In Episode 157, Jeff Belanger and Ray Auger stroll through the Aroostook National Wildlife Refuge in Limestone, Maine, in search of the Vampire House, a Cold War relic leftover from the time when nuclear weapons were stored here at Loring Air Force Base. The Vamp House is a building with secrets: there’s legends of an accident that may have left monsters trapped inside. On this adventure we bring along a former military police officer who was there in the 1980s. It turns out with this legend, when there’s smoke, there’s also fire.
Read the episode transcript.
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Produced and hosted by: Jeff Belanger and Ray Auger
Edited by: Ray Auger
Guest: David Hamann
Theme Music by: John Judd
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Building 260 – AKA The Vamp House at Loring Air Force Base in Maine. Circa 1968. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.
Building 260 Entrance at Loring Air Force Base in Maine. Circa 1968. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.
The Guard Tower near Building 260 at Loring Air Force Base. Circa 1968 – Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.
*A note on the text: Please forgive punctuation, spelling, and grammar mistakes. Like us, the transcripts ain’t perfect.
[NATURE SOUNDS BIRDS ETC]
RAY: The Aroostook National Wildlife Refuge is a gorgeous area, Jeff. The trees, the birds, there’s that pretty pond over there. We’re the only two people that I can see in this remote park today. But… uhhh… I feel a little silly dressed like this. Don’t you think we’re taking Covid-19 precautions a little too far?
JEFF: Of course we wear masks when we’re out among the public, but Ray, the reasons we’re wearing hazmat suits today isn’t because of Covid.
RAY: No? Then what are we worried about?
JEFF: We’re worried about something even more deadly if you get too close. I’m talking about radioactivity.
JEFF: We’re here in Limestone, Maine, less than five miles from the Canadian border, searching for a building with some deep, dark secrets. 1.2 megatons of secrets, as a matter of fact. This is a building that may hold monsters, which is why locals for decades have called this place… The Vampire House.
JEFF: I’m Jeff Belanger.
RAY: And I’m Ray Auger, and welcome to Episode 157 of the New England Legends podcast. If you give us about ten minutes, we’ll give you something strange to talk about today. Though I think we’re going to need at least 20 minutes on this one. Forgive us.
JEFF: Thank you for joining us on our mission to chronicle every legend in New England one story at a time. We do that through this weekly podcast, through the New England Legends television series that you can watch right now on Amazon Prime, through our Web site, and now…
RAY: …And now we continue our mission through our fancy New England Legends app for your smartphone! You can get this app for free through the Google Play Store, or the Apple App Store right now. The app was developed for us by Lauren Middleton of Forest City Marketing in Connecticut.
JEFF: This app is the latest tool in uniting our community of legend seekers. Not only does it give you access to the latest episodes of our podcast, it’s got this super-cool interactive map of New England with pins to every story we’ve covered so far. The map is updated each week as we continue to chronicle new tales. You open the map, it shows you the closest stories to wherever you are right now, and allows you to get direction to each of them. If you’re looking to get out of the house in a safe way, there’s plenty of remote locations and weird tales to check out while you listen to our podcast.
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RAY: So Jeff, we’re looking for a Vampire House in the Aroostook National Wildlife Refuge?
JEFF: That we are. But keep in mind, this refuge only dates back to 1998. Before this was a wildlife sanctuary, this land all belonged to Loring Air Force Base… a base with secrets. Though Vampire House is more of a nickname, in reality the building we’re looking for is a Cold War artifact with some dark history and a frightening legend. This lead came to us through a mysterious email from one of our listeners. This is one of those cases when a person’s credentials made it so we just couldn’t resist digging deeper on a story. So we got this mysterious emailer on Skype.
DAVID HAMANN: Hi, my name is David Hamann, and in the 1980s I was a Security Policeman with the 42nd S.P.F. at Loring Air Force Base in Maine.
RAY: Woah. Okay, so this is a guy in the know.
RAY: So what’s the story?
DAVID HAMANN: The story they would either use to scare everyone, or ohhh, this is what happened, was that in the Vamp House, whatever was going on in there, there was an accident. No one can tell you what kind of accident, no one can tell you what substances may or may not have been involved in the accident, but there was an accident, and they sealed it up, they concreted the whole thing, they welded the door shut, just avoid the building because it was at this point contaminated.
JEFF: And of course there’s the stories of the monsters inside. Or maybe “victims” would be a better way to describe them.
DAVID HAMANN: That was the big legend. There was this huge accident, a couple of radiated bodies, they basically died instantly and they were so contaminated the military just sealed them in there because it was too dangerous to deal with.
JEFF: Man oh man, I have so many questions.
RAY: Me too. We have a lot to cover on this trip. Okay, first, a little more background. David Hamann enlisted in the Air Force right out of high school, after his training, Loring was his first assignment. And it’s pretty critical that we all understand that the main function of Loring Air Force Base was to store and deploy nuclear weapons. So, David, when you got to Loring in 1987, were there still nukes there?
DAVID HAMANN: I suppose it’s okay to say yes since it’s not a huge secret. Yes, part of my duties as a security policeman was to provide security for those assets. What we would call Class A assets. Most of them were of course stored in the weapons storage area which is where the Vamp House makes its appearance.
JEFF: And the Vamp House is why we’re here. We should point out that this structure has been unofficially called the Vamp House for decades, but it’s locals and urban explorers who assumed the name was short for Vampire House. We have a lot to unpack.
DAVID HAMANN: The big story was that it all linked back to the Manhattan Project during World War II and the development of nuclear weapons.
JEFF: If we head deeper into the park here at the Aroostook National Wildlife Refuge, we should be able to see some of the old bunkers and buildings in a clearing.
[WALKING IN WOODS]
RAY: Man, it’s kind of hard to miss, huh?
JEFF: It sure is. Besides the obvious mounds of earth that once covered the bunkers, there’s a two-story cement house right across that field. That must be the Vampire House!
RAY: Okay, that’s just eerie looking out there on its own like that! Let’s head back in time to 1942, and set this up.
RAY: It’s 1942, and we’re 2,111-miles southwest of Limestone, Maine, in the tiny town of Los Alamos, New Mexico—a town that sits just outside of Santa Fe. This is a town with its own secrets. We’re going in to arguably the most top-secret operation in American history. A secret code-named The Manhattan Project.
JEFF: Major General Leslie Groves of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is working with nuclear physicist Robert Oppenheimer and his team to develop a super weapon for the U.S. military. A weapon so large and destructive, it could theoretically put an end to all wars.
RAY: From here we Jump ahead just three years to July 16, 1945 to witness the fruits of Oppenheimer’s labor. It’s almost 5:30 in the morning here at the code name Trinity test site. It’s an obscure and remote New Mexico desert area called Jornada del Muerto. Which translate to: “Journey of the Dead Man.” (PAIUSE) That’s when the clock strikes 5:29 AM.
RAY: And just like that, the world has changed forever.
JEFF: Less than one month later, on August 6, 1945, in Hiroshima, Japan, the United States becomes the first country to drop a nuclear weapon on people. Three days later, it happens again on Nagasaki. The United States is a super power with a super weapon.
RAY: World War II is over less than one month after Hiroshima. But no one is naïve enough to think other countries aren’t hard at work developing the same thing. Though World War II is over, the arms race has just begun. And RACE is the critical word here.
JEFF: Nuclear weapons are dropped from airplanes. That’s the delivery system. So for the United States to defend itself against any kind of attack, the country needs ways to quickly deploy these weapons.
[CONSTRUCTION, HAMMERS, JACKHAMMERS]
JEFF: It’s 1947 when ground is broken for a new military base in Limestone, Maine. Limestone Army Air Field opens in 1950 with a capacity of over 100 B-36 Peacemaker strategic bombers.
RAY: The B-36 is the largest piston-engine aircraft ever built. This plane is HUGE with a range of 10,000 miles, and it can carry over 87,000 pounds of payload.
JEFF: To give you some perspective, it’s about 4,000 miles to Moscow, Russia, from Limestone, Maine.
RAY: Add in a refuel in an allied country, and basically the United States now has the ability to deliver a nuke just about anywhere in Europe and most of the Soviet Union.
JEFF: 1950 also marks the official start of the Cold War. An arms race for superiority and technology. Of course the word “race” makes it obvious that speed is the most important factor here. This base in Limestone, Maine, is going to play a key role. Remember we have over 100 giant aircraft sitting here.
RAY: Annnnd those aircraft need weapons.
JEFF: And you sure don’t want to store nukes too close to all of the moving parts of airplanes, and people working at the base…
RAY: Of course not. That’s an accident waiting to happen.
JEFF: You need to store weapons like that close enough to get to them quickly, but not too close in case there’s an accident or attack. So on the eastern border of the base property, they build the weapons storage area. Originally named Site Easy, it would become known officially as Caribou Air Force Station. A top-secret, maximum security facility on its own, but integral to the main base two miles away.
RAY: Most of the construction at Caribou Air Force Station is underground. Which makes sense. The bunkers that hold nuclear weapons have to be able to withstand an attack, earthquakes, or anything else that can fall from above. There are tunnels connecting these various structures too. Because you may need to move in secret to service or arm these weapons.
JEFF: There are some obvious above-ground structures here as well. There’s concrete sniper towers for added security. There’s other buildings that serve as offices and security facilities. But there are a couple of other strange structures. Like this one officially named: Building 260, Storage Area A.
RAY: This building is both ugly and scary-looking. But not that large. It’s about the size of a three-bedroom house. It’s two-stories of solid concrete. There are concrete rectangles on each side that do look like windows from a distance, but up close it’s obvious they’re mainly just frames. And on the southeastern side of the building there’s a small porch and what looks like a bank vault door. As far as I can tell, that’s the only way inside.
JEFF: From a distance, this whole area could kind of look like a neighborhood. Which is the point—a bit of suburban camouflage. Now, back to Building 260. This structure has walls ten feet thick on the sides, ten feet thick on the bottom, and 20 feet thick at the top. Inside are four rooms or vaults, each with their own doors, and inside those vaults are racks to hold nuclear capsules. These capsules contain the fissionable material the weapons need. They’re like the heart of the nuclear bomb. And Building 260 can hold 60 of these capsules.
RAY: Got it. So all of the actual bombs in all of the bunkers around this facility aren’t much good without these capsules.
RAY: That also explains why these concrete sniper towers are so close to Building 260. This is the key piece.
JEFF: Right. If it’s go-time for nuclear war, someone has to come to Building 260, grab these capsules, then bring them to the bunkers, get the bombs fully loaded or armed, then get those bombs onto the planes at the air base two miles away.
RAY: That sounds like a lot that has to happen.
JEFF: It also sounds damn scary and time consuming, especially if you’re doing that in an emergency. But that’s how it goes in an arms race.
RAY: In 1954, the base is renamed Loring Air Force Base in honor of Medal of Honor recipient Major Charles J. Loring, Jr. Then time passes, and the base grows.
[JET PLANE ZOOMING BY]
RAY: Jet engines replace piston engines. The aircraft get even bigger, with the ability to carry more payload even greater distances. Then Loring is designated a Strategic Air Command base, meaning the country views this base as a key component in its nuclear capabilities. It’s a heavy responsibility for everyone stationed here.
JEFF: During the 1950s, nuclear technology is evolving fast. The thing about races is that it’s about speed, not accuracy. But as the weapons and capabilities start to pile up, the United States government can now focus its time and effort into building bigger, better, and hopefully safer bombs and missiles. Pretty soon, the technology evolves to the point where you no longer need to store the fissionable material outside of the weapon, and that makes Building 260… kind of obsolete.
RAY: Though there’s a lot we don’t know, here’s what we do know. At some point in the late 1950s or very early 1960s, Building 260 is sealed shut. I mean sealed shut in a way that they don’t want anyone ever going inside again. It’s closed. And the people who know what may or may not have happened inside aren’t talking.
JEFF: In 1962 Caribou Air Force Station is officially shut down and ownership is transferred to Loring Air Force base. Many of the buildings are no longer needed, however, the nukes are stored in the bunkers, so security is still tight, it’s just that not so many people are required to service the station like before the former base becomes strictly the weapons storage area. But that building. 260. Those in charge of security can’t stop looking at it. All on its own. Sealed up. There’s rumors of an accident, but no one really can say what happened. Add in some years, and pretty soon security and other personnel authorized to be in this area don’t call it Building 260 anymore. They call it the Vamp House.
RAY: We’re not sure why it’s called the Vamp House. But I did look up the dictionary definition of “vamp.” It’s a noun, and it’s technically the upper front part of a boot or shoe. It’s basically the critical part of the shoe or boot where you might tie your shoelaces. Right where you tie the bow? That’s the vamp.
JEFF: Which kind of makes sense in a weird way, doesn’t it? These fissionable capsule would have been the critical part of the weapon.
RAY: Maybe. Or maybe folks who work on the base heard stories about a monster inside. From here we jump ahead to 1987.
RAY: A fresh-faced kid name David Hamann has been assigned security for the Weapons Storage Area at Loring Air Force Base. He’s heard the stories about the Vamp House. He’s asked around, but no one seems to know anything about it. It’s been sealed up for years, and no one really knows why. But then, on one security detail, David sees something he’ll never forget.
DAVID HAMANN: I was riding a security patrol with a staff sergeant and he and I were sitting in our truck doing what security guys do, just kind of gabbing, and another team, and they weren’t security, another, like environmental services team—military—came into the Weapons Storage Area and they came to the Vamp House. And these two guys kind of walked around with what we sort of assumed were Geiger counters—we never got a close look at their tool, we never got a close look at what they were doing. We monitored them to make sure they weren’t getting close to any of the actual bunkers. So the staff sergeant drives up to them afterwards and he says, “Hey, what’s going on? What’s up with the Vamp House?” The guy – I’ll remember this forever – he just shakes his head and he goes, “You know it’s best just to stay away.” I’m like, “Alright.”
JEFF: Loring Air Force Base is scheduled for shut down by the U.S. Government in the early 1990s, and all of those assets…
RAY: Read: nukes.
JEFF: Right, nukes. Are moved out. But this isn’t the end of the story for the Vamp House. Because sometimes when there’s smoke there’s also fire. And that brings us back to today.
JEFF: So we dug into the story.
RAY: And dug.
JEFF: And dug until we found out some alarming information that makes us believe there may be a lot of truth to the Vampire House legend.
RAY: While it’s not unusual for a team to inspect old buildings for any sign of contaminants before a base is shut down, what is highly unusual is the amount of man-power, effort, and resources that would go into Building 260… or the Vamp House. And the amount of controversy that would get stirred up. What’s even more unusual than that, is when elected public officials like U.S. Senator William Cohen, Senator George Mitchell, and at the time, U.S. Representative Olympia Snowe get involved in an otherwise non-descript concrete building at Loring Air Force Base.
JEFF: This is where the legend of an accident, contamination, and maybe even some people still locked inside start to echo in our heads. And that’s when we uncovered some documents and newspaper articles related to the Vamp House. Ray, we don’t typically do this, but I think we need to travel back in time once again to figure this out.
RAY: Okay, I’m ready. This time we’re heading back to the winter of 1992.
RAY: Picture this, it’s January 9th, 1992. It’s already understood that this base is closing, and the lands are going to be turned over to… someone. We don’t know if it’s the state, the county, or someone else. But we do know the buildings and structures need to be thoroughly checked out before that happens.
JEFF: Which makes sense. So on January 9th, twelve workers are assigned to check out Building 260… better known as the Vamp House. There used to be a pipe that allowed air inside above the vault door, but that pipe had rusted and crumbled shut decades ago. So these workers are tasked with getting inside.
JEFF: The team is drilling a golf ball-sized hole through the many inches of steel reinforced doors when they finally break through. As soon as a hole opens to the inside, the Geiger counter starts buzzing.
JEFF: And now it’s an emergency. The dozen men who had just been exposed to radiation, are immediately taken away for decontamination procedures.
RAY: From one little hole in the building?!
JEFF: Yup. One little hole. And part of the problem is that six of the twelve workers are civilians.
RAY: Civilians not beholden to any kind of secret oath, I’m guessing.
JEFF: No. They didn’t sign up for radiation exposure. The following day, a radiation response team from Brooks Air Force Base in Texas arrives at the site. The thing about radioactivity, is there are tools that can tell you exactly what kinds of particles are in an environment. Not only that, radiation gives off a kind of signature that can even tell you the origins.
RAY: So with the right tools, the folks from Brooks Air Force Base should know exactly what they’re dealing with.
JEFF: Then on January 12th, the Loring Air Force Base public affairs office issues a statement that radon gas was reported outside of Building 260.
RAY: Quick lesson on radon. It’s naturally occurring. If you’re a homeowner, you may have had your home tested for radon before you moved in. Radon gas is odorless and colorless, and quickly dissipates when there’s ventilation.
JEFF: You’re not buying it?
RAY: I don’t think I am.
JEFF: Neither were some of the workers exposed, because pretty soon those elected officials we mentioned earlier?
RAY: Senators Cohen, Mitchell, and Representative Olympia Snowe.
JEFF: Right. They start calling for an investigation. Because they want to know, are neighboring communities in danger? Is drinking water in danger? Farmland?
RAY: We have to remember it’s 1992. Chernobyl was just six years ago. No one wants an event like that here in northern Maine—close enough to the Canadian border to make this an international incident.
JEFF: So the state of Maine gets involved. Now, they do find some radon gas in and around the building. Which is a surprise to no one. You have this building locked up for 30 years, it’s to be expected.
RAY: But now the newspapers have gotten their hands on the story, and the public is concerned.
JEFF: By late January, the Air Force agrees to wait until warmer weather to crack this building open. And they agree to allow civilian state officials to observe.
RAY: Some of the questions these elected officials are asking are questions like: Was radioactive material ever stored inside this building?
JEFF: To which the Air Force can’t officially say. There’s no longer a record of it, so they claim.
RAY: Which could actually be true.
JEFF: Yes, it could. But yeah, if you look at the history, it’s pretty obvious storing the fissionable material is exactly what you’d use this building for.
[BIRDS TWEETING SPRING SOUNDS]
RAY: It’s now the spring. May 21st when it’s decided Building 260 would be pried opened, examined, and then turned over to the Base Disposal Agency.
JEFF: The team involved in this have to go through extra training for everything they might encounter inside. From a radioactive nuclear material spill, to…
RAY: To decades-old radioactive corpses who may have turned into mutant zombie vampires by now?
JEFF: Something like that.
JEFF: So the team cuts through the heavy outer door and takes their first look inside.
RAY: They see a small hallway that leads to four more metal doors covering two rooms on each side of the hallway.
JEFF: They have to cut through each of those doors as well.
[RUSTY DOOR CREAK]
JEFF: They get the first door open and peak inside… Nothing.
[RUSTY DOOR CREAK]
RAY: They get the second door open and shine a light inside… it’s also empty.
[RUSTY DOOR CREAK]
JEFF: The third door reveals the same. But the fourth door gives them more trouble. Still…
[RUSTY DOOR CREAK]
JEFF: They get it open and find some empty shelves inside. They claim all radioactivity and environmental levels are what they expected to find. And that brings us back to today… again.
RAY: Okay, empty shelves in the last room.
JEFF: That stuck out to me too.
RAY: Is it possible way back around 1962, when they’re emptying Building 260 of all of those fissionable capsules that one leaked? Or spilled? And that’s why they sealed the place up in a hurry and got far away from it?
JEFF: It’s possible.
RAY: Could this be a cover up?
JEFF: It could be. If there was a spill and people died, that’s definitely something the military would have kept out of the public. But the fact remains that someone back in the mid-1990s determined this building to be safe enough to turn over into a wildlife refuge because the Internet is filling up with pictures of people exploring all over this building.
RAY: A wildlife refuge officially owned by the U.S. Government.
JEFF: Good point. It is run by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
RAY: Then there are those tunnels underneath this complex. David Hamann explains.
DAVID HAMANN: When you’re kind of a bored security guy you go and explore these things and yeah, my squad and I, we’ve opened a couple of these, looked inside, flashlights around it, and I mean, some of them are extremely decayed, some of them are full of melt water from the snow, I mean they go one all over. And that was one thing, other than, you know, it’s part of the Manhattan Project, no one could ever truly explain why all the tunnels are under there.
RAY: And here we are chasing a Cold War legend that’s still hanging around because a building that looks as strange as the Vamp House is going to beg a few questions.
JEFF: Questions we either can’t answer, or we’re not allowed to answer. Which only adds to the mystery. (PAUSE) We’ll give David Hamann the last word on this one.
DAVID HAMANN: Just stay out of the Vamp House.
JEFF: We love it when, like David, you reach out to us with some strange tale you heard in New England and we get to investigate to find out sometimes there’s a lot more to the story. Feel free to reach out to us through our Web site, through our super secret Facebook group, or through our fancy new smart phone app!
RAY: If you’d like to see all kinds of pictures of the Vamp House and Loring Air Force base just head to our Web site and click on Episode 157. We’d like to thank David Hamann for not only tipping us off about the story, but for taking us through this one. And of course our theme music is by John Judd.
VOICEMAIL: Hi, this is Lauren Middleton from Forest City Marketing. You know, the person who developed the New England Legends app! Until next time remember… the bizarre is closer than you think… in fact, it can be as close as your smart phone!