Oct 12, 2022

The Stump King of Purgatory Chasm


Purgatory Chasm State Reservation, Massachusetts

Purgatory Chasm is a geologically rare formation in granite bedrock with abrupt precipices and boulder caves. There’s a lot of speculation about how it was formed but the most popular is that glacial meltwater ripped through the bedrock after an ice dam broke at the end of the last ice age, forming a long rift in what used to be solid granite. These days, about 14,000 years later, it’s a slightly treacherous hiking and rock climbing location.

My boyfriend, Matt, and I went hiking here in October. At some point, we were joined in the chasm by a girl scout troop and a few families with small children, whose parents gripped their hands or parts of their clothing tightly while eyeing the giant and precarious rocks with expressions that said, why did we decide to come here? I also saw three people twist their ankles. Clambering through the chasm was like navigating an obstacle course, particularly when we were overrun by brightly dressed ten-year-old girls who seemed to be racing each other. 

As you enter the chasm, the sounds of the surrounding forest gradually drop away. The sound of wind passing through the treetops is almost completely muffled and you can only hear birds if they are directly above you inside the chasm. However, if a person who is 10 or more meters away speaks quietly to someone directly next to them, you can hear exactly what they say. If the speaker stands on a ledge higher up in the chasm, their voice projects farther and bounces on the surrounding rock walls.

There was a kid sitting on a stump, high up along one of the levels of crags between the two split granite pieces of bedrock. He kept on shouting, “I’m KING of the STUMP,” and he had somehow found the one stump to perch on that was magically situated to amplify and project his voice all over the chasm. 

His voice echoed very clearly, so before we could actually see him or tell where his voice was coming from, we could hear him - a boy’s voice proclaiming his rule of a very modest territory. We reached a point that was flat enough to look up and see this kid, who was indeed sitting on a large stump and would not leave, even though his parents and siblings were essentially begging him to from different ledges above him. The kid just kept going, “I’m king of the stump! I’m king of this stump! I’m the king of this stump!” Eventually he felt the need to embellish and clarify at the same time: “I’m king of this stump, BUT NO other stumps! I’m king of only this stump! I’m the king of this stump and just this stump! I am the STUMP KING! But not of all stumps, I’m king of only this stump!” 

“Someone should shut that kid up,” Matt muttered.

“How dare you speak so treasonously of our beloved stump king!?” I replied. As soon as I spotted the stump king on his stump the whole focus of the hike changed for me and I stayed back to observe how long this kid could last as the stump king. At first, Matt was greatly disturbed by the stump king’s constant proclamations, and mostly fantasized about how he could be removed from the stump and silenced while hiking on without me, but eventually he came back and observed too. 

“Not that stump over there, and not that one either, THIS stump. I’m KING of this stump!”

When his father tried to get him to give someone else a turn on the stump, “I AM THE KING OF THIS STUMP AND I AM NEVER LEAVING IT,” - shouted out over the chasm, and the head of another little boy who was just big enough to peak over the edge of the stump with his hands braced on the side.

He also seemed to attract a crowd of hecklers and supporters. At some point, an unseen woman shouted back, “Hey stump king, where’s your queen?”

The kid, without much hesitation, answered, “I killed her!”

This seemed to dismay his parents, who’d been hovering around the ledge he’d climbed down to get to the stump. The boy’s mother shouted that he should have just said there was no queen, he didn’t have one yet, but this only prompted the boy to shout back that there was definitely a queen - or had definitely been one, and he had definitely killed her because she tried to take over his stump. Then his mother shouted that everyone thought he was a weirdo now because he was claiming to have killed someone and the police were going to come and arrest him. The boy then decided to alter his narrative and shouted, “Ok, so there was definitely a queen and she died. It was very tragic. But I definitely didn’t kill her. And I’m kind of happy she’s not around. The stump is, too.” 

There was a couple wearing sweatshirts that said King and Queen, respectively, and they kept on trying to find the right spot to take engagement or newly-wed photos. While listening to the Stump King’s family trying to talk him down from the stump, we watched them attempt a pose in one spot until the girl scouts came swarming back on their second trip through the chasm, and the couple was forced to grip their tripod in horror as their spot was completely overrun by a stampede of varying shades of pink.  Matt leaned over to me and said, “They should take their picture on that stump.” 

We came for the hike but stayed for the Stump King.