Orange man explores Indigenous stone chamber in travel podcast

  • Tribal ceremonial stone landscape consultant Doug Harris, Atlas Obscura podcaster Abbey Perreault, and tour guide Cathy Weaver Taylor sit outside the Upton Chamber in Upton in the fall. Harris, an Orange resident, is featured in Perreault’s podcast, which was released to Atlas Obscura subscribers on May 4. Atlas Obscura is driven by user-generated content cataloging unusual and obscure travel destinations. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO/GENEVIEVE FRASER

Staff Writer
Published: 5/16/2022 5:19:49 PM
Modified: 5/16/2022 5:18:02 PM

A podcast featuring an Orange man’s exploration of an Indigenous stone chamber in Upton is now available online through Atlas Obscura, a website that bills itself as a “definitive guidebook and friendly tour guide to the world’s most wondrous places.”

Doug Harris was joined in the less than 14-minute podcast by tour guide Cathy Weaver Taylor and Atlas Obscura podcaster Abbey Perreault in the fall as the three explored the Upton Chamber in Upton Heritage Park. It is one of the largest and best constructed of the more than 300 Indigenous stone chambers in New England.

“We don’t know a great deal about its history,” Harris said of the Upton Chamber in a phone interview on Monday. “What we’re aware of is it is a ceremonial space created by Indigenous Americans … a few thousand years ago.”

Harris recently retired as a deputy tribal historic preservation officer for the Narragansett Indian Tribal Historic Preservation Office in Charlestown, Rhode Island. His Cheraw and Cherokee ancestors were from modern-day South Carolina, and he married into a Narragansett family.

The Orange resident said Atlas Obscura reached out to him and Weaver Taylor for the podcast, which aired earlier this month and is available at bit.ly/3FRkKnl. The two have been leading tours of the chamber for at least 10 years. Weaver Taylor belongs to the Upton Historical Commission.

The podcast begins as Harris, Weaver Taylor and Perreault walk through roughly two inches of water in the chamber’s narrow 14-foot passageway. Weaver Taylor asks Harris to hold a flashlight and he obliges, jokingly telling her not to panic if she hears a loud splash behind her — it’s just him. Perreault describes how Harris and Weaver Taylor stand “in tall muck boots in front of what looks like a shrunken stone door frame built into the side of a hill.” The hallway opens into a big stone dome, stretching more than 10 feet in diameter.

“(The podcast) was an opportunity to promote the Upton Chamber as a destination that people should visit,” Harris said on Monday.

Harris said the U.S. Geological Survey used optically stimulated luminescence dating — a technique used to date the last time quartz sediment was exposed to light — to determine that the chamber’s construction predates the Pre-Contact Era, A.D. 1000 to 1492. Perreault reports a geologist sampled at least 600 grains of quartz to reach this conclusion.

These ceremonial stone landscapes are scattered across the United States, and Harris encourages people to find them and report their existence to the federal government in accordance with the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966. Harris mentioned these chambers are often dark and wet, and people should wear boots when exploring them.

The podcast also includes interviews with Cheryl Andrews-Maltais, tribal chair of the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah), and Bettina Washington, the tribal historic preservation officer.

Previous Atlas Obscura reporting about the Upton Chamber is available at bit.ly/3yFNmOx.

Reach Domenic Poli at: dpoli@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 262.


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