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But where did it
all begin? How did a small seaport town founded over 300 years ago become
the highly respected and popular locale it is today? To learn the answers
to these questions, we must travel back in history…
The Miskatonic were aggressive and dangerous, and were feared and left alone by other Massachusetts’ tribes. Contrary to much of Native American culture, in which all life is given a holy respect, the Miskatonic continued to make sacrificial offerings (both human and animal) during religious ceremonies. Their beliefs centered around worship for great gods of the deepest oceans, who would their devotion and sacrifices with plentiful fish harvests.
Like the unexplained disappearance of the Anasazi tribe of New Mexico, the Miskatonic is another of history’s unsolved mysteries. At some point during the mid-1500’s, the entire Miskatonic tribe vanished without a trace. Some historians attribute this to the harsh New England climate, while others suspect that frequent disputes with neighboring tribes eventually culminated in a fatal war with the Wampanoags. However, local Indian legend tells of a mass “transmigration of the body,” in which the Miskatonic assumed a fish-like form similar to the beings they worshipped and left the land for a new life underwater.
So kids, watch out next time you’re taking a boat tour of Babson Harbor – the Miskatonic might be there to nab you!
Around 1665, a fishing settlement was established near Cape Cod by England's Exeter Company. Despite excellent harvests, they found the area to be too dangerous to survive in. A group of explorers from the company led by Roger Phelps set out north along the Miskatonic River to find a more habitable locale. After several weeks of travel, they finally arrived at land that was both fertile and protected from the ocean. The area was christened Arkham, a word derived from the local Indian dialect. Though an exact translation has never been agreed upon, most historians believe it was used negatively to denote an area containing malevolent spiritual forces.
Arkham quickly grew in size, in part due to its close proximity to Boston and nearby Salem (both important trade ports in the 17th and 18th centuries). The current downtown area made up the heart of the city, with most commerce centered around Babson Harbor. Around this time, a number of Arkhamites began disappearing in the Western Hills. These incidents went largely ignored until Jane Bishop, wife of founder Roger Phelps, went missing. A search party was organized and the Hills were combed for any sign of the missing residents. Nothing was found save for bizarre man-made rock outcroppings on the top of the hills, some bearing startling resemblance to sacrificial altars. The matter was blamed on local Native American activity, and the Western Hills were deemed off-limits to the people of Arkham.
In 1692, nearby Salem was undergoing its most famous historical event, the witch trials, and Arkham played an interesting roll. As accusations went into the hundreds, numerous Salemites fled to Arkham seeking refuge. While all were clearly innocent Puritans trying to avoid the gallows, Arkham residents got caught up in the witchcraft fervor themselves, and began to distrust their new neighbors. Reports were made about strange lights emanating from various homes, weird possessions and trances that would overcome people, animals acting in bizarre ways, and a general bad luck over the area (crops failing, cattle dying, etc.). What makes this particularly unusual is that long after the Salem witchcraft mania died in late June 1692 after the courts deemed it hysteria, accusations in Arkham continued well into the early 1700's. After the final judgments and apologies from the Salem Court, however, no one was willing to reopen that painful chapter of American history.
The city began to grow and find its roots during the 1700's. The ports became more popular with traders from the West Indies and Europe. Meanwhile the residential area had expanded to the Western Hills (despite low prices, however, few were willing to live in the area).
The early 1700's were marked by the Great Fire of 1710, which began in a local doctor's office and ravaged the city. The now- infamous Doctor Reginald Shaw of 110 Hancock Street had been a beloved practitioner of medicine and surgery until a secret investigation revealed that many of his treatments were wholly unnecessary and overly painful. Going in for a broken arm might lead to the removal of an internal organ, or worse. The kindly doctor kept many remnants of his operations in his cellar, which proved to be his unveiling when a young girl stumbled upon them accidentally.
With evidence against him mounting, a mob gathered on a scorching night in June, 1710, and cornered him in his apartment above his practice. They locked him in his basement, then set fire to the building. Shaw was killed, but the fire quickly took on a life of its own. Nearby buildings caught fire, and the dryness helped it spread. The local fire patrol was unable to keep it at bay, and it raged out of control. By morning, over half the town had been damaged or destroyed by the flames. It took more than 30 years to repair the city.
In 1754, local merchant John Dunham, who had been away at sea for numerous years, returned to Arkham and donated money to be used in the creation of an establishment of high education akin to Harvard or Yale. Additional donors were found, and construction for the first academic building (now known as Dunham Hall) began in 1755 on what would be renamed College Street. A board of trustees was established, and Dunham was unanimously elected president.
The doors to Miskatonic College opened on October 31st, 1760. The first class at Miskatonic consisted of 24 male students, mostly from Arkham but with three from Boston, one from New York City, and one from Hartford. The classes were taught by three professors, with lessons offered in history, science, math, medicine, and literature. After a few years, Dunham began teaching a course on religion, though he tended to ignore more wide-spread belief systems in favor of a number of strange and obscure religions found in small pockets of the world. He peppered his popular lectures with actual relics and antiques from his journeys.
Dunham served as Miskatonic's beloved president for the next 15 years, during which time the college grew substantially. It is now a highly respected university and regularly ranked among the top in America.
North-eastern cities like Boston and Salem became particularly important in the late-1700's and 1800's as trade ports with the West Indies and Europe, and Arkham followed suit. An immense fishing empire was founded around the export of a squid-like fish seemingly unique to Arkham waters, the rycchath (RYE-kath, with a Germanic hccch sound). Tentacled, yet with gills and flippers, it was said that consuming it stunted the effects of aging, and despite the somewhat disgusting taste, it became popular around the world.
Sadly, much of Arkham's economy based around the rycchath collapsed overnight when fish hauls and nets simply came up empty. It was as if the ryccath had vanished off the face of the planet. Countless Arkhamites were bankrupted due to this unforeseen occurrence, and a quick solution was needed. While cod was next most abundant fish, it was difficult to compete with Salem, who had already taken control of the market. Thus, many exporters took to dealing in questionable merchandise, from stolen or illegal wares to unholy relics and opium. Many items came through Arkham from the deepest regions of Africa and the mid-East. These were dark times for Arkham, and many historians consider Miskatonic College the one element that saved the city from becoming a true Gomorrah.
Around 1855, a cult had sprung up to which many of the merchant families belonged. Having originated somewhere in Southern Africa, the members worshipped a fish god named Dagon. Soon to be known as The Esoteric Order of Dagon, they met in an abandoned chapel near the waterfront, which they converted using their own seemingly-Pagan imagery. Tensions began to mount between the Dagonists and the local Judeo-Christian sects, as the Dagonists were openly critical of any Biblical conception of God. They began to infiltrate all levels of government, schools, and churches. When a Dagonist was elected mayor in 1865 under questionable circumstances, there was revolt amongst the townspeople and anarchy reigned in the streets. Miskatonic (now a university, having opened schools of medicine and journalism) shut down indefinitely. During a fearful week, numerous residents were killed, homes and stores were looted, the Dagon church was burned to the ground, and the mayor was lynched. The Dagonists fought a fierce battle, but the good people of Arkham won, and Dagonism was officially outlawed from the city. Some believe the Dagonists continued their worship in secret, and may exist to this day.
The end of the Dagon cult marked a change in Arkham. A significant attempt was made to clean up the streets, end prostitution and illegal activity, and make it safe again. By the end of the 1800's, Arkham had evolved into an important retail and manufacturing center. With work available at the newly opened plants and factories, it became a popular destination for the influx of Irish, French-Canadian, Italian, and Eastern European immigrants. By 1920, the population was approaching 15,000. The University grew in importance as well, attracting thousands of the best and brightest across America.
Sadly, Interstate 95, created in 1950, did not run close enough to Arkham to allow it to continue to compete in the industrial world, and most of the factories could not afford to remain open. However, Arkham quickly found a new niche as an important historical and cultural site of America. To this day, it continues to attract thousands of visitors each year, and Miskatonic was recently ranked the sixth best undergraduate institution in America. Countless families happily call Arkham home...
And we hope you will too!