Podcast 349 – The Haunting of Happy Hollow

In 1905, the Happy Hollow settlement in West Athens, Maine, made the news for being haunted by the ghost of Bill Knights.

The Haunting of Happy Hollow in West Athens, Maine.

In Episode 349 Jeff Belanger and Ray Auger explore West Athens, Maine, searching for the former site of Happy Hollow, a shanty town that made the news back in 1905 when the ghost of a man they called Uncle came calling every night. Multiple witnesses were spooked!

Read the episode transcript.


Produced and hosted by: Jeff Belanger and Ray Auger
Edited by: Ray Auger
Theme Music by: John Judd

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*A note on the text: Please forgive punctuation, spelling, and grammar mistakes. Like us, the transcripts ain’t perfect.

RAY: It doesn’t get much more rural than this, does it?
JEFF: No, Ray. It doesn’t. West Athens, Maine, is little more than the intersection of a few roads located about two-and-a-half miles northwest of the town of Athens, which is not much bigger. This area is pretty close to the DEAD center of Maine.
RAY: Okay, I don’t like the way you said “dead.” (BEAT) There are only a few houses out here. Most of them are trailer homes, and even those are spread pretty far apart. I see cars and trucks that are obviously being worked on… or abandoned. We just passed a dilapidated house.
JEFF: This is the kind of place where no one can hear you scream…
RAY: Annnnd now I’m nervous.
JEFF: You should be, Ray. Because this area was once known as Happy Hollow. It made the news for being so haunted, multiple residents claimed they saw the ghost every night.
JEFF: I’m Jeff Belanger.
RAY: And I’m Ray Auger. Welcome to Episode 349 of the New England Legends podcast. We’re on a mission to chronicle every legend in New England one story at a time. Whether it’s ghosts, monsters, aliens, roadside oddities, true crime, or the just plain weird, we want to know about it. And we need your help! If you’ve got a strange story you think we should check out please email us anytime through our Web site. We always appreciate hearing from you.
JEFF: We’ll explore the haunting of West Athens, Maine, right after this word from our sponsor.
RAY: Like we said earlier, Athens, Maine is a small town. It was incorporated in 1804 back when this region was still part of Massachusetts. Most of the early settlers were Revolutionary War veterans. The town’s population peaked in 1870 when there were 1,540 people living in the roughly 44 square miles that is Athens. Today the population is 952 people.
JEFF: Small town.
RAY: Small town. In fact, it’s so small, it doesn’t even have its own police station. Though it does have a volunteer fire department.
JEFF: Sometimes big events occur in small towns that shake up those communities in a big way. This is true in West Athens, but not for reasons that you’d think. So let’s head back to 1905 and see what happened.
RAY: It’s April of 1905. Theodore Roosevelt is president, and America is booming. The economy is expanding fast, there’s jobs to be had all over, and everything is growing. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t bad neighborhoods where people either don’t feel like they’re a part of the economic boom or they’re just opting out. That’s the case in the Brown-Tuttle settlement here in West Athens, Maine.
JEFF: It’s called Brown-Tuttle because those are the two biggest families in this small region of shanty houses and shacks. Drunken brawls happen on the regular around here, so when someone starts hollering about something, folks don’t pay it much mind. Folks who live here call this place Happy Hollow.
RAY: Rufus Brown Jr. has lived here all of his 25 years so far. Back in August of 1903, Rufus, or Rufie, as his family and friends call him, married 12-year-old Sadie Wentworth. The two were neighbors in this settlement and now they’re married and living next door to Sadie’s parents. Sadie is now 13-years old, and to make life more colorful… Rufie is the jealous type.
JEFF: It’s Thursday, April 20, and 59-year-old Bill Knights is hanging out in the settlement here in West Athens. Though Knights is from Bingham, Maine, he spends most of his time here at Happy Hollow – often staying with his friends John and Mitt Avery. Folks here call him Uncle. He’s got friends here, drinkin’ buddies, and he can usually find a party.
RAY: Tonight, Uncle found Rufie and Saidie, and a bunch of hard cider they bought from a neighbor.
RAY: For hours all three pound back hard cider after hard cider. As the night wears on… they’re all in their cups, and feeling pretty good.
RAY: But Rufie, doesn’t like the way Uncle is staring at Sadie. He warns him to cut it out. Still, they go back to their drinking.
JEFF: Yeah, the more Rufie drinks, the more agitated he’s getting. And Uncle still seems enamored with young Sadie.
RAY: I see that. Some people can’t handle their booze. Rufie strikes me as an angry drunk…
RAY: Oh man…. Rufie is accusing Uncle of looking at Sadie a little too long again.
JEFF: Boy he IS the jealous type… and he’s drunk.
JEFF: Where is Rufie going?
RAY: It looks like he’s heading next door to his father-in-law’s house.
RAY: Oh man… Rufie has his father-in-law’s shotgun.
JEFF: Uncle isn’t that dumb or that drunk. He remains inside the house with Sadie.
JEFF: Is he crazy!? Rufie just shot at his own house! The shot hit the wall and roof.
RAY: Okay, Uncle is getting up now to head outside and try to diffuse the situation.
RAY: Rufie just hit Uncle in the head with the butt of his shotgun!
JEFF: And Uncle just went limp on the ground.
RAY: Rufie is still hitting him!
JEFF: (AWAY FROM MIC) Come on, Rufie… he’s had enough!
RAY: I don’t like the looks of this.
JEFF: Me neither. I don’t think… do you…
RAY: No, I don’t think Uncle’s alive. He’s not breathing. Oh God… look! His skull is crushed in.
JEFF: It’s awful. A few neighbors have gathered to see what was going on, but no one seems all that concerned.
RAY: I can see Rufie explaining to his father-in-law what just happened.
JEFF: And a neighbor just left to go fetch Deputy Sheriff Ernest Cook.
RAY: It’s early Friday morning when the Sheriff arrives at Happy Hollowe with Coroner Addison, and a newspaper reporter. It doesn’t take long for the coroner and Sheriff to determine some folks got drunk, there was a fight, and Bill Knights wound up dead.
JEFF: The most shocking thing to me is folks around here are giggling about it. There’s a dead man right there on the ground and some of these neighbors don’t care at all.
RAY: Rufie doesn’t seem to care that he’s getting arrested for murder, either.
JEFF: It’s not the first time he’s been arrested.
RAY: Rufie’s father is here now too ,and he doesn’t seem to care that his kid is getting arrested.
JEFF: Rufus Senior has also been arrested before. This is just another day in the Settlement. A lot of people here have criminal records. Jail. Here. They figure what’s the difference?
RAY: It’s Saturday when the story hits the Daily Kennebec Journal. The reporter who covered the story was not very kind to the people in the settlement. He wrote, and I quote, “The murder is only the culmination of a series of deeds which have wrought long on the patience of the people of Athens, and the end of the settlement in not far distant. None of the families have any more sense of decency, morality, or cleanliness than cattle, and though always docile when confronted by officers of the law, they are little better than wild beasts when under the influence of liquor.”
JEFF: Considering no one in the settlement is going to rat on Rufie, the Sherriff is left with testimony of Rufie saying it was a drunken fight because Uncle was trying to force himself on Sadie. When no one argues with that story, it’s tough to press the case for cold blooded murder. So the country attorney files charges of manslaughter.
JEFF: Months pass. It’s now early August, and it’s clear here in Happy Hallow that the story is far from over. Folks are nervous… especially in the evening because now there’s a ghost! Bill Knights is haunting almost everyone who lives here.
RAY: When Knights… or Uncle… as they called him, would visit here for days at a time, he often stayed at the home of John and Mitt Avery. And they believe the ghost of Bill is STILL here.
RAY: (WHISPERING) Not only have they seen his ghost walking around the settlement looking just as he did when he died with his head broken in and face bloody. But inside the house Bill still makes his presence known…
JEFF/RAY: Woah did you see that?!
JEFF: Mitt’s bed covers were just yanked off of him by some unsee force!
RAY: Everyone is spooked. They’re staying in at night since Uncle’s ghost comes around. Plenty of people in the settlement have seen him.
JEFF: The haunting even makes the August 8, 1905 Lewiston Evening Journal newspaper. Ray, check out these quotes.
RAY: One neighbor agrees that the ghost of Bill wanders each night. One man said, and I quote, “I haint ‘fraid of ‘im—I never done nothin’ to ‘im.”
JEFF: Sure, but he didn’t do anything to help when Rufie flew into a drunken rage. Some suspect that the ghost of Knights is haunting Rufie Brown worst of all, and the nightly visits are chipping away at Rufie’s sanity. Ray, read this quote from Rufie in the article.
RAY: Okay, it says quote, “Rufie Brown, Jr., who is charged with killing Knights says he sees Ole Bill almost every night, but adds, ‘Damn him! I hain’t fraid of ‘im.”
JEFF: In September of 1905 Rufus Brown, Jr. plead guilty to manslaughter and was sentenced to 20 years in state prison. And that brings us back to today.
JEFF: The Brown-Tuttle settlement or Happy Hollow, sort of dissipated in the years that followed. But it’s not like the area filled up with homes and businesses. It’s still pretty rural out here.
RAY: The most shocking thing to me was that no one seemed to care about Uncle’s murder. They thought enough of this guy to call him Uncle, but could care less when he was murdered for allegedly looking at another guy’s child wife?
JEFF: 13 years old, too. That’s wrong on a lot of levels.
RAY: It is! But marrying a 12-year-old wasn’t illegal for a lot of years. Thankfully times changed.
JEFF: We found the story of the haunting first, and then went digging for stories on the crime. This was one of those areas that only locals knew much about, and if you weren’t in the settlement, you likely avoided it. If you don’t believe you have much quality of life, then a human life isn’t worth much. To me that’s the biggest tragedy. They laughed when Bill Knights was killed, they were scared when Bill’s ghost returned to haunt them, but that’s just how it goes. Maybe the ghost of Bill Knight hung around just long enough to finally clear out Happy Hollow.
RAY: But don’t you clear out yet. Because that takes us to After the Legend where we take a deeper dive into this week’s story and sometimes veer off course.
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To see some old headlines and photos related to this week’s story, please click on the link in our episode description, or go to our Web site and click on Episode 349.

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