People want to believe Roy Wilhelm was a German spy, that he fed secrets to submarines in Portland Harbor during World War II by flashing lights from his chalet high on a hill in Western Maine.

It’s a fantastic story. Frances Pollitt gets that. But the truth is even more intriguing.

Wilhelm was a New Jersey man who entertained and drew thousands to the backwoods of Stoneham. Who sent regular telegrams and wired money to Israel from the general store. Who left a million dollars in his will to the Bahai Faith. Who was, indeed, investigated by the FBI.

Seventy years ago, Wilhelm raised gardens and goats, and more than a few local eyebrows.

“He has this German name and he’s living in this back, rural town,” Pollitt said. “During World War II people are afraid and he’s sending these telegrams at the local store over to Israel.”

Those telegrams: work-related.

The flickering lights: child’s play mistaken for Nazi code.

And the chalet with sweeping views that don’t quite extend all the way to the sea? For sale.

‘Who turned him in?’

Wilhelm was born in Ohio in 1875.

He was a green coffee broker and importer, according to Pollitt, a Bahai who lives in Fryeburg and works at the Maine Historical Society. She’s done quite a bit of research on Wilhelm.

When his mother converted to the faith, Wilhelm had no interest in joining, Pollitt said. “He was quite a Wall Street industrialist. He had no room for any kind of strange religion in his life.”

But in 1906, when his mother wanted to travel to the spiritual center in Israel, he didn’t want her going alone. “When he met (leader) Abdu’l-Bah in Palestine, his heart was really turned around and he became a Bahai,” Pollitt said.

The religion, founded in the Middle East in 1844, emphasizes oneness and a universal God.

Wilhelm became well-respected among Bahais, serving as the organization’s longtime treasurer. It was work that took him all over the country and attracted so many visitors when he retired to Stoneham.

He started building Evergreen Lodge, his three-story, log chalet on the side of Speckled Mountain, in 1931 and finished it the next year. He raised cows and Swiss goats in nearby barns.

Well-dressed and proper, Wilhelm was the sort of man who watered his flower beds in a suit and tie, said retired historian and professor Robert C. Williams.

Pollitt said Wilhelm was known as a generous, welcoming man. He never married; didn’t have children.

She said she talked to a man who summered on nearby Kezar Lake, who as a boy would take a flashlight out to Rattlesnake Island with friends. He would flicker it off and on.

“Sometimes Mr. Wilhelm would blink at them,” Pollitt said. “That’s how the rumor got started, from that little game Mr. Wilhelm played with the kids on the lake.”

It raised enough local suspicion that in 1942, someone called authorities, said Williams, the author of “Lovewell’s Town,” a history of Lovell.

“What I want to know, who was it in North Lovell who turned him in?” Williams said. “Of course, that’s whited out in the FBI files.”

Files note flashes of light “in the direction of Portland Harbor in a manner that would indicate signaling,” but after several interviews over several years, the FBI deemed him harmless, Williams said.

Pollitt imagines it was a painful experience for Wilhelm. With his frequent guests and all of the local people who worked on his farm, people should have had enough contact with him to learn about the real man, she said.

But, as a 2003 piece for the Lovell Historical Society points out: “A Bahai leader seeking privacy and spirituality in the Maine woods was much less intriguing than a putative German spy.”

When he died in December 1951 at 76, he left about $1 million (the equivalent of $8 million today) to the Bahai Faith “for humanitarian purposes toward doing some share in healing a desperately sick world,” according to Sun Journal archives.

He was posthumously awarded the rare Bahai honor “Hand of the Cause of God” and buried in his Stoneham hillside. The place was sold to pay for holy land around the Shrine of the Bb in Israel.

His chalet hasn’t been the same since.

‘Sterling qualities,’ rumor

The last residents there were a mama bear and her cubs.

Megan Hamlin manages the Evergreen Valley Timeshare Ownership Association in Stoneham, property that includes the long-defunct Evergreen Valley ski lodge and Wilhelm’s chalet.

After his death, no one stayed there for a long stretch, she said. In the 1970s it was restored but has largely sat empty since.

“For the day, it was pretty impressive,” Hamlin said.

Wilhelm captured hydropower from a local stream. He surrounded a fireplace with large quartz stones and made a fountain above the mantle. Each of five bedrooms had its own sink.

Today, the wood floors, with spots of rot, are in remarkable shape. An intricate birch railing, yellowed with age, still rings the second floor. A big wagon wheel chandelier hangs over a dining room table. Views from a large porch go on for miles.

“It’s still salvageable; just in 10 years, it won’t be,” Hamlin said.

The chalet doors are left unlocked – better that the public walk in to check it out than break a window trying, she said.

Wilhelm’s goat barn is nearby, a sturdy two-story structure that Green Berets retrofitted in the late 1970s. Stalls were turned into bedrooms with a dozen-plus bunk beds that remain. A clip in the Sun Journal archive said the Army used it for a “winter warfare operation” (learning to ski and survive in the snow.)

The entire property, owned by developer Bob Bahre, is for sale for $2.8 million. Among other things, it includes the old ski lodge, a 51 percent interest in the timeshare company, a nine-hole golf course, 1,700 acres and the old chalet.

“We’d certainly listen to a decent offer,” Bahre said. “(The property) is so big it kind of scares people.”

New owners would have to string power and replace the washed-out road to the chalet, currently accessible by a steep, half-mile hike. Not too many people head up there, Hamlin said, although they’re welcome. She said the route is part of an official trail that continues up the mountain.

Wilhelm’s granite headstone with an inscription that notes his “sterling qualities,” “saintliness,” and “outstanding service” is difficult to find among the woods below the chalet.

Like the truth behind the man, it requires a little searching out.

“The (spy) rumor may still be the one thing people know about Roy Wilhelm if they hear the name,” Williams said. “Rumors are funny things.”

Roy Wilhelm built his Evergreen Lodge to mimic a Swiss chalet and featured five bedrooms and two indoor bathrooms.

Megan Hamlin, manager of the Evergreen Valley Timeshare Ownership Association, points out where smaller pieces of rose quartz had been chipped away by vandals over the years at Roy Wilhelm’s Evergreen Lodge in Stoneham. Wilhelm was a convert to the Ba’hai faith who built the home in 1932 and was thought to have been a German spy by the locals during World War II because of his cryptic weekly telegraph messages.

Megan Hamlin walks through what was once Roy Wilhelm’s barn on Speckled Mountain in Stoneham that was converted to barracks in the late 1970’s for use by the U.S. Army to house Green Berets during training exercises.

Roy Wilhelm finished his Evergreen Lodge in 1932 with all the amenities of the time, including electricity and indoor plumbing.

Dining table in front of a fireplace flanked by larges pieces of rose quartz in the first floor of Roy Wilhelm’s Evergreen Lodge in Stoneham.

Refrigerators sit opened in the kitchen of Roy Wilhelm’s Evergreen Lodge in Stoneham.

Roy Wilhelm finished his Evergreen Lodge in 1932 with all the amenities of the time, including electricity and indoor plumbing.

Roy Wilhelm built his Evergreen Lodge to mimic the style of a Swiss chalet.

Roy Wilhelm’s barn on Speckled Mountain in Stoneham where he once raised Swiss goats, Ayrshire cattle and German Shepard dogs.

Roy Wilhelm’s Evergreen Lodge on Speckled Mountain in Stoneham.

The view from Roy Wilhelm’s Evergreen Lodge is quite spectacular on a clear day.

Roy Wilhelm’s Evergreen Lodge featured forced hot-air heat from a wood furnace.

Iron hinges and details on the doors of Roy Wilhelm’s Evergreen Lodge add an air of mystique to the place.

An old stove sits rusting in the basement of Roy Wilhelm’s Evergreen Lodge.

Megan Hamlin explores one of the five bedrooms in Roy Wilhelm’s Evergreen Lodge.

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