re looking for something in the woods?
JEFF: We are, Ray. And from what I’ve heard, this strange creature is hard to miss. We’re here in Rhode Island, right near the Connecticut border, searching for the Burning Beast of Glocester.
JEFF: Hello, I’m Jeff Belanger, and welcome to Episode 233 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. Thanks for joining us on our mission to chronicle every legend in New England one story at a time. We appreciate you being here with us as we search for monsters, ghosts, and things that bump in the night. Please be sure to subscribe to our podcast if you don’t already, because it’s free, and we don’t want you to miss a thing. Also, tell a friend or two about us, post your favorite episodes to your social media. It goes a long way in helping our community grow.
JEFF: Before we go looking for the Burning Beast of Glocester, Rhode Island, we want to take a minute to tell you about our sponsor, Nuwati Herbals!
RAY: We just had a doozy of a snowstorm last week.
JEFF: We did. And after hours of shoveling almost two feet of snow, my back was killing me!
RAY: Then I’m glad Kimberly from Nuwati Herbals is here to help. Kimberly, what would you recommend for our sore shoveling muscles?
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RAY: So we’re in this remote section of Glocester, Rhode Island, looking for a Burning Beast?
JEFF: We are. It’s a strange creature that’s been spotted more than once, but decades apart. A creature with ties not only to the town of Glocester in northwestern, Rhode Island, but also to pirates, including Captain Kidd.
RAY: Captain Kidd? Cool!
JEFF: We’re going to have to make two stops back in time to figure this one out. First, let’s head to the winter of 1896.
RAY: It’s early February of 1896, and Glocester local Neil Hopkins is walking home after a day’s work on Dandelion Hill.
RAY: As he approaches a dark section of the road, a loud noise grabs his attention.
[STICKS CRACKING IN WOODS]
RAY: He hears some kind of large animal lurking nearby in the woods. He snaps his head to look, and sees something he’ll never forget! Hopkins explains.
HOPKINS: It was as big as an elephant! It seemed to be all a-fire. It had a hot breath. There was a metallic sound, like the clanking of steel against steel. The beast didn’t seem to be strong in the wind, for it chased me only a short distance and then plunged off into the woods. I could hear the dead branches and twigs cracking under the heavy tramp. And I’m certain the beast had no tail.
JEFF: So the beast had no tail? That’s a strange detail.
RAY: Maybe Hopkins got a look at the backside when the beast ran into the woods.
JEFF: Maybe. This strange encounter becomes the buzz of the town, it even makes the newspapers. Some think Neil Hopkins saw a cow.
RAY: Come onnnn… who would mistake a cow? And out here in the woods?
JEFF: Other suggest he saw an escaped circus bear.
RAY: So a circus bear DID terrorize a few local farms last fall, but he hasn’t been seen since. Still, you’d think Hopkins would know what a bear looks like. His description sounds nothing like a bear.
JEFF: But most folks in town think Hopkins saw the infamous Burning Beast of Glocester. Their memories drift back to a story they heard from just over half a century ago, from the local pirate Albert Hicks who went searching for the buried treasure of Captain Kidd on a Glocester Farm.
RAY: So let’s head back again… this time to 1838.
RAY: It’s the summer of 1838, and 18 year-old Albert W. Hicks, is back in his old stomping grounds of Foster, Rhode Island.
JEFF: A little background on Hicks. He’s the second youngest of seven sons. Headstrong and scrappy, he never attended school, he worked on his father’s farm instead, where he quickly learned that the working life didn’t suit him. At age 15, he ran off to Norwich, Connecticut, and began his life of crime. Hicks is obsessed with pirates and highwaymen. He sees himself as a burgeoning buccaneer.
RAY: 1838 is about a century too late from the golden age of pirates. Still, the stories survive and inspire young Hicks.
JEFF: The stories AND the treasure. There are plenty of tales of buried pirate treasure all over New England, you just need to know where to look. Still, the would-be pirate DOES find plenty of trouble in Connecticut. He’s soon arrested and put in jail for theft.
[CELL DOOR SLAMS]
RAY: The only thing that suits Hicks less than work… is jail. I mean, he’s still a kid. Being locked in makes him a little stir-crazy. Being scrappy and clever, he manages to escape…. For a bit….
[CELL DOOR SLAMS]
RAY: Until he’s captured and jailed again.
JEFF: Back to the summer of 1838… Hicks has returned home to Foster, Rhode Island, to regroup. Since childhood, he’s heard stories of buried pirate treasure nearby… but then he overhears one local whispering that a few Spanish doubloons were unearthed recently over at Page Farm in Glocester.
RAY: Albert Hicks is excited. He’d heard some of Captain Kidd’s loot was buried near here, and if doubloons were discovered, that HAS to be it!
JEFF: Captain William Kidd made a fortune off the coast of Madagascar. Like many pirates, he started as a privateer. During the King Williams War in the late 1600s, Captain Kidd plundered French vessels off the coast of Northern New England. The guy amassed a fortune, but most of it has been buried and presumed lost. However, Kidd had a close friend in Rhode Island… the pirate Thomas Paine. When Captain Kidd was on the run, he anchored in Jamestown, Rhode Island, and asked Paine to help him hide some of his bounty because the authorities were closing in. That treasure could be anywhere in Rhode Island. Or split up into multiple locations.
RAY: So acting on that lead of Spanish Doubloons on the Page Farm, Albert Hicks gathers a crew. There’s John Jepp, Ben Cobb, and Ben Saunders, all from Glocester. They wait for night to fall.
[NIGHT SOUNDS CRICKETS]
RAY: They sneak onto the Page Farm with picks and shovels…
[DIGGING SOUNDS UNDER NEXT FEW LINES]
RAY: And start digging for treasure.
JEFF: The young men are digging near some turned over dirt. Hicks assumes this must be where those doubloons were discovered. The other boys may have their doubts, but gold fever and trespassing can cloud your better judgement sometimes.
RAY: The group are so focused on their digging, they hardly notice a strange noise approaching.
RAY: But then…
RAY: The crew sees something unlike anything they’ve ever seen before!
[RUNNING FOOTSTEPS FADE]
RAY: They run for it!
JEFF: Albert Hicks describes what they saw.
HICKS: It was a large animal, with staring eyes as big as pewter bowls. The eyes looked like balls of fire. When it breathed as it went by, flames came out of its mouth and nostrils, scorching the brush in its path. It was as big as a cow, with dark wings on each side like a bat’s. It had spiral horns like a ram’s, as big around as a stovepipe. Its feet were formed like a duck’s and measured a foot and a half across. The body was covered with scales as big as clam shells, which made a rattling noise as the beast moved along. The scales flopped up and down. The thing had lights on its sides like those shining through a tin lantern.
JEFF: The story spreads around town about this strange, dragon-like creature that lurks near the Providence Turnpike. Others claim they’ve seen it too. And a legend is born. And that brings us back to today.
JEFF: Fun fact… well, not fun for Albert W. Hicks… but Hicks was one of the last people executed for piracy in the United States. He was hanged July 13, 1860 in New York. Many argue that piracy didn’t end so much as it got a new label. Historians view Hicks as this cross-over person. Before him there were pirates, and after him, we’d call his type gangsters or mobsters. Potato potato, right?
RAY: I could see that. Organized crime didn’t end with pirates, it just got more… organized.
JEFF: Still, this creature, this burning beast of Glocester, what a strange description.
RAY: I know, right?! It sounds almost like a dragon. Fire-breathing, huge, covered in some kind of armor, metallic sounds? I can’t imagine anyone was building robots in the mid-1800s.
JEFF: No. They weren’t. And so strange that a creature by such a similar description shows up in the same place 58 years apart?
RAY: Let’s talk about the buried treasure that Hicks was looking for.
JEFF: Yes. Let’s.
RAY: Is there any evidence it was buried on the Page Farm?
JEFF: Not much that I could find other than the rumors of gold doubloons. Here’s the other thing. Captain Kidd DID visit Rhode Island and his friend Thomas Paine in the late 1690s. And in a letter written by Captain Kidd’s wife to Thomas Paine, she asked him to deliver some gold to a man to help with her husband’s legal defense.
RAY: (INTERRUPTING) Which kind of implies Paine had some of Captain Kidd’s gold to share.
JEFF: Exactly. Once Captain Kidd is executed for piracy in 1701, I can’t imagine the Rhode Island pirate Thomas Paine was too concerned with returning the treasure to anyone.
RAY: So maybe Thomas Paine kept whatever there was, or maybe he buried some of it should Kidd’s crew come looking for it.
JEFF: That’s all we got. It’s not much. But the bigger issue here is this strange creature described by two different people, decades apart.
RAY: Yeah, over the years we’ve covered a lot of strange monsters, but NOTHING that sounds anything like this one.
JEFF: When we hear about a monster like this, we try our best to fit it into the context of the time and the location. But this one doesn’t fit. And maybe that’s part of the charm. It sticks out. Legends have a way of doing that. And considering these two sightings were almost 60 years apart, we can’t help but wonder if maybe the next sighting could happen today.
RAY: Annnnd now I’m looking over my shoulder here in Glocester, Rhode Island.
JEFF: That’s the power of a legend. And you know who powers us, Ray?
RAY: Our patreon patrons!
JEFF: That’s right. For just $3 bucks per month they get early access to new episodes plus bonus episodes and content that no one else gets to hear. We’re not backed by some big podcast network, we count on our sponsor and our patrons to make all of this happen. Please join our inner circle by heading over to patreon.com/newenglandlegends to sign up.
RAY: Thank you to Dylan J. Schlender of the Reels of Justice podcast, and thanks to John Bashford–both of them–for lending their voice acting talents this week. And our theme music is by John Judd.
JEFF: Until next time remember… the bizarre is closer than you think.