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My Top Five Maine Haunts

09/11/2018
By Gililan French
 
My Top Five: A writer of spooky stories identifies her favorite Maine haunts first appeared in Islandport Magazine, Fall 2018.
 
Autumn in Maine brings brilliant foliage, crisp apples, and a hint of woodsmoke in the air—ideal conditions for resurrecting some of our state’s most memorable ghosts. As a paranormal enthusiast, I’m always adding to my mental inventory of haunted places in our region, and have handpicked this spirited sampling based on their uniquely chilling details, guaranteed to return to you in the watches of the night.      
 
Beckett’s Castle, Cape Elizabeth
Romantic at heart? Feast your eyes on the real estate agent’s photos of Beckett’s Castle in Cape Elizabeth, with its three-story stone tower, leaded glass windows, and panoramic view of Casco Bay. Beckett’s Castle is up for sale, but even if the $2.5 million price tag doesn’t send you into sticker shock, the uninvited guest may have you in palpitations: the ghost of the original owner, prominent mid-nineteenth century Portland lawyer and poet Sylvester Beckett. An avid believer in the afterlife, Beckett held seances in the castle, and eventually passed away there. Maybe that’s why former owners have reported his presence in the shape of a blue glowing orb, yanking sheets off beds, knocking paintings from the walls, and generally wreaking havoc.   
 
Kennebec Arsenal, Augusta
Cosmopolitan magazine confirms it: the Kennebec Arsenal in Augusta is Maine’s most haunted place, according to a 2017 state-by-state rundown of scariest locales. Built during the War of 1812, this imposing stone structure closed as an arsenal in 1901, only to be reopened a few years later as the Augusta Mental Health Institute or AMHI, where, during the dark ages of the mental health profession, it’s rumored that patients were subjected to treatments deemed barbaric by today’s standards. Some 11,600 people died while housed at AMHI, then were buried in unmarked graves somewhere on the grounds; no records were kept as to exactly where. Additionally, a network of underground tunnels winds beneath the property, now closely monitored by security officers after reports were made of some “unsavory” behavior happening within. Believers claim you can still hear the ghostly moans and screams of those long-dead patients emanating from the grounds—but I wouldn’t recommend you get that close.  
 
The Old Red Church, Standish
The First Parish Meetinghouse in Standish, also known as the Old Red Church, has served at various times since 1804 as a place of worship, a site for town schooling, and a home base for community groups—so how could it not have acquired a ghost or two? Standing like a blazing fall maple on Oak Hill Road, this starkly beautiful example of rural Federal-style architecture now acts like a magnet for paranormal investigation groups, including the Maine Afterlife Research Society and Everything Paranormal of New England. Their goal? To identify whatever spectral presence produces the disembodied voices reported by witnesses over the years, along with the eerie sound of something heavy being dragged across the roof.
 
The Chapman Inn, Bethel
The only “certified haunted” inn to be found in Western Maine, the Chapman Inn of Bethel offers a uniquely scandalous history dating from the turn of the twentieth century. Owner William Chapman’s invalid daughter Abigail required round-the-clock care, so a nanny was brought into the home. The woman stayed on after Abigail’s death at age sixteen, allegedly as the married Mr. Chapman’s mistress. One can only imagine the living situation, but when William died in 1927, he left his widow and surviving children well off—and left the house in trust to Abigail’s hired companion, along with enough funds to ensure that she could live comfortably for the rest of her days. In the years since her death, the inn has played host to classic haunting phenomena: doors opening and closing by themselves, ghostly footsteps, inexplicable cold drafts. The inn’s current owners hired a paranormal investigator to determine the cause of the disturbances. His conclusion: Both Abigail and her nanny still linger in the Chapman house, bonded even in death. Sound like a stretch? Visit the inn’s website to check out a genuinely eerie ghost photograph of a strange mist drifting through one of the rooms.
 
Balentine Hall, University of Maine at Orono
Being a UMaine alum, I hold the haunting of Balentine Hall dear to my heart. As a student, I heard rumors of a haunting within, though at that time opinions varied on who or what exactly walked the halls of the former all-girls dorm; some said it was a house mother, others claimed it was a girl who’d hung herself on the top floor. Online, sources agree that it’s the spirit of dorm mother “Ma Balentine,” who kept a notoriously close eye on her girls, checking the rooms frequently for male visitors attempting an overnight stay. Legend has it that Ma swore to haunt the dorm if it ever became coed. Ever since the first male student stashed his shower shoes in Balentine, students have reported hearing ghostly footsteps on the vacant fourth floor, and seeing doorknobs slowly turn at night, as if someone’s trying to gain entrance: Ma Balentine, ever vigilant . . . 

 

Growing up in rural Maine led Gillian French to believe that the mystery of the past is all around. She uses her surroundings as a setting for her dark stories that often have a creepy twist. While she’s never seen a ghost, she’s pretty sure she’s heard ghostly footsteps in the night. Her young adult novel, The Door to January, was a 2018 Bram Stoker Award Nominee for Superior Achievement in a Young Adult Novel. Her other books include Grit: A Novel and The Lies They Tell.