Cloaked lady leads spirited stroll through town’s secrets

Posted July 03, 2009, at 6:39 p.m.

Through the swirling mist strode the lady in the red cloak. Her feeble candlelight cast the sole illumination on this dark and stormy night. She came armed with the stories of the dead, the undead.

It was the premiere of the Haunted History Tours in Camden and a perfect night it was. Nancy Jones, a history and English teacher, was the perfect tour guide. Indeed, she knew where the bodies were buried … and unburied.

Ghost tours already have proven popular in Damariscotta, Wiscasset and Boothbay Harbor. Because every town has its deep and dark secrets and Camden is no exception, Jones said.

Camden, she reminded the small gathering, was incorporated in 1769 and at one time had 10 thriving mills on the Megunticook River and had a robust shipbuilding business that dominated the waterfront. The Holly Bean Shipyard turned out five- and six-masted vessels which sailed the seven seas. This was, of course, before Camden became too pristine for the likes of Dunkin’ Donuts, the idea of which sent some town fathers such as Gary Fowlie running and screaming through the streets.

The town was named after Charles Pratt, the first Earl of Camden, a Whig who imposed the taxes that sparked the Boston Tea Party, then changed his mind and supported the colonists, Jones said. Charlie was covering all his bases.

The ghost tour started at the memorial stone that commemorates Camden resident William Conway, who refused to lower the Stars and Stripes at the fort at Pensacola, Fla., during the Civil War. Jones admitted she was new to the game. “I didn’t even know it was here” before she did all her research.

She did know all about “Pitcher Man” William Richardson, the Ghost of Goose River in adjoining Rockport. In celebrating the earlier passage of the Treaty of Paris in 1783, Richardson was crossing the bridge over Goose River at dusk when he met three strangers, all Tories. When the “Pitcher Man” offered them a drink to celebrate, the Tories shot him dead. It is said that many people have seen the ghost of the “Pitcher Man” especially at dusk, walking across the same bridge offering pedestrians a drink.

Talk about a friendly ghost.

Jones stopped at Limerock Street and pointed out a famous haunted house. In 1862, a local sea captain committed suicide in the house, right after a boarder was found murdered. The legend has it that the men had profound political differences on the Civil War. “Did the suicide have anything to do with the murder in the same house?” Jones asked. We will never know but we do know that generations of residents in the house have seen ghostly features in the halls. Windows and doors in the house open and close all by themselves, she said.

The tour turned down Wood Street, behind the Elm Street School and stopped at the Carriage House, which is listed on the National Historic Register, thank you. When the family did extensive renovations, they found children’s shoes in the walls. It was believed that shoes, especially children’s shoes, took the shape of the owner’s feet and warded off evil.

At the corner of Pleasant and Wood streets, with her candle flame fighting for life, Jones told the story of the 5-month-old found dead in a local quarry some 70 years ago. The body was never identified but flowers always mysteriously appeared on the baby’s headstone. Neighbors of the cemetery often heard the sound of children playing although no one was there.

A stroll down Pleasant Street (once Turkey Turd Lane) brought the tour to Camden’s first schoolhouse, built in 1794. In 1804, teacher Cynthia Everett, a Massachusetts spinster, saw strange lights in the sky and wrote it in her diary. “Was in a meteor, or Camden’s first UFO?” Jones asked. The teacher was so rattled that she eventually married a man with six children.

Talk about rattled.

Up the street was the Camden Harbor Inn, where Jones said employees constantly are picking up after the inn’s ghost, which spends nights moving the furniture around.

The tour got a little randy on Bay View Street. Jones said Ephemere, a classy restaurant, started its life as the home of “the oldest profession” before becoming a Chinese laundry and eventually Swann’s Way, the home of the world’s best desserts.

Spirits, in more ways than one, inhabit Bay View Street. Jones said at one time there were 17 shops in town and 16 of them served alcohol.

Apparently, some ghosts are still thirsty.

The employees at Cuzz’s constantly complain about the upstairs ghost who turns the lights off and on. He is probably looking for the women from the Ephemere building. Customers at Gilbert’s Public House swear that ghosts give them surreptitious arm punches. Cappy’s employees like to avoid the upstairs Crow’s Nest Bar late at night because of the footsteps and gate closings when there is no one there.

On Main Street, The Lord Camden Inn, a former Mason’s Hall, has some uninvited guests appearing on the third floor, with wind gusts when all the doors and windows are closed, she said.

Everyone knows about the strange noises at the Camden Opera House, supposedly from a young girl who was jilted and committed suicide by jumping from the balcony. I can remember when the police, housed in the building’s basement, heard noises coming from the empty hall and hesitated going up there.

Camden is religiously politically correct these days. They have dubbed the former Board of Selectmen the “Camden Select Board,” if you can believe it. But in the bad old days, mobs from the Ku Klux Klan marched through town and assembled atop Mount Battie, Jones said.

But every town has its secrets, even Camden. That’s what makes the ghost tours so popular, said Jones, the woman in the red cloak.

For information on tour schedules and cost, call 380-3806 or check HauntedHistoryTours@gmail.com.

Send complaints and compliments to Emmet Meara at emmetmeara@msn.com.

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