NHA Home | Historic Nantucket Articles | Bookmark and Share

Originally published in the Proceedings of the Nantucket Historical Association, 1921, p. 51-54

Tuckernuck and the Yoho
by Gertrude Dunham
(Class of 1921, Nantucket High School)

Many years ago, long before we can remember, a huge glacier slipped slowly but surely down from the far north of our America, driving before it a mass of rock and earth, the very best of the lands through which it travelled. This was at length heaped up well out into the far-reaching south sea.

Long years after, the upper ice sheet dissolved, and leaked away down into the Connecticut Valley or mingled with the waters of Narragansett Bay. The icy toe of the glacier at length melting off, the great, roaring seas rushed through again. Nantucket Sound has been raging ever since.

Thus our bonny, wind-swept isle, dear now to every true islander's heart as his own Nantucket, was born, and found a place on the map. Not all of this moraine was heaped up in one spot, however. A choice bit of it, so the Tuckernuckers think, went adrift a short distance away; and this, soon rising above sea level, grew into the loveliest little isle imaginable. Tuckernuck, pounded by the mighty surf, raged over by wild sea winds, and hovered over by gray mists, is beloved, indeed, by the fortunate few who call it home. A far-away look may be seen in their eyes. They never wish to be long away, and always hasten back, often over many seas, to this sequestered spot.

The dear isle is full of mystery. That is why they love it so. When whistling winds blow over the low hills of the sand dunes, those who have the right ear, as all true Tuckernuckers have, can catch an echo of the far-off murmur of "pointed firs" in northern forests. Birds-of-passage, welcome messengers from sunny southern lands, as they hover on poised wings, find a resting place here on the sandy beach. The strong nor'westers blowing in, bring unknown odors from the sea. Strange flowers turn their merry faces to the sunlit heavens, and beneath the sunken blue rock where Captain Kidd buried in secret his Spanish gold, deep rumblings are heard.

Nobody knows just how the mystery looks. Those who have half seen its shadowy form through the mists, have given varying reports concerning the Yoho. Some see the shape of a great beak in the fog, and the gleam of a fiery eye. Others make out huge wings in the darkness, or hear, like a swift breeze, the whir of mighty pinions, just overhead. Then there are those who have followed the prints of a cloven hoof along the wet sands, until, with a shudder, they realize that they, too, are being led on to the Yoho's lair. And then there comes through the gloom, the long ghostly call echoing and re-echoing up and down the sandy shores, while the thunder of mighty waters resounds upon the jeach, and the islanders huddle together and listen.

Yes, indeed; this creature took up his abode upon the island many, many years ago, tho' its ghostly ways have but recently been translated into rhyme by an off-lslander—one Rich in fancy. Ever since, the Tuckernuckers have borne well in mind, the words, "Beware the Yoho!" Imagine the feeling you might have at the sound of that eerie call, echoing along the cliffs and beaches, when a heavy mist is falling, like a curtain, over Tuckernuck's commons.

Then, when a fog comes drifting in from the south, when the air is salt with flying spray, and the isle is cloaked in obscurity, a long drawn-out wail goes shrieking up and down the dim shores. Young Tuckernuckers, with mingled terror and delight, hear that the isle is haunted. Even now I can see mouths open, and eyes widen, at the name of the dreaded Yoho, and the unearthly sound of its voice.

When the wind is from the southward, and the fog comes drifting in,
Over beach, and cliff, and meadow, like a ghostly wraith of sin;
When Muskeget's hid from vision, and when barely you can trace
Dunham's house, or Coffin's dory, or the hand before your face;
When the moisture's slowly dripping, and in vain the captains try
To keep the sails from mildew, when the bathing suits won't dry;
Then from out the lonely distance comes a sad and ghostly sound;
'Tis the Yoho that is calling, like the baying of a hound.
— Richard Heard.

When you can barely trace the safe houses in the distance; and when the hand before your face is like a shadow. Imagine, then, a cloudy, half shapen form ever beckoning before, to lure you on to the treacherous quicksands, and deep into the mire ahead!

Do you wonder, then, that when a storm is brewing, and a wind is blowing up from the southeast, the Islander shuns the haunted shores ? Do you wonder, too, that the half-felt presence of the Yoho but adds to the charm of the island in the eyes of those who call it home? What can equal the tale of the Yoho, told to eager listeners, about a dying campfire? True, Nantucketers say that they have a Yoho; but until I see it I remain convinced that it flits over Sachacha Pond in borrowed plumes. The Tuckernuck spirit is really there. To be convinced only Tuckernuck beach, solitude, an understanding ear, and a southeast storm are necessary.

Far adrift amid the ocean
Gleams an island, gay and free;
Over sunlit shores the sea-gull
Hovers high, with cry of glee.
And the light and foaming breakers
Toss the sparkling, billowy sea.
Far adrift amid the ocean,
Looms a wind-blown misty shore.
Here the ocean's stormy whitecaps
Pound the beach with angry roar.
And the Yoho's ghostly calling
Echoes on, forevermore.
Isle of storm, and isle of sunshine,
When the winds are blowing free,
Comes a call—a call compelling,
To be sailing o'er the sea.