October 28, 2010

Maine haunts to visit if you dare

Maine is known for its beautiful scenery and peaceful quality of life. But what evil lurks just beneath the seemingly placid surface?

Hearing footsteps when there is no one around to make them. Seeing a transparent stranger standing at the foot of your bed. Moans, screams and maniacal laughter emanating from thin air.

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Wood Island Light.

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Are these all symptoms of eating too-greasy takeout or evidence of a bona fide haunting?

Whether you believe in ghosts or not, most of us can't help be fascinated by the tales handed down through generations of haunted houses, ghosts and other misfortunes that doom poor souls for eternity. And given New England's storied history, it's no wonder the area is home to many such tales.

Following is a list of some of the places in Maine purported to be haunted. All of them are accessible to the public, so check them out yourself -- if you dare.

Bwa-ha-ha.

 

ACTON

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.

 

BIDDEFORD

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'."

 

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."

 

HALLOWELL

Is it the ghosts of politicians past who roam Hallowell's historic city hall? Or rather a police chief still keeping watch over his town?

City Clerk Deanna Hallett recalls hearing about the haunts of city hall when she was a child. These days when employees hear unexplained footsteps, they attribute it to a former city protector, Luther Gray.

Hallowell's historian, Sumner Webber, has heard of city hall's haunted side, but never experienced it himself. "Every once in a while I get a call from someone" who's had an unusual experience at city hall, Webber said.

The callers all want to know the same thing: Who or what is behind the supposed haunting?

Webber said he always passes on the town lore about the spirit of Gray, who served as the town's marshal from the late 1920s to the 1940s. When asked why Gray's spirit would be linked to city hall's paranormal history, Webber said it was because Gray was long-serving and well-liked.

"He was a real interesting guy and a rather colorful individual," Webber said. "He was at city hall for a long, long time."

And he may still be there today.

"You can hear noises every once in a while," said Hallett, "or we think we can, anyways."

 

HARPSWELL

In fishing communities such as Harpswell, it's fairly common to find tales of ghost ships. The Dead Ship of Harpswell is just such a tale.

"There's a huge amount of people out there telling the same story, but it's not the same story," said David Hackett, president of the Harpswell Historical Society.

Most of the stories, he said, follow the same lines: A ship under full sail is seen approaching the shore, but it disappears before reaching its destination. Whenever the spectre ship was sighted, it preceded the death of someone in town.

Hackett said he hasn't heard of anyone seeing the ghost ship in recent years, but past sightings have taken place toward dusk at Lookout Point, Potts Point and also off Bailey and Orrs islands.

 

NEWFIELD

The 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.

 

OLD YORK

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.

 

POLAND SPRING

The long-running Poland Spring Resort and its famed water both trace their modern history to 1797, when the Ricker family opened the Wentworth Ricker Inn to travelers in need of room and board. Over the years, the inn expanded into a resort that rose to a fashionable peak during the Gilded Age. Hiram Ricker was the driving force behind the transformation of the property from wayside inn and a trickle of water in a field to a bustling resort and international spring water purveyor.

Ricker passed away in 1893, but his spirit is reported to linger at the property today.

Since the resort's humble beginnings, buildings have come and gone and been replaced by newer, often grander ones. Today, paranormal activity has been reported in the Victoria-era Presidential Inn, the Hiram Riccar Cottage and the more contemporary Maine Inn, where the 10,000-volume library is the site of many unexplained happenings.

Current owner Cyndi Robbins said she's never experienced anything herself, but that employees and paranormal investigators have heard footsteps and voices, and found objects moved to unusual places.

Since some say Mr. Ricker still walks the halls tending to his guests, it's not surprising to hear Robbins confirm, "They're all friendly ghosts."

 

YORK

Witchtrot Road, listed on the maps of both York and South Berwick, begins off state Route 91 in the western part of York. The broad story is that witches walked the road to their deaths around the time of the witch trials in Salem, Mass., in the early 1690s. But there were no witch trials in York County and no witches killed there, says Scott Stevens, executive director of the Museums of Old York.

But here's one possible reason for the story: George Burroughs, a Puritan minister, had lived in York County, in Wells. Websites detailing the history of the Salem witch trials say Burroughs had left Salem for Wells before the witch hysteria began, but was arrested and brought back to Salem to face trial. He was hanged on Aug. 19, 1692.

So it's possible that Burroughs traveled this road as he was being brought back to Salem to face his execution for witchcraft. And the horses carrying him would have certainly, at some point, trotted.

 

ROCKPORT

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 Richardson was murdered by British sympathizers in 1783 who 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. An investigation of the bridge's ghostly history, filed on the Web site paranormalinvestigators.com in 2001, concludes that the area is indeed haunted, but there's no way to prove that Richardson is indeed the ghost.

But let's drink to his memory nonetheless.

 

Staff Writers Stephanie Bouchard, Shannon Bryan, Avery Yale Kamila, Bob Keyes and Ray Routhier contributed to this story.

 

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Additional Photos

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Some say Witchtrot Road in York got its name because witches walked it to their deaths around the time of the witch trials in Salem, Mass. One problem: There were no witch trials in York County and no witches were killed there, says Scott Stevens of the Museums of Old York. Another theory posits that it was the road George Burroughs took when he was sent to Salem to face trial and subsequently hanged.

Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

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Some believe Biddeford's City Theater is haunted by the ghost of singer Eva Gray, who collapsed following her third encore of "Goodbye, Little Girl, Goodbye" and died backstage with her little girl present on Halloween Eve, 1904.

Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

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The grave of Mary Nasson in the Old York Burying Yard in York. There is a myth that Mary Nasson was a witch.

Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

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