Ghost stories are part of a special rite of passage for children young enough to have vivid visual imaginations, but not so young that the stories traumatize. My friend Jim introduced me to the baby grave on the St. Croix, the Down East river that separates Maine and New Brunswick.

Canoe trips along the St. Croix always include a moment of silence at this old grave, on the Maine side of the river about a day and a half’s paddle from the put-in site in Vanceboro. Photo courtesy of Jon Gale Sr.

The old grave is on the Maine side of the river, about a day and a half’s paddle from the put-in spot in Vanceboro. When canoeing the river with family, we invariably made a visit to the spot, reached by a short walk on a wooded path, and we always made sure that everyone in the party paid a moment of silent respect for the unknown baby, whose grave is dated 1899.

One evening, after just such an obligatory visit to the grave, we set up camp at a special bend in the river on the Canadian side called Brown’s Corner. The campsite is in a wooded grove, just steps from the river. Dinner was cooked on a campfire and capped off with s’mores, marshmallows roasted on a stick and then placed between graham crackers and chocolate. Just before bedtime, still gathered around the dying fire – this was the perfect time and place to exercise those creative and impressionable young minds!

“Jon, will you tell us some Three-Fingered Willy stories?”

“Hmmm,” I said, as Jim put a couple more logs on the fire. It was late dusk; the fire had burned down to embers, and the noise of the river was the only sound.

I said, “Maybe Three-Fingered Willy tomorrow night. Can you quietly visualize the baby grave? Ya know, when a child dies so young, there’s a lot of life’s energy cut short. That energy, separate from its soul, stays close to the body. When it leaves the body, the spirit is kind of a ghost. It only leaves the body after dark. And when there is a soft breeze blowing … like tonight … the baby’s ghost is picked up by the breeze and floats on the mists of the river.”

“Jon, will the ghost come here?”

“Don’t worry. It needs to follow the wind.”

“But Jon, the grave is up the river and the wind is coming down the river.”

“Ya, you’re right. But don’t worry about it, it’s only a baby. Have you ever picked up a little baby and had it nuzzle your neck? The baby is warm and soft? It feels good, right? The baby’s ghost wouldn’t feel any different. When you’re falling asleep in your sleeping bags, you just might feel the sweet warmth of the baby snuggling into your neck. The baby wants your warmth. But don’t be fooled and let it too close where it can bite your neck in search of warm blood.”

“Jon, this isn’t true, right … is it?”

“Mom, Dad, can I sleep in your tent tonight?”

“Oh, thanks a bunch, Jon.”

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