Saturday, August 4, 2012

How Painter, NY Got Its Name

I decided to treat myself this evening and put some design work aside so I could play with my own creations for a change. I’m in the midst of laying the groundwork for a Call of Cthulhu campaign set to start in the late summer/early fall and that means more paranormal fun in Wildwyck County. The first investigation focuses around the small hamlet of Painter, NY. Those of you who have Fight On! #13 will find it in area A3 in the map on the magazine’s back cover.

Half the fun for a Call of Cthulhu Keeper is creating the background and evidence an investigation requires. The following emerged from this enjoyable aspect of writing an adventure, but it’s a little too long to be included in the gazetteer portion of the Wildwyck County series of articles so I’m sharing it here.

Located in the upper northwest part of Wildwyck County is the tiny hamlet of Painter, NY. Situated at the edge of the Catskill Mountains with the towering crags of Windswept Mountain staring down at it, Painter is a quiet and quaint community far off the beaten path. With slightly more than 200 residents in the hamlet’s central community, Painter is only occasionally visited by hunters and outdoorsmen seeking recreation in the wilds of the mountains beyond.

Although the name conjures up images of bohemian artists at work, the town’s name is actually a regional derivation of the word “panther,” and its origin can be traced back to an event which occurred prior to the American Revolution. That tale, recorded by the author Allen Vanderlyn in his book, Curious Tales and Fanciful Legends of Wildwyck County (Royal Oak Press, 1901), appears below:

Simon De Witt had a frightful encounter with the catamounts along the shore of the pond that now bears his name. One of the many brilliant silver oases found throughout our fair county, this pond was conspicuous, in times gone by, for its large trout, and for the numerous deer that took drink from its waters. One day in late summer, De Witt visited the pond in search of deer. He sat beneath a towering tree that stood watch over the pond’s tranquil waters, waiting for his quarry to come. While thus engaged, his attention was drawn to a curious sound above him, and looking up, De Witt glimpsed a large catamount (or as was known in the dialect of the time, a “painter”) perched on a branch directly overhead. The animal stared down at him intently with luminous eyes as if internally discussing the merits of taking De Witt for his supper rather than a succulent doe. Believing there could be no benefit in procrastination, De Witt brought his musket to his shoulder and fired. The next moment he heard the satisfying sound of the great feline hitting the ground at his feet, the turf and fallen leaves now awash in crimson.

The report of his shot startled other feline forms in activity amongst the tree-tops and De Witt feared the wood filled with painters. Fear clutching his chest, the hunter realized his great peril.

Knowing the aversion the cat-tribe bears for water, De Witt waded into the pond up to his waist. As he reloaded his musket, taking great pains to avoid wetting his powder as his endeavored to complete his task with alacrity, De Witt counted no less than five panthers amongst the shoreline trees. This number is uncommon for catamounts, who hunt not like wolves in packs, but as solitary terrors, and the hunter concluded the beasts to be a mother and young; the latter being nearly full-grown yet continuing to follow the older cat on the prowl.

The hunter unleashed a fusillade of shots aimed at his sinuous foes from the pond, bringing down three more of the beasts in swift succession. The other two took to flight and were seen no more. De Witt then waded ashore, skinned the four painters and made his way homeward, sensibly concluding that it was a dangerous locality for the pursuit of a venison supper.

The legend of De Witt’s encounter—spread largely by the hunter himself—became a popular one in the ‘Wyck amongst the homesteaders and eventually grew to be part of the local canon of myths. When the first residents arrived in the area in 1817, they named the nascent settlement after the numerous beasts that legend held ruled the sylvan vale and dubbed the waters that pooled there “De Witt’s Pond” in honor of the legendary hunter.

I’ll leave it up to the reader (and the investigators) to decide whether this story has any truth to it or if it’s just a frontier “tall tale” or perhaps a bit of a red herring devised by a fiendish mind to throw them off the track of what might be really occurring in the shadows of the Catskills. If there is some truth to it, what could it mean? Are there were-panthers prowling the woods of the ‘Wyck? Could there be a temple dedicated to Bast erected by Hyperborean refugees hidden in the mountains? Did De Witt later meet a horrible demise when he wandered into the Dreamlands and found himself in Ulthar? I know, but I’m not telling…


Toric said...

Wish I lived in your area. I'd love to play in a Call of Cthulhu campaign run by you. After participating in your DCC game at NTRPGCon and enjoying every minute of it, I can only imagine you'd run a fantastic game of Cthulhu. And I haven't gotten to play some Cthulhu in a long time. Good luck with your game when it starts up!

Michael Curtis said...

Thanks, Toric. I'm looking forward to the campaign myself and intend to do my best to make it a memorable one.