Visitors are haunted by the Pine Tree State's natural beauty but residents tell us of the real specters of Maine. We travel around this coastal state with centuries of paranormal history to find plenty to scare the Stephen King out of you.
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A Good Witch or a Bad Witch?
We will begin our travels less than an hour south of HGTV Urban Oasis 2020 at the historic town of York. As one of the oldest English settlements in America, you might imagine it's a likely spot for a haunting. Witnesses over the years report numerous manifestations: a lonely woman walking along the street, cold spots, doors opening on their own.
Children maintain that a friendly ghost plays with them during recess. The real difficulty is establishing exactly who the spirit is. Perhaps it is Patience Boston, a young woman who was imprisoned and sentenced to death in 1735 for drowning her employer's child in a well. Boston converted to Christianity in prison but had led a very wicked life and the priests who published her story after the execution were certainly haunted by her. Or the spirit might be that of Mary Nasson, an expert in herbalism and an accomplished exorcist. Born in 1745, Nasson was only 29 when she died and was honored with a beautiful headstone bearing her likeness. But as much as her community appreciated her skills, they must not have trusted her powers completely because hers is the only grave in the cemetery that has an additional slab of granite over the length of it to keep her spirit in situ. With consistent sightings of this ethereal presence, one has to wonder if the technique is effective.
Boon Island Buffet
Wander down to York Beach and cast your gaze a-sea to glimpse the tallest lighthouse in New England on an island haunted by one of the saddest legacies. Many ships have met their fate on Boon Island, the last in 1944, but the story garnering most of the attention is that of the British merchant ship that ran aground here in December of 1710. Despite the fact that the 14-member crew could see the mainland, crossing the 6 miles of ocean was impossible. They had little food and supplies — no way to even start a fire — so they waited and prayed. For 24 days they subsisted on seaweed and boot leather but the men predictably began to succumb to starvation and exposure. Out of complete desperation, the remaining crew members reluctantly consumed the body of a deceased shipmate. The crew was finally rescued when one of the other emaciated bodies washed ashore on a mainland beach, alerting residents that something was amiss.
Being forced to devour a deceased friend is bad enough, but the most haunting part of the story may be the traitorous and self-serving captain. In his published memoir recounting the accident, he cast himself as a hero and blamed bad weather for their misfortune. According to a sworn rebuttal by crew members, however, it was no accident at all: The captain deliberately crashed the ship for an insurance payout.
A Haunting Melody
There are several lighthouses around Maine with tragic tales still told by ghostly inhabitants, but perhaps the strangest story is of the couple who attended a remote lighthouse on Seguin Island in the mid-1800s. Located just across Casco Bay from bustling Portland, the lighthouse was built in 1796 as Maine's first one offshore. After his wife became depressed from the unrelenting isolation, the caretaker brought a piano to the desolate island for her enjoyment.
The caretaker's wife developed an obsession with a single song in her songbook, playing it over and over again, day and night. The husband became increasingly unhinged by the repetition and one evening, possessed by a fit of rage, set about dismantling the piano with his axe before doing the same to his wife. In the deafening silence that followed, he realized what he'd done and consumed by grief, he took his own life. If you catch the ferry to visit this centuries-old lighthouse, listen carefully while you're there — many have reported hearing a faint piano playing a haunting melody. The same melody. Over and over and over again.
Benton Falls House
Imagine finding the perfect home for your sizable family, a stately abode with great bones that you simply love at first sight. Now imagine moving your family into the house to find that the feeling was not mutual and the bones? Well, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. In 1963, the Linnell family — mom, dad and seven children — moved into their new home on Falls Road in Benton, a small town between Portland and Bangor. The home had been built in 1767 so the family expected the usual older-home peculiarities but that isn't what they got at all. Shortly after moving in, the children began complaining about shadowy figures and cold presences, footsteps going up and down the stairs, an unseen music box playing. The dog would even regularly bark at an invisible intruder.
After more than a decade of these strange occurrences, the potential source was uncovered — literally. During a home remodel, the family found a mummified human foot in the wall, confirmed by a pathologist to be that of a 5-month-old infant. The tabloids and paranormal investigators had a field day with the story and subjected the home to supernatural evaluation for years after. Interestingly enough, the current homeowner confirms that the house is indeed inhabited by a spirit, but she believes the ghost to be the mistress or child of the sea captain who built it and then abandoned his family. She also reports that the ghost is friendly. You see, the homeowner's two cats have the habit of greeting (rubbing against the legs of) an invisible presence on the stairwell. As we all know, pets are excellent judges of character and, besides, this isn't her first encounter with the supernatural world: She hails from Salem, Massachusetts.
King of the Supernatural
Speaking of good home and purchaser pairings, when the King family moved into the Victorian mansion in Bangor, they had a cold parlor that everyone in the house avoided, including the cats. It took a bit before the house warmed up to them but warm it did, realizing perhaps that they were the perfect tenants for appreciating its eccentricities. Born in Portland, author Stephen King is a Mainer through and through.
The state generally and the town of Bangor specifically have formed a solid basis for much of his writings that have since become part of American horror fiction vernacular. Pet Semetary was inspired by the loss of his daughter's cat and its subsequent burial in an informal pet cemetery in the woods in Orrington, and Mount Hope Cemetery was where the 1989 movie adaptation was filmed. IT and Salem's Lot take place in towns bearing striking resemblance to Bangor.
A local tour company will take you around the city and show you which real locale inspired the fiction. As of last fall, the Kings will be using their home as a sanctuary for aspiring writers to live and work in a space conducive to the creative spirit. Based on King's account, it may not be the only spirit joining them.
In an essential primer on Maine's supernatural history, author Thomas Verde relates the compelling story of the Allens, a young Portland couple who bought a furnished home on Woodmont Street in 1978. If you share the same taste, you may feel blessed to inherit the possessions of the previous owner of the home you've just acquired — in this case, wonderfully crafted Victorian-era antiques — but there was something odd about the Allens' new home, and possibly these furnishings. The appearances started on the couple's second night in the house and were undeniable — a party of two priests and two nuns suddenly manifested at their dining room table, unmoving, and then disappeared.
From then on, the assemblage appeared often, always in the same spot at the table, and even once when the couple was entertaining and causing their guests to flee from the house in horror. Thinking the problem might reside in the furniture and in a desperate effort to stop the appearances, the Allens decided to relegate all the previous homeowner's possessions to the basement. Well, everything but one item — an intricately carved walnut Eastlake chair that sat fireside in the living room. That was a mistake. While the benign clergy haunting of the dining room stopped, something more sinister had just begun in the living room.
Over the course of the next couple of months a dark presence began to appear in the chair, eventually forming into a distinct classically dressed man with a knife on his belt. He would grin maliciously at the couple, cackling at Ms. Allen, and he even visited their 3-year-old son in his bedroom.
On the advice of a psychic, the family dispossessed themselves of the chair but they didn't follow her advice to the letter. She insisted that the chair be burned as the only way to send the spirit to rest, but knowing this chair to be valuable, the Allens decided to auction it off instead. According to the current homeowners, the Woodmont Street house is clear of spirits. We can only hope the same is true for the chair's new residence.
Leaving the city for a moment, we take a foray down a dark path into the forest. Maine's natural landscape is full of wonderful animals like black bear and moose, but some creatures you won't find in any science textbook and you don't want to cross paths with them, period. The early indigenous people of the state leave us stories of Pamola, a fearsome humanlike god with the head of a moose and the wings and legs of an eagle who jealously guards Mt. Katahdin, the tallest mountain in Maine.
The god is the reason for heavy snowstorms, and any trespassers to his domain will be frozen or abducted by the god, never to be seen again. While his very name used to prevent anyone from ascending the mountain, it is now a tourist draw, as the first peak before the final ascent is called Pamola Peak. It serves as a resting point to prepare for the treacherous boulder scramble that is the final mile to the summit, where many an unfortunate hiker has met his or her demise. We have to wonder, is the aptly named Knife Edge Trail naturally this perilous, or is it Pamola loosening the rocks beneath our feet?
As you're traveling around Maine to visit its supernatural spots, you might find yourself entranced by the roadside beauty — but whatever you do, know the rules ahead of time about picking her up. The most famous roadside spirit is a Downeaster named Catherine who haunts Route 182 between Cherryfield and Franklin. Drivers report a beautiful young woman with dark eyes in an ankle-length gown standing in the road. The lore says she was in a tragic accident either after her wedding or on her way to prom and is searching for her lover. Her backstory, however, is the least important aspect of your encounter because your very survival depends on what you do next. Legend says that if you fail to stop and offer her a ride, her curse will ensure that you will never reach your destination.
The Saco River Curse
Remember, the Saco River is not for us. That is what Winter Harbor settlers told their male children, with a variation of that sentiment conveyed to any men heading out to work near the river. The reason was simple and widely known: The Saco River was inhabited by a vengeful spirit who had claimed male victims for as long as anyone could remember. The reason was understandable too. You see, in 1675, in the part of the river between what is now the twin cities of Biddeford and Saco, three white sailors kidnapped a Sokoki child, throwing him in the river.
When the powerful tribal chief and father of the child, Squando, was informed of the murder, he put the curse on the river, demanding that the spirit take the lives of three white men every year, which it did. The spirit became known as the White Monkey because in its appearances over the centuries (including one by a young Joseph Smith, founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints), it is described as a pale extraterrestrial-looking creature with webbed hands and feet. In the mid-1940s an entire year passed without a drowning so the local paper's front page declared the curse over. But the White Monkey was spotted again in the 1970s and the river — and likely the curse — still claims its victims to this day.
Perhaps it is time to take a reprieve from malevolent materializations in a different kind of spirit altogether. Up the coast a spell from HGTV Urban Oasis 2020 is the charming seaside town of Rockport, and near Rockport Harbor stands the Goose River Bridge. William Richardson, a Revolutionary Wartime resident of the town, was killed here by British sympathizers after appearing a little too enthusiastic about the British defeat. His spirit has been seen many times since on the bridge, but instead of terrorizing anyone, he simply offers celebratory ale to those who pass.
Then there's Jamestown Tavern in Freeport, less than a 20-minute drive from HGTV Urban Oasis 2020. This centuries-old saloon has several friendly spirit residents, including a phantom in a top hat who oversees operations near the bar and child ghosts who run around, banging on pots and slamming doors. Actually, the latter sounds pretty plausible, doesn't it?
Goodbye, Little Girl, Goodbye
On the eve of Halloween at the City Theater in Biddeford in 1904, the beautiful actress and singer Eva Gray had just performed her third encore of Goodbye, Little Girl, Goodbye and was preparing for her fourth, when she collapsed and died backstage. It was later determined that the cause was sudden heart failure, but the real heartbreak was that her 3-year-old daughter had been watching her perform from the audience. The tragedy must have made a mournful spirit of Eva because for the last century she has been haunting the theater, appearing in the audience during performances, "participating" in productions by flashing lights and even making her presence known on-stage.
The local news interviewed a cast member who played Eva in a recent 120-year anniversary production and she reported feeling the spirit behind her while she was waiting to go on stage, the ghost even tussling the back of her hair. A local ghost-hunting group launched an investigation and believe they captured Eva on video standing at the back of the theater. While it certainly looks like Eva, theater staff are doubtful of the capture, but not at all of the ghostly presence: Everyone knows the theater is haunted.
Several universities around Maine have spirit alumni, a couple on the doorstep of HGTV Urban Oasis 2020. Up until recently, a turn-of-the-century residence named Hillside Hall was used as a dormitory for the Southern Maine Community College in South Portland. Students reported rustlings, whispering and distinct footsteps in the attic, which made no sense as the space was kept padlocked. After the complaints of attic activity mounted, maintenance staff placed animal traps in the attic, thinking it must be raccoons, and locked the door again. When they returned to retrieve the traps, they found human footprints from the trap to the other side of the attic. Because the home has been a brothel, a nursing home and a mortuary since it was built, it's hard to know who the spirit is, but it's really no wonder the school sold the residence.
Then there's the Robie Andrews Hall, a dormitory on the Gorham campus of the University of Southern Maine, where the elevator moves from floor to floor of its own volition, furniture can be heard scraping across the ground, cold spots appear out of nowhere and there have even been student sightings of a faint apparition in the tower. The spirit is that of a former student who committed suicide or was pushed from one of the upper stories of the building.
The Ghost Ship of Casco Bay
Staying in Portland, it is time to contemplate a few long unsolved mysteries of Casco Bay. The Dash was a star of the sea during her time, entering commission as part of the War of 1812 to harass and terrorize British warships. She made 15 successful voyages before her final one in 1815. That fateful day in January after two days at sea, her sister ship, the Chamberlain, watched the Dash disappear into a gale, never to return.
Well, beginning mere months after her disappearance and for more than a hundred years, whenever the fog descended on Casco Bay and the air was still, fishermen swore they saw a ship racing past them toward Freeport. The crew was always at the bow and the ship would pass close enough for the witnesses to see the name: Dash. There were enough sightings over the years that it begged explanation, so it was decided that whenever a family member of one of the lost crewmembers died, the ship returned to bear the loved one to his or her final journey.
The Dash's most recent appearance (and the most spectacular) was during World War II when the US Navy was guarding Casco Bay. An unidentified vessel presented on radar prompting a spirited defense of armed ships. This time both Coast Guard and Navy sailors witnessed the Dash racing to Freeport through the fog, crew on the bow.
Cassie, Maine's Sea Monster
The Dash isn't the only unexplained visitor to Portland waters. We have all heard of Nessie, the notorious lake monster in Scotland's Loch Ness, but have you heard of her cousin, Cassie, from this side of the pond? The first sighting of a snakelike sea monster occurred 250 years ago up the coast a little in Penobscot Bay. The 45-foot-long creature was fired upon but bullets didn't seem to faze her.
The Casco Bay sightings of the last century have been more extraordinary, as Cassie has doubled in length, has a large head and a mackerel's tail. Recent encounters establish that she seems interested in fishing nets and foghorns, but as no one has fallen prey to a Cassie attack, nonconfrontational might be the best description of her character. Some believe her not to be a creature at all, but we will leave that speculation to Travel Channel, who visited Maine to get to the bottom of the Cassie mystery.
In our extrasensory exploration around HGTV Urban Oasis 2020, we shivered in homes possessed by spirits; we fled mountains and rivers populated by rare and remarkable creatures; we prickled in the presence of passing ghost ships; and we even hid in the brain of the Maine master of horror fiction for a spell. We discovered that the town of Portland is a special place for reasons felt but heretofore unarticulated. In fact, our host city is home to the International Cryptozoology Museum, the only museum of its kind in the world.
Without our own paranormal experiences, we look to the reports of others who have witnessed the spirits and creatures believed to share our reality, and we should consider that perhaps all that differentiates a witness from a skeptic is the willingness to open one's eyes and imagination to the possibility that we do not know all there is to know in this world. As the Portland-born poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow reminds us in his poem Haunted Houses,
"We have no title-deeds to house or lands;
Owners and occupants of earlier dates
From graves forgotten stretch their dusty hands,
And hold in mortmain still their old estates."
Welcome to Portland, Maine.