The story goes like this. 

Many years ago, in an age when kids still did this kind of thing, a group of children were out on adventures in the woods of Sabattus. 

Off in the rolling fields of the bucolic outskirts, they come across the remnants of a long ago farm, which now isn’t much of anything but heaps of rotted boards buried in overgrown grass. The well is still standing, however, and this is the source of the kids’ great enthusiasm.

All children in Sabattus at the time knew of this well. It was said to be haunted, although the nature of the haunting was never very clear. Exactly how a hole in the ground — especially one topped by an ornate wishing well roof — could be inhabited by specters, is what these boys wanted to know. 

So the kids do what all kids with curious spirits will do in such circumstances: they found a way to more directly explore the mystery. In particular, they held a short vote to decide which of them would get the honor of being lowered down into that well to see whatever was to be seen down there in the dank darkness. 

I don’t recall the name of the lad who was elected for this task, but he went into the venture with great zeal. It took the boys some time to rig the bucket ropes in such a way as to support their friend on the journey down, but they were an inventive bunch and down their lucky friend went, into the abyss that had so captivated them. 

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What came out of that well a few minutes later was not their old friend at all. It LOOKED like their friend a little bit, sure, but the boy’s hair had gone pure white; as white as the clouds that floated above them in the summer sky. The boy’s face was horrifically pale and lined, the face of a very old man rather than that of the sweet 10-year-old kid who had accepted this mission with such youthful gusto. 

But mostly it was his eyes. The eyes, bright blue just minutes ago, were now a dull black. They were wild, frightened eyes, haunted by some terrible image only they had beheld. They were the eyes of utter madness and indeed, madness is what emerged from the well that hot Saturday in the wilds of Sabattus. 

The boy never spoke a coherent word again in his lifetime, as the story goes. When he spoke at all, he spoke in terrified gibberish of things no sane human mind could comprehend. 

A few words about how that well still stands, it’s maleficent secrets still unknown, blah blah blah, and we’re done. Double spaced, checked for typos and sent off into the ether of the nascent internet. 

It was probably 1998 when I wrote that short piece for an urban legends contest on AOL — AOL, for heaven’s sake! 

I wrote a few more urban legends for that contest, including one about a young man fishing on Lake Auburn who reels in the body of his long dead father, but it was the wishing well piece that left its mark. 

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I still get anywhere from three to five emails and phone calls about that story each year. Mostly the messages come from paranormal researchers and the like hoping to get more precise information on where the well stands. 

“We want to send a team out to the well to investigate,” they’ll advise me, “but we need your help finding it.” 

“I’m putting together a documentary about Maine mysteries,” goes another. “And we want to use the Haunted Well of Sabattus as the top story.” 

I always feel bad — borderline guilty, even — when I have to relate that the whole business about the well, white-haired raving boy and all, is fiction. Pure fiction. Based on nothing in real life that I know of. The whole thing was concocted in about 10 minutes (and likely with the aid of some Pabst Blue Ribbons) to win petty acclaim on AOL. AOL for God’s sake! 

Most of these researchers never write me back once I’ve broken the news to them. A couple have argued with me, insisting that the story of the Sabattus well boy is true and if I won’t admit it, I must be part of some sinister coverup. They WANT this story to be true, and man, I get it. Who doesn’t love a good mystery and the chance to go out into the pucker brush of a small Maine town for some spooky investigations? 

So at the start of this recent weekend, I got an email from a fellow who runs a weekly podcast called New England Legends. 

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“We cover weird stories from all over the region,” he wrote. “We’re currently working on a story about the Sabattus haunted well. I was hoping you might be able to tell me where you heard about it?” 

This guy — Jeff, his name is — had heard about the Haunted Well of Sabattus through a YouTube video put together by a ghost research team. But what made this particular emailer stand out from the rest is the fact that when I told him the sad truth about the story, he didn’t disappear or try to argue the point. 

When he heard the dismal origins of the story, Jeff, like a fair and honest researcher, saw value in the truth. 

“Mark,” he said. “I kind of love that … I’d love to hear how the story got legs and ran for the podcast episode.” 

Distracted by other weekend things, I utterly blew the chance to be on his podcast. I feel bad about that, as well, but by gum, Jeff deserves some credit for being tantalized by the origin story and for not being put off by facts. 

So, that’s the story of The Haunted Well of Sabattus as I know it. Why this weird little tale has such staying power, I’ll never know, but it’s been a weird little affair and worth noting. In its way, interest in the Sabattus well story rivals that which surrounds The Turner, Maine Beast or the hitchhiker ghost on the roads of Poland. 

I’m just thankful there hasn’t been as much attention paid to the story of the Haunted Swing Set of Leeds. 

You know the one … all those kids drawn to a swing set still standing on the site of a long-ago abandoned schoolhouse in the woods off Bishop Hill Road. They say the swings there will push themselves as though propelled by the ghost of a long-dead custodian who had been wrongly accused of a horrific crime. They say there was this one kid who had the misfortune of …  

But just you never mind all that. I fear I’ve said too much already.

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