It has been noted many times, yet it always bears repeating. There are only two things certain in life: death and taxes. Every year, the decent among us empty our pockets for Uncle Sam. So who among us can escape that last breath? Even those of us who strap on our well-worn sneakers and strike out on adventures both near and far--who seek out just that little bit of an extra thrill to no doubt wring the truth out of our experiences--even we must finally lay our weary heads down in the end. Some of us will be scattered in the wind or the ocean waves. Some of us will have headstones adorned with flowers. But perhaps none of us will ever quite achieve the mystery and odd notoriety of Shute.
Who is Shute? Well, that is a very good question. The simple answer is no one knows. But this being a story about gravestones and ghosts of the past, there are, of course, rumors and speculation. For the Boston-bound truth-seeking travelers out there, grab your shoes and paddle, and get ready for a most unusual adventure...
A Very Bostonian Mystery
From Fenway's Big Green Monster to its Wicked Smaht people, Boston has plenty of character for outsiders to revel in (or, if you are a Yankees fan, plenty to roll your eyes at). There is plenty of history here, with every house seemingly bearing a plaque that begins with "On this date in 1773...". And when it comes to its islands, there is the lovely Nantucket and gorgeous Martha's Vineyard. Yet what these locations possess in beauty, money, and history, they lack in the oddball mystery.
Nestled on Great Island in Spot Pond, which itself is located in Middlesex Fells Reservation, roughly eight miles north of Boston, this idyllic destination can only be reached by renting a kayak, canoe, or sailboat. Visitors can expect to spend the day in quiet solitude, spotting the occasional crane, and enjoy the myriad trails and picturesque beauty of the little island that hides a mystery at its center. For tangled in vines and overgrown weeds, a gravestone has puzzled Bostonians for generations.
A Gravestone, And A Puzzle
Located on the southwest side of the island, the monument stands out first by its isolation. Set against a backdrop of trees and overgrown grass, it is not one among many like in a cemetery. It is sticking up out of the unkempt ground--no neatly manicured grave site for Shute--as a marker in total seclusion. For over a hundred years, passersby have peered closer at the sudden gravestone to read its carved inscription, WHERE SHUTE FELL. Fell, as in died? Fell, as in tripped? The ghosts don't give up their secrets. But over the years, a few rumors have risen to the surface.
A Stumble Into History
Spot Pond was once home to a less than a reputable hotel, and, as one version goes, Shute was a man who had a little too much to drink one night there. Making his way through the trail, Shute stumbled and fell, and his bemused friends immortalized his awkward trip as a joke. Thus, WHERE SHUTE FELL. In this tale, Shute is a man about town, enjoying drinks with friends, and it ends with a good laugh. And perhaps, every time they heard of a confused neighbor wondering about that lone gravestone with the cryptic inscription, Shute and his buddies had a good chuckle to themselves.
A Duel Ends In Death
Was it all a joke? Or perhaps it was a noble duel. An impassioned fight that could only be solved by taking up arms. Were they fighting over the whims of a girl? Was Shute defending his honor against a cheat? In this oft-repeated version of events, Shute was actually a Colonel who died in a duel on Great Island. Mourning the loss of their mate, his friends placed a gravestone at the site, commemorating for all eternity their great and brave friend, at the very spot WHERE SHUTE FELL.
Bloody But Unbowed: A Champion Felled
As far back as 1884, the mysterious gravestone on Great Island so puzzled Bostonians that The Boston Globe published an investigation determined to solve the monument's origins. It is generally considered the most likely version of events. Accordingly, a local ferryman insisted he rowed two wrestlers out to Great Island for a match. Shute was well-known as a champion wrestler and had been unbeaten until that night when his opponent finally got the best of him. Thus, WHERE SHUTE FELL is an inscription of an unyielding, triumphant local legend suffering a stunning defeat.
Here Lies... The Truth
Of course, dead men tell no tales. Perhaps Shute was a great and important man, who commanded respect, and died in a tragic duel that left his fellow compatriots stunned. Or maybe Shute was a wrestler in the ring, taunting his opponents, convincing a raucous crowd of Bostonians that he was invincible--until he wasn't. Or perhaps he could have been just an ordinary man, having had one too many beers on a night out with his friends, seeking relief from the slings and arrows of his outrageous fortune: no doubt a job that overworked him and empty pockets that always betrayed him. And so Shute, whoever he was, whatever meaning he strove for in life, became immortalized for all eternity by a lone marker, destined to mystify generations of Bostonians who come across his final resting place.
So paddle your way to Great Island and reflect on a life well lived and the mysteries of fate. Standing in front of Shute's worn-out marker can inspire one to think of what will be written on their own gravestone one day. Perhaps a famous warning: "Cursed be he that moves my bones." (William Shakespeare). A proud, if exhausted, admission: "She did it the hard way." (Bette Davis). A humorous embrace into the great unknown: "That's all folks!" (Mel Blanc). Or, whether he was great or ordinary, we may never know, but still, we remember: WHERE SHUTE FELL.
What will your epitaph be when you travel to that ultimate destination?