OTISFIELD — Walking through the mossy earth of the Upper Yard Cemetery off Scribner Hill Road, each step sinks 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.

According to local legend, Scribner Hill Cemetery in Otisfield has the grave of a witch. Jon Bolduc/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

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

In 2004, David Hankins, the late husband of the Otisfield town archivist Jean Hankins, prepared an account of his family’s long, witchy history for a talk. Susan Arena of the Advertiser Democrat wrote a story titled “Halloween Differences” around that time.

In an email sent to Arena, Hankins said he was descended from the Wardwell family of Otisfield, who 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, with several greats attached, was Samuel Wardwell, who, according to Salemites, had a 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, with several greats attached, was John Putnam, the Salem judge who ordered the hanging of her husband’s ancestors.

“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 History of Otisfield,” tells of Sarah Warner Knight, who was born in 1753 and died in 1872 at the age of 119.

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,” Lovewell is said to have stated.

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 a “Mr. Cleaveland,” an old resident of that road.

The third Otisfield witch, Mary Gerrish Whitham, lived on Ivory Hill Road. She is said to have been born in 1799, and reached an incredibly old age. Unlike Aunt Snappy, her story is mired in tragedy. Her youngest son, James, drowned in Gershom Winship’s well on Cobb Hill Road.

Although described as “having a positive character,” Whitham apparently wasn’t so behind closed doors. Her son, Ivory Whitham, 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 her.

Galloping Ghost

Otisfield also has a headless haunt, the Galloping Ghost.

In an undated newspaper clipping thought to be from the 1930s, two high school boys from Portland are reported to have parked near Desolation Mountain, which is thought to be Porcupine Mountain between Tamworth and Bolsters Mills roads, 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 its back was a headless rider, a long cape thrown over the ghoulish apparition’s shoulder. The boys said the horseman disappeared before them, leaving no hoof prints, although there was a foot of snow on the ground.

The boys raced down the mountain and told the old-timers what they had seen.

It 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 December, a well-dressed stranger rode a white horse up the road toward the tavern. He had stopped in town earlier in the day and told folks 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 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 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 murderer’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 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 to a family. The family didn’t stay long, tortured by doors mysteriously opening, and shrieks, moans and the rattling of chains.

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.

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

“I’ve been here since 1991,” Creaser said. “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. 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,” he said.

Creaser has a workshop in the basement of his house. Over 10 years ago, he was urged by his wife, Julie, 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,” he said. On the workbench was a 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,” he said.

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

At the time, Creaser’s daughter was 2 or 3 and would come into his room a few times a week and say there was a young teenage girl with long black hair and a white dress in her room.

Creaser would check but found no girl.

“When I found the gravestone, I said, Julie 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, Creaser gave the gravestone to the Paris Hill Historical Society.

“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,” he said. “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,” he said.

Jon Bolduc — 207-780-9078

[email protected]

Twitter: @bolduc_jon

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