According to local legend, in the back right corner of the Upper Yard Cemetery on Scribner’s Hill Road in Otisfield, lies the grave of a witch, perpetually disturbed and unfilled. Jon Bolduc/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

OTISFIELD — Walking through the mossy earth of the Upper Yard Cemetery in Otisfield off of Scribner Hill Road, each step sinks down into the peaty soil. Through rows of old gravestones, some crumbling, some weathered and SOME? unmarked by age, the sunken grave of an Otisfield witch lies, perpetually disturbed, dug up, and unfilled.

Well, that’s according to local legend, backed up by some pretty compelling facts.

In 2004, David Hankins, the late husband of the current Otisfield Town Archivist Jean Hankins, prepared an account of his family’s’ long, witchy history for a talk. According to archived Advertiser Democrat’s, Susan Arena wrote a story titled “Halloween differences” around that time.

In to an email sent to Arena, Hankins said he was descended from the Wardwell family of Otisfield, which, in turn, were descendants of “a distinguished line of Salem witches,”  His grandmother, with several greats attached, was Rebecca Nurse, who was hanged in Salem in 1692, and his grandfather (again, with several greats attached) was Samuel Wardwell, who, according to Salemites, had an unfortunate habit of turning himself into a pig, and was hanged.

Ironically, Jean Hankins ancestors were on the opposite end of the rope during the Salem Witch Trials; her grandfather (again with the several great caveat) was John Putnam, the Salem judge who ordered the hanging of her husband’s grandmother and grandfather.

“This history creates a certain stress in our family around this time of year,” David Hankins wrote, in what was perhaps the greatest understatement of several centuries.

And it’s perhaps appropriate that witches are steeped in the local legend of Otisfield.

The first witch is well documented. William Spurr, who wrote the definitive account of Otisfield’s history titled, appropriately, The History of Otisfield, tells of Sarah Warner Knight, who, Spurr wrote, was born in 1753 and died in 1872, which meant she lived for 119 years, three years less than the current oldest woman in the world, Jeanne Calment. In his email, Hankin writes that Knight’s longevity could have been the result of witchcraft.

Sarah Warner Knight was the second wife of John Snappy Knight, who was nicknamed “Snappy John” because of the way he moved his eye. He was shot in the neck, which twisted his head around to one side. According to Spurr, Sarah Warner Knight was “a large woman of very positive character,” who often said “It is so, and you can depend on it.”

According to Spurr, Knight, nicknamed “Aunt Snappy Knight”  had the reputation of being a witch. Aunt Snappy was proud of that distinction. M.E.H Lovewell, a resident of Otisfield in the 19th Century, said she saw the grave of Mrs. Knight when she was a little girl.

“It was sunken in the middle, and someone told me that no matter how often or how high they made the mound, it always sunk down because she was a witch,” M.E.H Lovewell is said to have stated.

The “witches grave” in the Upper Yard Cemetery on Scribner’s Hill Road is sunken down, indented, and unmarked. Jon Bolduc/Sun Jorunal Buy this Photo

Though Aunt Snappy and the grave on Scribner Hill share the same attributes, the grave is not Aunt Snappy, but rather of a third witch who, according to Hankins, was known by an old resident of that road named “Mr. Cleaveland.”

The third, and final, Otisfield witch was lived on Ivory Hill Road; Mary Gerrish Whitham. She is said to have been born in 1799, and reached an incredibly old age not unlike Aunt Snappy. Unlike Aunt Snappy, her story is mired in tragedy; her youngest son, James drowned in Gershom Winship’s well, which was located nearby on Cobb Hill Road.

Although described as “having a positive character,”  she apparently wasn’t so behind closed doors. Her son, Ivory Withham, for whom the road is named, was terrified of his mother. Mrs. Whitham’s favorite thing in the world was store-bought bread, which, in those days, was a rare commodity in Otisfield.  Once a week, Ivory would walk to Lewiston and back to buy a loaf of store-bought bread for his mother, which was either an expression of love or an attempt to appease his supernatural mother.

Galloping Ghost

Move over, Sleepy Hollow; Otisfield also has a headless haunt;  Galloping Ghost.  In an undated newspaper clipping thought to be from the 1930’s, two high school boys from Portland are reported to have parked near what the newspaper calls “Desolation Mountain”, which is thought to be Porcupine Mountain, located between Tamworth and Bolsters Mills Road in Otisfield, and headed up an abandoned road to hunt rabbits.

They found more than they bargained for.

Trudging through the snow, they heard something crashing through the underbrush. Appearing before them was a white horse, and on it’s back a headless rider, a long cape thrown over the ghoulish apparition’s shoulder.  The boys said the headless horseman disappeared before them, leaving no hoof prints, although there was a foot of snow on the ground.

The boys raced back down the mountain and told the old timers what they had seen. This wasn’t the first time the galloping ghost had been seen.

Long ago, there was a tavern on top of Mount Desolation where travelers would spend the night on the way to Bolsters Mills. According to the legend, one freezing, moonlit night in the depths of December, a well-dressed stranger rode a white horse up the mountain road toward the tavern.

He had stopped in Otisfield earlier in the day, and told the townsfolk of his trip – they noticed the bulging saddlebag on his horse, full of riches.

After midnight, a chore boy employed at the tavern was returning from a county dance in the valley. A neighing echoed in the night; inching forward cautiously, he found the stranger’s horse tied up to a sapling, saddlebags empty.

The chore boy thought it was strange that the stranger had picked such an odd place to make camp for the night, but continued back to the tavern. The next morning, he went back to where the horse was still tied and saw the decapitated body of the stranger lying in the snow.

Fresh snow had fallen overnight, covering the murder’s tracks. People were questioned, but no one was ever arrested, and the stranger was buried in an unmarked grave.

Not long after, people began to say that the tavern was haunted; that a headless rider crashed through the underbrush whenever the moon was full. The tavern sat vacant, until it fell into the possession of a new owner, Samuel Jacobs, of Bridgton, who rented it out to a family. The family didn’t stay long, tortured by doors mysteriously opening, and shrieks, moans, and the rattling of chains. More lived in the house, and all left soon after.

Could an old road in Otisfield lead to the decaying remnants of the tavern where the well-dressed stranger met his untimely end? Something to keep in mind the next time you go out rabbit hunting.

A haunting

Dennis Creaser, owner of Creaser’s Jewelers in Paris, has published four horror stories set in Oxford Hills. The first; about a murderer residing on Patch Mountain, took shape after he and some friends noticed pails hanging from trees on Patch Mountain. Since then, he said his stories aim to bring attention to the inherent spookiness of the area.

“My intention was to make these books enjoyable enough so they would spread outside the area, and make Oxford Hills more known about. I put a lot of local businesses in them, I put my friends in them, and I put real places,” said Creaser.

“I’ve been here since 1991. I’ve been all through the woods, everywhere here. One of my passions is treasure hunting and exploring, and there are so many places that are abandoned … the Patch Mountain farming community used to be the main road between Bethel and Norway. You have a whole community that is no longer there, and it is creepy, walking through there, and now there’s nothing,” said Creaser.  “Any town of any size or age is going to have some supernatural activity.”

And Creaser has had some supernatural experiences of his own.

“I was very skeptical until I saw something myself … I still don’t really know how to process it,” said Creaser.

Creaser has a workshop basement in his house that he calls his mad scientist room. Once, over 10 years ago, he was urged by his wife to clean the clutter out of it.

‘When I moved in, there was nothing in the house except for a closet full of paint cans, and a workbench made of scraps of wood…on that workbench, there was square, white slab of rock. I thought, ‘well, that’s weird,’ so I pushed it to the side. I totally forgot about it. When I cleaned the basement, I found that white rock again.”

When Creaser turned the rock over, it said “MOHOGAN” on it. It was a gravestone.

At the time, Creaser’s daughter was two or three, and would come into Creaser’s room a few times a week and say ‘there’s a girl in my room.’  Creaser would go in and check, to find no girl in their daughter’s room. But she could describe the ghostly girl; a white dress, long black hair, a young teenager.

Finally, Creaser relented and let his daughter sleep in his room.

“When I found the gravestone, I said, Julie (Creaser’s wife) you have to come and see this. She said, ‘you have to get this out of the house now.’  So I wrapped it up in a blanket and brought it to the garage.”

After that, Creaser’s daughter stopped seeing the girl. Three years ago, someone from the Paris Hill Historical Society came, and Creaser gave them the gravestone.

“Right after I did that, I woke up in the middle of the night, and my daughter was sitting on the floor petting our dog. I said, ‘Annie, what are you doing?’ There was no answer. She kept petting the dog. As I watched, the girl disappeared.”

It took 10 or 20 seconds, but the girl completely faded into nothingness. Creaser said he remembered watching the spirit subside and thinking that he was witnessing the presence of a ghost.

“I thought, ‘I’m seeing a ghost. I should be scared out of my mind right now. But it was more interesting than anything. There was no sense of malevolence … maybe she liked the dog.”

Creaser said he was a skeptic before waking to see the ghostly girl. But now, he’s sold on supernatural activity.

“It’s one thing to say that you believe in ghosts, but it’s another thing to actually see one,” said Creaser.


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