It sounds like something Edgar Allan Poe might have dreamed up.
A Franklin man named Micah Rood develops a seething hatred of the French after his father dies in the French and Indian War. In 1759, with the war still in full swing, he gets his chance for revenge when a strange, foreign-born, traveling peddler visits his farm. Micah, sometimes known as Michael, suspects the man of being a French spy from Canada. He murders the peddler and buries him under an apple tree in the orchard outside his home.
The following spring an apple tree in Micah’s orchard sprouts red blossoms instead of white ones. In August, when the tree grows apples, each has a red speck in the center of its flesh. As townsfolk notice these strange apples, a letter reaches the town from the friends of the murdered peddler, who they say has been missing since traveling to that area of Connecticut. The letter reveals he was born in Germany, not France, and was therefore not a spy. Micah realizes the awful mistake he has made. Guilt-stricken, he hangs himself from the apple tree that has been cursed by the blood he spilled. For generations afterward, the tree continues to produce fruit marred by blood-like specks.
For more than two centuries, variations of Micah’s harrowing story have been told in the area surrounding modern Franklin, which was part of Norwich during the era the tale is set. As otherworldly as the tale is, and as untrue as some of the details recounted here are, Micah was indeed a real person, who may have had an apple orchard. While he never killed a peddler during the French and Indian War, the true story behind his family’s history and possible connection with the blood-specked apples is in many ways more unsettling.
In the new book, Spooky Trails and Tall Tales Connecticut: Hiking the State’s Legends, Hauntings, and History, folklorist Stephen Gencarella traces the possible real-world inspirations for the story. Records show that Micah’s father, Thomas, was one of the original settlers of what would become modern-day Franklin. Micah was born on the farm in 1653 and died in 1728. Some later stories would get the era he lived in wrong by decades, setting the tale in 1759 and 1760. Other elements of the story would change too, including the motives for the murder and how it was committed.
The earliest version that Gencarella could find was written down in 1839 and is markedly different and closer to the truth than most other accounts. Micah commits a murder and is executed and buried in Lisbon, a nearby town. An apple tree grows on the site of his grave, producing apples with a red spot, and the townspeople remember his last meal was an apple.
Studying historical records, Gencarella discovered there was a real execution and crime linked to the Rood family, but Micah was not directly involved. In the 1670s, Thomas Rood, Micah’s father, was convicted of incest with his daughter Sarah (Micah’s sister). Thomas was executed in 1672. “It was the only official execution for incest in what would become the United States. Sarah was spared death but publicly whipped,” Gencarella writes. “The child she had with her father, George, was twenty years younger than Rood, but the two of them shared a claim to the farm in Franklin. George reportedly moved to Lisbon, a nearby town, and died in 1744.”
Note that Lisbon was the spot of Micah’s burial in the earliest written version of the tale. Did the oral traditions of the area combine George, Micah and Thomas into a single doomed figure? And what about those red-specked apples? Shockingly, they seem to have existed. And they might be the reason Micah’s name came to be the one associated with this dark chronicle.
As Gencarella notes in his book, “In the early 1800s, the popularity of an apple called the ‘Mike apple’ in eastern Connecticut inspired frequent retellings of the tale. This apple, which by all accounts did have red flecks or spots within its flesh, was merely one of the thousands of apple varieties available in the nineteenth and early twentieth century. Stories often explain that the apple was originally called the ‘Micah Rood’ apple and sometimes the ‘Rood’ apple — varieties were often named for the person who developed them — and that over time, ‘Micah’ became ‘Mike.’ ”
Gencarella tells me it’s possible these apples were grown at Micah’s farm, and that the apples, along with the town’s memory of the crime and punishment associated with Micah’s family, spurred the story. But, he adds, it’s equally possible the apples existed before the story or became connected to the local legend afterward. Either way, the apples disappeared by the mid-1900s. If they still existed today, given their connection to such a disturbing piece of local history, how many would reach for a pear instead?