March 16th, 1938 was a dark day for Haidale County, MA. On that day the township of Sefield was accidentally submerged under over 30 feet of water as a dike for a nearby reservoir completely failed. The small valley where Sefield was located flooded, resulting in the loss of hundreds of lives and the complete decimation of the entire town. While the dike was repaired, the resulting lake was not drained – leaving the flooded town in a relative state of preservation underneath the surface. The tops of dead trees that have not succumbed to the water jut from the surface of the water and, depending on the water level, occasionally the rotted spire from the church tower can be seen.
Today, the area around the lake is fenced off and the larger area is part of a national forest, administered by the US Forestry Service. A small monument with a plaque commemorates the tragedy that occurred, and there is a small museum – really little more than a cabin – that contains a few historical artifacts and exhibits. It’s maintained by one of the flood’s survivors, a spry 80-year old named Helen.
Inside the fence, numerous warning signs dot the area to warn off people from entering the water. The remaining submerged structures, murky water, and fluctuating water depth makes the lake dangerous when boating and swimming. Still, the lake is a magnet for teenagers, the curious and occasionally criminals. Thrillseekers love to dive down to get mementos from the town below, or just boat out over the decayed buildings and streets. Only one death on the lake has been confirmed – a college student who became trapped while diving – but multiple unsolved disappearances are suspected to have happened on the lake. Very few agencies are willing to venture into the water to try to solve the cases. The Forestry Service doesn’t have the manpower or the inclination to police the area too vigilantly. They have an informal agreement where when they do find interlopers on the lake, they just call the local Sheriff. Typically the Sheriff just drops the trespassers off at their car or (in the case of minors) their home, letting them off with a warning.
Venturing on to the lake at night is even more treacherous for obvious reasons. Beyond those, local legends say that on some nights the town underneath the surface appears as it did before the tragedy struck. Streetlights illuminate and ghostly figures can be seen walking the streets. The legend has built up over countless campfires, adding on elements such as waterlogged corpses wandering up on to the shore. A very common warning is to never enter the water at night, or else the spirits of the townspeople will drag the interloper down to be drowned. Some claim that even sticking their fingers or hand in the water at night can trigger a strong pulling sensation. Helen is also rumored to be at lake at night on occasion (usually during a full or new moon), leading to rumors that she is a witch or even a ghost herself.
At least one local historian, Ray Carman, disputes the claim that the dike which flooded Sefield failed. A professor at a local college, he points to evidence of a scandal surrounding Ingram Leighton, a local council person. Carman believes that the flooding was engineered to cover up…something. The descendants of the council person’s family – one of the most prominent in Bellbrook, the town that was founded shortly after the accident – dismiss his account as muck raking, pointing to their ancestor’s establishment of a trust for the survivors and a campaign to drain the lake and recover the remains of the deceased that continued until he passed away. On the subject of the scandal, Leighton, and what might actually be going on on the lake, only one person might be able to clear up the mystery – Helen – and she isn’t talking.