Are These Maine Houses Haunted?
Ghost stories cling to historic houses like cobwebs. With Halloween on the horizon, we rounded up a few of our favorites, starring phantom footsteps, spectral dancing, and a mug-throwing spirit.
TEXT BY SARAH STEBBINS
From the October 2022 issue of Down East magazine
A lawyer, author, spiritualist, and gadabout in Portland intellectual circles, Sylvester Beckett erected his fieldstone Gothic cottage, with a regal three-story tower, on the Cape Elizabeth coast in 1874. He died there eight years later, and afterward, a blue human-shaped form that turned to mist was said to waft through the place. In 1982, homeowner Robert Lins told a reporter about a painting in the kitchen that wouldn’t stay put and a feeling of being gripped by “unseen hands” in the living room. The door between his bedroom and the tower wouldn’t stay closed, he claimed, so he nailed it shut — the nails supposedly flew out again. Psychic Alex Tanous, who taught parapsychology at the University of Southern Maine, said at the time that he sensed spirits in the house (which remains privately owned and is the site of a new artists’ residency, Hogfish), particularly Beckett’s. “This was . . . his heaven,” Tanous told the reporter. “Anyone intruding on that is certainly going to confront that man.”
The Kennebunk Inn
This 1799 home built for Phineas Cole, Kennebunk’s first tanner, gained a two-and-a-half-story wing when it became The Tavern hotel in 1928; in the late 1930s, the name changed to The Kennebunk Inn. After innkeepers Arthur and Angela LeBlanc took over on a Friday the 13th in 1978, a server who claimed to be psychic refused to go into the basement on account of a presence she felt there called “Cyrus.” “We pooh-poohed it and laughed,” Angela told the Boston Globe in 1991. Then, they discovered that a poet named Silas Perkins had worked at the inn as a night clerk and died there in 1952. The LeBlancs and subsequent owners began attributing strange happenings — falling wine glasses, lights and music turning on — to Cyrus/ Silas. Once, Angela said, three mugs levitated off a shelf and struck a bartender in the head. “That kind of made a believer out of me. I was seated at the bar when it happened.”
George Ingraham built this vernacular Georgian around 1735, and Edward Emerson expanded it in 1760 by connecting a 1710 structure moved from elsewhere in town. Now a house museum (currently closed for repairs after a car crashed through the front wall) operated by the Old York Historical Society, it has functioned as a general store, tavern, tailor shop, post office, and home. In 2003, former OYHS caretaker Dana W. Moulton III told the Portsmouth Herald about a night he stopped to use the bathroom in the house: “As I was in there, I heard the door down the passageway squeak. I looked and it was open. I heard footsteps, thump, thump, coming toward me and thought — I’m out of here.” Once outside, he reached through a door to reset the alarm and “my hand instantly became freezing cold.” Even his dog got a weird vibe: “She’d be happy everywhere we went, but there she’d go crazy, barking and scratching.”
Wealthy Portland shipbuilder Major Hugh McLellan reportedly spent $20,000 to build his 1801 brick Federal with a columned portico and Palladian window before losing his fortune in the wake of the Embargo Act of 1807. The house, now owned by the Portland Museum of Art, was purchased by state representative Asa Clapp (for a measly $4,500) in 1820, followed by General Joshua Wingate and U.S. rep Lorenzo De Medici Sweat. A few decades ago, psychic Tanous visited the house and its PMA-owned neighbor, the 1832 Greek Revival Charles Quincy Clapp House, built for Asa’s son and Wingate’s daughter. Tanous perceived “a high military person” and had “the strong impression . . . of an old sailing ship” in the buildings. In the McLellan-Sweat mansion, where Lorenzo’s wife, Margaret Jane, was said to throw lavish parties, Tanous also heard 19th-century music and felt spirits whirling around him — dancing guests?