My informant shared with me the local legend of Tom Cook from Westborough, Massachusetts
“Back in about the 1700s there was a clever thief named Tom Cook. He was not the type of thief that you would think, a Robin Hood of the town I guess you could say. He would steal from the rich and give to the poor. So he was a good thief. Anyway, he was not a villain. When Tom was a baby, he was very near death, so his mother made a deal with the devil in order to spare his life. She promised the Devil that Tom would serve him, and cause mischief in a life of thievery. However, since Tom was a good thief who gave away all his loot to those less-fortunate than him, the Devil felt cheater. One morning, when Tom was getting dressed, he heard a knock at the door. He went and opened it to find the Devil himself standing there. The Devil said that he was here to claim Tom’s soul. Tom then asked the Devil if before he took him, if he could finish getting dressed. The Devil, seeing no harm in the request, agreed. However, this was a trick, and for the rest of his life Tom never finished getting dressed. He always had one shoe missing, or a belt buckle un-done, or sometimes one suspender un-clipper. Because the Devil had agreed to wait until he was finished dressing, the Devil could never claim his soul, and Tom died in his old age, with his shirt un-buttoned, and his soul rose up to heaven instead of down to the Devil.”
My informant told me that she had heard this story on a tour of her town that her class took when she was in third grade. She always remembers the story because she thought that Tom was an extremely clever person for being able to out-smart the devil. She informed me that the story was extra-special because the house that Tom lived in still stands today, and they saw it on their tour. That made the legend even more believable to her, seeing the door that the Devil himself walked up to. She doesn’t really ever tell the story of Tom Cook to many people, only unless they make a comment about how the old house should be torn down.
I am from this town of Westborough, MA, and I remember going on the town tour that my informant described. I agree that what made the legend believable was actually seeing Tom Cook’s house. I remember it being light blue, with broken windows and an overgrown lawn. The roof had been caving in and it looked like the scariest house I had ever seen. This image made the legend so real because such a house is hard to imagine could still exist. Sadly, the house was town down this year, and with it, what I believe to be a great deal of the believability of the Tom Cook legend.
The story of Tom Cook appears in authored literature in:
Allen, Kristina Nilson. On the Beaten Path: Westborough, Massachusetts. Westborough Civic Club and Westborough Historical Society, 1984.