March 07, 2016

Ghost Stories and Lewiston Maine's Riverside Cemetery

One of the nice things about writing about folklore in New England is that in almost every place I visit there's some weird or interesting story.

Case in point: Lewiston, Maine.

Tony and I are alumni of Bates College in Lewiston, and this past weekend we went up to the campus for a volunteer event. It was nice to visit Bates again, and interestingly someone we met that weekend said he had heard Bates's Pettigrew Hall is haunted. I had never heard that, but I had once read somewhere that the college's Schaeffer Theater was haunted.

Do you see what I mean? I visit one small college campus and there might be two haunted buildings. Fantastic! However, I'm not writing about Bates today. Instead, I'm focusing on Lewiston's Riverside Cemetery, which is a short walk from campus on the banks of the Androscoggin River.


Back when I was a student I went to Riverside with a group of friends. I remember that it was a chilly spring day, and there was still snow on the ground. We hadn't heard any specific ghost stories about the cemetery, but we proceeded cautiously. It was sooo quiet, and we had all watched way too many horror films. There were five of us, and my friend John was bringing up the rear.

I turned around to say something, and noticed that John wasn't there. He had gone missing.

This made my hair stand on end. We were alone in the cemetery, so where had he gone?

It turns out he was hiding behind a gravestone, waiting to jump out and scare us. John was a big-time prankster, so he couldn't resist the opportunities a spooky cemetery provided. He once jumped out from under the bleachers wearing a rain coat and wielding a hockey stick while a friend and I were jogging on the track at night, so the attempted cemetery prank was really a minor one for him.


John felt like something spooky should happen in a quiet cemetery, but apparently some people have actually had weird and unusual things happen to them in Riverside Cemetery. Or perhaps it's not so unusual. Old cemeteries should always have a ghost or two in them.

The clearest account I have read appears in Michelle Souliere's book Strange Maine. Michelle was contacted by someone who shared their experience from October, 2007.

Three people who lived in Lewiston decided to take a walk in Riverside Cemetery on a bright October afternoon. The cemetery is on a bluff overlooking the Androscoggin, and it's a pleasant place to walk. The three sat on a bench overlooking the water for a while before deciding to visit the Libby Mausoleum. The mausoleum is secluded away from the main part of the cemetery in a wooded glen. (Note: Tony and I didn't take any pictures of the Libby Mausoleum on our trip. Sorry about that!)

As they approached the mausoleum they felt a strange, oppressive energy in the air. At this point I personally would have turned back, but instead they continued walking towards the stone structure. One the three decided to try to communicate with whatever entity was possibly present, but didn't receive any response. Well, at least not a verbal one.

The air grew increasingly cold, and one of the trio turned back. The person who had tried communicating with the presence gave up and lit a cigarette. As she inhaled, she heard a cracking noise. The top half of a birch tree near the mausoleum had split off and was falling right towards her! She and her friends ran, and the tree crashed to the ground right where they had been standing.

The three quickly left the cemetery, but continued to sense a strange presence around them for several days.

In addition to her book, Michelle Souliere also writes a blog called Strange Maine. The story about the Riverside Cemetery also appears there, and the comments are really quite interesting. Some people wrote to say that they too have had strange experiences at the Riverside Cemetery, and have photographed orbs of ghostly energy or seen spectral beings. Many others wrote to say that they visit the cemetery all the time and find it a peaceful place, including the Libby Mausoleum.

So is the Riverside Cemetery haunted or not? I'm not qualified to say, but I do think with paranormal phenomena you sometimes get whatever it is you are looking for. Personally, I have always liked cemeteries, and when I was a kid I used to sometimes ride my bike through one near my parents' house in Haverhill. Nothing really unusual ever happened, until one day when I was riding through it with my friend Bobby. We were being loud so I said something about how we needed to be quieter and more respectful of the dead.

Bobby said, "Ha! I'm not afraid of any ghosts."

Wham! As soon as he said it he lost control of his bike and fell off. He scraped up his knee pretty bad. We joked about the situation for a long time afterwards.

Was it a ghost that pushed over Bobby's bike? Again, I can't say, but it certainly does feel like something spooky should happen in quiet old cemeteries.

The grave of a soldier killed at the battle of Gettysburg.

Sadly, one thing that really does happen at the Riverside Cemetery is vandalism. Quite a few stones had been knocked over, which is sad. There is a lot of history in this and other cemeteries, and even if you don't believe in ghosts you should be respectful of the dead. 

By the way, recently I've been the guest on two awesome podcasts. If you want to hear me talk about New England witchcraft (and who wouldn't), check out New World Witchery, an excellent blog and podcast. If you'd rather learn about farming folklore, listen to the Ghost Fawn Farm Podcast. It's planting season so why not learn some strange old Yankee folklore?


Unknown said...

The link for the Ghost Fawn podcast goes to a generic site hosting page - perhaps they're having hosting issues?

Peter Muise said...

Hi Bret! That's strange that their blog and podcast are both down. I listened to it just last week. I'll email them. Hopefully it is just temporary!