In Episode 288 Jeff Belanger and Ray Auger hike up to Maiden’s Cliff near Lake Megunticook in Camden, Maine, where they say the ghost of a young woman still haunts the ledge. Some people witness the horrific fall that killed the girl back in 1864 playing over and over again. Today there’s a large white cross and plaque marking the spot where young Elenora French lost her life.
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[HIKING IN WOODS]
RAY: Megunticook Lake in Maine is really pretty.
JEFF: It is! We parked by Barrett’s Cove Public Beach in Camden—just a few miles up Route 1 from Rockport. And the trails here are pretty easy.
RAY: So we’re hiking up the trail to the cliff that overlooks the lake?
JEFF: We are.
RAY: It’s a great day for a hike. As we get higher, the views of the lake just get better and better.
JEFF: We’re heading for that white cross up there at the edge of the cliff.
RAY: Yup, I see it. Usually when we see a cross placed somewhere unique it means someone died there. Is that the case here?
JEFF: It is. They call this place Maiden’s Cliff, and the cross marks the spot where a young woman met her doom. They say her ghost still haunts these cliffs.
JEFF: Hey I’m Jeff Belanger.
RAY: And I’m Ray Auger and welcome to Episode 288 of the New England Legends podcast. Thanks for joining us on our mission to chronicle every legend in New England one story at a time.
JEFF: Whether it’s ghosts, monsters, UFOs, roadside oddities, or weird history, we’re chasing it. And we can’t do it without you. So please subscribe to our podcast right now. You can find us wherever you get your podcasts, and contact us anytime through our Web site to tell us about your own strange local legends.
RAY: Before we go searching for the ghost of Maiden’s Cliff in Camden Hills, Maine, we want to take just a minute to tell you about our sponsor Nuwati Herbals!
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RAY: Okay, Jeff. I see the white cross. I mean, you can’t miss it. It’s at least 20 feet tall and attached to a small cement foundation. There are some guide wires securing it to the ground. I can imagine it can get windy up here, so the wires keep it from blowing over.
JEFF: Right. That makes sense.
RAY: The hike up here from the bottom took us about 30 minutes from the parking area. Not a bad hike at all. So Megunticook Lake sits at the base of Megunticook Mountain. And the top of the cliff is about 800 feet above the lake. There’s no question a fall from the top would be… well, it would be very bad.
JEFF: And in our experience BAD often leaves a mark for decades and even centuries after. A haunting. Locals will tell you they sometimes see a young woman walking around up here. Or even more horrifying, they’ll see a young woman wandering near the top, and then she disappears over the edge.
RAY: I can’t imagine seeing someone go over the side. That would be horrifying.
JEFF: In some versions of the story, they say the woman jumped to her death because she was a bride left at the alter by a man who ran off before their wedding, and she couldn’t take the embarrassment. A different version is that the bride jumped because she was being forced to marry a man she didn’t love. Other versions say she was unlucky at love—the man she loved didn’t love her back—so she jumped to her death off of a cliff that was knows as Lover’s Leap. To find out what happened, let’s head back to 1864.
RAY: It’s May of 1864. The United States has been embroiled in a Civil War for just over three years now. Here in Maine, we’re a long way from the front lines, but you can still feel the tension. Plus, plenty of Mainers are down south fighting for the Union Army. So even if you can’t hear cannon fire up here, there’s plenty of concern.
JEFF: It’s Saturday, May 7th, and spring is springing. It’s a great day to be by the water on Lake Megunticook, or go for a walk. We’re not the only ones taking a stroll down here by the water.
RAY: No, I can see a few others in the distance. So, the most obvious feature around the lake is this giant cliff on the eastern side. Some of the locals call it Lover’s Leap.
JEFF: There are many lover’s leaps all over the place.
RAY: There are. I think almost any cliff where you can easily walk to the top, get’s that nickname at some point. This cliff is pretty accessible too. There are various trails that will take you to the top in a short amount of time. It’s great place for a hike.
JEFF: It’s about 2 in the afternoon. A lovely, breezy day. There are a few people out enjoying the lake. It’s the kind of early spring day that offers a glimpse of those warm summer days coming…
[GIRL SCREAMING IN THE DISTANCE FADING AND THEN STOPS]
RAY: What was that?!
JEFF: Look up at the cliff!
RAY: I see some people looking over the side. It looks like someone is trying to climb down the rocky face.
JEFF: Oh no… I think someone went over the side.
RAY: Something just feels wrong.
JEFF: From this distance it’s so hard to tell what happened. But yeah, I think something bad went down.
JEFF: By nightfall, a small group of people arrive on the cliff face to carry someone off the mountain. I can only imagine the worst.
RAY: More days pass and word starts to spread that a young woman fell from the cliff and died. People can only imagine what happened. Whether she ended her own life or if it was something more sinister.
JEFF: The victim of the fall was Elenora French. It would take some time later before we heard what happened from someone who witnessed the event. The rumor mill is hard at work. The story spreads. But Elenora’s oldest sister, Antilla, was there.
SISTER: My father’s name was Zadoc French and I was the eldest of the 12 children. We lived at what is now Lincolnville Beach. That day myself and the school teacher, Miss Hartshorn, were getting ready to drive to Lincolnville Center to see some friends when little Elenora coaxed her mother to go with us. After dinner, a young man, Randall Young, invited us to go on the mountain and the four of us climbed Megunticook from the Lincolnville side. We did not realize that we were over the boldest cliff on the range until Mr. Young told us so, and he said he would find a big rock, and roll it down over.
While he was looking for a rock Miss Hartshorn and I were sitting down and little Elenora was rambling about us. I remember exactly how she looked. Her hat had blown off, and with it the net, and when I last saw her she was sitting on a rock near the edge of the cliff, putting on her net. I turned to speak to Miss Hartshorn. I heard a scream. I looked where Elenora was sitting and she was gone. We were dazed for a moment and then ran to edge of the cliff, but could not get near enough to look over. Mr. Young climbed down the face of the cliff to where Elenora had landed, nearly 300 feet, they say, from where she fell. She was still alive and not a bone was broken, but she was injured internally and died at 12:30 that night.
I don’t know how my sister came to fall. I shall always think that a puff of wind took her hat and she fell over in going after it.
RAY: Elenora was 12 years old when she died. And that brings us back to today.
JEFF: It was a few years later that a wealthy local man named Joseph B. Steams was so moved by the story that he erected a white cross on the top of the cliff. It was soon after that people started calling this place: Maiden’s Cliff.
RAY: The white cross put up by Mr. Steams could only take so many Maine winters before it began to fall apart. But someone would always replace the cross. In 1947 another more substantial cross was put up in its place and that one lasted until 1980, when a new, much bigger cross weighing 600 pounds was put up. This one was 24 feet tall and 12 feet wide.
JEFF: In 1986, two men named Roy Brown and Sam Dyer carried a donated monument up here and installed it next to the cross. Go ahead and give it a read, Ray.
RAY: Okay, it says: Elenora French. On May 7, 1864 this 12 year old farmer’s daughter fell to her death from this cliff. According to legend she was here as a member of a Maying party and fell trying to catch her wind-blown hat. This cross erected in her memory. (BEAT) So does that settle it? She was diving for her hat?
JEFF: So a Maying Party is where people get together to gather flowers, sing, and dance to celebrate May Day, the start of the summer season. Typically that’s May first, and Elenora’s sister made no mention of going Maying, so we can’t verify that part. But the breeze blowing the young girl’s hat off… I mean, that’s probably what happened, but our best witness, Antilla, didn’t say for sure. That was her assumption. By the way, we found the sister’s account in the July 14, 1915 Lewiston Sun-Journal. The story was about how they were about to open the Megunticook Turnpike to automobile traffic and the road passed right under the famous cliff where Elenora died.
RAY: Though the cliff is about 800 feet tall, it’s not a sheer face. They suspect Elenora first fell about 100 feet to a step in the rock, and then fell another 200 feet below that. They say she didn’t break a bone, but obviously she suffered some horrific internal injuries.
JEFF: Today the cliff is called Maiden’s Cliff. But the memories of Lover’s Leap don’t fade easily. That mixed with the story of the death, and then the white cross allowed people to run with whatever version of the story they heard. And today, people claim to see young Elenora’s ghost reenacting her final fall. Or they claim to see a young girl walking by the top of the cliff and suddenly she disappears. The cross and the ghost both serve as a warning to all who see it: Take caution. Someone has died here before.
RAY: And that brings us to After the Legends where we take a deeper dive into this week’s story and sometimes veer off course.
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We’d like to thank Lorna Nogueira for her voice acting talent this week. Thank you to our sponsor Nuwati Herbals, thank you to our patreon patrons, and our theme music is by John Judd.
Until next time remember… the bizarre is closer than you think.