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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Beautiful, But a Bit of a Mouthful




WEBSTER, Massachusetts -- Its blue waters and sparkling shoreline have been attracting vacationers for generations, but it's the sheer length of its name that has put Lake Chargoggagoggmanchauggagoggchaubunagungamaugg on the map f provided the map is big enough to accommodate the name.


The Indian name is so long that it completely encircles window decals and fire truck doors and requires three wide traffic lanes to spell out at the entrance to the town beach and boat ramp.


"We're big on T-shirts and bumper stickers," says retired reporter Ed Patenaude.


Hundreds of tourists come to this central Massachusetts town of about 1,500 just to pose next to the signs. And the name f spelled various ways since the 1600s f has inspired poems, songs and tall tales.


The official town version has 45 letters (though one town sign painter got carried away and added a few). That makes it the longest lake name in the United States and one of the world's longest place names, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.


Ethel Merman and Ray Bolger paid homage to it in a song with a tom-tom beat in the 1920s. And calls come in to Town Hall from all over the world, demanding to know if it really exists and how to spell it.


When the state Legislature tried to eliminate a few of the double g's in 1949, outraged residents squelched the scheme. The uproar prompted a Webster poet towrite: "Should lofty redwoods not grow taller? Lo, as I live, the g-full name shall never grow the smaller."


Tongue-tied tourists and printers of small maps can always opt for its colorless alias: "Lake Webster."


While Lake Chargoggagoggmanchauggagoggchaubunagungamaugg looks intimidating f be it on a printed page, a map, a street sign or a T-shirt f the name is not so hard to pronounce if broken down into syllables. The accents come before each slash: Char-gogg/a-gogg/man-chaugg/a-gogg/chau-bun/a-gun/ga-maugg.


The name means "the fishing place at the boundaries and neutral meeting grounds," according to Wise Owl, chief of the Chaubunagungamaug band of Nipmucks, who were the first to fish here.


The Nipmucks and their neighbors, the Narragansetts, Pequots and Mohegans, all gathered at the 526-hectare lake, still known for its bass, trout and pike fishing.


But that's not the only story.


In the 1920s, when he was still a reporter being paid by the word at the Webster Times, Lawrence J. Daly f with more imagination than facts fprinted a version that has become better known than the real story.


In Daly's tale, the name arose from a summit meeting of two tribes living at opposite ends of the lake.


"They named this beautiful lake after the terms of that treaty," he wrote. "Chargoggagogg, 'You fish on your side,' Manchauggagogg, 'I fish on my side,' and Chaubunagungamaugg, 'Nobody fish in the middle.'"


Daly, who later became editor of the Webster Times, tried for more than 20 years to debunk his "fanciful tale."


"But nothing he did made any difference," Patenaude says. "It was completely beyond his control."


Most of the summer camps that ringed the lake during its heyday as a resort in the 1920s and 1930s have been replaced with year-round homes. The trolley is gone. And an old dance hall is now a condominium complex.


It's now a place of water skiers, dock parties and f in the winter f ice boat races.


Still, in the sleepy rhythm of a summer's day, visitors can sometimes hear an old recording of Merman and Bolger crooning:


"Oh, we took a walk one evening and we sat down on a log, by Lake Char-gogg-a-gogg-man-chaugg-a-gogg-chau-bun-a-gun-ga-maugg.


"There we told loves old sweet story and we listened to a frog, in Lake Char-gogg-a-gogg-man-chaugg-a-gogg- chau-bun-a-gun-ga-maugg."