Werewolf in Jamaica Plain

A footnote in an annotated edition of Petronius's "Satyriancon" not only provides a Halloween story to put in a local setting, but also allows us to focus on a Jamaica Plain landmark in colonial days (unfortunately long since demolished).

All main roads in "the olden days" had inns. Some of which still survive as the most pleasant of eating places like the Publick House in Sturbridge, founded by a descendent of one of Old Roxbury's best families and the Punch Bowl Tavern in Brookline Village which stood from 1717 to 1833 at Boylston and Harvard Streets.

Jamaica Plain had its Peacock Tavern on the Providence Highway (Centre Street) at the western corner of Allandale Street opposite Judge Dudley's sixth 1735 milestone (still in place in the Arboretum walls.) The tavern was kept by Lemuel Child.

In pre-Revolutionary days the tavern was often frequented by British officers after a skating parties at the pond. F. Drake's "Town of Roxbury" relates that during such a visit one of spark of an officer followed the innkeeper's pretty niece into the cellar, where she had gone for supplies. Given her ardent colonial nature, this inn maid wanted nothing to do with the Briton and doused the light. Being familiar with the place, she easily got out and locked the door behind her. The embarrassed young blood was later released at her pleasure.

In the earliest days of the American Revolution, Peacock Tavern keeper Lemuel Child, now captain of a Roxbury militia company, led his men into action at Arlington on the afternoon of April 19, 1775.

In May 1794 Sam Adams (a sometime brewer, ardent patriot, second governor of Massachusetts, and cousin to the Adams of Quincy) bought the Peacock Tavern and its 40 acres of land. Here the aged patriot resided during his gubernatorial term (1754-97) and for the last summers of his life, which ended in 1803. A memorial plaque is being planned here.

Thus is the stage set for a werewolf tale from antiquity, as found in the 14th century collection of "Aesop's Fables" by Maximus Planudes, though the primeval tale is that of Lycaon, being charged into a wolf in Book I of Ovid's "Metamorphoses."

Place yourself by the door of the Peacock Tavern facing Centre Street as you read:

"A thief put-up at a certain inn and remained there for several days waiting in vain for a suitable opening in his line of business. Finally one day he observed that the innkeeper had put on a handsome new cloak, it being a holiday, and had taken his seat outside by the inn's door.

As there was no one in sight, the thief sat down by him and entered into conversation. After they had talked for some time, the thief all at once yawned and then howled like a wolf. The landlord, naturally surprised, inquired the reason for such a proceeding.

'Well,' answered the thief, 'I'll tell you, but first I want you to promise to keep my clothing for me. I'm going to leave them here with you. I don't know, sir, why I am attacked by these peculiar yawning spells- perhaps for my sins or for some reason I know not. But always after I have yawned three times, I turn into a werewolf, one of the man eating sort.' With these words he yawned a second time and howled again, as before. Upon which the credulous innkeeper rose up affrighted and started off.

But the thief clutched him by the cloak, crying out, 'Wait, sir, till I give you my clothes! I don't wish to lose them.' And with these words he opened his mouth and began to yawn a third time. Whereupon the innkeeper, in a panic lest he should be eaten up, ran back into the inn and locked the door, leaving his cloak behind him. Thus the thief having done a good stroke of business, went his way."

Article by Walter H. Marx


K. F Smith, "The Werewolf in Antiquity," Baltimore, 1893; F. Drake, "The Town of Roxbury," 1878, 1910

Reprinted with permission from the October 21, 1994 Jamaica Plain Gazette. Copyright © Gazette Publications, Inc.