Balladeer’s Blog presents another neglected American horror legend in honor of Halloween Month.
THE DALTON CHANGELING
Anne Coleman was a feared witch in Lanesboro, MA in the 1780’s. She was suspected of causing storms that sank ships, bringing on diseases that killed cattle, making food go bad and other malevolent deeds.
Eunice Dalton – a new mother – had told her husband Ezra and anyone else who would listen that she was certain that Anne Coleman had stolen their baby boy out of the crib and replaced it with a changeling. Ezra and others tried to assure her that the baby was her own but she continued regarding it with fear.
One day when Eunice was nursing the baby she shrieked with horror as she realized the baby had developed teeth and had bitten into her breast to suck out blood instead of milk. Ezra was convinced now that something was definitely wrong with the baby because of the sudden growth of teeth and the blood spilling down from his wife’s bitten breast.
While the two two terrified Daltons were trying to calm down and discuss with each other what they should do they had lost track of the baby. A sudden cry from their cat Jasper caught their attention and both husband and wife screamed when they saw that the changeling baby had just strangled the cat to death.
Shrieking at the beastling that it was not her son Eunice Dalton picked it off the floor near the cat’s corpse and threw the creature into the fireplace. Ezra fought an instinctive desire to rush forward to save the infant.
It was just as well because the supernatural child was unharmed and simply crawled out of the fireplace as if at play. The thing that was not their son chilled the Daltons further by laughing with the laugh of a hearty full-grown man.
The baby crawled back into its crib and seemed to sleep, but whenever either of its parents approached it the changeling’s eyes snapped open and a growl like a wolf emerged from it. Ezra stayed to keep an eye on the unholy creature and sent his wife to fetch Parson Lincoln.
When that preacher had arrived and had the baby’s otherworldly status confirmed to him he took Ezra aside to tell him what had to be done in cases like this. The Parson was a Freemason like Ezra and he said they needed to call in their Lodge Brothers in such situations.
They would secretly construct a special above-ground tomb in the Lanesboro cemetery and, when it was completed, the Daltons – with the help of Ezra’s fellow Freemasons – would convince everyone else in Lanesboro that the Dalton baby had died.
A private ceremony would be held in which the changeling baby would be buried alive in the reinforced stone tomb. Eunice asked if they might not trade the horrific being with Anne Coleman to get their real son back.
Parson Lincoln broke the news to Mrs Dalton that their baby was already dead. Black Witches like Anne Coleman did unspeakable things to the babies they stole and it was better not to inquire further.
As if understanding what the adults were plotting the changeling leaped from its crib and made to escape but Ezra and the Parson seized the baby and, though frightened by its growls, they fought to wrestle it back into its crib.
Once there the two men struggled to hold it down while the weeping Eunice fetched rope from the barn. When the changeling was tied up and the wooden cross from the wall had been placed upon it to help sap its strength Parson Lincoln said his goodbyes and set off to meet with his fellow Freemasons.
Several days later the 20 feet by 20 feet mausoleum was completed, with the Daltons claiming it would be for Ezra and Eunice some day, hence the large size. Masonic symbols decorated the interior and the exterior but only Ezra and his Lodge Brothers knew that the symbols were needed to contain the abomination which had replaced his and Eunice’s son.
A few days later the Daltons announced the death of their son. The private funeral ceremony was held to honor their real son and set his soul to rest no matter what Hellish death had been his. After the necessary holy words had been spoken the monstrous changeling, still bound and with its mouth stuffed with sawdust, was placed in the tomb.
Before too many months had passed the monstrous creature had outgrown the ropes and had eaten all the sawdust. Luckily the inscriptions and the strength of the tomb were enough to contain the beast within.
Every night for long years afterward whatever the changeling babe had grown into could be heard roaring and pounding at the stone walls of its prison.
Eventually all the proper folk knew not to question the circumstances. They thanked their God that the consecrated ground of the cemetery and whatever miracles the Freemasons had worked would be enough to imprison the creature until its unnatural lifespan was exhausted.
The roaring continued for years. Travelers passing the cemetery at night would hear the pounding and the roaring and would hasten past. Sometimes the sounds carried so far that Ezra and Eunice’s new children could faintly hear the din as they did their pre-dawn farm chores.
At daybreak all year round the ruckus would stop, only to resume at sunset. And so it went decade after decade until at long last whatever unwholesome thing was imprisoned in the tomb was no longer living.
Eventually the tragic events came to be regarded as mere folklore and superstition. But not even the most smug skeptics were foolish enough to open the sealed tomb to examine the remains within.
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