October 27, 2013

After 50 years, story of Benton ghost resurrected

By Matt Hongoltz-Hetling mhhetling@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

It was 1970. The Beatles had just disbanded, Richard Nixon was president, phones still rang in their cradles and the Internet was a distant dream.

click image to enlarge

SPIRITS: Marty Golias stands outside her home on the Falls Road in Benton. Golias, originally from Salem, Mass., has lived at the home for 13-years and believes the home has friendly spirits inside.

Staff photo by David Leaming

"Maine Ghosts and Legends," by Tom Verde.

Tom Verde appearances

Tom Verde will be in Maine promoting his book, “Maine Ghosts and Legends,” this month. He will appear at Longfellow’s Bookstore in Portland 7-8 p.m., Wednesday.

And one spring night, in a second-floor bedroom in an old creaky house on Falls Road in Benton, 18-year-old Alan Linnell lay terrified in bed as he felt a presence sit on his bed. Then something cold touched his arm.

That experience was one of dozens of strange events Linnell, his seven siblings, his parents and visiting relatives said they witnessed over 13 years beginning in 1964, a year after the family bought the home.

The children’s stories would have likely gone unnoticed were it not for a grisly discovery made Aug. 15, 1970, when, while renovating the dining room, the Linnells found a shriveled and mummified human foot, along with some bones and a few corn cobs, in the wall.

The discovery was front page news throughout the state and was even covered in the tabloid National Enquirer. The family’s previously private tales were transformed into a legend. Benton is one of 25 communities featured in “Maine Ghosts and Legends,” a 1998 collection of paranormal tales updated and re-released this year by author Tom Verde.

Other central Maine communities are also featured in the book. The story “The Haunted Hair Salon” takes place in Fairfield, the University of Maine at Farmington is covered in “The Ghostly Campus” and Skowhegan is the site of “The Ghost in the Aisles.”

“Maine is kind of like the nation’s attic. Everything just ends up there,” Verde said, repeating a sentiment he first heard from a Portland bookseller. “What better place to find a ghost than in the attic?”

Verde said Maine’s geography, full of dark forests, the mist-shrouded coast, isolated old houses and old mill towns make it an ideal habitat for haunts.

Maine is the site of what he said is the oldest ghost story in the country, from 1799, when a recurring ghostly presence in Machiasport was reported by the Rev. Abraham Cummings, a Baptist preacher from Bath who traveled in a sailboat to coastal communities. The ghost, which engaged in conversations with people while floating in the air, eventually told various people that it was the spirit of a woman named Nelly Butler, who had died in nearby Sullivan.

Verde, a freelance writer and former Portland resident, was introduced to ghosts when compiling a series of scary radio stories for Maine Public Broadcasting Network.

The book’s new edition has a chapter on vampires, which he said have a long tradition in Maine.

“There was a particular time in the 1800s when victims of tuberculosis were suspected of being vampires,” he said. “They coughed up blood, they were drawn and haggard.”

The Footless Ghost of Benton Falls

Few stories in the book are as compelling as “The Footless Ghost of Benton Falls,” in which the names of the Linnell family were changed at their request.

Most of the experiences were of the type typical to haunted house stories. Footsteps were heard traveling up and down the stairs. Notes from a music box played, though no music box could be found. The scent of carnations or cigars wafted through a room, with no apparent source. A shadowy figure was seen at the top of the stairs.

Dozens of times, the Linnells said, their family dog, Baby, a collie-St. Bernard mix, barked, apparently at an intruder no one else could see.

Once, in January 1967, a visiting cousin, Joseph McMullen, 3, was put down alone in a room for a nap. His sisters, who were sewing in the next room, rushed in when they heard him screaming.

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