PROSPECT, Maine — When the Cowardly Lion stood in the Haunted Forest wringing his tail saying, “I do believe in spooks, I do believe in spooks,” he had good reason.
He was surrounded by trees with faces, flying monkeys, a wicked witch and, yes, spooks.
Now, Teddy Cooke, 19, of Verona Island has a good reason to say the same thing.
Cooke, who works as a tower and gate attendant at Fort Knox Historic Site and the Penobscot Narrows Observation Tower, didn’t have to deal with the Wicked Witch of the West, but he did have a close encounter of some kind last Saturday night inside the fort.
“It creeped me out,” he said.
It happened Saturday night as Cooke was closing up the fort after the annual Fright at the Fort event. He wasn’t one of the ghouls, trolls or ogres stationed in the fort to spook the nighttime visitors. Cooke was part of the tech crew, in charge of the fog, the lights and the scary audio for the event.
The fort was dark except for the “Fright” effects.
“My job was to lock up, shut down all the electrical stuff, the fog machine and the strobe lights,” he said. “I was going to the upper level of the officers’ quarters when I saw it — it was the back of a leg moving at the end of the hall.”
At that point, he said, he thought there was a straggler from the Fright event, and he called out to say the fort was closed and to follow him out. There was no response.
From the hall, a set of stairs leads up to a long corridor known as “Two Step Alley.” Cooke walked up the steps and as his eyes reached the level of the floor, he saw the dark shape of someone walking down the alley.
“About halfway down, I could see the figure of a person,” he said. “There was a red floodlight at the other end and it clearly blocked out the light.”
He called out again, but there was no reaction.
Cooke said the figure looked like a “solid shadow.” He saw no face or details, but could tell it was walking, not gliding. It did not react or turn when he called. And it made no sound that he heard.
Although he said he felt a little jittery, he didn’t feel any emotion or any presence from the figure.
He reached for his flashlight and the figure was gone.
“I looked down for just a second and when I looked up again, there was nothing there all the way to the end of the alley,” he said. “At this point, I’m still thinking it’s a person. There are pillars all the way down the alley, and I thought they may have ducked behind there. I thought maybe someone was going to jump out and scare me.”
Cautiously, he checked each pillar all the way down.
No one was there.
“There’s no way anyone could have gotten down the alley in that time,” he said. “Up until I got out I thought it was a person. I don’t know what it was. I got out of the fort as quickly as I could.”
Cooke admits to being a fan of the “Ghost Hunter” television show, but said he wanted proof before he’d believe in ghosts. He says he has it now.
“I considered myself a skeptic until something happened so that I would know,” he said. “This was kind of that ‘it’ that happened.”
Some might discount Cooke’s account as imagination, but he’s not the first to have a supernatural experience in the fort. According to Leon Seymour, executive director of the Friends of Fort Knox, there have been reports for years from visitors and fort staff of unusual happenings.
“I’ve heard hundreds of stories,” he said. “People having their hat taken off, people being pushed.”
The fort is a likely spot for spirits, according to Sky Taylor, a Bangor radio announcer and co-founder of the Down East Paranormal Society.
The granite and the fort’s proximity to the water all help to store and conduct spirit energy, Taylor said.
Taylor and her husband have had unexplained encounters in the fort before, one of them in the same area where Cooke saw his spirit on Saturday. Several years ago, she brought in a psychic, who confirmed there were spirits dwelling in the fort.
Although no one actually died inside the fort, Taylor said, the spirits could be soldiers who had strong ties to the fort. One might be Sgt. Leopold Hegyi, who spent 13 years at Fort Knox and died in a house across the road from the fort where he lived.
Taylor produced a special radio broadcast about the spirits at the fort and included the story from a former guide at the fort during the 1980s. The guide reported that on one of her tours, a soldier showed up at the edge of the group. She assumed it was one of the Civil War re-enactors who hold encampments at the fort.
She learned later that none was at the fort that day.
“A little later, she saw a photo and said [the soldier] looked just like Sgt. Hegyi,” Taylor said. “If anyone had ties to this place, it was Sgt. Hegyi.
Although Hegyi’s widow, who lived in New York, collected his belongings after the sergeant died, she did not claim his remains. He is buried in a cemetery a short distance from the fort down Route 1 in Stockton Springs, Taylor said.
Cooke is not sure what he saw, but he’s convinced he saw something. He’s a little “uneasy” about going back in for this weekend’s version of Fright at the Fort, and admits that anytime he comes back into the fort, he’ll recall this incident.
“I’m not sure I’d want it to happen again,” he said. “But I’d be excited if it did.”