The Damned Story: Sleeping Giant in Hamden has a long recorded history, and as such, there are many tales associated with it, the most famous of which is how this unique stretch of trap rock ridge got its name in the first place.
According to the Quinnipiac Indians who inhabited the area before European colonists arrived, the story of Sleeping Giant is the story of Hobbomock, a giant who contained the spirit of the souls of the dead.
As it turns out, Hobbomock was not an especially nice or jolly behemoth, threw temper tantrums and tended to do things that pleased only him. Once, he got so angry and stamped his feet so violently in a river that it caused a flood that destroyed many villages and created much distress among the mortals. He was also fond of oysters, so the story goes, and quite often gorged himself on every one that could be found, making sure to leave none for everyone else.
He was a giant jerk, really.
Anyway, Keihtan, the creator-god, took pity on the plight of the mortals and decided he needed to deal with Hobbomock. But as Hobbomock was a divine creature, Keihtan could not kill him, so he waited for the right opportunity to take care of the giant. One day, after Hobbomock went on a particularly zealous oyster-eating binge (think of your Uncle Joe showing up for Thanksgiving with his “eating pants” on), he grew weary and fell asleep. Keihtan, seizing the moment, cast a spell on the giant so that he would never awaken again. Over time, the earth and trees have come to cover the slumbering Hobbomock, peace has returned to the area, and all have been spared the giant’s wrath.
Moving from ancient legend to more recent reality, another well-known story about the mountain is the tale of Dead Man’s Cave. Essentially, on Good Friday in 1873, a pair of boys went up to the mountain to look for what was then called Abraham’s Cave — an impressive hollow on the “left hip” of the giant, large enough to hold a dozen men. When the boys got to the cave, however, rather than find old Abraham, they found … well, a dead man. The badly decomposed corpse’s identity was a mystery for a time before authorities were finally able to determine that the dead man was Edward Barnum, a nephew of the legendary P.T. Barnum.
Over the centuries, the mountain has been home to grist and saw mills, quarries, private cottages and other small buildings. In 1888, John Dickerman opened a small area of the mountain as a recreational park and built the tower that is popularly visited now; by the early half of the 20th century, over 1,500 acres were protected and devoted to public recreational use.
For a detailed history of Sleeping Giant, you can check out Born Among the Hills: The Sleeping Giant Story by Nancy Davis Sachse.
Our Damned Experience: Steve has hiked the Giant numerous times, but on a sunny spring day in late May 2009, we set out for the tower and hopefully to find Dead Man’s Cave.
When we arrived, we decided to ask one of the park rangers what was the best way to get to Dead Man’s Cave. He sort of scratched his head, looked around and said, “Uh, if you want to know that, you can try and go ask my supervisor over there in the office.” In other words — “You boys are on your own.” Understood.
As the weather was perfect and the trail traffic was fairly light, it was only a matter of time before we reached the summit. After the obligatory visit to the top of the tower for a few photos, we attempted to follow directions provided us by our pal Sherpa Bob and others. After a bit of guessing and tramping around, we were able to find it!
Of course finding it and exploring it are two different things, especially because it was in a veritable sea of poison ivy! Seriously, the stuff was everywhere, and as both Steve and I are highly allergic, by the time we got to the cave, we were both starting to freak out a bit as we had repeatedly come in contact with it.
The next factor going against us was the fact that to go all the way into the chamber, you have to crawl down into a small opening, then crawl back under the entrance on your belly through a small opening to get into the main cave. Essentially, when you are standing in front of the entrance to Dead Man’s Cave, you’re actually standing on top of Dead Man’s Cave itself. Think of it as having to negotiate yourself into a blocky letter “C” from the top. We both were wearing shorts and T-shirts, were covered in poison ivy oils and only had a small headlamp between us . . .
Despite this, we started to enter the cave before we saw a number of very large spiders! Now, I’m by no means arachnophobic, but the eight-legged specimens hanging in wait across the cave’s entrance were big enough to saddle.
Feeling itchy, sweaty and not properly equipped (like with flamethrowers!), and suddenly leery of whatever fauna might be waiting in the dark, we decided that discretion was the better part of valor and —
Okay, we wimped out, ran home and scrubbed ourselves with Tecnu (which works amazingly — woohoo!)! We’ll return when cooler weather arrives, the ivy is gone, the spiders will be fewer and we could be dressed and equipped to investigate the right way. We know where the cave is and we will be back!
If You Go: If you haven’t already visited, Sleeping Giant State Park is located at 200 Mount Carmel Avenue in Hamden, directly across from Quinnipiac University. It is open daily year-round from 8 am to sunset. In the summer, there is a charge to park in the main lot; many people park on Mount Carmel Avenue for free.