Saturday, November 24, 2007

Maine/Quebec's lake cryptid needs love!

Guest post by Loren Coleman:

Ponik Needs Your Love

Quebec and Maine share aquatic cryptids seen in Lac Pohénégamook, which are “supposedly” some of “the ugliest-headed monsters around.” It may be time to send them a little love.

Investigate Further:

Photo caption: "The mayor of Escourt, Mr. Gaston Painchaud, indicates from his balcony the place where in 1957 he saw the monster in Lake Pohénégamook."

Images from forum discussion of Ponik!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Thanksgiving Tukey

Maine Strangeness may be found in the least-expected crevasses and corners of our dear State, even (and surely) among documents and archives. A small detail may draw our glimpse- such as it does, at the Portland Public Library, this time in the Portland Room's map collection.

Indeed, though many Miles from Standish, notwithstanding Pilgrimage nor Courtship, and far from Plymouth (having Forded no water beside that of Back Cove), we are replete with Thanksgiving for the stuffing that now brings Tukey's Bridge to our feasting table. And that's no gobbledy gook!

While conserving an 1871 map of Portland, printed by F.W. Beers (in New York, take note), a modest detail caught the attention of the Archivist...
(Photos can be clicked to be enlarged)

...first in the smaller map, giving the layout and legend of the following larger maps, and...

...then in the detailed map, the name of Tukey's Bridge- a name that has existed from 1796 and continues today...

...has been printed throughout the Beers Atlas as Turkey's Bridge. An anomaly we have not seen on any other map of the city- old or new.

Just below is a picture, correctly labeled, as printed by the City of Portland, for the 1897 Municipal Annual Report, showing how the bridge appeared in its era as a swing-bridge which allowed passage for the city's trolleys and traffic between Munjoy Hill and East Deering.

John Tukey was among the settlers in the Portland region when, in 1744, it was still known as Falmouth. Tukey was a shipwright, and among his 14 children, all born in Portland, was William Tukey who had been among the builders of the Portland Head Light, the first lighthouse built in Maine.

Here is the present manifestation of the bridge, still as ever known as Tukey's Bridge. Above is a view from Munjoy Hill and below, a view from Baxter Boulevard.

And, finally, a detail from a new map...

(The "R" has been correctly (and thankfully) dropped- something that rarely happens in Maine??)

Thursday, November 15, 2007

A Small Plague of Rabid Cats in Norridgewock

The State of Maine's Health Officer released an alert about rabies on November 8th after a second rabid cat was found in Norridgewock, Maine.
To date, three domestic cats have tested positive for rabies, two in the town of Norridgewock and one in Greene; during 2006, six domestic cats tested positive for rabies. An average of one domestic animal per year has tested positive in Maine since 2002.
The continued incidence of rabies among domestic animals has prompted the State’s Health Officer to remind Mainers to be aware of animals acting aggressively or not exhibiting their normal behavior, and to vaccinate their pets.

Dora Anne Mills, MD, MPH 207-287-3270
Or John Martins, Director
Employee and Public Communications (207) 287-5012

For more information on animal rabies in Maine, see the Maine CDC website or call 1-800-821-5821.

Photo Essay including Strange Maine store & Geno's

Thomas Michael Corcoran has a great style of journaling -- little photo collections and collages made of everyday passing-bys. In this entry in particular, he visits Brunswick and then Portland, and gives a little mini-tour of Congress Street, including the Strange Maine store (shown here) and Geno's Rock Club. Good stuff! It caught my eye, so I thought I'd point it out to any interested parties.

If you like what you see, he has plenty of other entries, mostly based Augusta.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

A Ghoulish Word from Glenn

No Maine autumn would be complete without a word from Maine’s own spooky artist, Glenn Chadbourne. Here we bring you a selection from an interview with the fiend himself. I’ll post the interview on the website as I transcribe it, so keep your eyes peeled!

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As the month of August waned, I and intrepid Strange-Mainiac Stella Hell set out on a sunny day on our quest to visit Glenn in his well-appointed den of darkness. As we settled in to the Chadbourne house’s darkly furnished livingroom for our little chat, it seemed inevitable that the subject of cemeteries would come up.

SMG: In “The Hairy Tale of Lou Garoo” from your comic Farmer Fiend’s Horror Harvest, the characters talk about places that are “just off.” Are there any places like that you’ve encountered or heard of?

Glenn: There was a spot off the railroad tracks when we were kids here in Newcastle that was an old overgrown boneyard out there, a graveyard from way back when. There was an urban legend that one of the stones glowed. So when we were kids, around Cub Scout age, we’d creep out there, but no one would head for the stones or dare to go up and check them out, we were wimps.

According to the town of Newcastle’s Comprehensive Report (dated 2/6/06), “At least thirty-six cemeteries have been identified in Newcastle. Most are old and private with the oldest dating back to 1758.” The town today has a population of about two thousand living souls.

Newcastle isn’t the only place in New England where tales of a glowing tombstone have proliferated. A close neighbor of ours, Portsmouth, New Hampshire, has one of its own which is well documented online and elsewhere (for instance, see or read Curious New England: The Unconventional Traveler’s Guide to Eccentric Destinations by Joseph E. Citro and Diane E. Foulds).

At the time I interviewed him, Glenn was up to his neck in artwork for the much-anticipated second volume of Secretary of Dreams, a fully-illustrated collection of Stephen King stories published by Cemetery Dance. The work looks terrific. Glenn showed us the stack of black and white pages, as well as a handful of gorgeous full-color pieces that will be featured in it. The book officially went on sale the other day -- I placed my pre-order as soon as I got the e-mail notice! You can order your copy at Cemetery Dance.

Stay tuned for a contest here on the blog -- we'll be giving away a couple of copies of Glenn's album by Nick Noxious and the Necrophiliacs, courtesy of Morbideus of Maine's own Postmortem Productions.

The Headless Halloween of 1940

This story made its debut in the October 2007 issue of the Strange Maine Gazette. I'm still hoping to do further research on the story, and would be very pleased to hear anything from folks who have any information or recollections about the events of that Halloween.

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Halloween, while the haven of horror movies, pranks, and thrilling, terrifying darkness filled with unknown things, is still viewed as a mostly harmless occasion to indulge in the shadow world that is forbidden territory the rest of the year.

On Halloween night in 1940, however, events in Rockland, Maine, took a turn for the worse, and over the next week or so a story emerged in the Rockland Courier-Gazette that was as grim and grisly as today’s worst Hollywood imaginings.

John B. Phelps, 54, got in an argument with his 16-year-old stepdaughter Pauline Young yet again. Only this time, things went horribly, horribly wrong for Pauline.

Nine days later, police found Phelps wandering the streets near the police station around 2 o’clock in the morning, “bleeding profusely” from a suicide attempt, and ready to confess to his step-daughter’s murder.

The details of his hospital bed confession to Sheriff C. Earle Ludwick shocked an already wary town. A good number of the details created further questions in people’s minds.

For a week or so before the incident, Pauline had been avoiding her home at 28 Crescent Street, staying with a friend. On Halloween she returned home, planning to leave shortly thereafter. She never had the chance.

Phelps locked the doors of the house to prevent her leaving before her mother could get home from her job at the almshouse, although later he would tell Thelma Phelps that Pauline “ran out the back door.”
“She cursed me,” said Phelps, “and came at me with a butcher knife. I threw a hammer at her and it struck her on the forehead. [...] I didn’t know what to do with the body, but finally removed the head with an axe and a knife. The body I dragged down the cellar stairs, and wrapping it in burlap bags put it out through a cellar window under the piazza.”
Neighbors reported hearing four screams followed by a “dull thud” at the time of the incident. This did not necessarily agree with Phelps’ version of the events. Both of Pauline’s younger siblings were at play in the home’s dooryard during the time of their sister’s murder.

In the week after Phelps’ confession, neighbors spoke freely to the press, revealing that Phelps had acted “wild” the day after the killing, and did such peculiar things as asking Mrs. Alice Rich if she “noticed an awful smell,” and offering police the use of his pickaxe and shovel during the early days of their search.

The police search following Phelps’ confession uncovered five of the six burlap bags that he claimed to have placed Pauline’s body in. Although his story on when exactly the dismemberment occurred differed from telling to telling, the location in which the bags had been left was accurate. It must have been unnerving to realize that when they had come by earlier in the week to look for clues to the girl’s disappearance at the request of her mother, those grisly packages had been there the whole time.

The question that remained uppermost in local authorities’ minds was where had Pauline’s head gone? Taking the police to the northeast corner of the Maine Central wharf on the afternoon of his confession, John Phelps pointed into the murky depths of the Atlantic and cried, “There’s where I threw it; down there!”

Days passed, divers were called in, the harbor was dragged thoroughly, but no head was found. Stories circulated among local kids about where it could be. Adults pondered whether Phelps was cunning enough to have hidden it somewhere undiscoverable in order to hide “marks which would prove that more than a single blow was administered.”

Arraignment of Phelps occurred a week after his confession, at which time he pled “not guilty.” He spoke no other words during the court session. By the time of this turn of events, efforts to uncover the head were being abandoned, as the diver engaged to pursue the missing appendage had continued to stay away, and authorities decided that “the head has either become embedded in the soft bottom, or has drifted away from the wharf…”

The following Wednesday, Thelma Phelps announced plans to retire to her husband’s hometown of Danforth, Maine, with their two youngest children. Presumably Pauline’s younger sister, 13-year-old Evangeline, remained in the Pownal State School (later to become known as Pineland) where she resided at the time of the murder. Here ends the paper trail as it exists in the Rockland Public Library’s collected file.

I picked up the trail again in Home Front on Penobscot Bay: Rockland During the War Years 1940-1945 by Merriam, Molloy, and Sylvester. In the chapter titled “Crime of the Forties,” the story continues with Phelps’ indictment on February 13, 1941.

According to Home Front, Phelps pleaded guilty to murder, and two other charges, of mutilation and disposing of a human body, were filed. He served a life sentence at Maine State Prison, only released on parole “some thirty years later … to an out-of-state nursing home, where he died.”

Home Front co-author Theodore W. Sylvester, Jr., grew up playing on the streets of his neighborhood, which included Crescent Street, home of the unhappy Phelps family. He speaks of it in the chapter “Youthful Recollections”:
They never found the girl’s head. There was a lot of speculation and stories going around. The one that impressed us most was that the Phelps home was forever haunted, and that the head was buried under the porch. It was literally years before any of us would walk past the house – day or night. Sometimes we would race past the house on our bicycles, but that was the extent of our courage.
The book’s information about the case isn’t limited to dates and anecdotes. Among the interviews in Home Front is that of Cecile “Cis” Moore and her husband James A. Moore. Jim came to Rockland in 1940 as a Portland Press Herald correspondent. That first year he found himself present at Pauline Young’s autopsy at the Burpee Funeral Home.

The reporters didn’t actually get to watch the autopsy – the view was blocked by a screen. However, they “could hear the doctor describe the wounds to a nurse, who recorded the findings.” The doctor borrowed the knife of one of the reporters, Ray Sherman of the Bangor Daily News, part way through the operation, though after washing it off before returning it to Ray he remarked on its dullness.

By this point the newsmen must have been thankful they were spared the raw imagery. The stench alone was described as “nearly unbearable.” Cis recalled that it was months before Jim could eat a hamburger again.

To this day, the folks of Rockland who grew up with these events still wonder about what happened. The few who have tried to do research have come up with very little information. The story seems to have hidden itself away with Pauline’s missing head.
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Special thanks to K. Gordon, who tipped me off to this tale, and to Dan O’Connor at the Rockland Public Library, who helped get copies of relevant newspaper clippings to me.

All material in this article (including photos), unless otherwise cited, can be found in issues of the Rockland Courier-Gazette from November 1940. I’ll be digging into this more, but so far it’s been a bit of a boggy march with lots of dead ends.

As a side note, I would highly recommend the book Home Front on Penobscot Bay: Rockland During the War Years 1940-1945 by Merriam, Molloy, and Sylvester to anyone interested in what coastal Maine life was like during World War II.

Monday, November 05, 2007

EVENT: Ghost Story performance WED 11/7

Having just arrived back from the ghost story themed World Fantasy Convention of 2007 in Saratoga Springs, NY, I find it my great pleasure to have brought with me the eminent British performer, Robert Lloyd Parry. He is here in Portland to tell you a tale, two tales actually... tales of delicious dread and ghastly ghosts.

He has brought to Portland his show "A Pleasing Terror," in which he performs a telling of two M.R. James stories. The atmosphere is perfect -- a darkened room, lit only by candlelight, allows those in the audience to develop a wonderful sense of suspense as the tales emerge and come to life in the shadows around them. Believe me, it is not to be missed. It is a must-see for any fan of ghost stories, Victoriana, or storytelling.

WHAT: One Longfellow Square and Seanachie Nights presents A Pleasing Terror
WHO: performed by Robert Lloyd Parry
WHEN: Wednesday, November 7th, at 8:00pm
INFO: Tickets are $10 and are available at or by calling 207-761-1757. Also available at Bullmoose Music locations. Free parking available behind Joe's Smoke Shop.

To find out more about Mr. Parry and the performance, please visit his website at

M.R. James is perhaps one of the most famous (and deservedly so) writers of ghost stories in the history of supernatural literature. If you haven't encountered him yet, please do pick up a copy of any collection of his short stories and find yourself a few spine-tingling delights for a cold November night's reading. Brrr!