Yes, there is a permanent roadside memorial to a small child who died in 1993.
Yes, a person was stabbed on Rock-a-Dundee Road.
Looking back at one of the area’s most bizarre tales:
Two teenagers were making out in a car on the side of Rock-a-Dundee Road in Hampden, Mass., when, much to their dismay, the car wouldn’t start. “I’m walking to town for help,” said the boyfriend. “Keep the doors locked, and no matter what, don’t unlock the doors or get out.”
His girlfriend waited awhile and heard a scratching sound on the roof, but she thought it was the wind blowing a branch, since they were right under a tree.
Awoken the next morning by a Hampden police officer, she was escorted to his cruiser and instructed not to look back at the car. But she did, and saw her dead boyfriend hanging from a noose, his toes barely touching the car roof.
Many communities have adopted this bona fide suburban legend, going back, according to snopes.com, to at least 1964 in Kansas. By the late 1970s the story had spread across the world. Why is this kind of tale associated particularly with Rock-a-Dundee Road? As far as anyone knows, no murderous bloodbaths ever occurred there. Maybe it’s because of the road’s weird name. Rock-a-Dundee—sounds like a satanic chant. Or maybe it’s because it gets pretty damn dark out there in the boonies.
“The Boyfriend’s Death” story originates, no doubt, in tales of real life lover’s lane slayings. Hell, look at the Zodiac murders in the San Francisco area in the 1960s and 1970s. Necking can be fatal if a serial killer finds you. Snopes.com goes on to analyze the girlfriend defying the “don’t look back” order: it seems that taboos are always broken in folklore, and look what happened to Lot’s wife in the Bible when she ignores a similar command.
When we were growing up, we heard the theory that some sort of mob operation—counterfeiting or bootlegging or something like that—had taken place at a house on Rock-a-Dundee Road, and that the perpetrators had spread the haunting rumor to keep people away. If that was the case (although doubtful), quite the opposite has occurred over the past four decades. Thrill-seekers in Sixteen Acres, Wilbraham, Hampden, and East Longmeadow—the local legend hasn’t really spread much beyond this area—have considered it an adolescent rite-of-passage to make at least one chilling cruise down Rock-a-Dundee Road late at night.
Sure, my friends and I went down to Rock-a-Dundee Road a few times in our youth. But we never saw anything. Granted, it’s not a place you want to break down, especially where it turns into a dirt road and goes through a wooded area as it winds into Somers.
Over the years the stories have expanded to include tales of a crazed woman wielding an ax and chasing anyone foolish enough to venture down the road, teenage suicide hangings (the nooses, of course, are supposedly still dangling from the trees), and even an account of a bus running over a small child named John on the road after dropping him off. In this story, after the accident, his parents built a gazebo at the bus stop in his honor, and if you enter the structure, sometimes you can still hear the boy crying.
There is, in fact, such a structure on the road, decorated for the season with large Christmas lights, red bows, and four flat standup wooden carolers. A large boulder sits next to it, engraved with the message “Our bus stop in loving memory of John Shea.”
A note to readers: this isn’t his real name. But out of respect for the boy’s family, I’m not going to divulge it, and I’ve blocked it out of the photos.
A four-year-old boy named "John" who lived on Rock-a-Dundee road did die in the summer of 1993, but he wasn’t hit by a bus. He quietly passed away at home after a long illness, and the gazebo was apparently built as a memorial to him.
The story, of course, has been twisted and adopted into regional lore on the Internet by youngsters fascinated with the paranormal, including one person who claimed he was in the gazebo and felt a sudden gust of cold air, and then an hour later he found a scratch on his face. “I really freacked (sic) out,” he wrote, “because i felt like i was being folowed (sic) the rest of the day.”
I’m not surprised that the gazebo has prompted another Rock-a-Dundee legend: it’s just too tempting to see the rock inscription and skew the facts about the boy’s death to suit a haunting story. No, I didn’t go inside the gazebo once I took the photos. No, I didn’t get a weird feeling when I was there, except for being painfully aware of the fact that I’m a middle aged-man visiting Rock-a-Dundee road again after nearly 30 years. No, the road wasn’t named after the large rock, but that’s what people will undoubtedly be saying for the next hundred years. Yes, I know I am inevitably contributing to the spot’s notoriety by writing about these stories, but so be it.
There is a short YouTube video shot by adventurers cruising down Rock-a-Dundee Road at night. I’m not going to provide the link, because it’s not really worth watching. For a moment it has a humorous Blair Witch Project quality as headlights suddenly bear down on the couple. It's not a murderer, but an irritated motorist who just wants to pass the crawling car. Indeed, people who live on the street are sick of kids cruising up and down their street and turning around in their driveways at night, but they’re stuck with a legend. The YouTubers brought a Ouija board on the trip, and the passenger announces that it has directed him to the letter R. That’s R, I believe, for Rock-a-Dundee Road. No shit. “You couldn’t pay me enough to live on this street,” declares the driver. Believe me, honey, you probably couldn’t afford to live there.
OCTOBER 22, 2008
True story: a 20-year-old man was stabbed on Rock-a-Dundee Road this year. Fortunately, he survived. The circumstances were unclear from the news reports, but two adults and two juveniles from Springfield were arrested and charged with armed robbery, assault and battery with a dangerous weapon, and possession of marijuana.
This doesn’t sound like the kind of random slashing that is the stuff of Rock-a-Dundee road legends, but I’m sure in time the story will be amended enough to be incorporated into the area’s mythology. After all, we have the Internet now to speed up misinformation.
Memo to dead boyfriend, hatchet lady, and "John": you’ve got company—knife man.
NEW! READ AN UPDATE ON ROCK-A-DUNDEE ROAD, INCLUDING THE MAKING OF A FEATURE FILM, AT SPITTING TO ALL FIELDS, PART 5.