My wife Penny and I, and our dog and cat, live in a wonderful old Maine farmhouse built about 1830. We share our home with an assortment of ghosts of those who have lived there in the past. The arrangement seems agreeable to them, and certainly is with us. It is like having permanent houseguests who are polite and don't require much entertaining. From time to time the farmhouse ghosts let us know that they are around as we hear, see, smell or otherwise sense their presence, but they are never a bother.
People we tell about our resident ghosts react differently. Some who don't believe there are such things as ghosts just nod their heads and humour us, clearly convinced that we're either pulling their legs or that we've gone over the edge. Those who believe in ghosts pay rapt attention and seem envious that they don't have a spirit of their own to talk about.
We should have been suspicious when we were looking to buy the place and the people then living here volunteered, "You'll like it here," they said. "There are no ghosts or anything to bother you." This statement was unsolicited and came right out of the blue. We thought nothing more of it and bought the place. We immediately fell in love with the old farmhouse and started to restore it, and to learn more about it and the people who were born, lived, and died here.
Some in town had strange tales about the place, like the neighbor who swears she saw a man standing in the front doorway two weeks after he had died in the house! Someone who had lived here recounted how he saw something fly through the air as he was lying on a couch in the living room.
Our first strange encounter was when we started to move in. It was dark and cold with a stiff wind when we arrived with our first load of furniture and household goods. While Penny unpacked the boxes in the kitchen I went out to the trailer in the driveway to get another armload. Climbing over the pile of snow at the entryway, I was anxious to get everything unloaded and get inside where it was warm. It was annoying to find the door locked when I came back in with my next load, and I had to knock to have Penny unlock it. "Why did you lock the door on me?" I said. "I've got a lot more boxes to bring in." She said she hadn't touched the door, and if the door was locked I must have done it myself.
I carefully checked the door to make sure it was unlocked and went out again, only to have the door locked again when I tried to come in. This happened three times before finally the door stayed unlocked. We attributed it to an old lock that was malfunctioning and nothing more.
Knocking at the Door
That same weekend I was out in the fields taking down fencing from the previous tenant's horses and Penny was in the kitchen. She heard three raps on the door, and thought I had locked myself out again. When she opened the door there was nobody there, and she could see me way out in the back pasture.
Since then other people have also heard knocking on the door, and there is never anyone there. One fine warm spring day a friend of ours, Marilyn, was in the kitchen when she heard three knocks at the kitchen door. When she went to the door to check there was no one there. She went outside to see if perhaps someone was out in the driveway; there was no one there either. However, she did hear tires screeching in the road in front of the house. Their big golden retriever, Goldie, had wandered out of the back yard and had picked a warm spot in the middle of the road to have a nap. The sounds from the road that Marilyn heard were cars were coming over the blind hill and swerving to miss the dog. Alerted by our helpful ghosts she was able to run out and drag the dog back to safety before anything happened.
The man in the barn
Three different people at different times have seen an older gentleman at the barn, with a long beard. He is usually wearing overalls, and once was seen with a straw hat. Twice he has been seen in the loft, once standing there and once just sitting on the edge of the loft hanging his legs over. The third time he was out by the side of the barn, by the stonewall. Goldie used to stand in the barn and stare up at the loft wagging her tail, with a ball in her mouth as if she were waiting for someone to play ball with her.
I've never seen the man in the barn myself, but one night I was out there working and saw a small, sparkling light out of the corner of my eye. It disappeared each time I focused on it, but would come back when I turned away. I finally stopped and explained to thin air what I was doing, and after that the light went away. Apparently I'd satisfied its curiosity. Both the son and grandson of the farmhouse builder had long beards, and I wonder if perhaps one of them is watching over the place.
The lady in the window
Some friends were having a picnic in the back yard under the big oak one summer. One of the party looked up at the upper back bedroom window and saw a lady in a long white dress standing there. Her hair was tied up in a bun, and she was gazing out the window at the back yard. "Look, there's someone here to see us," she said, and pointed to the window. When everyone else looked up, the lady in white had disappeared.
Lights in the attic
For more than a year it was not uncommon to come back to the farmhouse at night and see the attic lights blazing. At first I thought that I must have left them on when I was working up there, cleaning out the leavings of several generations who had lived here. But when I made certain that the lights were off, they would still come on by themselves. We learned in researching the history of the farmhouse that a schoolteacher and her husband used to live here, from about 1930 until 1947. As the stories go, she was a strong-willed lady and when she was mad at her husband would go up into the attic and stay for long periods. We soon tired of the lights coming on at odd times, and one night I went up to the attic and sat down and asked her if she would please stop doing it. I explained that we were living in her house now and what we were doing to settle in. I felt pretty foolish doing this, but the lights never came on again by themselves.
A few months after my talk we had an electrician rewire the upstairs and attic, and he said that the old light switch was faulty. All I know is that the problems with the lights stopped as soon as I had my little talk and not when the place was rewired.
Sounds, smells, and pranks
Penny has heard old-time music like at a party, voices and laughter, and smelled maple syrup. Others have heard women talking, and children laughing. Some have been awakened from a sound sleep to hear footsteps and jumping sounds on the stairs at night. Marilyn described it as sounding just like kids were running down the stairs two steps at a time, and then jumping over the banister at the bottom.
Otto, a contractor staying with us, was unable to open a door at the foot of the stairs in the living room one day. He had just come through the door and it had worked fine, but it was if something heavy was leaning against it and he had to push with all his strength to get it open. When he got it open there was nothing blocking it. Later we found that a person had died there and his body had been found slumped up against the same door. For a while the ghosts seemed to be playing games, and would open all the cupboards and cabinet doors in the bathroom. We would close them all and leave the room, and come back to find them all open again. They have calmed down, however, and haven't done that for several years.
Our main contractor, Paul, was here alone one night when he felt a firm hand on his shoulder - not threatening, just comforting. Goldie didn't stir from her sleep on the floor beside him. We've had some help understanding all of this from Gloria Nye, a friend who deals with such things. She had been referred to us by an acquaintance in Portland as someone who was sensitive to the spirit world. She toured the place, and talked to us about her impressions. Her insights and visit seemed to calm our permanent guests. Since then, we have not felt threatened by anything that has happened.
We accept that we are not alone at the farmhouse. However, they were there first and are welcome to stay as our permanent houseguests as long as they would like.
Last updated December 19, 2004
Copyright © 2004, Allen Crabtree
Copyright © 2004, Allen Crabtree
This article was edited and published in the Neighbors Section of the Portland Press Herald on November 10, 2004 under the title "Living with some friendly ghosts", Copyright © 2004, Portland Press Herald, used here by permission