BIDDEFORD – The city on Saturday tried a new tack in economic revitalization: come for the ghosts and stay for the stores and restaurants.
The “Secret Spaces/Haunted Places” event drew visitors to downtown Biddeford for a chance to meet a spirit or two in any of a half dozen locations, from a textile mill to the city’s theater and City Hall’s clock tower.
“Lately around Biddeford, there’s just a great deal of interest in the paranormal,” said Delilah Poupore, the executive director of Heart of Biddeford, which put together the event.
Poupore said ghost stories abound around the city, from Eva, an actress who haunts the theater, to ghosts at the McArthur Public Library — think “Ghostbusters.” Poupore said visitors could pick up a map for a walking tour that took them along Main Street, where she hoped they would notice the new shops and eateries among an apparently healthy population of apparitions in downtown Biddeford.
Some of them apparently hang out in the old Pepperell textile mill on York Street, said Brian Keely, one of the founders of Pepperell Mill Paranormal Ghost Tours. Keely said he and other investigators have counted five spirits and a large number of glowing orbs in the mill.
Keely quickly pointed out that he can sense the spirits — he claims to have recorded the five — but he can’t communicate with them. However, psychics have been brought in to identify the five as three children — two girls and a boy between 5 and 9 years old — and two laborers who helped build the mill in the mid-1800s. One of the workers has a club foot, Keely said, and the other apparently doesn’t like women for unknown reasons and is believed to have tugged on an investigator’s ponytail.
George LaMontagne, a former millworker who led Saturday’s tours of the mill, said a key gathering point for those who are stuck between the here and the hereafter is the “lagoon” in the mill’s basement. The lagoon is part of a vast underground network of water tunnels connecting Biddeford’s mills. Water drawn from the Saco River flowed to the factories to provide power before being supplanted by electricity in the early 20th century.
LaMontagne and Keely said activity — the spiritual kind, not the industrial kind — has been high at the mill recently, and visitors have spotted green orbs in the tunnels and heard voices, some apparently speaking Spanish and some speaking French.
Keely and LaMontagne douse the lights during the tour, but there was nothing to be seen on one of the afternoon tours, other than the otherworldly glow of camera monitors and cellphone screens. LaMontagne said he might have heard a cat meow, but he didn’t venture a guess as to whether the cat was from the netherworld.
Keely said the tour company was happy to lead the tours during the “Secret Spaces/Haunted Places” event. He said the company hopes to offer twice-weekly tours through the summer until late October as long as a problem definitely of this world — insurance — is worked out.
Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at: