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Heather Steeves

Heather Steeves tries to do things that are fun -- and only things that are fun. So far that's included stilt walking, roller derby and cross-country road trips in her Saturn.

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Posted: October 2, 2014

Wicked history: True stories of ghosts and gallows in Maine

Written by: Heather Steeves

Maine is so old. There’s history all around us. Some good, some wicked. It’s October, there’s a chill in the air, so naturally this is all about the wicked. We’re talking ghost ships taunting poor widows, a little girl who plummeted to her death and the cursed river in Maine. (As a bonus there’s a compilations of places known to be haunted at the end.)

 

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Maine’s first executions

Back in 1831 when William Willis published his 900-page history of Portland, three men had been executed in the city.

The first was a man named Goodwin who was accused of throwing a man overboard in Casco Bay. Willis wrote, “There existed some doubt of his guilt and he was reprieved three times, but was afterward executed on the 12th of November, 1772. A great concourse of people, excited by the novelty of the scene, was collected on the occasion, said to have been the largest ever assembled in town.”

Oh yes, Portlanders loved a good hanging. The next time they hung a man was when a pirate cruised into the harbor. Thomas Bird went to Africa and killed a captain of a sloop there and then sailed to Cape Elizabeth. Because it was an international crime, this went to district court and, Willis wrote, “the unhappy man was executed on the 25th of June following; having been the first execution under the laws of the United States.” Bird was hanged on Bramhall’s Hill at the meeting of Back Cove and Stroudwater roads.

The third man executed in Portland was perhaps the most wicked. In 1808 Portland’s deputy sheriff Ebenezer Parker was searching for a debtor named Quinby. Quinby was hiding in his friend Joseph Drew’s blacksmith shop. When the sheriff went into the blacksmith shop looking for the debtor, the blacksmith smashed the cop over the head with a club. The sheriff died later that week because of the injury. Drew was hanged on Munjoy Hill.

In his book, Willis claimed these hangings were the first in the United States, but other sources say we’ve been executing people since 1608. Willis might have meant that Maine had the first post-1776 executions.

Edited Portland Press Herald file photo.

Edited Portland Press Herald file photo of the cursed(?) Saco River.

 

A cursed river

This story is awful and sad: In the summer of 1675 a ship moored by Factory Island in Saco and three white sailors began rowing up the river. They saw a young Indian woman canoeing with her infant son. That’s when things got scary. In the book “Maine Ghosts and Legends” Thomas Verde wrote that this is what the sailors said:

“‘I have heard,’ said one sailor, ‘that these Indian brats can swim at birth, like a very duck or dog or beaver.’

‘What say you?,” laughed another. ‘ Let us find out.’

The sailors then blocked the Indian woman’s way and tore the screaming infant from her arms. While one held her back, the other threw the helpless child overboard, where it immediately sank in the river.”

Once the men saw the baby sink, they let the woman go. She dove after her child and saved him, but later that week the baby fell sick and died.

Little did the white men know, that was Chief Squando’s child. Obviously, the chief was enraged. Legend has it that he went into the Saco River and cursed its waters.

Verde wrote, “He commanded the spirits of the river to take the lives of three white men every year. … Squando’s curse was fulfilled each year until the mid 1940s when a year passed with no drownings and the Maine Sunday Telegram headline happily proclaimed ‘Saco River Outlives Curse of Indian Chief.”

 

Courtesy of Rockland, Maine History, a Facebook page.

Courtesy of Rockland, Maine History, a Facebook page.

A Halloween murder

This is a gross one, so skip it if you don’t like gore.

OK, we still here?

This one comes to us courtesy of our friends at Rockland, Maine History, a Facebook page. They found a news article from 1940 which details the unusual tale of Pauline Young.

Pauline was 16 years old and lived in Rockland before she disappeared on Halloween night in 1940. Police had searched for the girl with no luck (including a full search of her house).

A week later, her stepfather John Phelps was stumbling and bleeding profusely near the police station at 2 a.m. He’d tried to kill himself by taking poison. When that didn’t work, he slashed his left wrist with a jack-knife. Police asked him why he’d tried to kill himself and he confessed that he killed Pauline on Halloween night.

Like every teenager in American history, Pauline wanted to go out on Halloween. Her stepdad didn’t want her to. Phelps told police he locked all the doors to keep her in.

The newspaper quoted Phelps: “She cursed and came at me with a butcher knife. I threw a hammer at her and it struck her on the forehead. I turned her over and she was not breathing, and I knew she was dead. I didn’t know what to do with the body, but finally removed the head with an axe and a knife. The body I dragged down the cellar stairs, and wrapping it in burlap bags put it out through a cellar window under the piazza.”

But that wasn’t quite the entire story. He threw most of her body under the piazza. After he cut her to pieces. Her shoulder was in one bag, her legs in another, an arm and her chest in a third bag, a thigh and her torso in another and in the last bag was a single thigh.

No head.

They dug up the chicken coop, like you do when you’re a cop looking for a decapitated head. But nothing. So they checked Witham’s Wharf, “where it was understood the head had been thrown,” the newspaper reported. They dragged the harbor. Nothing.

The head has never been found.

 

Portland Press Herald file courtesy of the Maine Maritime Museum. This image is of the five-masted schooner Louise B, Crary, which sank on December 17, 1902 in an area that is now part of the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary.

Portland Press Herald file courtesy of the Maine Maritime Museum. This image is of the five-masted schooner Louise B, Crary, which sank on December 17, 1902 in an area that is now part of the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary.

 

The ghost ship haunting Casco Bay

This one is quite a soap opera before we get to the ghosts:

Around 1813, it was a dangerous time for sailing in Maine. We were at war with the UK and our schooners were being overtaken and plundered. Even the fishermen wouldn’t leave the coves. Few boats were being built. Except Dash. She was going to be a merchant ship, but war broke out, so the builders in Freeport added guns (and some fake guns) and made her into what’s called a hermaphrodite brig: powerful and fast.

“Dash was now the speediest vessel afloat in the Province of Maine. No British vessel could catch her,” Miriam Thomas wrote in “Come Hell of High Water.”

Dash won awards for her speed and she had one of the best captains, John Porter. John Porter came in from a sailing trip one day, after overtaking three British ships, and fell in love with Lois Cushing when he saw her perched on a wooden keg on Union Wharf in Portland. They married and soon after John got on Dash to ____.

“John, John,” Lois called, “Don’t go. Wait, wait,” Thomas wrote.

But it was too late and John was off. It’s unlucky, apparently, for a wife to watch a vessel leave the harbor, but Lois did. Thomas said, “She put her hand under her heart. She has not told John that she was carrying his child. … Weeks dragged on end and Dash did not come back. Had she been captured by an English man-of-war or privateer? Of course not, Dash was unbeatable. She could outsail any craft. Maybe her bottom had become fouled and thus slowed her speed, but no, John was too good a captain for that.”

Months and months went by. One day Lois walked to Union Wharf and saw Dash coming in, silently. But then, without a sound, it left the harbor again, leaving her screaming for John to come back. A captain living of Bailey Island who’ d just lost his son said he saw the ship come in, then turn and leave silently too. So the legend goes, “In Casco Bay in the State of Maine, a crew less, phantom hermaphrodite brig winds her way from island to island. Have you seen her? If you have, you had an ancestor lost on Dash.”

No traces of Dash or the 60 men on her crew have ever been found.

 

Courtesy of Lincolnville Historical Society.

Courtesy of Lincolnville Historical Society.

 

Maiden’s Cliff

A huge cross rises from Mount Megunticook in Lincolnville, part of Camden Hills State Park. Below the cross, a plaque says: “Elenora French: On May 7, 1864 this 12-year-old farmer’s daughter fell to her death from this cliff. According to legend she was here as a member of a Maying party and fell trying to catch her wind blown hat. This cross was erected in her memory.”

According to the Lincolnville Historical Society’s records (and local historian Diane O’Brien): “The girl was 12 year old Elenora French, daughter of Deborah and Zaddock French of Lincolnville Beach. She went ‘Maying’ (after Mayflowers) with her older sister and a young man who was a teacher. No one knew for sure, but perhaps her hat blew off and she chased after it, tumbling off the cliff. She was carried by wagon, still alive, to the farm at Youngtown Corner where she died that night. The first cross was erected by a summer resident, the fellow who built Norembega, the ‘castle’ in Camden. It was named Maiden’s Cliff along with the idea that a maiden had leapt to her death there, etc. etc. by a real estate developer of the 1920s who was promoting Lake City, the stretch of Lake Megunticook that has a view of the cliff. A larger cross was erected to replace the original.”

Several books and articles say Elenora haunts the cliff — either by appearing or screaming. O’Brien says that’s untrue. You tell me.

Of course, there is an equally disturbing story from Maiden’s Cliff from the much more recent past.


Hauntings

From the Portland Press Herald archives, by writers Stephanie Bouchard, Shannon Bryan, Bob Keyes, Ray Routhier, Matt Hongoltz-Hetling and Avery Yale Kamila.

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Portland Press Herald file photo.

Acton’s ghostly pup

Rural legend in Acton claims there’s a ghost dog roaming the shore of Loon Pond. The haunting husky is notable both for his presence and what he’s missing: a fourth leg. According to local stories, the three-legged dog has a light glow, and is typically seen around midnight. What’s keeping the canine at the pond’s edge is anyone’s guess. Perhaps Loon Pond is where the dog bid farewell to life. Or perhaps it’s where leg No. 4 bid farewell to the dog, and the ghostly husky is stalking the shoreline until the lost limb is returned from the water’s depths.

Hannah, under the floorboards

Newfield’s Old Straw House is named for Gideon Straw and is haunted by his daughter, Hannah. According to legend, she is buried underneath the kitchen. She died in March 1826 at age 30. The ground was still frozen from the winter chill, so her father buried her underneath the kitchen floorboard in ground that was warm from the heat of the house. Folks who have inhabited the house over the years say they’ve encountered Hannah’s apparition, and for an extended period in the 1960s, her image appeared regularly in a window. They’ve also reported footsteps in the hall and lights turning on and off when no one was home.

Footless and fearsome

One spring night, in a second-floor bedroom in an old creaky house on Falls Road in Benton, 18-year-old Alan Linnell lay terrified in bed as he felt a presence sit on his bed. Then something cold touched his arm. That experience was one of dozens of strange events Linnell, his seven siblings, his parents and visiting relatives said they witnessed over 13 years beginning in 1964, a year after the family bought the home. The children’s stories would have likely gone unnoticed were it not for a grisly discovery made Aug. 15, 1970, when, while renovating the dining room, the Linnells found a shriveled and mummified human foot – along with some bones and a few corn cobs – in the wall. Other children in the house heard sighs and footsteps that sounded like a person was limping, or dragging a foot as it walked.
When the foot was later discovered between two beams in the dining room wall, Maine State Pathologist Irving Goodoff, of Waterville, sent it to a Boston lab for analysis. According to newspaper accounts front he time, the results indicated it was amputated from a 5-month-old child in a surgical procedure around 1900. The small bones found in the wall with the foot belonged to some sort of animal, according to the report. The newspaper reported that a doctor lived in the house around the time the foot was amputated. A fuller version of this story is available here.

Portland Press Herald file photo.

Portland Press Herald file photo.

Please stay put, Mary

Mary Nasson is buried in a beautiful old cemetery with a gorgeous, ornate headstone marking her final resting spot at the Old York Burying Ground. She died in 1774, and has been dogged for decades since with rumors of her being a witch. Her grave is said to be haunted, and a long stone that covers the length of her body was placed there to keep her from rising in the night. The folks from the Old York Historical Society have gone to lengths to dispel those rumors, though they are offering a tour of haunted places on Halloween that includes the “much-maligned” grave of Mary Nasson.

This dead patriot would like to buy you a beer

Located on Pascal Avenue near picturesque Rockport Harbor, the Goose River Bridge is supposedly haunted by William Richardson, a town resident who lived there around the time of the Revolutionary War. There are at least two stories about his death. The first is that British sympathizers murdered Richardson in 1783 because they were enraged by his drunken celebration of the American victory. The second is that he got so drunk celebrating the American victory that he fell from the bridge to his death. Either way, the myth is that Richardson’s ghost can be seen haunting the area, offering pitchers of ale to passersby.

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Portland Press Herald file photo.

Children cry in the old church

Bath’s Winter Street Center used to be a church. According to some, hospitals were overflowing, so the church housed victims of the Spanish flu back in 1918. Groups have had unexplained encounters – one guest purportedly saw a child standing in the balcony of the sanctuary. Recordings have also picked up strange noises that no one could explain, like footstep and cries for help.

Portland Press Herald file photo, edited.

Portland Press Herald file photo, edited.

Biddo’s watcher

Visitors to Biddeford’s historic City Theater are used to keeping their eyes on the stage. But they might not realize there’s purported to be a set of eyes watching them — from above. Rumors of a “seeing eye” peering down from the ceiling, lights flashing and unexplained voices surround the theater. It’s no surprise that drama surrounds the venue, with its 114 years of opera, theatrics and tragedy.

One persistent story involves singer Eva Gray, who collapsed following her third encore of the song “Goodbye, Little Girl, Goodbye” on Halloween Eve. According to the theater’s website, “The beautiful 33-year-old died backstage from heart failure with her 3-year-old daughter present. Many since have referred to Eva as the theater’s resident ‘ghost’.”

Photo courtesy of McArthur Library -- Friday, June 14, 2002 -- Wood Island Lighthouse off Biddeford Pool was built in 1808 and rebuilt in 1869. This photo was taken around 1900.

Photo courtesy of McArthur Library — Friday, June 14, 2002 — Wood Island Lighthouse off Biddeford Pool was built in 1808 and rebuilt in 1869. This photo was taken around 1900.

Wood Island’s murder-suicide

Wood Island Light, located on Wood Island just off the Biddeford coast, was witness to a murder-suicide in 1896. Local sheriff Fred Milliken was shot by Howard Hobbs, a “drunken drifter” who had rented an island chicken coop from Milliken to sleep in. Hobbs shot the sheriff following an argument, and after Milliken’s death, Hobbs shot himself at the lightkeeper’s house.

According to hauntedlights.com, “Most agree it’s Hobbs that is haunting the lighthouse and not the sheriff. Moans are heard coming from the chicken coop, and locked doors have been mysteriously opened at the lighthouse. Dark shadows and strange voices have been heard.” One lightkeeper “couldn’t take it any more, and rowed to the mainland to spend the night, leaving the lamp unlit. The next morning, he jumped from the third floor of the boardinghouse to his death.”

Go to the island yourself. 


What wicked Maine history did we forget? Let us know in the comments and we’ll add it.

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