With Halloween little more than a week away, thoughts inevitably turn to stories of the spirit world, and Maine’s lighthouses are as much a part of that fascination as the scary old abandoned house at the end of the street.
For more than two centuries, reports of supernatural hauntings connected to grisly tales of tragedy, both fact and fiction, have surrounded the iconic shoreline beacons of the Pine Tree State much like the fog that they battle with their guiding lights.
Of these stories, perhaps none is better known or more entertainingly told than the tale behind the alleged hauntings of Seguin Lighthouse, just off the coast of Bath. The lore, in truth, may be more fantasy than fact, but that hasn’t stopped the story from gaining national attention, according to Jeremy D’Entremont, a maritime historian and president of the board of the American Lighthouse Federation, based in Rockland.
“It is probably the most famous ghost story about a New England lighthouse,” he said.
D’Entremont, who has studied lighthouses in New England and nationwide since the 1980s, said it’s not surprising that supernatural stories spring up around them. They have always held with them a certain mystique, due in part to their isolation on distant islands or hard-to-reach outcroppings. Those who worked there, he said, had a lonely life. D’Entremont said he delivers lectures every year in October about haunted lighthouses and tickets sell out every time, which he said is a testament to the public’s fascination with the subject.
“I think it kind of sparks our imagination,” he said. “I think it makes us wonder what life was like. It was a scary life.”
The legend of Seguin Lighthouse: A morbidly entertaining fiction
The story attached to Seguin Lighthouse reads like the script of a horror film: In the mid-1800s (no one can confirm the exact date), the lighthouse’s new keeper and his wife (their names are also unavailable) moved onto the island. To entertain them during the inevitable long, lonely nights, the keeper arranged for a piano to be brought to the lighthouse for his wife to play.
However, either the keeper’s wife only knew one song or only had sheet music for one song (the story differs depending upon who tells it), so she played that one song over and over, turning what should have been a source of comfort for the keeper into a source of aggravation. He slowly went mad before finally breaking down one night and taking an ax first to the piano, then to his wife, and finally himself.
While those with macabre sensibilities may enjoy recalling the tale, D’Entremont said he has researched the story for years and found no evidence to support it whatsoever. Historical documents clearly indicate the names of the lighthouse’s keepers throughout the 19th century, he said.
“There’s no record of a keeper dying there,” he said.
D’Entremont added that there are no newspaper accounts from the period of any sort of murder-suicide taking place there, which is odd considering such an occurrence would surely have been remarkable enough to make headlines.
“There’s no record of anything like that happening there, and there would be a record,” he said.
Today, the lighthouse is maintained as an automated working beacon and museum open to the public, but legends persist that one can sometimes see apparitions resembling the keeper’s wife on the island, and many have reported hearing piano music there.
At Wilson’s Drug Store in Bath on Tuesday morning, clerk Maryellen Spear, 62, said she has lived in Bath for 40 years and used to own a cottage on Popham Beach.
When asked if she believed Seguin Lighthouse was haunted, she grinned and said, “I don’t personally know that it is, but I’ve heard the stories.”
She said she hasn’t been out to the lighthouse herself, and has never seen or heard anything supernatural, but she doesn’t immediately discount reports from others who say they have.
“I do and I don’t. I mean, I’m not afraid of it. Some people are attuned to it,” she said.
Even D’Entremont cannot entirely ignore the legend, despite the lack of facts backing it up. D’Entremont recalled speaking to a federal inspector, who was not from Maine and did not know the stories alleging Seguin was haunted when she went out to inspect the lighthouse about 15 years ago. Nevertheless, he said, she reported hearing piano music.
“When she heard the music, she said it sounded like a memory,” he said.
One of many such tales
Whether the story of the couple’s murder-suicide came first, or was invented later to explain the mysterious phenomena, D’Entremont can’t say, but Seguin is not the only lighthouse with its share of ghost stories.
One island, Boon Island, off the coast of York, has a very real tragedy associated with it. D’Entremont said the Nottingham Galley, a vessel from England bound for Boston with a cargo of cheese and rope, broke up on the rocks off the island in 1710 (the island’s first lighthouse wasn’t built there until 1811). The captain, John Deane, and his crew of 13 survived the wreck, but four men died in the ensuing weeks the crew spent on the island waiting to be rescued.
Decades later, according to D’Entremont, a member of the U.S. Coast Guard, Bob Roberts, was assigned along with two other men to be the lighthouse’s keepers in the 1970s. He told D’Entremont that he always felt someone was watching him when he was outside the lighthouse. Roberts recalled one day when he and one of his co-keepers were out fishing, while the third keeper was ashore, the men rushed to get back to the island when the weather turned.
“Somehow the light came on by itself. They never did figure it out,” D’Entremont said.
Even Owl’s Head Lighthouse is not immune. People have been known to see footprints in the snow or dew on the walkway there that they can’t explain, and D’Entremont recalled speaking to a man once who had been the lighthouse’s keeper in the early 1980s. One night, he said, the keeper awoke to the shock of his life.
“He very distinctly saw an old man’s face looking at him in the room,” he said.
Since 1990, all lighthouses in Maine have been automated, but while they no longer need full-time keepers, most have caretakers, and yet more stories surround the caretakers of Goat Island Lighthouse, just off Kennebunkport.
Best friends Scott Dombrowski and Dick Curtis worked on the island until Curis died in a boating accident in 2002. He had told Dombrowski that “When we die, we’re gonna haunt this place,” D’Entremont recalled.
Dombrowski could not be reached for this story, but in a video on YouTube dated Sept. 19, 2012 and produced by the Kennebunkport Conservation Trust, Dombrowski talked about his own supernatural experiences since Curtis’ death.
Dombrowski said he was giving a tour to a neighbor when the neighbor’s friend, who claimed to be able to sense the presence of spirits, told him Curtis was there and trying to speak to Dombrowski. She told him, “He wants you to know he’s safe, he’s at peace, there’s nothing to worry about,” he recalled, and said he will make himself known electronically.
Not long afterward, on a cold early winter day, Dombrowski was resting in a recliner at the lighthouse, which was chilly due to the heater that he said hadn’t worked in years. Dombrowski recalled saying, “Dickie, if you’re here, give me some heat,” whereupon the heater spontaneously turned on.
“It warmed up the room, I fell asleep, and it never worked again,” he said. “So, you make up your mind, but I am convinced.”
Dombrowski also recalled a period of about two years where the lighthouse’s electric foghorn would go off spontaneously, despite the Coast Guard replacing the fog detectors nine different times. It even went off once when its power had been disconnected, he said.
“So again, you tell me,” he said. “What do you think?”
D’Entremont himself, while maintaining the detached bemusement of an academic, added that he has had his own paranormal experiences at other lighthouses outside of Maine, and would never outright dismiss accounts of spiritual sightings at the lighthouses along Maine’s shores. They are a part of the lighthouses’ history, whether they are true or not.
“I don’t think they’re crazy. I have to believe there’s something to it,” he said.