Published in the Current
Cape Elizabeth’s resident ghost, the “Lady in White” of Crescent Beach, made a cameo appearance in a lecture at the Cape Elizabeth Historic Preservation Society’s meeting earlier this month.
Bill Thomson of Kennebunk, a retired history professor from Salem Teachers College in Massachusetts, spoke on ghosts and coastal hauntings in New England. He first addressed what a ghost is, explaining that “98 percent of all ghost stories can be explained” by something rational, rather than supernatural.
He told of a Maine landlord who had a hard time keeping tenants in an apartment; all of them complained of an eerie singing sound coming from one particular wall. The tenants blamed a ghost. Eventually the landlord got tired of the problem and took a shotgun to the wall, Thomson said. He discovered an old saw hanging inside the wall, and rubbing against a partly exposed nail in such a way to make a singing or screeching noise.
It is the other 2 percent of ghost stories that interest Thomson, particularly
vivid smells, unexplained noises and voices, moving furniture, appliances going on and off for no reason and apparitions.
He has a theory about visions people have of ghosts: Living people emit energy in “waves,” which intensify at times of great stress. Many ghosts are of people who have died violently, and therefore would have put out a lot of these energy waves just before they died.
Thomson theorizes that those waves remain in the room or building where the person died, “bouncing around.” When other people come into that room and, by virtue of their own psychological situations, become attuned to the frequency of those waves, they see the vision.
He admits it sounds outlandish, but said he didn’t believe in ghosts for a long time, until he began studying them and experiencing ghostly phenomena.
When he was filming a special on hauntings for a TV network, Thomson was in the Kennebunkport Inn, which supposedly is haunted by “Cyrus the Ghost.” When filming a segment, a red ball appeared on a television monitor and bounced all over the screen.
“I never believed in the stuff before I saw it,” Thomson said.
Cape residents have seen their share, too.
Crescent Beach is home to such a haunting. Lydia Clark, a 24-year-old daughter of a Portland businessman, had been sent to Boston to buy a wedding dress. She was returning with her new dress on the schooner Charles on July 12, 1807, when it was caught by
a storm just south of Portland Head, and wrecked on Little Island Ledge.
Clark drowned and washed up on Crescent Beach. Beside her in the morning was her trunk, containing the new wedding gown. Since then, people have seen a figure in white, with an anxious expression on her face, pacing the beach.
There may be houses in town that are haunted, too. Beckett’s Castle on Singles Road may be haunted by Sylvester Beckett, who built the home and died in 1882. While many hotels and bed-and-breakfasts advertise their ghosts to attract spirit-loving guests, most homeowners keep mum about their ghosts, fearful that potential buyers might lose interest or scuttle the deal.
And though there are 11 haunted lighthouses in Maine, none of those are very close by. “Portland Head Light is not haunted,” Thomson said, later confirming that the others are without ghosts, too.