PURGATORY CHASM STATE RESERVATION
Updated: May 9, 2022
DATE(S) VISITED: NOV 21, 2020
LOCATION: SUTTON, MA
Located off Route 146 in the town of Sutton, Massachusetts, this state owned park is a popular hiking and picnic spot, notable for it's 400 meter long, 70 foot deep chasm of granite bedrock with abrupt precipices and boulder caves.
It seems that another fissure located on the coast in Newport, RI also named Purgatory Chasm is the original location behind the story of the legend that people tell of this location in MA. Albeit, you can see why people would associate the story between the two.
The legend of the creation of this geological beauty goes back to colonial and Native American lore. For reasons unknown, a woman from the Algonquin tribe killed a white colonial settler. As she left the scene she encountered another settler who asked for her company on a short walk. Due to her killing one of his people she was apprehensive and tried to run away only to have him lunge at her and grab her by the wrist. When she called out to the Native American god Hobomoko to save her, the settler revealed himself as none other than Hobomoko himself. Morphing into a devil-like guise, Hobomoko grabbed his captive by the waist and flew to Purgatory Chasm. Colonists said that the devil’s actions on that day formed the chasm. The deep depressions were allegedly the places he stomped and threw his victim and the large, deep cuts in the rocks were the results of a swinging tomahawk.
Visitors to the chasm can try and squeeze themselves into these tomahawk strikes, one named Devils' Corn Crib, and another named Fat Man's Misery. Of course, this had to be done on our visit too.
As fantastic as this story sounds, historians believe that the legend actually served a religious purpose in the colonists efforts to Christianize Native Americans. By demonizing Hobomoko and creating a parable-like warning out of the woman’s murder, they cautioned Natives out of their own faith with the hope of converting them to Christianity.
Geologists believe that the chasm's creation was due to a mile high glacier that let loose meltwater from a burst ice dam which then ripped out blocks of bedrock at the end of the last Ice Age, some 14,000 years ago.
Sadly, people have actually died at Purgatory Chasm, be it accidental falling whilst hiking, or taking their own life. There have been eight in total reported in the last 139 years, the last being in 2012.
Lovers Leap is another named spot in the chasm (seen below). Lover's Leap, is a toponym given to a number of locations of varying height, usually isolated, with the risk of a fatal fall and the possibility of a deliberate jump. Legends of romantic tragedy are often associated with a Lover's Leap, but none have ever been associated here from what we can gather.
We will no doubt be heading back here for another hike at some point so expect more from us regards this wonderful state park. For even more photo's that we have took of the chasm, check them out via our Facebook gallery page.