Even if there was no local folklore or incidents of car crashes both major and minor, the winding stretch of Route 182 that bridges Hancock and Washington counties between Franklin and Cherryfield would be creepy. There’s a reason they call it the Black’s Woods Road. Even the name sounds haunted.
It’s especially spooky on a foggy night, when the trees seem to bend in and enclose the road and block out the moonlight, leaving nothing but darkness. Some nights, locals say, you might see a woman walking along the side of the road, near the still waters of Fox Pond. Her name is Catherine, as the legend goes, and her spirit hasn’t known peace for decades.
You can choose to stop and help her, or not. But as the legend goes, not stopping could spell out dire consequences, whether you lose control of your vehicle shortly thereafter, or suffer some unexplained malady or bad luck in the days or weeks after.
Catherine — named for Catherine Mountain, the 1000-foot hill the road crests shortly after Fox Pond — may have been a real person, though when exactly she was counted among the living is debatable. Some say she was an actual Cherryfield resident named Catherine Downing, who died in 1862 and whose name can be seen on a stone in a nearby graveyard, though there’s no record of that Catherine dying in an accident. Regardless, she’s one of many ghosts that supposedly haunt different corners of Down East Maine.
Marcus LiBrizzi, a professor at the University of Maine at Machias and the author of “ Dark Woods, Chill Waters: Ghost Tales From Down East Maine,” has researched ghost stories from all over the world, but finds the ones from Washington County to be particularly creepy. There’s certainly a number of them, from the talkative ghost of Nelly Butler, a sea captain’s wife who died around 1800 in Machiasport, to the mysterious footprints following two women walking on a deserted beach near Roque Bluffs.
“The ghost stories from Maine and from Washington County in particular really stand out to me, because of just how many there are,” LiBrizzi said. “What also sticks out about so many of these stories and in particular the Catherine story is that they defy the old saying that the dead can’t hurt you, only the living can. She does inflict harm.”
There are a few essential elements to the story. She’s a young woman. She’s in a vehicle with her boyfriend or fiance on a dark, foggy night, riding down Route 182. She is wearing either a white or pale blue dress. They get into an accident near Fox Pond. Catherine is decapitated. The boyfriend’s body is never found.
Catherine’s spirit is doomed to walk the road, looking for help, her lover and her head. If she’s seen by a motorist on the road, she sometimes has her head, sometimes not. He or she must stop to help her, lest they risk her curse. One story has a motorist not stopping for the ghost, looking in his rearview mirror, seeing her headless body in the back seat and crashing.
The rest of the details vary, depending on the teller of the tale. Sometimes the accident takes place in the 1970s, and Catherine and her boyfriend are on their way back from prom. Sometimes it’s in the 1920s or 1930s. Another iteration comes from sometime in the 1860s, and Catherine and her fiance aren’t in a car at all. They’re in a carriage, and Route 182 is nothing more than a dirt road, built atop an even older Native American trail.
While LiBrizzi hasn’t seen her ghost himself, he’s heard and experienced the strange phenomenon associated with Route 182.
“There are lots of electromagnetic anomalies documented. You’ll be driving along and the car will completely stall out and everything shuts down,” LiBrizzi said. “It’s like you go through a force field. It happened to me. I had kids and animals in the car … Even just last year there was a fatal accident [on 182]. There’s a lot of bad things that have happened here.”
Washington County has been occupied by humans for thousands of years, from the Passamaquoddy to the earliest European settlers in the 16th century. Who knows how different supernatural legends have intermingled over the years?
“The past and the present are almost overlapping here,” LiBrizzi said. “It sometimes makes me wonder if all these different stories here in Washington County are just ways of putting a face on something that’s way older than Catherine, way older than a carriage accident. Something that’s been here longer than any of that.”