Four spooky places in Arlington

Arlington Advocate – MA
Oct 30 2010

Four spooky places in Arlington

By Maria Chutchian/Staff Writer
The Arlington Advocate

Arlington, Mass. – These historic locations aren’t necessarily the
place to go for a fear-filled romp this Halloween, but their
backgrounds and happenings from generations ago fill them with a sense
of mystery. The town may be most famous for the battles fought and
blood shed during the Revolutionary War, but Arlington is also home to
a handful of other eerie sites.

>From the well-known Jason Russell House to the tucked-away Armenian
Cultural Foundation, residents can learn about the lives of
influential and tragic figures, whether they be American soldiers or
not. Another side of Arlington’s spookiest can be found in the land
itself, specifically the Devil’s Den section of the Menotomy Rocks
Park and the empty Symmes Hospital site.

Devil’s Den (Menotomy Rocks Park)

The popular spot for dog-walking and picnicking was once known by this
less friendly name. Now the Devil’s Den section of the park consists
of a tall hill sustained by unusual rock formations, according to
local historian Richard A. Duffy.

Friends of Menotomy Rocks Park historian Don Mattheisen said the
Devil’s Den was originally a wild, remote spot covered in tangled
trees and boulders. He said a 1932 article from the Advocate reported
that a century ago, the devil, wearing an apron filled with rocks, was
hurrying toward Spy Pond. On his way, the apron strings broke apart
and the rocks tumbled onto that particular section of what is now the
park. He said the rocks hit the earth with such force, they created a
groove in the landscape.

The formation can be easily missed if it is not viewed up close. Once
in sight though, a passerby can’t ignore the stretch of land that
looms over the flatter areas of the park. It appears almost unnatural,
despite its earthly foundation.

Jason Russell House

The yellow farmhouse built in the 1740s has remained a town landmark
for years, home to a battle that cost 12 lives on the first day of the
American Revolution on April 19, 1775. These days, visitors can tour
the building, where bullet holes from the original fight can be seen
in various rooms throughout the interior of the house.

According to the Arlington Historical Society, only the Minutemen who
sought cover in the cellar of the home survived while British soldiers
were making their way through with guns and flanks. Russell reportedly
rushed his wife and children to safety before returning to the scene.
He was shot and killed on his doorstep.

Russell’s house is only the beginning of a rich, historical tour. His
body was buried at the Old Burying Ground behind the First Parish
Unitarian Church, along with the 11 other men who were killed during
that battle. Gravestones at the Old Burying Ground date back to 1736,
according to the Arlington Historical Society.

Symmes site

It is hard to shake the feeling of abandonment in an empty lot. In the
case of the site where the former Symmes Hospital once stood, it may
not be completely desolate.

Neighbors like Michele Barry report hearing the disturbing screech of
a fisher cat at night and coyotes at dawn and dusk. In 2008, the old
hospital building was torn down. Since then, progress on the site has
come to a halt, and the site has become a source of controversy among
residents with differing opinions of how it should be used.

Dr. Bob Carey, who worked at Symmes for the majority of his career,
recalled the doctors and nurses he worked with as caring, deeply
passionate people. One of his most vivid memories was the first time
he convinced the older physicians to allow him to use the newfangled
defibrillator. With the patient set up and under anesthesia, he pushed
the button on the box meant to send a jolt of electricity, only to
watch it smoke and burst into flames.

After pulling the plug, he said the patient was fine. It took him some
time to convince his superiors that the machine would be safe to use
again, and upon a second try on a local firefighter, the defibrillator
worked like a charm.

`He popped up, flopped back and then said, `What the hell are you
doing?” Carey said.

Memories like these and old photographs are currently all that’s left
of the now defunct facility. The town is now waiting for current
developer JPI to make its next move. Until then, neighbors must be
content with the piles of dirt visible from their backyards and the
hope that it won’t look that way for long.

The Armenian Cultural Foundation

It’s a nonprofit museum and library that hosts cultural events, but
the gigantic, white-pillared structure holds such a bounty of Armenian
books, periodicals and artifacts that it’s difficult to ignore an
overwhelming sense of suffering from a group of people who endured a

Poetry readings and celebrations of well-known Armenian historical
figures are just some of the events take place in the hall, which is
decorated with old Oriental and Armenian rugs that the foundation’s
creator, Vahan Topalian, collected. The Armenian Cultural Foundation’s
(ACF) curator, Ara Ghazarians, said the space opened to the public in
1997 when Dr. Robert Mirak of Winchester took the reins.

Topalian was a lifelong bachelor who spent his days reading and
collecting rare books, Ghazarians said. Almost all of the literature
found in the library is first edition. Because of the age and rarity
of the items, the library does not lend its books out, but welcomes
visitors to use them within the building for research.

Ghazarians said if someone was to visit the library 20 years ago, they
would have been greeted by the `eccentric’ Topalian. The Armenian
native came to America in 1905, though Ghazarians said it was for
school, and was not certain that he was escaping the genocide.

The library’s oldest English title dates back to 1716 and its oldest
Armenian title from 1749, said Ghazarians. It holds 33,000 items, most
of which are written in either English, French or Armenian. It also
displays framed, original letters written by well-known authors such
as Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Voltaire. The building itself, located
near the Winchester town line on Mystic Street, was erected in 1895
and was home to three families before it became the headquarters of
the ACF. According to Ghazarians, the pillars were added by the third
family and came from structures in Newton and Belmont.

Staff Writer Maria Chutchian can be reached by e-mailing [email protected]

From: A. Papazian

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