June 22, 2018
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From superstition to the supernatural, new books offer thrilling Maine stories

By Aislinn Sarnacki, BDN Staff

Maine is home to the supernatural. Vampires and ghosts, sea monsters and mermaids — they’ve all allegedly been spotted here. Perhaps something about this state has the ability to stir the imagination — the fog rolling off the water, the rugged coastline, the endless forest. Or maybe, just maybe, the stories are true.

The following publications, recently released to bookstores, resurrect these old stories and unearth a few new ones. Within the bindings, you’ll find goosebumps and laughter, skepticism and wonder, as you explore haunted houses and weather storms on the high seas.

MAINE GHOSTS AND LEGENDS: 30 ENCOUNTERS WITH THE SUPERNATURAL by Thomas Verde, October 2013, Down East Books, 158 pages, paperback, $14.99.

Thomas Verde had goals. Publish a book before age 30, travel the world, that sort of thing. The list certainly didn’t include, “research ghosts.”

A Rhode Island native, Verde moved to Maine in 1986 and started writing for local newspapers, then as a freelance producer for Maine Public Broadcasting. It was nearing Halloween in 1988 when he decided, on a whim, to broadcast a series of local ghost stories.

“I presumed I would just be able to pull a book off a shelf that would comprehensively offer a bunch of ghost stories, but to my surprise and dismay, there wasn’t such a volume,” Verde recalled. “So I did some old-fashioned research and looked through the Portland Room in Portland Public Library for newspaper accounts of ghost stories.”

And he decided, since there wasn’t a book of statewide ghost stories, he’d write one.

“I’d read the newspaper report, then I’d do my own research,” he said. “I’d track down people, look up town records — sometimes people would speak to me, but sometimes they wouldn’t.”

In addition to digging up tales from the past, he talked with Mainers of different communities to collect stories of more current hauntings.

“I went into this as any journalist goes into a story — with a certain amount of optimism and skepticism,” he said.

“Quite simply, I asked people, ‘Have you ever seen a ghost? Have you known anyone who’s had a haunted home?’ And inevitably I’d come to someone who knew someone with a story to tell,” he said.

Verde’s 1989 book “Maine Ghosts and Legends: 26 Encounters with the Supernatural,” published by Down East Books (before Verde turned 30), sold steadily. So when it went out of print 20 years later, Verde approached Down East and offered to produce a second edition that included some fresh supernatural tales.

The new stories include the Maine-based vampire legends, as well as the country’s oldest documented ghost story, which took place in 1799 in Machiasport.

“I like that one because it’s full of testimonies given under oath by dozens of people to this minister who went and interviewed them,” Verde said.

“There were some things in the testimonies that were so classic,” he continued. “An amorphous, pulsating ball of light that becomes a human figure and then just disappears — people putting their hands through her form — all that stuff is really right out of Hollywood.”

So after all this digging into Maine’s spookiest tales, the question Verde is often asked is: Do you believe in ghosts? And to that, his answer hasn’t changed.

“I recorded what people said,” Verde said. “I printed what they told me. I believe that they believe what they were telling me.

“I’ve never had a supernatural experience or felt or heard a ghost,” he said. “However, I’ve never seen electricity in my house either, but I still pay for it every month.”

To sum up his meaning, he used a quote from Shakespeare’s tragedy “Hamlet” (which is, however ironically, a ghost story): “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

While Verde has devoted a bit of time to Maine’s many ghosts, he continues to pursue his journalistic goals.

A journalist at heart, Verde has traveled throughout Europe, the Middle East, Africa and the US on assignment for public radio’s former weekly travel show, The Savvy Traveler, and for several prestigious publications such as the New York Times and Boston Globe. His writing has also appeared in numerous national magazines, such as Newsweek, Reader’s Digest and National Geographic Adventure.

Verde also is the author of two volumes in the American Profiles series, “Twentieth Century Writers 1900-1950” and “Twentieth Century Writers 1950-1990.”

SURROUNDED BY GHOSTS: TALES OF POGEY POINT AND PLACES FROM THE PAST by Janet Larkin, October 2013, Llewellyn Publications, 224 page, paperback, $14.99.

As a newborn, Janet Larkin’s life teetered on the edge. She suspects that this near-death experience may have made her more sensitive to the spiritual world. In other words, her brush with death resulted in a sixth sense, one that she has little control over. In her recently published memoir “Surrounded by Ghosts,” she shares decades of ghostly encounters, starting with a conversation with her deceased grandmother when she was just 8 years old.

A Maine resident, Larkin is the mother of two daughters and holds a doctorate in Medical Anthropology. She is a member of the Maine Writers and Publishers Alliance, and her interests include paranormal research, studies of consciousness, quantum physics, traveling and gardening.

While Larkin structures the book around her various supernatural experiences, her stories also touch upon the more familiar subjects of family, love, despair and self confidence. Through her most vivid and powerful memories, Larkin pulls the reader into a life filled with hope and disappointment, relationships and internal reflection, unexplainable coincidences and, of course, a number of ghosts, the friendly and the wicked.

For information, visit llewellyn.com.

LEGENDS, LORE AND SECRETS OF NEW ENGLAND by Thomas D’Agostino and Arlene Nicholson, August 2013, The History Press, 160 pages, paperback, $16.99.

Over the years, several of Maine’s historic buildings have been transformed into inns, where visitors can enjoy the elegance of a time past. One such establishment is the Kennebunk Inn, which was originally built as a private residence on Main Street in Kennebunk in 1799. Yet it wasn’t until recent history that people began to suspect the abode to be haunted.

The story goes, in the 1950s, a night clerk named Silas Perkins died in the inn, in what was called the Fireplace Room. And according to some of the inn staff and guests, he never left. Floating napkins and mysterious footsteps are his M.O. Nothing too drastic.

The story of this haunting and other tales are rehashed in the recently published “Legends, Lore and Secrets of New England,” a book written by paranormal investigators Tom D’Agostino and Arlene Nicholson.

Together, this married couple has conducted more than 1,000 investigations and have authored nine books on hauntings and mysterious events, such as “Pirate Ghosts and Phantom Ships,” “Abandoned Villages and Ghost Towns of New England,” “A Guide to Haunted New England” and “A History of Vampires in New England.” They have appeared on numerous radio and televisions shows and documentaries, including A&E Biography Channel’s “My Ghost Story” and Animal Planet’s “The Haunted.”

For information, visit the Paranormal Research Society’s website, nepurs.com.

THE NEW ENGLAND MARINER TRADITION: OLD SALTS, SUPERSTITIONS, SHANTIES AND SHIPWRECKS by Robert A. Geake, October 2013, The History Press, 144 pages, paperback, $16.99.

In 1818, a sea serpent was spotted in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Nahant, Mass.

“His head appeared about three feet out of the water, I counted thirteen bunches on his back — my family thought there were fifteen — he passed three times at moderate rate across the bay, but so fleet as to occasion a foam on the water … my family and myself judged that he was some fifty and not more than sixty feet in length,” wrote John Prince, Marshall of Massachusetts, in a letter to Judge Davis on August 16, 1818.

This interesting tale was dug up by Robert A. Geake, author of the recently published “New England Mariner Tradition: Old Salts, Superstitions, Shanties and Shipwrecks.” In the book, he addresses everything from sea monsters to shipbuilding. His love for history is evident as he uncovers sailor songs, folklore, newspaper clippings and journal entries — all related to New England’s maritime traditions, from the practical to the bizarre.

Robert A. Geake is the author of four previously published books of local history, including “A History of the Providence River” and “Historic Taverns of Rhode Island.” Visit his blog on New England history at rifootprints.com.

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