LUBEC, Maine — She walks the trails at West Quoddy Lighthouse State Park, stopping only to gaze out to sea. The wind billows her long Victorian dress and seaweed is draped over her shoulders. She has been seen by numerous local people and several times by a former park manager.
The problem is, the nameless woman drowned more than a hundred years ago and her body, which was found washed up on the Lubec shore, was buried in the late 1800s two miles away at the West Quoddy Lifesaving Station.
Near Catherine Hill in Black’s Woods along Route 182 between Franklin and Cherryfield, hundreds of people have told of seeing and giving a ride to a young woman. Catherine — for whom the hill is named — died in the 1800s, beheaded when the carriage she was riding in raced out of control and crashed into a tree, on her wedding night.
Footprints suddenly appear in the sand at Roque Bluffs beach. Chains can be heard rattling at the graves of seven pirates who guard buried treasure on Cross Island off the coast of Jonesboro. At a home in Cooper, even tying a door shut can’t keep it closed from the spirit of a peddler who was murdered in the root cellar. The crying of hundreds of Africans can be heard across the bay where a slave ship was sunk off the coast — while all 300 souls were still chained below decks.
Ghosts and goblins, hauntings, strange noises and specters have always been part of the fabric of Washington County. It almost seems easier to ask which places in Down East Maine aren’t haunted than which are. Spooky legends are passed down from generation to generation, books are written, stories are retold.
“Washington County was, and in some places still is, the most isolated part of the Atlantic Seaboard,” author Marcus LiBrizzi, who specializes in tales of ghost encounters, contends. “And that naturally makes it the most mysterious. Down East is Transylvania by the sea — a real paranormal center.”
But there are those who don’t believe in ghosts or spirits and pooh-pooh the legends. “I’ve never seen anything,” Chandler River Lodge owner Bethany Foss said. “I’ve heard the stories though.”
The lodge, built in Jonesboro in 1797 by Hate Evil Hall, is said to be abuzz with paranormal activity. Legends persist that even after his death, Hate Evil never left the building and favors the library on the first floor. Servers have felt people watching them, guests say they can feel someone walking around their beds, an antique pie plate once suddenly appeared in the kitchen, a teapot flew through the air, and lost items have reappeared several months later.
Foss is a skeptic, even though she feared the lodge as a child. “When we were kids, we used to joke that it was haunted and no one came here,” she said. She said that if there is a presence on the property, her employees and others believe it is a female, possibly Hate Evil’s granddaughter, Sabrina Hall Marston.
“When she lived here, she loved parties and gatherings,” Foss said. “Some believe she just wants the house to be full again.” Foss said she feels that many guests who report noises or feelings — such as heavy footsteps on the stairs leading to the bedrooms — may just be spooked by staying in a building so old. “When the wind blows here, it really blows,” Foss said. “I think [the noises] are the natural sounds of a 214-year-old building settling.”
Foss does admit that the staff often jokes about ghosts. “When we leave at night, we ask them to please set all the tables for us,” she said. “They never do.”
LiBrizzi teaches English at the University of Maine at Machias, where his most popular class is Ghosts and World Literature. As a collector of folk and ghost tales from around the world, he said he has found none more frightening than those set along the craggy Down East coast. LiBrizzi has written two books on the supernatural — “Ghosts of Acadia” and “Dark Woods, Chill Waters.”
Their pages are filled with a cast of eerie, unearthly characters with unique histories. There is a cannibal ghost, a murdered man who comes in with the fog to seek vengeance and a dead shipmaster who came back from the grave to claim the life of his widow. There is a baby-killing specter from Dennysville, seamen who walk the rooms of the lighthouse keeper’s cottage at West Quoddy, angels of death in Milbridge.
Step off the university campus, and those apparitions do not disappear with the fog. Ghost stories that rival the worst of nightmares lurk in every corner of Washington County.
“For sheer creep value, stories from this area really stand out,” LiBrizzi said. “What makes many of the ghost stories here different is they are not just the run-of-the-mill haunted objects and ghost ships. These ghosts are nasty and vile. They inflict harm or death.”
LiBrizzi said that history hangs heavy over Down East, partly because of its Native American heritage and European settlers. “The result is a set of deep traditions involving the invisible world,” he said. “The air of a ghost town hangs over many communities, as seen in abandoned farms, decaying mansions, empty wharves and family burial plots swallowed by the forest.”
LiBrizzi said the isolated, fog-shrouded land is the key. “You don’t even have to believe in ghosts to pick up on the atmosphere. It’s a place between two worlds. It is almost like the fog gives temporary presence to these entities. The water, the land, the fog — everything conspires,” LiBrizzi said.
The stories and the legends preserve the folklore of the region and reflect the cultural diversity and regional identity of coastal Maine, he said. “Down East Maine is a place apart, one saturated in its own special form of the American Gothic.”
Debora Bridges is the caretaker of the restored Coast Guard Lifesaving Station at Carrying Cove, which is now used as vacation rentals. The guest book is filled with visitors telling of spooky encounters — doors opening by themselves, strange sounds. Bridges said she believes that someone sits at the kitchen table at night and her toddler granddaughter often insists that someone is at the door, calling hello.
While napping on a couch at the station, Amber LaValley was continually shaken awake by someone who wasn’t there. Others have reported seeing a man in uniform, likely a Coast Guardsman, moving chairs and other items.
John Smith, park manager at the West Quoddy Lighthouse at Lubec, used to live in the caretaker’s house. He said a specter continued to throw his coffee cup out of the cupboard and onto the floor until he shouted, “Will you please leave me alone?” The cup then flew out of the cupboard and smashed on the floor. Then, and only then, did the spirits leave, he said. Smith said the second floor of the keeper’s house still has bullet holes in the walls where a young Coast Guardsman shot at a specter who appeared before him in the 1970s.
Tyler Parrish and his sister started the Down East Paranormal Society, based in Bangor, three years ago. “Down East has an extremely high level of activity,” he said. Parrish’s theory is that the ledge and stone underneath Washington County are great conductors of energy, sort of trapping the lost energy from the departed souls.
Patricia Hughes of Palmyra is the author of “Lost Loot: Ghostly New England Treasure Tales,” and has extensively researched pirate hauntings Down East, using handwritten logs from the French, Spanish and English ships of the 1500s.
“All the famous pirates — Sam Bellamy, Blackbeard, Captain William Kidd, Dixie Bull — raced Down East with their treasure. There was nothing here in the 1500s, no one to disturb them. With all our little inlets and coves, we were the perfect bank,” she said.
Black Sam Bellamy was a bloodthirsty pirate who came to Machias and Roque Bluffs and legends hold that he buried treasure in tunnels and on off-shore islands.
“He then killed the men who he had forced to bury the treasure so their spirits would guard it,” Hughes said. Hundreds of people still look for Bellamy’s buried treasure. “People say that when they feel they are getting close, they feel a presence trying to stop them, almost like something is pushing them back.” She said there are also tales of black dogs that were killed and left to guard the treasures.
One persistent legend is that Bellamy built an elaborate earthen fortification, including a vast underground treasure vault, along the Machias River, near the bridge carrying Route 1A, where there may still be gold, silver and jewels.
Hughes said there are many stories about people who have found pirate treasures and then suffered mightily. “Their houses have burned down. Family members have died,” Hughes said. “They have actually tossed the treasures back into the sea, believing they were cursed. Remember, pirates were murdering scum, not Johnny Depp.”
Several years ago, CBS asked 808 adults randomly selected around the country, “Do you believe in ghosts?”
Forty-eight percent replied, “Yes.”
LiBrizzi said that when he first began collecting legends and tales from Down East, he was very skeptical.
“But over the last four years, I have learned to trust my intuition. I’ve heard things and seen things that go beyond a shape in the fog.”
Correction: An early version of this story requires clarification. Marcus LiBrizzi teaches English at the University of Maine at Machias.