Kimmitt Genealogical Research

09 November 2014

Lucy Keyes, the Lost Child of Wachusett Mountain

A 2005 movie called The Legend of Lucy Keyes tells the story of a couple who move from the city to a new home in the country that is haunted by previous inhabitants. It references the tale of the four year old Lucy Keyes, who wandered off into the wilderness from her Princeton, Massachusetts home in April of 1755, never to be found again.

I'll just tell you the legend, then refer you to a very nice analysis of the story by the author of the History of Princeton, Francis Everett Blake. Though he wrote his pamphlet in 1893 it is such a well reasoned analysis (though devoid of citations he does tell us what he consulted) that you will probably be as satisfied as I am that he is correct. You can read more about his life here.

Lucy's parents Robert Keyes and Martha Bowker moved from Shrewsbury to Princeton in about 1751 with their first five or so children. Princeton was hardly settled so they moved into a virtual wilderness. In order to find their way through the thick forests they would mark the trees so they could get back home again. Below is a view from the top of Mt. Wachusett, a small mountain on whose Eastern slopes the family lived.
View from Mt. Wachusett in Autumn, 2004, by Polly Kimmitt

One day Lucy's sisters were sent to the nearby pond to fetch sand for some household purpose. Little Lucy followed them through the woods. The sisters returned, but Lucy did not. Her poor mother Martha was devastated, as we might expect--I'd just go insane and be done with it. Martha repeatedly went out into the woods calling pitifully for Lucy long after the event occurred and when all hope had been exhausted by reasonable folks.

There were various explanations of the disappearance: Indian abduction being the most likely. That was somehow corroborated by a someone who met a group of Indians with a young European/white girl living with them who could only say " 'Chusett Hill" when asked where she was from. Robert never got a satisfactory answer about that during his lifetime though he spent a good deal of money trying. 

Gravestone of Mrs Martha Keyes, Meetinghouse Cemetery, Princeton, Massachusetts

Eventually the hubbub died down, though Martha was never quite right (goes without saying). She died in 1785, brokenhearted, and is buried in the Meetinghouse Cemetery in Princeton. The legend says that her ghost haunts the forests around Princeton, and her plaintive cry can still be heard late at night, searching and hoping--Luuuuuucy! Luuuuuuuuuucy!

There is no gravestone beside Martha for her husband Robert, nor was there one in 1893 when Blake wrote his pamphlet, though he was most likely buried there (and there is room next to her). Robert suffered great financial losses from his search for Lucy, and most likely died completely impoverished, with no money to pay for a stone. (1)

All was calm for many years until in 1859, during the Centennial celebrations in Princeton a letter came to light that purported to solve the mystery. According to witnesses at the deathbed of Tilley Littlejohn, he confessed to Lucy's murder shortly before he passed on! Tilley had been a neighbor of the Keyes family and in fact at one point there arose a boundary dispute, so there was some animosity there. Tilley said he was angry about the dispute, came across young Lucy wandering in the woods, and bashed her head against a log, stuffed her corpse into a hollow log and went home. Though his response may seem disproportionate to the disagreement, you can imagine that maybe he had some mental problems that exacerbated the animosity in his mind and caused him to grossly overreact. So far it's believable.




Tilley then joined the search party, steering them away from the log. He returned later and moved the remains to a hole in the ground, covered it with soil and leaves, set fire to it (not logical!--that would call attention to it) and went home again. Tilly supposedly furnished extensive detail in his deathbed confession. Eventually, they said, he moved away and everyone forgot all about it until the letter about his confession was unearthed.

Well, I suppose it was possible, but if you're like me by now you are frantic for some evidence! The facts need to be checked. Luckily we have Francis Everett Blake on the case! I'm not going to tell you what I think. I'll let you be the judge. Did Blake crack the case over 120 years ago? What really happened to Lucy Keyes? Read Blake's analysis and see if you agree.



1. Francis E. Blake, Lucy Keyes, the Lost Child of Wachusett Mountain (Boston: np, 1893), 9; Internet Archive (http://www.archive.org : accessed 7 November 2014).


2 comments:

Heather Wilkinson Rojo said...

You know I used to live off Rt. 31 in Holden. I had some best friends in Princeton because I went to Wachusett High School. That was when I first heard of the legend of Lucy Keyes, when we were riding our bikes up and down Rt. 31 to and from Princeton, often at dusk. My Girl Scout troop used to hike on Mount Wachusett, and we all whispered about the legend while hiking, too.

Polly Kimmitt said...

That's amazing, Heather. I would have been scared out of my skin at that age.