'Witchstone' chiseled by famous 18th century carver

RICHARD K. LODGE / Staff Photo. The "Witchstone" or "Fatherstone" in a stone wall along Coleman Road in Byfield.

NEWBURY -- The 4-foot "Witchstone" was chiseled in 1723 by Robert Mullicken Sr., a gravestone carver from Bradford. Mullicken is the same artisan that A Visitor's Guide to Historic Newbury identifies as creator of the historic Boston Post Road milestones.

The so-called Witchstone is now part of a wall running along the easterly perimeter of the property at 15 Coleman Road. The carving was initially placed within a walkway that led to a manse owned by the Dummers, one of the wealthiest families in Newbury during the 17th and 18th centuries.

Mullicken also carved a doorway stone for the house known as "The Mother Stone" which is part of a collection of stones from Newbury on display at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History, according to information included on numerous websites and podcasts provided by Lon Hachmeister, treasurer of the local Historical Commission.

Six of 10 carved stones from the colonial period are still located in Newbury, with the remaining four, including the Mother Stone, at the national museum, according to Mary and James Gage, of StoneStructures.org. The Gages say the Witchstone was originally located on the Dummer farm, which is now home to the Triton Regional School. “The stone was removed to its present location in the 20th century,” their website states.

The carving on the stone’s front depicts “a full-length caricature of a man in late 1600s fashionable clothing” including long waistcoat and high heel shoes. “The hands are on the waist and the feet point outward, a common pose used in folk art from the 1600s through 1725,” the Gages note.

“It got its nickname of ‘Witch’s Stone’ because of the circular symbols surrounding the man like a hex -- and because Massachusetts people think everything involves witchcraft,” states award-winning author J. W. Ocker on his website Odd Things I’ve Seen (www.oddthingsiveseen.com). “It’s also called the Father’s Stone, which makes more sense,” Ocker adds.

Podcast host and author Christopher Setterlund describes Newbury’s Witchstone as “one part awe-inspiring and one part creepy.” He contends the titular ‘witch’ looks like “something that should be on an ancient cave wall, rather than on the North Shore in New England.”

But for the Planning Board and many other people in Newbury, the Witchstone is a cherished landmark and a special part of community lore.

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