In Episode 324 Jeff Belanger and Ray Auger explore the shores of Bristol, Maine, to search for the site where, one foggy night in 1888, a witness claims a ghostly pirate ship sent a crew of spirits ashore to dig for lost treasure in an ancient graveyard. This spooky account made the newspapers and had the town on edge.
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RAY: Ahhhh Pemaquid. It’s a pretty spot here on this Bristol, Maine, peninsula.
JEFF: It is. The Pemaquid lighthouse is down the way to our south, there are boats coming and going from Pemaquid Harbor right near us, and Pemaquid Beach is a short walk to our south. This place is quintessential Maine.
RAY: For sure. We should grab a lobster roll while we’re here.
JEFF: I’m always down for a good lobster roll. Do you go cold with mayo like a lobster salad?
RAY: Noooo. I’m all about luke warm with butter on a hotdog bun.
JEFF: A purist. I respect that. Though I appreciate both, I agree on warm with butter. But we’re here in Bristol, Maine, looking for more than just lobster.
RAY: I figured.
JEFF: We’ve come by the water searching for a ship with a crew of pirates who, according to one local woman, once lurked by these waters and shore.
RAY: Pirates. Love that!
JEFF: But these weren’t just any pirates, Ray. According to this local, this was a phantom ship with a ghostly crew.
JEFF: Hello, I’m Jeff Belanger.
RAY: And I’m Ray Auger, and welcome to Episode 324 of the New England Legends podcast. Thanks for joining us on our quest to find every legend in New England one story at a time. We’re always searching for ghosts, monsters, aliens, roadside oddities, true crime, and all the other weirdness that makes New England like no other place.
JEFF: We get most of our story leads from you! So please reach out to us anytime through our Web site where you can also find dates for my ongoing story tour, plus dates to see Ray’s band the Pub Kings, and a link to buy my brand new book: The Fright Before Christmas. It’s available in hardcover, as an eBook, and as an audiobook wherever books are sold. Make it a spooky and weird addition to your holiday season.
RAY: We’ll go searching for the ghostly ship of Pemaquid right after this word from our sponsor.
RAY: Okay, Jeff. We’ve searched for ghost ships before.
JEFF: We have.
RAY: There’s the ghost ship of New Haven, Connecticut.
RAY: And there was the ghost ship Dash in Casco Bay, also in Maine.
JEFF: That’s right! But none of those ships were pirate vessels.
RAY: As we’ve learned on past adventures, New England had more than its share of pirates and skallywags.
JEFF: So true. Pirates lurked anywhere there were ports and cargo. The golden age of pirates was considered to be from about 1650 until 1720. There were pirates before and after that of course, but governments got pretty tough on the practice. Governments don’t take kindly to it when you cost them money.
RAY: No. They take that personally.
JEFF: True. But this ghostly encounter with a ship and crew dates back to 1888.
RAY: Which is well after the golden age of pirates.
JEFF: Right, but this spectral crew may have been searching for something on shore from centuries earlier.
RAY: Then let’s head back to 1888, and search for ghosts.
RAY: It’s late July of 1888 here by the shores of Pemaquid, Maine. And locals… well the locals are a little rattled. There’s talk of ghosts!
JEFF: Last night an old woman whose lived in town her whole life had a sighting she’ll never forget. She told a neighbor who told another, and now everyone is buzzing about it. It’s enough to draw in a reporter who wants to cover the story. Let’s follow him to the old woman’s house.
[KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK]
RAY: May we come in?
JEFF: The old woman is hunched over. She’s got glasses on. But you can tell the way she moves she’s not frail. Can you tell us what you saw last night?
OLD WOMAN: In a dense fog I distinctly saw an old witch, with a broomstick, sweep past my door. The witch had bottle-green eyes, which she rolled strangely about in their sunken sockets, while, with diabolical obstinance she repeated these words: “Old lady, old lady, the ghosts of the slain on the ancient city of Pemaquid come hither tonight. Give them some old ale and a hearty supper.”
[GHOSTLY WITCH CACKLE IN THE BACKGROUND…]
RAY: What was that?!
JEFF: I heard it too. The old woman said after the witch shrieked, she disappeared in the fog and faded away in the direction of the seventeenth century graveyard that straggles over the distant lawn.
OLD WOMAN: I hardly knew what to make of the occurrence. At first I thought it might be some of the neighbors playin’ a joke on an old lady, and I tried to drive the ghost from my mind; but when night came somehow I couldn’t sleep. I sang pennyrail tunes, said my prayers and sang again, but couldn’t sleep. All of a sudden, just after the clock struck midnight…
[CLOCK BELLS 12 TIMES FADING]
OLD WOMAN: I heard the most unearthly screams, out-of-doors. I hid my head in my clothes, but the noises kept growing nearer, until it seemed someone was in the room, and I shivered and shook, awfully. Pretty soon all was quiet again, and I ventured to uncover my head and look about me. A faint star shone through the window, and on looking out, I saw the harbor, the lights, and nothing more. Musterin’ up courage, I said to myself: ‘’Twas nothing but cats,” but that’s when my eye caught a glimpse of a sight I never can forget. I see it now just as plain as I see you. Right down in the harbor I saw a ship all covered with light, and a great red horse standin’ by the main mast. She seemed to be full of people, some of whom were coming down her sides and going ashore in a dory. I could hear them talk, as the window was raised. They used a language I never heard before, and seemed to obey a whiskered man who wore a gold-decorated coat and cockade.
RAY: This woman seems visibly shaken by what she saw. Please, ma’am. Go on.
OLD WOMAN: The light around the ship was so bright that I could see everything that was goin’ on. What to do I knew not. I called to John, but he was dead asleep and snoring in another chamber.
JEFF: John is her old husband.
OLD WOMAN: I didn’t dare to make any more noise, and so I stood stock still and watched. The phantom crew moved noiselessly on shore, and floated with bright torches, past the old Centaur on the hill, up the lane, and over the field. I went to a back window. They went on and on, until they reached the old cellars of ancient Pemaquid. Then they rattled shovels, and dug, and dug, and dug. It was almost dawn when, suddenly, they rattled their tools into a phantom cart. I thought I heard the chink of doubloons. They moved noiselessly back to their ship, and before the stars had gone out, the ship vanished like mist, and I saw them no more.
RAY: Could you have been dreaming?
OLD LADY 6: Not a bit of it. I was as wide awake as I am now, and what I tell you about I saw just as clear as I see yonder lighthouse at this very moment.
JEFF: Thank you for sharing your experience with us.
RAY: I believe her.
JEFF: I do too. She saw something. Should we take a walk over to the cemetery to see if anything is dug up?
RAY: It’s worth a look.
RAY: There’s graves here that date all the way back to the 1620s and 30s when the earliest settlers arrived. There aren’t many markers that are readable, but you can see the field stones.
JEFF: Nothing looks amiss. I don’t see any fresh holes dug up.
RAY: I don’t either. Could it be the ghostly crew dug up a ghostly treasure?
JEFF: It could be. I guess it will have to remain a mystery. And that brings us back to today.
JEFF: Everything we know about this story comes from the August 4, 1888, Lewiston Sun-Journal from Lewiston, Maine. The article is pretty straight-forward. It’s mostly a quote from the unnamed old woman who shares her tale.
RAY: I like the coverage.
JEFF: What do you mean?
RAY: The article doesn’t scoff or editorialize. The first line reads: At old Pemaquid a most pertinacious ghost appeared last week… a reporter interviewed a much spectacled old lady residing near ancient Pemaquid.
JEFF: Pertinacious. That’s a big word. I had to look it up! It means holding firmly to an opinion or a course of action.
RAY: Right. Just an intro, and then the old woman’s story. Imagine the papers run this story and maybe others come forward saying they witnessed something similar.
JEFF: Right. When it’s reported as news you might speak up. If the writer had torn the witness apart or made a joke of it, then people who did see something may keep their mouths shut. Having worked in paranormal television for the last 15 years, and observing how paranormal television shows have helped bring this subject into the mainstream, I wonder where we’d be if there were more articles like this one throughout history.
RAY: Even though we can’t prove this woman saw something, sometimes the discussion is the most important part.
JEFF: Amen. And that brings us to After the Legend where we take a longer look at this week’s story and sometimes steer off course.
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The way the media covers the paranormal hasn’t changed much over time. This article came out 135 years ago. It was objective. Others from the same time period poke fun. It’s the same today. I went on a popular Boston radio show where they brought up a somewhat recent article about someone who claimed they had sex with a ghost. It’s tough to take that seriously.
We’d like to thanks Lisa Strykowski for lending her voice acting talents this week. Thank you to our sponsors and our patreon patrons. And our theme music is by John Judd.
Until next time remember… the bizarre is closer than you think.