Cave Hill: Noises in Moodus, Connecticut
by Jim Trocchi

The village of Moodus, in the town of East Haddam, gets its name from the Indian word, “Machimoodus” which means “place of noises” (Roberts 1906:86). In the area of Cave Hill and Mt. Tom in Machimoodus State Park, there are reports that go back centuries of these legendary noises.

It is said that the Native Americans believed the noises were the work of Hobomocko or Satan, and held powwows. “From the earliest of inhabitants of this region, the people of the Pequot, Mohegan and Narragansett tribes, the thundering and quaking around Mount Tom were evidence of the living presence of the god Hobomocko, who sat below on a sapphire throne and decreed all human calamity” (Philips 1992:201). Further, “Connecticut Indians depended upon the local Machimoodus tribe to interpret the many voices of the evil deity” (Philips 1992:199).

Just as the Native Americans feared these noises, they also spooked the first Europeans. Even into the 18th century, some people believed that the cave at Cave Hill gave direct access to the realm of Hobomocko (Philips 1992:201).

By the 19th century, a scientific point of view was taken as to the cause of these noises. It was thought that maybe these noises were seismic disturbances. Finally in 1981, scientists studied the area. They “used a series of special underground sensors to monitor for seismic conditions; otherwise, the earthquakes are too small to detect” (Hartford Courant 15 Aug 2007: B.2.). They detected over 500 microearthquakes over a 3-month period (Hartford Courant 15 Aug 2007: B.2.). These small quakes produce audible sounds, and hence the strange Moodus noises that have been reported near the confluence of the Moodus and Salmon Rivers in the Cave Hill and Mt. Tom area.

In May of 1791 a quake occurred in this area with its epicenter in Moodus. It created heavy damage, knocking down chimneys, toppling walls and leaving fissures in the ground. Scientists estimate that the quake would have registered a 4.3 on the Richter scale (Hartford Courant 25 Mar. 2011: B.1.).

There have been smaller quakes since then, measuring around 1.3 on the Richter scale. Noises being emitted have been described as “cannon fire,” “a heavy log rolling,” “a clap of thunder” and “the passing of a heavy truck” (Hartford Courant 15 Aug 2007: B.2.). In March 2011 there was an incident of explosive sounds that shook houses and sent out emergency personnel, the cause of which was verified as a small tremor or quake (Hartford Courant 25 Mar. 2011: B.1.).

A day trip to both Machimoodus State Park and Cave Hill is a day well spent. This State Park offers hiking, horseback trails and cross-country skiing in season. You can enjoy all this natural beauty while you’re thinking about the myths and legends that go with this area.

I found the cave at nearby Cave Hill a unique feature. My visit made me realize that this isn’t some exaggerated nook or cranny; it is a narrow but deep cave. As can be seen in Photo 1, the cave has a sizable entrance that you can easily enter without having to crawl; just little stooping required. Once inside the cave, Photo 2 shows its depth; it appears to enter into the abyss. It reminds me of what a doctor sees when he’s examining your throat. It would be interesting to see how deep it goes, but I found no reference to anyone ever probing the cave’s depth. Photo 3 gives you a perspective from inside the cave looking out and again the size of the entrance.

Interestingly, in the same rock formation of the cave there are also two rock-shelters, one very large in size (see Photo 4). In this rock over hang, all that is needed is something such as wood to cover the front to make this natural formation a living space. I remember an archaeology instructor lecturing many times that if you come across a rock-shelter you have an archaeological site. Native Americans and early European settlers used rock-shelters as living quarters.

• Clark, Marlene. What’s That Strange Sound? Just The Earth Shaking. Hartford Courant, Aug. 15, 2007: B.2.
• Hasselburg, Erik. Small Quake Leaves Town Shaken All Over: “Moodus Noises.” Hartford Courant, March 25, 2011: B.1.
• Philips, David E. Legendary Connecticut. Curbstone Press, Willimantic, CT, 1992.
• Roberts, George S. Historic Towns of the Connecticut River Valley. Robson and Adee Publishers, Schenectady, NY, 1906.