A Ghostly Mountaintop With A View

Peter Marteka
Contact ReporterThe Hartford Courant

Each year, I make my annual trek to Meriden Square or the nearby Target in the Silver City. And each year, usually while mumbling about waiting until the last minute, I stare up at the Hanging Hills of Meriden and Berlin and let out a great big sigh.

This year would be different. After all the hustle and bustle, it was time to explore those craggy traprock ridges that hang menacingly above the shopping mecca. After exploring the larger East Peak, the home of Castle Craig, several years ago, I sought out the lesser-known 767-foot-high South Mountain. Although the Connecticut Forest & Park Association's blue-blazed Metacomet Trail allows hikers to explore much of the northern traprock ridge, the path only brushes past South Mountain and explorers will miss the traprock gorges, deep forests and tremendous views.

Those wishing to conquer South Mountain are left to circumnavigate the peak along two trails. The first, an unmarked but easy-to-follow path, can be found just to the west of Elmere Reservoir past a series of concrete barriers. The trail takes visitors through a deep forest to the eastern side of the mountain and its views high above the shopping centers out to the distant hills and south to New Haven and Long Island Sound, a gleaming sliver of blue in the distance.

A second trail, marked with dark red blazes, can be found off the Metacomet to the east of Merimere Reservoir. This trail, which resembles a stream in some areas after recent rains, takes visitors to the highest point on South Mountain with views west across Merimere Reservoir's scenic Mine Island up to the castle and East Peak. The views of Meriden, with its numerous church steeples and domes, and the surrounding hillsides are spectacular and panoramic. A lone pitch pine at the edge of a cliff and the knee-high yellow grass swaying in the stiff breeze only add to the effect.

The not-so-distant views are a bit spookier. In the shadow of the mountain sits the abandoned Undercliff Sanatorium – considered one of the creepiest places in Connecticut. In 1920 it became the first tuberculosis sanatorium in the country.

Abandoned since the 1970s and surrounded by high fences to keep the curious out, the sanatorium comes with tales that it is haunting; it has been said that the sounds of children screaming, crying and laughing have been heard there. The only screaming I heard was from the north wind blowing flurries over the hills, and from myself if I got too close to the edge of the mountain.

Another Hanging Hills legend involves a black dog: The person who glimpses this ghostly animal roaming the mountain will see it three times — the first view will bring worldly goods; the second will bring physical ailments; and the third will result in the person's death.

Hmm, maybe shopping isn't so bad after all.

Visit here for a color map of the mountain and areas to park. Peter Marteka can be reached at 860-647-5365, at pmarteka@courant.com or at The Courant, 200 Adams St., Manchester, CT 06040.

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