Post by Graveyardbride on Feb 2, 2015 18:48:21 GMT -5
The Ice-Shrouded Ghosts of Maine
The fierce, unforgiving seas lashing Maine’s rockbound coast instill terror in those who make their living fishing or maneuvering cargo ships and pleasure boats through its turbulent waters at any time of the year. But as the fleeting summer sun surrenders to ineffably harsh winters that seem to stretch on forever, even the most stouthearted mariners shiver with dread. Gales roll in from the northeast and Arctic blizzards send temperatures so low that even salt spray freezes, adding layer after layer of ice to the hulls of small craft, rendering them dangerously heavy, while at the same time forming tiny particles that “crackle” as they hit the deck. Ice grips everything, encrusting the masts of schooners, locking the clappers of bells and interrupting electronic and battery-operated fog horns. Within minutes, portholes are obscured and visibility drops from a few yards to zero. Such conditions have taught men of the sea to fear the cold more than they fear the deep, for they are much more likely to freeze to death than drown.
Mitch Bennett, a seasoned mariner who fished the coast of Maine for 60-plus years has seen more than his share of killing winter storms and equates the situation to “being caught between the devil and the coast of Maine” – with the coast of Maine being the more dangerous of the two. Like winter sea spray, many of Maine’s ghost stories also crackle with ice – tales that should be told only on a pleasant summer night, or at the very least beside a roaring fire with a hot mug of something to steady the nerves.
Strangled by icy hands. On Sunday, December 4, 1768, a cold, grey, dismal day, a small ship – which Carole Schulte, in Ghosts on the Coast of Maine, identifies as Winnebec – set sail from Boston Harbor. The vessel made its way up the coast and by the time soaring pines and granite rocks marking Maine’s craggy coast appeared to port, a savage winter storm was upon them. The craft – no match for the violent winds and surging seas – was tossed onto the little 15-acre spit of land now called Wreck Island, some four miles southwest of Friendship.
The weather had cleared by the following day and three fishermen on their way out to sea, noticed timber and other debris floating near Cranberry and Harbor Islands. A little farther and they discovered the remains of the ill-fated Winnebec, broken to pieces on Wreck Island, along with a dozen or so unfortunate ice-enshrouded souls lying on shore. The men wasted no time plundering the ship, confiscating food supplies, trunks and any fixtures they could pry loose. But their trawler would not accommodate all the loot, so it became necessary to make several trips back to the mainland to unload their haul. Finally, an old retired sea captain who spent most of his days staring out to sea from his parlor window, determined there was something decidedly suspicious about a fishing boat entering and leaving port repeatedly and notified the authorities.
The sun was beginning to set as the opportunists set sail on their final trip to Wreck Island. The elder of the trio noticed the weather was changing and suggested they wait until the following morning. His companions considered the suggestion, but greed got the better of them and by the time they tied up at the remote island, found themselves in the midst of a fierce nor’easter. After loading the last of Winnebec’s spoils onto their craft, the men discovered there was no place to sleep. The blinding snow made sailing impossible, so the thieves had no choice but to set up camp as best they could and wait for first light. Extremely tired from vigorously loading and unloading cargo for several hours, the threesome abjectly stepped around the grotesquely frozen corpses and hastily constructed a makeshift shelter of evergreen branches and large boards from the hull of the wrecked ship. During the night, one after the other of the guilt-ridden fishermen awakened screaming, each insisting he felt icy hands around his throat in a stranglehold. As the first glimmers of sunlight appeared on the eastern horizon, the frightened looters hastily cleared their boat of the mountain of snow that had accumulated during the night and headed for home before the sheriff and his deputies arrived.
Some years after the incident, an old man – who claimed to have known the fishermen who plundered Winnebec – confessed that when the wreckage was discovered, some members of the crew were alive. But, he explained, the small settlement was isolated, especially in winter when roads became impassable by heavy snows and killer storms prevented sea travel for days at a time. So, when the otherwise Godfearing men weighed the lives of the dying strangers on the beach against those of their families, they made a decision that would haunt them for the remainder of their days. A rope was cut into three lengths and after begging the Lord’s forgiveness, the fishermen silently and systematically garrotted the half-frozen survivors. Instead of having known the men involved, it is much more likely the old man who told the story was, himself, a member of the murderous crew.
Today, during the warmer months, Wreck Island is a breeding ground for blue heron and other water fowl. Its lofty evergreens, lush meadows and berry bushes, all engulfed by a cacophony of bird calls, belie its darker side, for time has not exorcized its ghosts. Boaters in the vicinity after sundown often report seeing vaguely human-shaped shadows flitting about the deserted beach. Needless to say, very few people spend the night in the area where Winnebec wrecked, but back in the mid-1990s, four students from the University of Maine at Orono, engrossed in exploring the island, failed to take notice of a thick fog rolling in and were forced to drop anchor and remain overnight. Although the young men slept aboard their boat, the following day, they were surprised to discover all had experienced the same nightmare – a feeling of icy hands on their throats.
A crew of dead men. Thomas King was scheduled to ship out aboard the barque Isidore the morning of Wednesday, November 30, 1842. However, on Sunday night, he dreamed of a ship and drowning sailors. The following night, another mariner experienced a nightmare in which he stood before a row of seven coffins. In the first six, he observed the pale dead faces of his shipmates; in the seventh, he gazed upon his own corpse. Both men informed Capt. Leander Foss of their disturbing dreams, but he dismissed their concerns as nothing more than silly superstition and ordered all hands to prepare to depart as scheduled. Come Wednesday morning, Isidore sailed out into the dark, churning waters of the Atlantic under angry skies.
The next day, word came that pieces of a large ship were washing up in the vicinity of Cape Neddick and there was no doubt it was Isidore. The only survivor of the ill-fated crew was Thomas King who, heeding the warning of his dream, was hiding in the woods when the vessel embarked. Only seven bodies were recovered, among them, the sailor who had dreamed of the seven coffins.
Even after the passage of more than 150 years, when the temperature drops and dark clouds obscure the sky, people in the Cape Neddick area still report seeing Isidore plying the wrathful seas, manned by a crew of dead men.
The Lady of Hendricks Head Lighthouse
Lady of the Dusk. The 39-foot Hendricks Head Lighthouse (above) at Southport, Maine, is now privately-owned, but its fixed white light with red sector still guides sea traffic through the treacherous waters where the Sheepscot River enters the Atlantic. The light was decommissioned for a number of years beginning in 1933, but before that, it was the location of one of the most puzzling unsolved mysteries of the Maine coast. On Tuesday, December 1, 1931, a woman got off the bus in Boothbay Harbor and registered at the Fullerton Hotel as Louise G. Meade. She then walked in the direction of Southport, encountering several people along the way, including Mr. and Mrs. Charles Pinkham at their store, which also housed the West Southport Post Office. It was becoming cloudy and the wind was rising when the lady in black – so-called because she was wearing a black dress and coat – asked Mrs. Pinkham where she could go for an unobstructed view of the ocean. Mrs. Pinkham told her she could see the ocean from right across the road. “Yes,” the, well-spoken woman replied, “but I want a sweep of the open ocean.” Mrs. Pinkham then informed the stranger, whom she estimated to be in her early 40s, that she was near Hendricks Head Lighthouse, warning, “But it’s beginning to get dark and it’s windy and the road is lonesome down there.”
Heedless of the warning, the lady walked off toward Hendricks Head. So far as is known, she was never seen alive again, though Keeper Charles L. Knight saw movement near the Connor Cottage on the road to the lighthouse. Five days later, on Sunday, December 6, the woman’s pallid corpse was pulled from the icy waters of the Atlantic. There was a leather belt fastened around her wrists, then run through the handle of a heavy electric flatiron as well as the handles of her black handbag. Apparently, the iron had been utilized as a weight, although she would have developed hypothermia within a few minutes of entering the icy water.
The people of Southport made a diligent effort to ascertain the lady’s identity, but neither relatives nor friends came forward. The tags in her clothing indicated her coat and dress were from Lord and Taylor in New York, but led nowhere, as did the name “Louise G. Meade.” After the passage of more than a month, the woman was buried, January 8, 1932, in West Southport’s Union Cemetery.
Following the tragedy, Keeper Knight claimed to have witnessed what he believed was the lady’s ghost on several occasions. According to Knight, the apparition was visible for as long as two or three minutes at times and “appeared to be pacing the beach as if following the beacon of the light.”
The light wasn’t returned to service until 1951 and since that time, reports of what has come to be called “The Lady of the Dusk” walking solemnly along the beach at Hendricks Head have continued. Some say she is seen in the phantasmagoric glow of a cold, white moon as its dazzling light is reflected by the sea. Others insist the best time to catch a glimpse of the enigmatic wraith in black is when a thick fog rolls in and the fog horns along the coast sound their mournful warnings. Nevertheless, everyone agrees she always begins her promenade at dusk.
In addition to the ghost, for several years after the woman’s death, during the first week of December, people in the area reported seeing a big, black car, which some described as “a limousine,” driving slowly along Hendricks Head road and stopping where the Lady of the Dusk was pulled from the sea.
Return from a frozen death. Another candidate for the ghost of Hendricks Head is the spirit of a young mother in search of her child. In early March 1871 during a particularly violent storm, a schooner was reduced to rubble on the jagged rocks near the lighthouse. The only survivor of the tragedy was a baby girl who had been placed between two feather mattresses which floated ashore. Jaruel and Catherine Marr, the keeper and his wife, heard muffled cries coming from the bundle and after chipping away a shroud of ice, discovered the little girl, whom they adopted and brought up as their own. Many believe the apparition who walks the beach is the mother, returned from a frozen death as a “glowing white” specter, still searching for her lost child. Or, perhaps Hendricks Head Lighthouse has two ghosts.
Ghost of Owl’s Head Light. When there is a chill in the air and snow on the ground, the spirit of a former keeper makes his presence known at Owl’s Head Light south of Rockland Harbor. Perched atop a 100-foot promontory and plummeted by blasts of frigid air, the light station becomes exceedingly cold in winter yet, Coast Guard personnel report “something” keeps turning down the thermostat and when it snows, they occasionally find footprints leading to the tower – but none returning. A young Coast Guard petty officer by the name of Wilson didn’t believe in ghosts until he was assigned to Owl’s Head. “I thought somebody was pulling my leg, but one morning, just after it snowed, I saw footprints going to the tower and I thought it was one of the guys, but I went in there to do some work and nobody was there. Now, you can’t leave a place without making tracks!” This wintertime spirit has also been known to unlock the heavy steel tower door and, occasionally, he even polishes the brass work!
Haunted Boon Island. According to author Dennis L. Noble, Boon Island Light (above), Maine’s tallest lighthouse, “probably best represents how most Americans imagine a lighthouse.” Located six-and-a-half miles from York on a spattering of barren rocks, it is accessible only by boat or helicopter, but on a clear day, the soaring 133-foot granite sentinel is visible from Cape Neddick and its flashing white light can be seen for 19 nautical miles.
More than one tragedy has occurred on Boon Island and the lighthouse figures prominently in local ghost lore. Coast Guard personnel who service the light have reported feelings of foreboding as they approach the desolate, windswept station. Perhaps the more sensitive among them are experiencing the lingering effects of a horrible event that occurred in 1710, long before the erection of the first light tower. In that year, the ship Nottingham Galley wrecked on the forsaken outpost and it was weeks before a passing vessel rescued the few survivors who had resorted to cannibalism in order to remain alive.
Though it is possible the spirits of those unlucky men of long ago – who served as dinner for their shipmates – continue to haunt the island, the more intriguing specter is that of a teenaged bride driven mad. Some time during the mid-1800s, a man and his new wife, whose name was Katherine, accepted the keeper’s post at Boon Island Light. The naive young lovebirds were actually looking forward to the assignment, foolishly believing it would simply be an extension of their honeymoon. All went well for about four months, then a devastating blizzard struck. The storm hit without warning and the keeper slipped and fell while attempting to secure the lighthouse boat. He was knocked unconscious in the process and drowned in the frigid waters. Nevertheless, Katherine – apparently a strapping girl – was able to wrest her beloved from the raging surf of the unmerciful Atlantic and drag his body into the tower. As she sat grief-stricken beside the ice-encrusted corpse, she wanted nothing more than to join her spouse in eternal rest. But her faith forbade suicide, thus, she resisted the urge to surrender to the cruel seas that had made her a widow. Huddled in blankets beside her frozen mate, the lady wept and prayed throughout the daylight hours, but when night fell, she arose and climbed the 168 steps of the tower every few hours to trim the wicks and replenish the oil. She knew the light must burn on, no matter what.
Nature’s barrage finally abated, but the distraught young woman could not bring herself to eat. After five days without sustenance, she became too weak to climb to the top of the tower and the light went out. This was a signal to people on the mainland that something was amiss and a group of men set sail for Boon Island. There, they discovered Katherine, near death, lying at the bottom of the spiral stairs, clutching the cold dead hand of the man she loved.
Although the girl initially recovered – physically – the ordeal had affected her mind. About a year later, during a howling winter storm, Katherine awakened her sister with whom she shared a bed, and cried, “Can’t you hear them? The souls of the dead are calling me!” Then, as a particularly violent gust rattled the windows of the small, shingled seaside cottage, the young widow shrieked the name of her departed husband and fell back onto the pillow. She was dead.
Within a few days of Katherine’s death, the keeper at Boon Island Light reported an encounter with what he described as “the spirit of a sad-faced young woman in white.”
In the early 1970s, Coast Guard Warrant Officer Bill Roberts received orders to Boon Island and as soon as he arrived, the two other keepers asked if he believed in ghosts. He said he wasn’t sure. However, by the time he left the island, he had no doubts. Although Roberts never actually saw a ghost during his tenure at Boon Island, he frequently heard unexplained noises in both the tower and keeper’s quarters and often had the feeling “something inhuman” was nearby. “A lot of times when I went out to activate the fog signal, I felt like somebody was watching me,” he declared. “It was a creepy place.”
Then there was the cold, clear afternoon when Roberts and fellow keeper Bob Edwards took the boat out to do a little fishing. The catch was so good they failed to notice clouds forming to the north, or the fact the outgoing tide was pulling them farther and farther from the island. When large flakes of snow began to float from the darkening sky, the Coast Guardsmen suddenly realized their predicament and made haste for Boon Island. The delinquent keepers also realized there was no way they were going to get back before sundown and if the light wasn’t turned on, they could face court-martial for dereliction of duty. The boat was still about a hundred yards from the island and twilight was rapidly descending into night. They could just make out the shape of the dark tower that represented the end of their careers when, miraculously, the white, occulting 120,000 candlepower light began to flash. “It just came on by itself,” Roberts insisted. “There wasn’t a soul on the island and that light came on! We were relieved, but I admit I was scared, and Edwards was scared, too. We both thought it was Katherine’s spirit that somehow turned on the light. It was a long time before we told anybody what happened.”
The beacon was automated after the keeper’s quarters and other buildings were destroyed during a blizzard in February 1978. But to this day, area fishermen, hurrying to shore just ahead of an approaching gale, occasionally hear shrieks and cries emanating from the direction of the forlorn old lighthouse on Boon Island. And if they navigate closely enough, sometimes they catch a fleeting glimpse of a woman in white.
Cahill, Robert Ellis. Lighthouse Mysteries of the North Atlantic. Old Saltbox, Salem, Mass., 1998.
Citro, Joseph A. Passing Strange. Chapters Publishing, Shelburne, Vermont, 1996.
Drake, Samuel Adams. New England Legends & Folk Lore. Castle Books, Secaucus, N.J., 1939
Holland, F. Ross, Jr.. Great American Lighthouses. Wiley, New York, 1994.
Noble, Dennis L. Lighthouses & Keepers. Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, 1997.
O’Brien, Rose, “Lady Ghost of Hendricks Head,” The Lewiston Journal, July 14, 1956.
Roberts, Bruce, & Jones, Ray. New England Lighthouses. Voyager, Old Saybrook, Conn., 1990.
Schulte, Carol Olivieri. Ghosts on the Coast of Maine. Downeast Books, Camden, Maine, 1989.
Thompson, William O. Lighthouse Legends & Hauntings. Scapes Me, Kennebunk, Maine, 1989.
Townsend, Sallie, and Ericson, Virginia. Boating Weather. David McKay, New York, 1978.
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Wood, Pamela. Salt Book, The. Anchor Press, Garden City, N.Y., 1977.
U.S. Coast Guard Files.
Mitch Bennett interview, 1986
Bill Roberts interview, 1990.
Bill Thompson interview, 1999.
Robert Ellis Cahill interview, 1999.
© Lee Holloway, 2006.