January 02, 2023

Eli Wing's Ghostly Arm

 Eli Wing was born in Wayne, Maine sometime in the early 19th century. In the fall of 1837, Eli took a job at a sawmill in Chesterville. He had recently graduated from a nearby Methodist seminary and wanted to earn some money to attend law school. Unfortunately, fate had other plans for Eli.

One day the owner of the mill, Captain Bachelder, asked Eli to go down and clean the water wheel that powered the sawmill. It had been clogged by weeds and was slowing down the mill's work. Always eager to please, Eli did as he was asked. Since he was new at the job, Eli tried to clean the wheel as it was turning, which was a big mistake. His hand got caught in the turning wheel, and the powerful motion of the wheel tore his arm completely off.

Bachelder and the others rushed to the trap door in the floor. Below them they saw Eli lying face down in a pool of bloody water; his arm was going around and around the wheel, spattering the mill with blood. (Helen Caldwell Cushman, Along Thirty Mile River, 2016)

For a while it seemed like Eli would die, but he was taken to a physician and survived. He worked briefly as a portrait painter, and eventually did attend law school and become a lawyer. Despite only having one arm, he lived to the ripe old age of ninety and is buried in the Wing Family Cemetery in Wayne. 

Eli's severed arm was not taken to the physician on that gruesome fall day. Instead, Captain Bachelder buried it by the river bank that after Eli had been carried off. While Eli went on to become a reputable member of the community, his arm did not. Instead, it became a disruptive spectral force. 

A few days after Eli's accident, two of the Bachelder children went to the river to fetch water. They came back in tears, telling their parents that long white arm had emerged from the river and tried to pull them in. Captain Bachelder was skeptical.

But soon other people saw the arm near the river, including a man who said it poured cold water on him as he was trying to drink from the river. Business began to drop off at the sawmill because people were afraid of the ghostly arm, so Captain Bachelder dug it up and buried it in a stone wall, hoping to lay the arm to rest. 

It didn't work. People across the area began to see the ghostly arm. It knocked on windows in the middle of the night, locked people in outhouses (and occasionally tipped them over), rang church bells, and knocked people's hats off their heads. Although some people even believe the arm had strangled a local woman, many others doubted this, and said the Eli's ghostly arm sometimes did good deeds, like punishing a farmer who stole gravestones or helping people who were outcasts. 

Although the arm was allegedly taken from the wall and buried with Eli Wing after he died, there are some people who say it still haunts the woods and backroads. 


I found this story in Helen Caldwell Cushman's book Along Thirty Mile River: Maine Campfire Tales of the Strange and Supernatural (2016). Caldwell Cushman lived most of her life in Maine, and collected local legends for newspaper articles and radio shows. She passed away in 1986. I first learned about her from Chris Packard, author of Mythical Creatures of Maine (2021).

I really like the idea of someone's ghostly arm flying around causing trouble (and possibly doing some good deeds). It's just such a weird and compelling image! I tried to find more information about Eli Wing, but couldn't find any. Caldwell Cushman claims he was buried in the Wing Family Cemetery, but Find-A-Grave does not list an Eli Wing being buried there. Of course, their listing may not be complete, or perhaps Eli was just a nickname and he's buried under a different name. 

In some ways this reads just like a ghost story, but I also wonder if there was a local tradition of blaming pranks on the arm. If some teenagers tipped over an outhouse, did they deflect blame onto the arm? If someone knocked off someone's hat, did they claim the arm did it? It may have been a joke that local people understood, even if they didn't like it. 

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