Island Ghosts, Zombies And Scaring Oneself Silly

text by Kaitlin Webber for The Working Waterfront

Courtesy of the Gwen May Collection, Swan’s Island Historical Society.

The “Cloud House,” Atlantic, Swan’s Island. This was once the home of Walter and Etta Stockbridge Joyce. It is supposedly haunted by their daughter Bernice (1894-1959), who received a brain injury as an infant when Etta fell downstairs while carrying her. The name Cloud House comes from a cloud design painted on the shutters. Courtesy of the Gwen May Collection, Swan’s Island Historical Society.

Everyone has at least a couple moments in life when they realize they are doing exactly the sort of thing which, if done by a movie character, would make you think “Oh man, they’re about to die.”

I live alone on an island in Maine. Red flag! But don’t worry; it’s fine. This is just a preface to tales of the haunted underbelly of Swan’s Island. I know it’s not ghost story season, but I’ll be back on the mainland by October so I’m going for it.

To the best of my knowledge, the Wheaton home (my current residence) does not house any malignant spirits. One possible exception is the mouse that drowned in my toilet, whose wronged spirit may have sent its brethren on the mission of vengeance that resulted in my seven-grain cereal being stashed inside a salt container. In the world of unpleasant mouse encounters, this is what’s known as a “twofer.”

The animals on Swan’s Island have a dark sense of humor. Last year the island raccoons decided there wasn’t enough food above the ground and started to tear up patches of turf to dig for grubs. Hunks of brown grass were piled up all over the place, exposing the dark soil below. On island lawns, this was unsightly. In the Rose Hill Cemetery, it caused at least one person (me) to immediately think, “OhMyGodZombies!”

Like any respectable place, Swan’s Island has its share of ghost stories. The book “Peripheral Visions” by Judith Monroe is full of local legends: the woman who walks through the clam flats holding a baby, the ball of fire that appeared in front of two kids, the beckoning woman at the lighthouse. Everyone’s heard of something or other.

Carolyn Martin talked to me about an experience she had out here when she was around 12 years old:

“I saw my grandmother. Everyone thinks I’m crazy, but I wasn’t. I was settin’ down by the kitchen table, and I said, ‘Well, hello.’ She was standing on the cellar door. Daddy says, ‘Who are you talking to?’ I said, ‘Nan, grammy.’ He says, ‘There’s nobody there, there’s just Rosie coming up the road.’ She come up to tell him his mother had passed away. And I swear I saw her standing there. Nobody ever believed me.”

You’ll find divided opinions on ghosts out here like you will anywhere. Plenty of “hauntings” can be traced back to pranks, such as the “cowsucker”—a white sheet pulled across the road in front of passing cars.

Carolyn has a sense of humor about it. She also told me about a night out with her friends:

“Janet and Barbara and I was with Gayle in her father’s truck. And they had told us that over to the harbor there was a ghost in the cemetery. So, OK. We go. Well, Barbara was sitting in my lap, and she had on a white kerchief. She turned like that and she started screaming. She saw that white kerchief in that window! Poor Gayle, she hit a tombstone. It was so funny! I never—I told her, I said, ‘Barbara, you idiot, that’s you!”

I think the latter story is the one I’ll keep in mind when I hear clunks in the middle of the night.

Kaitlin Webber is an Island Fellow on Swan’s Island through AmeriCorps and the Island Institute. She is working with the Swan’s Island Historical Society.