Sullivan Ghosts and Other Stories

Sullivan Ghosts and Other Stories

In the winter of 1799, residents of Sullivan, Maine witnessed a very strange thing. A disembodied voice emerged from the cellar of Abner Blaisdell’s house on the rocky shores of Taunton Bay and announced itself to be the spirit of Nelly Butler, a young woman who had died a few years prior. Over the following months, the ghost of Nelly Butler appeared and spoke to over a hundred witnesses. The specter orchestrated a marriage, predicted a death, and brought chaos upon the small town.

The legend of Nelly Butler is widely recognized as the first recorded and documented ghost story in American history. After the spiritual encounters culminated on one fateful night in August of 1800—the specter led a crowd of nearly 50 people to the house of a vocal disbeliever—local legends and folklore continued to manifest. From the spirit of an old tinker haunting the old Stone Store to an attic filled with ghosts above the Even Exchange, Sullivan’s past is full of mysteries that may never be solved.

1. The Preble Piano

Miss Preble had one of the first pianos in Sullivan and played it often. When she died, her house was left to a cousin coming up from Saco. In the meantime, Miss Preble’s house and belongings were left untouched.

A few months after Miss Preble’s passing, a peddler came to town. David Blaisdell, one of Miss Preble’s neighbors, watched the peddler ring the doorbell of the Preble house, then rap on the side window and call inside, to no avail. Then the peddler came over to Dave’s place, looking alarmed.

As Aunt Nebbie Havey recalled to Samuel Scovill Jr., the conversation went something like this:

“That ol’ lady, she be of a deafness extraordinaire,” he says.

“What old lady,” Dave says.

“Why, the one who live in ze house opposite,” goes on the peddler. “She sit in front of     ze piano, but she don’t play, nor do she hear, though I rap an’ rap on ze window an’ call    out loud to her.”

“What did she look like?” goes on Dave, feeling kind of sick.

“She have ze white hair an’ wear ze white mantilla on her head, an’ she have a kind face, but very sad,” says the peddler.

After the other man had left, Dave mustered all his strength and walked up on Miss Preble’s porch and peered through the window. Nothing looked unusual, except one thing: the piano, which had been closed ever since Miss Preble died, was wide open.


Source: Sullivan and Sorrento Since 1760 by Lelia Clark Johnson, 1953. The dialogue comes from Samuel Scovill Jr.’s essay, “The Preble Piano,” which first appeared in The Atlantic Monthly, May 1930, and is included in Johnson’s book.  

“2. Cling Clang and the Old Stone Store

Standing at the heart of Sullivan Harbor, the old Stone Store was constructed from local granite perhaps as many as two-hundred years ago. The Stone Store was first home to a salt store for fishermen, then to the headquarters of a shipyard, later to an antique shop, and now, some say, to the ghost of “Cling Clang,” a man shrouded in mystery who came to Sullivan many years ago.

The man known as “Cling Clang” arrived in Sullivan on a ship from England. Exactly how and why Cling Clang, or John Cling, as he was also known, came ashore in Sullivan remained a subject of much speculation, and the peculiarity of the newcomer only started there. Cling Clang roamed the countryside on stilts, dressed in discarded salt bags. He made his living repairing watches and clocks for people along the coast from Bar Harbor to Calais. He carried a salt bag filled with tools for his work and an array of tin pots and utensils for cooking. Using two long poles, Cling Clang travelled with large leaps and bounds, swinging easily over fences and ditches. With each jump Cling made, the resulting “Clang” was so loud that it was said you could hear him coming from half a mile away. In the winter, Cling Clang lived in an overturned boat behind the Stone Store.

Cling Clang was strange and mysterious, and everyone speculated on his past. Rumors circulated that he was the most wanted man in England—he was of noble birth, he had murdered his sweetheart, or both. He talked sensibly, sometimes sarcastically, and never complained about the cold, nor allowed himself any comforts. Many wondered if he was practicing self-denials as some penance for a crime. Cling Clang endured through many winters, but one cold February, he was found frozen to death underneath his boat.

In the 1980s, long after Cling Clang, strange things began to happen around the Stone Store. Gail and Jim Stamp, owners of the antique shop there, spoke publicly about ghosts in the building. The doorbell rang, but no one was there. Lights would come on. Portraits disappeared. Guests were awakened in the night to the sounds of footsteps and breathing. Alone in the living quarters above the store one night, Gail heard a noise in the stairway and made out the gray form of a man, who froze, then headed down the stairs. Gail had no doubt of the ghost’s identity. It was Cling Clang.



“Cling Clang” by Chief Stanwood, October 1, 1947, included in Sullivan and Sorrento Since 1760 by Lelia Clark Johnson, 1953.

“Ghosts don’t spook Down East Couple,” Bangor Daily News, August 16, 1983.

3. The Spirit of the Black’s Woods

Although not quite in Sullivan, the spirit of the Black’s Woods Road running between the towns of Franklin and Cherryfield is worthy of a mention. According to local legend, the specter of a young woman who was decapitated in an automobile accident stalks the road at night. Those who pass and see her spirit must stop and offer her a ride, or they may die soon afterward.

The stories of Catherine’s demise and wayward spirit vary greatly. Many accounts tell of a young woman and her boyfriend traveling back from prom in the 1970s when their car hit a tree. Other versions are set in the 1960s, the 1950s, the 1920s, and even the 1800s, when Catherine died in Black’s Woods on her wedding night when the stagecoach lost control and crashed in a sudden, strange fog.

In one tale, a man encounters the headless figure on the side of the road. He speeds past in terror only to look in his rearview mirror and see the ghost in his backseat, then crashes the car and dies. Other encounters tell of travelers stopping to give the ghostly woman a lift, only to find she has vanished from the car moments later.

Variations aside, most stories of encounters with Catherine’s spirit over the years tell a similar tale: a young woman in a gown, sometimes headless and sometimes not, haunts the road by Catherine’s Hill. As the legend goes, if she asks for a ride, be careful not to refuse.


Source: Dark Woods, Chill Waters: Ghost Tales from Down East Maine by Marcus LiBrizzi, 2007.

4. The Nelly Butler Hauntings

The ghost of Nelly Butler is one of the most famous ghosts in America. It all began in 1799, when a voice emerged from Abner Blaisdell’s cellar, claiming to be Nelly Butler, who had died three years before after giving birth.

In the first phase of haunting, the specter sought to orchestrate the marriage between Nelly Butler’s widower, Captain George Butler, and Abner Blaisdell’s 15-year-old daughter, Lydia. George Butler was then 29 years old. While instances of women marrying as young as fifteen or sixteen were not uncommon, there was great opposition to the match, especially from Abner Blaisdell. Eventually, the spirit had its way, and the marriage took place on Butler’s Point in May of 1800. The next day, the apparition returned to predict that Lydia would die in childbirth; ten months later, Lydia, then sixteen years old, bore one child and died.

The second phase of haunting occurred in August of 1800 with more remarkable encounters. The apparition directly summoned outspoken critics, spoke on religious subjects to crowds of people, and led forty-eight community members for over a mile through the night of August 13-14, 1800. Most accounts of the ghost abruptly disappeared after this event.

The story of Nelly Butler left confusion and controversy in its wake. Over one hundred people witnessed the apparition. Abraham Cummings, a traveling evangelist, collected 37 eyewitness testimonies and recorded all meetings and accounts, including his own.


Source: The Nelly Butler Hauntings: A Documentary History by Marcus LiBrizzi, 2010.

5. Ghosts in the Even Exchange

When the Martins bought the Even Exchange, an antique and used furniture business housed in the old Hanna Bros’ General Store building on the corner of Route 1 and Tunk Lake Road, there was one problem with the apartment above the store. It had a ghost.

It all started when Beatrice Martin and a friend came up to spend the summer in the apartment. One night, they heard the door crash open, and heavy, booted footsteps cross the floor of the attic. After this resumed for three nights in a row, Beatrice and her friends tried to exorcise the ghost with the help of a spiritualist from Franklin, but the ghost continued to trouble them all summer long. Books fell off the table. Footprints appeared under the bed. One visitor felt her feet swept out from under her and almost fell down the stairs.

As the store had been built in the 1890s, the Martins heard numerous stories about what had happened in the apartment over the years. Some said that there had been a fight upstairs: one man stabbed another man, who later died of his wounds. They heard that the building had many spirits—that it functioned as a sort of commune for spirits, even—and there was one very angry spirit tormenting everybody. For the most part, the activity ceased in following years, but every once in a while, another strange occurrence would signify that at least one of the ghosts had returned.

After the Martins completely remodeled the apartment, nothing unusual happened again.


Source: “Spirits in the Rocks: The Even Exchange, East Sullivan,” Clamdiggers and Downeast Country Stores by Allan Lockyer, 1993.

6. A Few More Ghosts…

Falls Point – According to local lore, the ghost of old Josiah Simpson haunts Falls Point. Some nights, you might hear him down there sawing wood.

The Emery House – In the old John Urann house, later belonging to the Emery family, it has been said that a ghost used to walk down the stairs at midnight, always stopping for a couple breaths on the thirteenth step. As the story goes, the Uranns were used to it, and thought nothing of it at all.

Source: Sullivan and Sorrento Since 1760 by Lelia Clark Johnson, 1953.

For additional reading, consider: Dark Woods, Chill Waters: Ghost Tales from Down East Maine by Marcus LiBrizzi. This collection of chilling ghost tales from Down East includes the Nelly Butler Hauntings of Sullivan and the spirit of Black’s Woods, among many others.

These stories were written by Raina Sciocchetti, Island Institute Fellow at the Sullivan-Sorrento Historical Society. Sources of information used for each story are included above.

Children Raised Funds to Honor Horse

Children Raised Funds to Honor Horse

There was a time when watering troughs alongside the roadside were common and necessary services, providing water to thirsty animals. One such trough, situated on what is now Route 1 in Sullivan, was built by quarrymen from local granite.
In the early 1900s, a group of children in Sullivan who were learning about kindness to animals under the guidance of Helen Smith, editor of the Bar Harbor Times, formed the “The Band of Mercy.” The children especially loved Miss Smith’s pony, “Midget,” who pulled her carriage to the ferry to Bar Harbor. When she wasn’t serving as transportation, Midget received loving attention from the “Band,” who fed and took care of her back at the Smith’s barn. When Midget died, the children decided to raise funds to place a commemorative plaque on the watering trough frequented by Midget and other horses. The children picked and sold blueberries at seven cents a quart to purchase the copper plaque honoring Midget. Although the plaque disappeared some years ago, the watering trough remains today.
* ** How to find the Band of Mercy Watering Trough – If you are heading east on Route 1, the trough is two tenths of a mile past the Town Office. Look for the Edgewater Cabins sign on the right, and the trough is just beyond the sign on the left side of the road.***
It Took a Village: A Short History of the Clint Ritchie Gymnasium

It Took a Village: A Short History of the Clint Ritchie Gymnasium

As Sumner Memorial High School prepared to open its doors in the fall of 1952, the towns of Sullivan, Sorrento, Winter Harbor, and Gouldsboro looked to the new area high school as a promise of better education and opportunities, more than any individual town could afford. However, as the school grew nearer and nearer to completion, it appeared more and more deficient in one major area. A cry rose from the community: “We want a gym!”

Financing the school had not been an easy task. A project of the four towns, the area high school was built to replace the region’s two small high schools located in Sullivan and Winter Harbor. Due to insufficient borrowing capacity, the final plans for the area school did not include a gymnasium, and there was no money to build one. Thus, the gym was built in a private initiative via the sale of $20,000 in bonds by the Flanders Bay Athletic Association backed by volunteer labor, cash donations, and many fundraising projects. The estimated cost of the project was $75,000.

Clubs in the area that fundraised and donated generously to the Gym Fund included the Happy Circle Club of Gouldsboro, Prospect Harbor Women’s Club, the W.S.C.S of North Sullivan Methodist Church, the Domaine School of Music (the Monteux School), the Wednesday Club of Ashville, and the Sullivan High School benefit ball game. The newly formed P.T.A. served a Hunter’s Breakfast on the first day of hunting season, raising $281. The ladies of the East Sullivan Christmas Club challenged the Sorrento Stitch and Chatter Club to a benefit game of basketball. The players, age 29 to 65, took to the court in the old Masonic Hall (Knights of Pythias Hall) in front of a reported audience of 350 cheering neighbors.

Community members also donated straight from their pockets, kept on task by Fund Chairman Dwight Havey and others canvassing for donations of money or labor. Several “Work Bees” effectively cut the construction costs significantly. In October, men from all four towns came together to cut logs and haul them to Charles Small’s mill in Ashville to be sawed into lumber for bleachers for the gym. Many worked evenings throughout November, sawing the lumber and assembling bleachers as well as installing insulation in the gym. In December, they mixed and poured cement in the basement under the gymnasium to ready the space for showers. Members of the F.H.A. at Sumner served coffee and donuts under the supervision of their home economics instructor, Mrs. Gwendolyn Cole. At other workdays, the Frenchman’s Bay P.T.A. kept busy supporting workers with dinners and refreshments.

By the school’s second basketball season (1952-53), the Sumner High School team finally had a gymnasium. However, players found themselves wearing mittens or gloves to practice until the heating system was installed, just in time for the first game of the season.

The gymnasium was dedicated to Sumner’s Head Custodian Clint Ritchie in a ceremony on November 27, 1996. The proposal to name the gymnasium after Ritchie stemmed from school and community support for Ritchie, who was to retire at the end of the year after working at Sumner for twenty years and contributing greatly to the school.


“This is a Robbery”: Notorious Art Thief Got His Start in Sullivan

“This is a Robbery”: Notorious Art Thief Got His Start in Sullivan

Over fifty years ago, Myles Connor Jr., rock ‘n’ roll singer turned legendary outlaw and suspect in one of the largest art heists of all time, made his first big move in Sullivan, Maine.

It was July of 1965, and Connor was visiting family in Sullivan where he had spent many summers growing up. While eating dinner at his granduncle’s house, Connor heard his relatives talking about an elderly lady who had died, leaving everything to children she had apparently despised. Connor had begun to develop an interest in art and antiques, and he went to the dead woman’s house to take a look. He was carrying a grandfather clock out to his car when sheriff’s Deputy Hank Hosking pulled into the driveway. After a confrontation in which Connor fired a couple shots at the deputy, who also worked as a janitor at Sumner Memorial High School, Connor drove off only to be apprehended a short distance away on Route 1 and taken to the Hancock County Jail in Ellsworth.

Back in Massachusetts, Connor had left his apartment full of high-quality antiques, including a silver plate made by Paul Revere that had been stolen from Harvard University’s Peabody Museum. Connor has said that he felt that it was highly important that he get back to Massachusetts quickly as he was concerned that people he knew would help themselves to the antiques while he was held up in Maine. With Connor desperate to escape, his small scuffle in Sullivan turned into the site of his first major criminal incident—one that involved breaking out of jail with a gun carved out of soap and blackened with shoe polish, hiding for two days in the attic of the Ellsworth Public Library, and a manhunt throughout the town of Hancock.

– – –


Myles Connor is brought into a Dedham courthouse on July 9, 1985. Netflix.

Myles J. Connor Jr. grew up in Milton, Massachusetts, the son of Myles Joseph Connor, a police officer, and Lucy Johnson Connor. Connor’s maternal grandfather was from Sullivan, and Connor has said that as a child he spent almost every summer visiting family in Sullivan. The Connors often stayed in the Johnson cottage just east of Tunk Lake Road.

A budding young musician, Connor gained attention in the early 1960s as the leader of a Boston-area rock band called Myles and the Wild Ones. His daring jailbreak in 1965 at the age of 22 was just the beginning of a long career of law-breaking. Over the years, Connor has been accused of theft, assault, drug trafficking, shooting a police officer, and murdering two Boston women, the last of which he was ultimately acquitted. In 2010, he published a memoir, The Art of the Heist: Confessions of a Master Thief, which tells an unapologetic story of his life of crime.

Lately, Connor was featured in This is a Robbery, a four-part documentary series that premiered on Netflix on April 7, 2021 and centers around the infamous 1990 burglary at Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. The series breaks down the heist in which art collectively worth $500 million went missing, including works by Rembrandt, Manet, and Vermeer. The art remains missing 31 years later, and no one was ever arrested for the crime.

Although Connor was in prison for drug trafficking at the time of the robbery, the FBI considered him a prime suspect. Connor has claimed in various interviews and published works that he was involved in the planning of the heist but that it was carried out by associates of his who have now since died. He is also said to have phoned the police himself after the Gardner robbery to claim that he had nothing to do with it.


The Connors often stayed in the Johnson cottage just east of Tunk Lake Road in East Sullivan. The cottage was built in 1925 by Clarissa (Johnson) Sutherland as a summer camp for children on the land of her parents, Herbert & Lelia (Clark) Johnson. Herbert Johnson’s nephew, Charles Johnson, was Myles Connor Jr.’s grandfather. The cottage still stands today. Sullivan-Sorrento Historical Society.

Over his lifetime, Connor has spent over two decades in prison and says he has been part of over 30 art heists, including many that authorities know very little about. In one of his most famous heists, Connor stole and then returned the Boston Museum of Fine Art’s Rembrandt in exchange for a lighter prison sentence. In This is a Robbery, Connor’s defense attorney, Martin Leppo, says that stealing from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum was always on Connor’s “bucket list.”

“Depends on who you ask but, in general, I’m known as an art thief,” Connor shares in the series. “And, some people consider me the biggest art thief in this country because I’ve robbed a number of museums. But, then again, I was a rock and roll guy.”


You can watch This is a Robbery: The World’s Biggest Art Heist on Netflix.

Myles Connor in the news: Infamous art thief revisits criminal past in Ellsworth, Bangor Daily News, 2014.

“Rock ‘n’ roll” outlaw Myles Connor returning to Ellsworth, the Ellsworth American, 2017.

Alice Turner Curtis, Sullivan-born Author

Alice Turner Curtis, Sullivan-born Author

The Turner House in Sullivan Harbor.

Alice Turner was born on September 8, 1860, the youngest child of John and Susan Speare Staples Turner of Sullivan, ME. John, a sail maker, was employed across from their home in Sullivan Harbor on what is sometimes called Little Sail Island.

Alice had two sisters—Anna S. who was twelve years older than she, and Ella F., who was eleven years older. Ella, who taught school in Ashland, Massachusetts, very much wanted to see Alice receive a good education. In a letter to Lelia Clarke Johnson prior to the publication of Johnson’s history “Sullivan and Sorrento Since 1760,” Alice wrote, “When I was 12… (I) attended a well-known girls’ school,” and went on to say that 18 she became a file clerk for the Youth’s Companion (a popular magazine for young people). She wrote for The Boston Traveller, became Literary Editor of that newspaper, and was on the Editorial Staff of The Youth’s Companion for seventeen years.

In 1885, Alice married Irving Curtis, who was originally from Maine. In the 1900 federal census, Irving, age 63; Alice, age 36; Alice’s mother Susan, age 76; and a female servant were living in Boston. Irving’s occupation is listed as “capitalist.” Alice did not list an occupation, but she was always writing.

Mrs. Curtis is best known for her popular “Little Maid Series,” stories of happenings in different places during colonial times with young girls as the heroines. The series encompasses twenty-four books, including Little Maid of Old Maine, Little Maid of Massachusetts Colony, and Little Maid of Old Virginia. Mrs. Curtis also wrote a series covering the Civil war, called “The Yankee Girl Series,” and other volumes. She published over sixty books total.

 In December of 1953, Mrs. Curtis sent $25.00 to the Frenchman’s Bay Library accompanied by a new edition of her “Little Maid” Series. She died in 1958 at the age of 97 and is buried beside her husband in Skowhegan. Her parents and a brother who died young are buried in York Hill Cemetery in Sullivan.

“Little Maid” Books at the Sullivan-Sorrento Historical Society.