Tia Marie Nadeau has fallen through a grave in Lewiston, photographed an abandoned nudist camp in Durham and run, terrified, from a New Gloucester cemetery that she’s vowed never to go back to again — and that’s coming from someone who will go just about anywhere.

She has more than 20,000 followers on her Facebook page, “Quest for the Unknown,” a mix of firsthand, offbeat adventures and general weirdness  of the world.

“My knack for exploring stuff that I probably shouldn’t be entering — which I know I’m not alone — it’s sort of brought me where I am today, which is a lot of fun,” said Nadeau, 37, of Durham.

She had that offbeat curiosity piqued early.

As a young girl, her grandmother would take her and her sister to the Mount Hope Cemetery in Bangor to play. They’d make games of it, like who could find the oldest grave.

“It’s beautiful and huge and amazing. We would spend hours and hours walking around,” Nadeau said. “As I got older and got my license, my sister and I and my cousins would go over there and just spend hours. That cemetery is what got me interested in other cemeteries.”

Today, she’s a member of the Durham Historical Society and the Durham Cemetery Committee, as well as a FindAGrave.com volunteer, photographing and uploading as many graves in town as she can to help others’ genealogy quests.

She and fiance Greg Wilson also belong to Maine Wraith Investigations, a ghost-hunting team out of Lisbon Falls.

A few weekends a month they road trip, Googling “oddities” on the way. That often means lots of hiking and lots of out-of-the-way places.

“Any time we see a dilapidated house, I make him pull over,” Nadeau said. “I’m always looking for cemeteries. If we drive down the road, if there’s a road that says ‘Cemetery Road,’ I’m like, ‘Can we drive down there?'”

The Sun Journal asked Nadeau to share a few of her adventurous highlights: 

The now-naked nudist camp

She’d heard the rumors, but it wasn’t until a friend confirmed its existence and provided directions that Nadeau got to see the old place for herself in the Durham woods last month.

“It wasn’t something that was advertised, so there wouldn’t have been any signs, ‘Nudist camp this way,'” she said. “You had to be invited and shown how to get there — nobody-could-just-find-it type of thing.”

She believes she’s pieced together that the camp was active in the 1960s, closed in the 1970s and had maybe a dozen members. A dozen loud members.

“They used to be rowdy. The voices would carry through the woods,” Nadeau said. “The dirt road (leading to it now) just sort of ends and turns into a trail. I’m sure it was more of a road back in the day.”

When she hiked out with her camera, she found remnants of an old foundation and a dilapidated shack and outhouse. The shack had been taken over by raccoons. Scattered debris, like two-liter glass soda bottles, seemed to be from that era.

“We found a cracked bottle of Johnson & Johnson’s baby oil, half full, from the ’70s, and I’m like, ‘This is disgusting,'” Nadeau said.

The things you find in the woods

A few miles into the Bradbury-Pineland Corridor — hike-able land that connects Bradbury Mountain State Park in Pownal to Pineland Public Reserved Lands — just off one trail, there’s a grave for a 1-day-old baby in the middle of the woods.

It’s easy to miss if you’re not looking for it, Nadeau said. (A friend tipped her to that one, too.)

“The major question is why?” she said. “There is a stone with a cross, and they died in 1975. It’s fairly new and there is nothing around — there are no houses, there’s no foundations, nothing. I did all kinds of research. There’s no birth records, there’s no death records of this baby. It’s such a random burial. It’s baffling to me.”

The things that find you

Nadeau and her sister still like to explore cemeteries as adults, each October going out of the way to find old cemeteries and leave flowers on graves.

About three years ago, they visited the Pineland Cemetery in New Gloucester and its patient cemetery, in a midmorning walk.

Pineland was founded in 1908 as the Maine School for the Feeble Minded and had a long, sordid history before closing in 1996.

“Some of the stones were covered with leaves, so I was kind of pushing them away and clearing them and then all of a sudden, (there was) this rotten, putrid smell. I can’t even describe it,” she said.

The situation felt wrong, so much so that the two of them and her young niece decided to make quick work of getting back to the car.

“My niece was looking through her stroller, over my shoulder, and smiling and giggling. … I’m like freaking out, ‘We need to go,'” Nadeau said. “The smell engulfs the car. My phone dies. The car radio started switching channels. My iPad’s battery went from 80 to 20 percent. I said, ‘I don’t know what is in this car, but you are not allowed to follow us. You must stay here.'”

And just as suddenly, the smell was gone.

“This is the most terrifying thing I have ever experienced. Ever,” she said. “I don’t think it was a bad thing. I think it was confused. And I absolutely stirred something up when I uncovered that grave from the leaves. All of those patients lived horrible lives and had horrible things happen to them. I don’t feel like it was threatening by any means, but I feel like it was extremely interested in us and the child. I wouldn’t want to do that ever again, and we’ve vowed never to go back there, ever.”

Weird, Wicked Weird is a monthly feature on the strange, intriguing and unexplained in Maine. Send photos, ideas and happy smells to [email protected]

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