Road Lore: Rattlesack Road

Colored woodcut print of Rattlesack Road

Rattlesack Road cuts through a marsh in northeastern Massachusetts, not far from the coast. Folks who live near it will tell you to stay out of the marsh and to avoid the road that cuts across it between sunset and sunrise. Most won’t say much more than that it’s a bad road, and leave it at that, but if pressed, there are some who will tell you it’s because of old Rattlesack Jack, who the road is named for.

Some say Jack’s a ghost, the spirit of some farmer who died badly out in the marsh. Some say his is a stolen story, reskinned over an older Indigenous tale, or historical recollection twisted out of recognition (not uncommon in New England, sadly). Others say he’s an urban legend told to scare off tourists, since the road serves as a shortcut to a local beach and year-round residents aren’t keen on having every possible road blocked up with traffic. Others still say that he’s something someone brought with them from the Old Country that made itself at home. Personally, I’m inclined toward the last, myself, given how similar the stories are to old Irish or Scottish tales of boggarts and bogles.

Conflicting origins aside, the tales are always the same, and have been for as long as anyone can remember. Local historians have found references to him in journals that date back as far as the old Colonies. Tales of traveling through the marsh after dark and having a horse throw a shoe, or a car breaking down, and hearing sounds like bones being rattled and laughter, or seeing a short, heavy-built man with long, spindly arms and legs watching them from the trees while they changed a flat tire, grinning and shaking a leather bag whose contents made a disturbing rattling sound at them until they hurried away. Even in the days of cellphones and cell towers everywhere, signal’s notoriously hard to come by in the marsh, making it all but impossible to reliably call for assistance if one finds oneself broken down, despite strong connection at either end of the road.

There are also darker tales and a centuries-long record of abandoned horses, wagons, and cars whose owners are rarely found again that’s higher than it should be for a road as out of the way as Rattlesack Road.

The thing with boggarts is that they aren’t always dangerous, generally speaking. Capricious and something to be careful of, sure, but not that much of a threat. However, giving them names? They don’t like that, and that’s when they turn malicious and become dangerous, and that sounds an awful lot like Rattlesack Jack.

(If you liked what you just read, please toss a few coins at your mostly friendly resident word-witch to help keep her little monsters fed!)

Carving Out Sentences One Word At A Time

A young black cat with a white patch loafs on top of a low bookcase, looking slightly to the right of the camera with a mildly suspicious expression. Behind him is a window with a purple tied-back curtain looking out on bare trees.
Bodach has suspicions about the roadwork going on outside the window behind Mom.

Bodach’s feeling a bit better, and since we moved him to the antechamber from the office, I get to not only sleep on a slightly more comfortable couch, but have easy access to the studio. (The antechamber was originally a bedroom, but when a previous owner of the house converted the carport into additional rooms, the room became a weird almost walk-through closet/office to get to the new master bedroom, which is what I use for my studio. The room we use for Himself’s computer room is one of the other bedrooms.) It’s nice to give him more room to move around in, and it lets me work while I’m keeping an eye on him.

Writing is still slow going, but it’s least happening, and so I’m finally getting to claw my way through Rattlesack Jack’s story.

A taste of what’s to come…

* * * * * * * * *


“Up along the New England coast, there is a marsh. Folks who live near it will tell you to stay out of the marsh and to avoid the road that cuts across it like a scar between sunset and sunrise. Most won’t say much more than that it’s dangerous, and leave it at that, but if pressed, there are some who will tell you it’s because of old Rattlesack Jack.

Some say Jack’s a ghost, the spirit of some farmer who died badly out in the marsh. Some say his is a stolen story, reskinned over an older Indigenous tale, or historical recollection twisted out of recognition (not uncommon in New England, sadly). Others say he’s an urban legend told to scare off tourists. Others still say that he’s something someone brought with them from the Old Country that stayed behind when they fled English transportation and hid in the marsh before making their way back home to Ireland.” ~excerpt from the tale of Rattlesack Jack