From the October 26, 1962 edition of the Vineyard Gazette by Joseph Chase Allen:

History as it is written and the traditions as they have survived the years are extremely free from mystery, crime and unwholesome suggestions as far as Martha’s Vineyard is concerned. While other places no larger or even smaller in area and population possess tales of crime, witchcraft and strange happenings, the Vineyard has almost nothing of the sort to offer.

Yet the Island is not entirely without its fragmentary record of oddities, tragic, humorous, or criminal in character. There are a few of such instances which are recalled by lines of type in an old newspaper or a private record’s aged and stained handwriting. And in the list of traditions there is an occasional tale of something which people did not care to discuss at the time of its happening and even less as time passed.

Perhaps they were ashamed. Perhaps the characters involved were otherwise well thought of. Or perhaps, as in the case which will be mentioned, it was because no one could offer any sort of explanation. Few people now living know anything of this matter, although many people have passed by the ancient homesite and have marked the huge flat boulder that lies only a rod or two from the stone steps that once led up to the kitchen door.

If anyone cares to look up the records, he will find that this area of land, the bounds of which are rather loosely described, was purchased by Alexander Dunham in 1659. So much for documentary proof. There is nothing else in the way of a record which reveals any further information.

But Island tradition - which is likely to be at once tradition, folktale, history and genealogy - has preserved the following story which accounts for the presence of the stone and several other matters pertaining to this spot.

Dunham is said to have completed the house and that he and whatever family he may have had at the time were actually occupying the dwelling before he established his permanent water supply. It seems he was obtaining water from a nearby brook until he succeeded in digging a well. But before this well was added to the home establishment, something had happened, something so terrifying that the word went to distant points on the mainland, and men hearing about it shuddered.

The scene was a rather long narrow valley, broadening out to a very level tract at one end. There is no reason for supposing that this location had anything to do with what occurred unless, as some geologists have opined, the valley had once been a riverbed. This is a possibility but no more than that. Altogether it was and still is a pleasant, sunny and generally attractive homesite, though there has been no home there for a century.

Exactly who dug the well is not known. There were professional well diggers, and there were also men who dug wells just occasionally. But it is doubtful if Dunham himself did the digging. In any case, the work progressed rapidly, and this was fortunate because it was said that it had descended for thirty feet before any body of water was encountered. When that occurred, however, the well quickly filled to half its depth. It was noticeable that the water bubbled, from which circumstance both diggers and employer believed that a boiling spring had been tapped, which was considered fortunate indeed.

They were busy about the mouth of the well when there came a heavy roaring sound from the excavation. The wall so carefully laid began to move downward, dropping faster and faster, and while the horrified men watched and the roaring increased in volume, the entire well casing of stone disappeared in the depths with a series of heavy and horrid gurgles and a mighty splashing. At the same time great masses of earth caved from the unsupported sides of the well, and they too splashed and thudded at the bottom!

Tradition has said that this confusion and horrific convulsion continued for the better part of an hour, and when at last it ceased there was no well at all! There was just a raw hollow in the ground, filled with soft earth, which lifted and dropped like boiling hominy.

Water being a necessity, Dunham moved out some distance and dug another well, which suppled his home for generations. But first he filled the hollow left by the cave-in with stones, and when the stones ceased to settle, he dragged the huge boulder over the hole, which still lies where he left it. What happened or why, no one ever knew, and for many years there were men who hesitated to stick a shovel in the earth at the Dunham Place. Today the boulder, flat, broad, and the height of a chair seat, rests on the stone blockings placed there long, long ago. Undoubtedly if people pass that way they will stop and rest while seated upon this stone. Undoubtedly too, if they knew the story which goes with it, they would satisfy themselves with some other resting place, even though it might be less inviting. But they do not know.

Compiled by Hilary Wall