A RECENT SAM SPADE REBROADCAST on SiriusXM “Radio Classics” reminded me of my undergraduate years at Worcester Poly in central Massachusetts. Nearby was the town of Webster, with its lake aka (and variously spelled) Chargoggagoggmanchauggagoggchaubunagungamaugg. As noted by Wikipedia, “The lake has become famous beyond Central Massachusetts for having the longest name of any geographical feature in all of the United States.”
By the way, today it’s also known as Webster Lake, though local folks take pride in reeling off one of several variations.
The Lake’s Origin. Like our Great Lakes, this lake was formed by the retreat of the glaciers during the last ice age, extending from c. 115,000 years ago to relatively recently, c. 11,700 years ago.
Today it’s roughly 3 1/4 miles by 1 1/8 mile, with eight islands and a shore length of 17 miles.
The lake is about 18 miles south of Worcester, just north of the Connecticut border. Boston is some 70 miles to the east/northeast.
Thompson Raceway. These were familiar stomping grounds for me during WPI days in the early 1960s. Just across the Connecticut border was Thompson Raceway, a combined 5/8-mile oval and a 1.7-mile road course. According to Wikipedia, John Hoenig built the two race circuits on his farmland after the 1938 hurricane.
Back in the 1960s, it was good fun to park on one of the gentle hillsides surrounding the circuit and toot the horn for one’s favorites. I recall my English Ford Consul’s horn toot being in distinct contrast to those of nearby Volkswagens or domestic iron.
The Nipmucs. Central Massachusetts, nearby Connecticut, and Rhode Island were the ancestral home of the Nipmuc Native Americans. Wikipedia notes, “The Nipmuc had sporadic contact with traders and fishermen from Europe prior to the colonization of the Americas. The first recorded contact with Europeans was in 1630, when John Acquittamaug (Nipmuc) took maize to sell to the starving colonists of Boston, Massachusetts.”
Indeed, the name Chargoggagoggmanchauggagoggchaubunagungamaugg is in Loup, the Nipmuc’s Eastern Algonquian language. Wikipedia observes that it “is often said to mean, ‘Fishing Place at the Boundaries—Neutral Meeting Grounds.’ A more fitting translation is ‘lake divided by islands,’ according to anthropologist Ives Goddard.”
I had heard the more glib “You fish on your side, I fish on my side, no one fishes in the middle.” Wikipedia says perhaps Lawrence J. Daly, editor of The Webster Times, may have invented this rendering.
Bringing “Salvation” to the Nipmucs. The royal charter of the Massachusetts Bay Colony of 1629 called for the conversion of Native Americans to Christianity. Alas, colonial authorities devised “Indian plantations.” The Nipmucs had fourteen of these “Praying towns,” including Chaubunagungamaug (abbreviation of the lake), Natick (“Place of hills”), and Pakachoag (“At the turning place,” “treeless mountain,” among others).
I lived in Auburn on Pakachoag Street, not far from where Dr. Robert Goddard performed his rocket experiments in 1926.
Sam Spade’s Nipmuc Adventure. The general runaround given Native Americans provides a backstory for the radio Sam Spade episode 47, “The Indian Caper.” (Only Effie, Sam’s trusty office mate, can pronounce Chargoggagoggmanchauggagoggchaubunagungamaugg.)
There’s a lot of Indian corn banter: “Shaman” Spade. A ride in a Pontiac. A Council Lodge “reservation” at San Francisco’s Mark Hotel. Entering “Indian-file.” Nipmuc Chief Black Cloud’s Little White Lilac being Smith-educated. Later, there’s the problem of being an Indian-giver with a priceless Nipmuc wampum belt.
But Chief Black Cloud’s aspiration is a noble one: to retrieve land stolen from Native Americans. And there’s buried gold in Lake Chargoggagogg… Charmongamaug…Chaubunagoogg…. You (and Effie) know which one I mean. ds