In Episode 247, Jeff Belanger and Ray Auger try out stilts in Rye, New Hampshire, in search of a 19th-century eccentric legendary peddler known as Cling-Clang. Known to travel on stilts along the coast between New Hampshire, Maine, and even into Nova Scotia, this odd vagabond has some strange habits, he only slept outside, and left a mark behind that we can still see today. But who was this regional folk legend? Murderer on the run? Heartbroken noble? Something else?
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[WALKING ON STILTS]
RAY: Jeff, I had no idea that you could walk on stilts!
JEFF: I got a pair of stilts at a tag sale when I was ten years old, and I guess I never forgot how to use them.
[TICK TICK TICK TICK]
RAY: You can really get around on those things!
JEFF: I don’t dare put them up too high, but yeah, if you’re sure-footed, you can cruise, considering the length of your stride when you expand your legs by a few feet.
RAY: I don’t supposed we came to the coastal town of Rye, New Hampshire, just to play on stilts…
JEFF: No, we came to Rye, New Hampshire, looking for a local folk hero. An eccentric, mysterious, and peculiar vaulting peddler called Cling-Clang.
JEFF: I’m Jeff Belanger, and welcome to episode 247 of the New England Legends podcast. If you give us about ten minutes, we’ll give you something strange to talk about today. Then be sure to listen to the second half of the podcast, for After the Legend where we take a deeper dive.
RAY: I’m Ray Auger, thanks for joining us on our mission to chronicle every legend in New England one story at a time. We’re a community of legend seekers, and we love when you reach out to us with your own story leads. Don’t assume we’ve heard it! Please also subscribe to our podcast because it’s free, and posting a review for us on Apple Podcasts really goes a long way in helping others find our show. We appreciate when you help spread the word.
JEFF: Before we go searching for this unique New England folk hero, we want to take just a minute to tell you about our sponsor, Nuwati Herbals!
RAY: I love that the weather is warming up, and we’re getting outside more.
JEFF: Me too.
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RAY: Okay, Jeff. We’re looking for someone named Cling-Clang?
JEFF: Great name, right?!
RAY: Sure, I guess. I know New England has more than its share of eccentrics who have left a mark.
JEFF: We sure do. We covered the story of the Leatherman of Connecticut in the New England Legends television series, there’s John Hammond who built Hammond Castle in Gloucester, Massachusetts, Ruth Colblath, the woman who waited of Albany, New Hampshire, Madame Sherri of Brattleboro, Vermont. And so so many others who have made our radar over the years.
RAY: An eccentric sticks out. That’s part of the point. They’re memorable. And if Cling-Clang was a peddler, being remembered is a good thing for business.
JEFF: So true. I can remember local TV commercials growing up as a kid. There always seemed to be some local business owner willing to be way over-the-top in their commercials so we remembered them. I mean, it worked, right? I remember car dealership owners dressing like a clown, throwing pies, and assuring us that his low prices are no joke.
RAY: I think we all remember commercials and people like that.
JEFF: So we’re going to head back to 1880, and meet a New England eccentric peddler named Cling-Clang.
RAY: It’s May of 1880 here in Rye, New Hampshire. James Buchanan is President of the United States, and though nationally there’s tension in the country over the issue of slavery, here in the coastal town of Rye, it’s mostly business as usual.
JEFF: Rye is the next town south from Portsmouth, New Hampshire. It’s pretty rural. There are some farms, and of course locals do a lot of fishing for not just their tables, but their livelihoods.
RAY: This is the time of peddlers. They mostly travel on foot through the towns and villages. If you need basic goods like grains or soaps, you’ll get those at the general store in town. But peddlers can get you unique items like jewelry, maybe fancy buttons for that dress you’re sewing, and they’re also good for regional gossip. Given that in certain parts of town days can go by when you don’t see anyone except your family, peddlers can be a welcomed visitor.
JEFF: Peddlers are also good for doing odd jobs and tasks before moving on. Some come by with enough regularity that they’re invited inside people’s homes for meals or even to stay overnight before they move on the following day.
RAY: But of all the peddlers who make their way up the coast, there’s one who stands tall above the others…
[TICK TICK TICK]
RAY: Maybe that’s because you can hear him coming before you see him.
JEFF: Ray, look down the road. That’s our guy, and he’s moving at a pretty quick pace too!
RAY: Wow! Is he ever! He’s got these two long poles, maybe ten feet long or so, and they’ve got brass tips on the bottom. He’s holding the poles near the top and moving at almost a running pace on the stilts. And that clanking sound is coming from the various pots and pans hanging off of his sack, a sack that looks like an old salt bag. The bag looks a lot like the clothes he’s wearing too. He’s got a patchwork of fabric sacks for clothes. And there’s a Cocker Spaniel dog running beside him to keep up. This guy is hard to miss!
JEFF: In addition to peddling various trinkets and goods, Cling-Clang is a tin knocker and a clock fixer. People pay him to fix their pots and pans, or clocks. Sometimes Cling-Clang does the work for money, sometimes it’s in exchange for a meal. He works the coast from New Hampshire, up through Maine, and sometimes even into Nova Scotia.
RAY: I can see Cling-Clang is making his way to the Danielson Family homestead here in Rye. Let’s follow him.
[KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK]
[DOOR OPENS AND CLOSES]
RAY: Obviously Cling-Clang is a welcome site to the Danielsons. They seem glad to see the vagabond. And… listen to him talk… it sounds like Cling Clang has a British accent.
JEFF: I heard that too. He doesn’t talk much beyond the greetings, so it’s tough to learn too much about him based on a few words. Okay, so Cling-Clang just pulled a barrel head out of his big bag, and he’s setting it on the floor. Oh, I see, it’s his seat while he does his work.
RAY: The family brings over a few pans and a clock for him to fix.
[HAMMER ON METAL]
JEFF: When dinner time rolls around, the family invites Cling-Clang to dine with them.
[PLATES AND SILVERWARE]
JEFF: Okay, that’s one of the strangest things I’ve ever seen.
RAY: Yeah, that IS weird. Cling-Clang just ate a piece of bread. Which is normal enough. But then he spooned up some butter and popped the butter directly in his mouth.
JEFF: I don’t mean to yuck someone’s yum, but ewwwwww.
RAY: He’s practically guzzling the tea they offered him.
[CUP PLACED ON SAUCER]
RAY: Now he’s spooning up some sugar… and he just put the sugar directly in his mouth. His tea cup is empty…. Okay, he just did the same with a second spoonful of sugar.
JEFF: Most people put the sugar IN the tea… It looks like the meal consists of some chicken, potatoes, and carrots. It smells good too, doesn’t it?
RAY: It does. Okay, Cling-Clang is eating all of the potatoes off of his plate. He’s not touching anything else.
JEFF: Now that the potatoes are gone, he’s eating the carrots. Nothing but carrots until they’re gone.
RAY: I guess this is his way. He doesn’t like things mixed. No matter what it is, no matter what normal conventions may dictate. Cling-Clang is eccentric in every way.
JEFF: When dinner ends, the family offers him a bed, but Cling-Clang refuses. He says he’d be more comfortable sleeping in their barn, if that would be okay. The father shrugs, agrees, and Cling-Clang heads out to the barn for a night’s rest.
RAY: Woah! Cling-Clang is pacing around the barn now. He seems really agitated.
JEFF: Yeah, the sound of a rooster’s call is too frightening for him to handle.
RAY: Once Cling-Clang calms down from the rooster. He gets back to work fixing the family’s clock. After a quick breakfast with the Danielsons, where once again he eats each item separately, he’s back on his way up the coast with his dog.
[TICK TICK CLANG CLANG]
RAY: Who IS this strange man who gets around on stilts and refuses to sleep inside?
JEFF: To figure that out, let’s follow him.
RAY: Okay, that guy can really move on those stilts!
JEFF: No kidding! He makes his way from town-to-town heading up the coast, jumping over fences and creeks with those long stilts…. And that brings us to Sullivan, Maine. It’s here that Cling Clang was born.
RAY: I thought he had a British accent?
JEFF: Right. The man wasn’t born here, but the legend was. Let’s head into that stone building over there. It’s the headquarters of the local shipyard.
[CROWD OF PEOPLE TALKING]
RAY: I just asked around a little bit. There’s a lot of rumors about Cling Clang.
JEFF: Like what?
RAY: Everyone agrees he’s from England. Some say he was the most wanted man in England, and he came here to the United States to escape capture.
JEFF: He’s going to escape capture by sticking out like this?!
RAY: It’s just a rumor. Another story is that he was a British nobleman who had his heart broken by someone he loved, and he came here to get far away and be alone. Still others combine the two stories, that he killed the person he loved and as some kind of self-inflicted penance, he roams from town-to-town living like a pauper and refusing to sleep indoors. Still others suggest he’s a deserter from a ship’s crew, and he keeps moving to avoid getting pressed back into service aboard a sailing ship.
[CROWD OF PEOPLE TALKING]
JEFF: Okay, I just spoke to a Captain in the corner who got a little loose lipped. He said the man’s name is John Cling…
RAY: I guess that combined with the sounds the bouncing pots make, would explain Cling Clang.
JEFF: Right. The Captain said he spread the word early on that John Cling was once part of his crew, but the reality was Cling paid the Captain three times the normal rate for passage from England over to the United States. At the rate he paid, Cling could have stayed in the nicest cabin on the ship, but Cling insisted he wanted to appear as part of the crew. So the Captain allowed him to bunk in the crew’s quarters, and gave him a few trivial tasks aboard the ship, but the Captain was quick to point out that he was given no serious work because it was clear that Cling was no seaman. He knew nothing about how a ship worked. When I asked him about Cling being a murderer over in England… the Captain just shrugged. We may never know. And that brings us back to today.
RAY: John Cling DID talk to some people. It would seem when Cling came across an intellectual, he was happy to chat about learned things. He seemed to want some people to know that he was educated.
JEFF: Cling’s life ended one cold winter’s day behind this stone building that was once the shipyard headquarters in Sullivan, Maine. He was sleeping underneath an overturned row boat, something he’d done plenty of times before, even in the winter. When the building’s owner came out to check on him, Cling was found frozen solid.
RAY: Still, no one forgot Old Cling Clang.
JEFF: That’s true. Most of the details we found on this story come from the 1953 book, Sullivan and Sorrento Since 1760 by Lelia Clark Johnson. Though the section of the book about Cling Clang was written by Chief Stanwood on October 1, 1947. Stanwood mentions as a young child he heard all of the stories about Old Cling Cling. The story has never gone away. Cling Clang continues to show up in various books of weird legends. And the Old Stone Store house in Sullivan Harbor is said to be haunted by Cling Clang’s ghost.
RAY: From Maine to New Hampshire, and back again. Eccentrics always stick out. And they still stick out, even more than a century after they’re gone.
JEFF: And that brings us to After the Legend, where Ray and I take a deeper dive into this week’s story.
RAY: After the Legend is brought to you by our sponsor, Seaside Shadows!
JEFF: Seaside Shadows offers a blend of history and mystery on their guided tours of southern New England. We can’t think of a better way to walk into a community’s past, than through its ghostly tales. Seaside Shadows takes you there.
RAY: Joining us again this week from Seaside Shadows to tell us about another New England wanderer is company founder, author, historian, and storyteller, Courtney Reardon!
COURTNEY_247: Hey Jeff, hey Ray, thanks so much for having me. New England does indeed have its fair share of wanderers, in fact, Mystic, Connecticut, has some who ended up becoming local heroes. A Mystic man named Thomas spent his youth navigating the sea by the stars, and traveling out West to look for gold before his career as a Mystic-based merchant for the Army would end up leading to his capture by the Confederates. Captured and imprisoned, his time down south is only the beginning of his journey against the odds with formidable foes from nature and humans alike. And geez, when it did come time for Thomas to leave this earthly world, let’s just say, he did so with a bang. It’s hard not to feel his presence near his grave overlooking the Mystic River to this day.
RAY: So many notable characters still with us thanks to these stories. Head to SeasideShadows.com to learn about all of their walking tours, virtual tours that you can take online right now, plus, they offer private tours and events including murder mystery dinners, pub crawls, special investigations, and more.
JEFF: SeasideShadows.com is the place to find out about all of their upcoming events, tours, and you can book your experience right online. Head over to SeasideShadows.com to start your tour of local legends, lore, and true history.
We’d like to thank our sponsors, Nuwati Herbals and Seaside Shadows, we’d like to thank our patreon patrons – head over to patreon.com/newengland legends to get early access to new episodes, plus bonus episodes and content that no one else gets to hear, and our theme music is by John Judd.
Until next time remember… the bizarre is closer than you think.