Fall in Maine, 2021

It’s lovely October already! The leaves here in Maine are starting to turn and the weather is cooling. I have always loved October – my favorite month for so many reasons. It’s my birthday month, which often made Halloween a little extra exciting, I mean who doesn’t want candy and cake!?

I also love wind – not hurricane force of course, but a warm, brisk wind feels and sounds amazing to me. Raking leaves to jump in or to burn is also special – there is a certain smell as you’re raking that stirs up memories; and of course just crunching through them is fun, too.

Bonfires, carving pumpkins, smores, apple cider, hay rides and best of all, ghost stories, are certainly well known aspects of fall. Probably one of the reasons I’m in this business!

If you live or vacation in Maine, you haven’t seen any red cloaks again this year, but we are out there! Lots of things have been looking different since 2019, and Red Cloak Tours is no different. We still love entertaining folks, telling Maine’s history and sharing those tales of haunts and spirits!

So, even though we’re not visible, our tours are taking place and we’re making history fun for locals and visitors alike as we guide them through Maine’s villages and cemeteries via phone. There’s no video, zoom or Facetime, just a private family or group and myself chatting as I guide them from point to point and do the storytelling.

As much as I love telling the stories in person, this is very enjoyable for me because I can personalize the tours for each group and take them places or tell them things that I might not on a regular basis. It’s a very fulfilling experience.

If you’re interested in seeing more about the type of tours we offer, just check out “TeleTours” or “Seafood Discovery Tours” for more information. You can also always give me a call!



245 years ago, the famous “shot around the world” was fired in Massachusetts. At that time, Maine was part of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts so every April, Maine and Massachusetts celebrate Patriot’s Day.

Most of us know at least something of the battles of Lexington and Concord and Paul Revere’s famous ride, so I’m going to backtrack a bit and share about a bit of pre-Revolutionary history connected to the small town of Bristol, Maine.

This piece of history is a Liberty Pole.

Liberty Poles were rallying points for the “Sons of Liberty” in the years preceding the revolution. The poles were much taller than other flagpoles and often used a red cap (liberty cap) or a red flag as a signal for the men to meet. As time went on, the flag became nine alternating red and white vertical stripes. The Boston Liberty flag is displayed today at the Old State House in Boston.

The Sons of Liberty, a secret society formed to fight taxation by the British government and to protect the rights of colonists, are best remembered for the Boston tea Party.

The Sons of Liberty mostly met at night and often at a Liberty Pole or a “Liberty Tree,” such as a particular Elm tree in Boston where they met in reaction to the Stamp Act. When the British cut it down, the group replaced it with a Liberty Pole. Some towns that didn’t have large common trees, put up a tall Liberty Pole anyway, as a symbol of the tall Liberty Tree, and often towns vied to have the tallest Liberty Pole. Poles were sometimes placed on private land, as well. Often, someone found guilty of drinking tea or thought to be leaning toward the British, was made to dance around the Liberty Pole and recant their ways.

The poles became rallying places for both sides – the American Colonists of course, but the British often took down the poles, or tried to, to try to stop the resistance. In Massachusetts there is an area outside of Boston that is referred to as the “Liberty Pole Area” and many streets throughout New England are named Liberty Pole.

During the Civil War, and after, Liberty Poles, or Union Poles were erected to encourage patriotism and as a symbol of the “Binding of the Union.” Some were erected as early as April 1861, shortly after the firing on Fort Sumter. Gettysburg had one 120 feet tall by the end of April.

These poles became physical memorials as time went on and were often the site of patriotic events.  Slaves and members of the underground railroad also used Liberty Poles for signals and freedom celebrations. There is a town in Wisconsin named “Liberty Pole.” In Fairfield, Connecticut they used to hold a “Union Festival” which re-enacted the raising of their 110 foot pole in 1861. It included picnics, period actors and patriotic orations.

The story of the Bristol, Maine Liberty Pole is quite unique to Liberty Poles. One evening in 1864, a group of men were talking at Arnold Blaney’s store, in Bristol Mills. The subject of a Liberty Pole came up and Joe Crooker, who was known about town as a real frugal Mainer, “he had the tendency to squeeze a nickel until the buffalo hollered,” boasted that he would donate the wood needed to put one up in the center of Bristol Mills, across from the Congregational Church and next to the Town Hall. No one believed him, but to add fuel to the fire, Blaney said if Crooker showed up with the wood, he’d not only donate a barrel of flour to Widow Oram and her 3 children, but he’d roll it all the way to her house.

A week or so later, the men were astonished when Ol’ Joe, in his 60’s, appeared with a wagon load of lumber for the Liberty Pole! He’d purchased enough wood for a 60 foot Liberty Pole. Well, the next thing the village knew, Arnold Blaney was rolling a barrel of flour from his store, through town and up the hill on Upper Round Pond Road to Widow Oram’s door.

Tradition says that the weathervane at the top of the Liberty Pole in Bristol, a fish shape, was designed by Shem Drowne, a coppersmith and America’s first documented weathervane maker. He also designed the Grasshopper Weathervane on Faneuil Hall in Boston.

About 80 years ago, the lower section of the pole was replaced, but the upper section is original and is thought to be one of only 3 remaining Liberty Poles in the country.


How Did Beer Save a Maine Family in 1750?

The Wylie family living in what is now Boothbay Harbor, Maine had a very close call with a Native American raid.

During much of the 1600 and 1700’s small beer was the common drink for most New England colonists. Small beer is a very low alcohol content beer or ale. Much of the small beer that was consumed by Maine settlers was homemade. It could be made from roots or shoots, bark, certain seeds, fruits or vegetables, hops and molasses. If available some spices were sometimes used.

This particular day in Boothbay Harbor, 2 older sons and Robert were returning from a long, offshore fishing trip. Robert’s wife, Martha, was home with the rest of the children tending to the farm, crops and likely some animals. Two of the sons were sent off into the woods to forage for what they could find for a batch of small beer. While there, they saw a small group of Native Americans coming through the woods, down the creek and toward their farm.

Running as fast as they could, in terror, they raced to tell their mother of the possible attack. She quickly gathered her children and ran to a nearby safe area with other settlers. This could have been a rough garrison, as those were common in the early Maine communities, or just a place with other people that could shelter her and her children.

Robert, his 2 oldest sons and other crew were just making their way into the harbor at twilight and saw, from the deck of their vessel, flames from their home and farm shooting into the air. As they came closer, Martha saw the vessel and ran from safety to warn them of the raid.

Thankfully, all the Wiley family were safe that evening, though their home and farm were gone. If not for the need to make a batch of small beer, this tale could have turned out much differently. To read more of the story – “Shipping Days of Old Boothbay” by George Wharton Rice, 3rd great-grandson of Robert & Martha McIntyre Wylie.



Women’s History in Maine

Samantha Smith would be 48 years old this month of 2021 Women’s History Celebration and I’m sure would have been high on the list of Maine Women being thought of.

I’d like to share a short bit of Samantha’s story as well as a few other little known Maine women. Even though they might not all have played an important part in Maine or world history, they certainly deserve a nod.

Samantha was a peace activist and known as a “Goodwill Ambassador” from Maine even at the young age of 11, when she traveled to Russia as the guest of Yuri Andropov, the leader of the Soviet Union at the time.

She had written a letter to him asking if he supported nuclear war and wanted to conquer the world. He replied that his country wanted peace and invited her to come for a visit as his guest and “see for yourself: in the Soviet Union, everyone is for peace and friendship among peoples,” which she did.

Unfortunately, Samantha died in an airplane crash 2 years later, not having a chance to continue her quest for world peace.

Another Maine woman we don’t hear much of was Kate Furbish, an artist and amateur botanist. At a very early age she showed an interest in identifying plants and flowers on family walks in the Maine woods.

For almost 40 years during her adult life, she searched for, catalogued, sketched/painted and dried thousands of Maine flora, including mushrooms, ferns, and wildflowers. Leaving a fantastic legacy for future naturalists, she also had two plants named after her.

There have been many well-known women “in the arts” from or associated with Maine, such as Edna St. Vincent Millay, Louise Nevelson, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Lillian Nordica and many more. One of these women actually was “in” the art rather than being an artist and is known only as Christina.

Made famous by Andrew Wyeth in his painting, “Christina’s World,” many people don’t know much about her. She was born on a Maine saltwater farm and lived there for over 70 years until the last few weeks of her life.

Christina Olson lived a plain, mostly quiet life on the family farm, dealing with a progressive affliction that disabled her beginning at a young age. Eventually unable to walk, she got along by pulling herself around the house and farm or scootching along in a chair in the kitchen.

Andrew Wyeth and his wife befriended her and her family, visiting often and helping when they could. Wyeth painted many other paintings associated with the farm and the Olson’s.

These are just snippets of these women’s lives, please look into them if you’re interested in knowing more. Other Maine women of interest to you might be Sarah Sampson, of Civil War era, buried in Arlington National Cemetery; Helen Blanchard, inventor; Martha Ballard, 18th century midwife; Rachel Carson, marine biologist; Margaret Knight, inventor; and many more.

The last one I’ll share today, is of a young girl named Effie Crockett. We all are familiar with her talent, though not her name. As a young teen, she was the one who put a tune to the old nursery rhyme of “Rock a Bye Baby.” She felt that this was so inappropriate at the time that she published it under another name so her father wouldn’t find out!

Please comment if you have a favorite Maine woman you’d like us to acknowledge.


Pennies from Heaven

Of course, it is part of what I do, but do any of you also hear of stories, or have your own, about finding pennies unexpectedly? Pennies that have some meaning or connection to a loved one that has passed on?

You never know when or where you’ll find them and the placement, the date you find it or the date on the coin can all be signs that a deceased loved one is contacting you.

It could also be a guardian angel saying hello or a message from a spirit guide. The use of small symbols or signs (feathers, number sequences, dragonflies, etc.) is one of the more common ways of signaling a warning, a visit or, especially if it’s money – a sign that you’re valued.

The pennies, or signs, often appear in unusual places, but a signal that you’re not alone, will often quickly become apparent once you pause long enough to examine the symbolism or significance of a penny or some other sign.

The reason coins are often used are many – money is obviously a way that humans communicate value. We exchange it for time, goods, services, etc., but it is also something easily manipulated by angels, spirits or other paranormal/spiritual beings.

There is a term, apport, which in the spiritual or paranormal community, is an article that has allegedly been transferred or made to appear from an unknown source. Dimes as well as pennies are common “apports.”

Here are a few instances of folks finding pennies in unusual circumstances…

One such instance brought great comfort to a lady who found a coin on her deceased husband’s pillow, taking it as a sign that he was watching over her.

When a young woman moved in to her first apartment, she began finding pennies in the oddest places – between sheets of a newly made bed, in the bathtub and drawers, behind doors and in doorways. She could not make a connection to a loved one or a specific reason for them to appear.

Please comment if you’d like to share an experience that you’ve had!


Christmas 1944/45

The weeks leading up to Christmas of 1944 were an exciting, yet tense time for this family that I’ve been writing about. My uncle was headed overseas as a medic in the 66th infantry division of the Army. This was finally what he’d been preparing and training for for over a year.

There are no more journals, but we have all the letters he wrote home, so we can follow along with him as he’s making this journey and thinking about the upcoming holiday, not even knowing where he would be!

On October 28 he wrote home that he was sending money for his mother, asking her to please buy Xmas gifts for the family, as well as sending a package of things that he couldn’t keep as they were shipping out from Camp Rucker, AL. He mentioned he was glad that he was being allowed to keep his camera because he was hoping to get pictures of some “old stomping grounds” in Europe (see previous post). 

At sea, the next letter, much of which was censored – individual words and phrases meticulously cut out, was dated November 21. It mentioned that he’d had a portrait taken before sailing and had some Christmas cards made which he’d sent to friends and family. (see photo). He also told his family that he did not know where he was going.

Two weeks later on December 8th, he wrote from England, “I wish I could drop in on you for X-Mas dinner. Merry Christmas anyway. It is a cutting, wet cold here.” He mentions for the second time to please send bouillon cubes for something warm to drink.

At home, the family is making their own preparations – sending cards, shopping, making candy, wrapping, trimming the tree and of course, sending a package to their loved one overseas. A letter dated December 14, again from England, tells that he’s received his Christmas package from them and was very excited about a new pen, some ear muffs, and gum. “I don’t know what my Christmas will be like nor where I will be, but I will miss that Christmas dinner with all the folks and I’ll be thinking of you.”

Unfortunately, that was the last letter the family received. Their letters to him were returned and there was a notification that he was missing, with a final telegram arriving in early March confirming the worst. On Christmas Eve, December 24, 1944, the troop ship my uncle and hundreds of others were on was torpedoed just 5.5 miles off the coast of Cherbourg, France. It was an horrific situation, which I won’t go into here, but if you’re interested there is a book, A Night Before Christmas by Jacquin Sanders and various links on the web about the sinking of the SS Leopoldville.

My grandmother had a tradition of writing inspirational Christmas letters to her children every year and tucking them in the tree. In 1945 my aunt, age 16, wrote one to her mother, saying this is my first Christmas letter, “Everyone is rejoicing this year over the entire world peace, while we are in silent thoughts and cannot help but thinking back to that time 12 months ago. Bill was no doubt thinking of us and his home when the sinking occurred.” There was more to the letter, but she signed it from herself and her lost brother.

At that time, one year after his death, my grandmother started a new tradition of having an outdoor tree lit with all white lights in memory of her son who was lost to them on Christmas Eve. After she passed, my father continued the tradition and now, I also have white lights outside to honor my uncle whom I never knew.


Christmas 1932

We left my father’s family in New York in the last post – they are now, the following year, in Vienna, Austria. Through the Atlantic crossing, losing passports!, summering in Spain, finding lodging in Budapest, they arrived on December 1. In a rush to get on the road, most of the childrens clothes and worst of all, my grandmother’s freshly made nut fudge, was left behind! It was to have been a treat while traveling most of the day.

The family’s driver (seen in the previous post’s photo) traveled with the family the whole time – he was also an assistant in many ways and practically a member of the family. He was from the Basque country of Spain originally, which is why they spent time there, in Guernica, visiting with his family.

The market was the highlight of most days in Vienna, not only having exciting new things to see and explore, but especially at Christmas time! The first observance was made by my 10 year old uncle in his journal, “Christmas is different than in America – if you are bad, the devil comes and brings switches and no candy!” (See 2 posts previous to read about Krampus) Later on, my grandmother wrote about how the children were so fascinated by the pictures of him at the market. 

A small Christmas tree was found on December 11th and taken home to be decorated. My father made an ornament of St. Nicholas (see above) – I suspect most of the decorations were homemade and real candles were used for lights! Of course, gifts were purchased secretly at the market; there were mentions in journals of sweaters, vases, candies, and a coconut!

My father loved the roasting chestnuts from street vendors, some of which were used for the turkey stuffing on Christmas day – made with chestnuts, celery, bread, and mushrooms according to my grandmother’s notes. They had gotten the turkey at the market on Christmas Eve, along with fruit and nuts. 

Hot cakes were for breakfast on Christmas morning after checking to see whether Santa or Krampus had come to visit overnight! Apparently, the kids had been good because there were dolls and a fort (see photo below) in addition to the nuts and candies. My father gave his mother a sweet little vase (pictured above), but there was no mention of other gifts received. The whole family went to St. Stephen’s Cathedral for Christmas service later that morning.

The next 6 weeks were back to homeschooling for the kids, visiting many sites in the city, including the Spanish Riding School with the white Lipizzaner horses (which made a big impression on my father – so much so, I was inspired to do the same about 40 years later!). My grandfather continued his studying and observing at the hospital and my grandmother sewed herself a new brown dress. They made their way back to Le Havre, France to board the ship to take them back to America on February 22nd, 1933

Sign up or check back next week for one more Christmas post about this family – Merry Christmas!


Christmas 1931

Imagine being an 8 year old boy crossing the country by train, coming from a small western town to New York City. It must have been quite the adventure for him, his 9 year old brother, and sister of almost 4. They had even bigger adventures ahead of them – taking an ocean liner to Europe! Their next Christmas would be spent in Vienna.

The young boy carrying the tree is my father, the 8 year old boy. You can tell he’s proud to be charged with such an important task, while his sister blows on her horn and older brother is directing them. My grandfather is loaded with gifts, while my grandmother also has a few.

This card was drawn by my Great Aunt who was an art professor in Massachusetts, but had come to visit her brother and his family in New York. My grandfather had spent most of his life on the East Coast, including some time in New York and Philadelphia, so I’m sure he felt somewhat at home.

My grandfather, a doctor, was studying in New York for a semester, while heading to Vienna and Budapest to continue his work to specialize in Pediatrics. It was a grand plan to bring his family along and to take advantage of the opportunity to travel and show them some of the world. Having grown up with many of the stories, I do know that it certainly was a memorable time – so much so that my father took my mother and me to Europe on an adventure as well! His sister, the young girl in this adventure, also took her family to Europe at one point.

On the other hand my grandmother was a probably a bit overwhelmed, but as a young woman she had traveled alone from Kansas to upper state New York during WWI and then to rural Nevada. The plan was to meet up with the love of her life at his small practice in a mining town and to eventually marry, which they did! She was full of adventure and very capable of managing the children, travel, etc. when needed. She also was in charge of schooling for the children, other than a few months of elementary school on Staten Island, where they were living during this Christmas of 1931.

Most of the family kept journals of their trip, but they did not begin until 1932. I do know that my grandmother loved to make candy, especially Christmas candy, so fudge, divinity, rocky road, penuche and more would have been something they experienced. She loved making candy with her father and family as a girl in Kansas and continued the tradition well into her 70’s.

Stockings were hung by the chimney with care, I am sure, and during these times, an orange in the toe, some nuts and a small toy or two were probably the extent of goodies. A goose or turkey for dinner, perhaps roast beef, with some of the same side dishes that some of us continue to have almost 90 years later would have been on the table. I certainly wish my father were still here to share more of his memories.

Part II, Christmas 1932 and Part III, Christmas 1944/45 to follow over the next couple of weeks. Sign up to follow this blog to make sure you don’t miss the next posts!


Krampus… and more

I don’t know about you, but I’d never heard of Krampus until a few years ago. Santa Claus – yes, the Grinch – yes, but a half-goat, half-demon Christmas figure?

Apparently, he’s been around for centuries, just like good ol’ St. Nick! And, as is the way with folklore, they’ve both morphed and adapted with the times.

St. Nicholas was actually a Bishop who became the patron Saint of children (among others) and therefore evolved into a kind, jolly man who might bring gifts if children are well behaved. St. Nicholas is celebrated in many parts of the world on December 6, not at Christmas as we in America do.

St. Nicholas Day is a feast day and often involves parades and other such celebrations. The night before, December 5, is when the children can expect to receive some goodies if they’ve been exceptionally good over the past year. In The Netherlands, children put their shoes outside the door for St. Nicholas to fill with sweets and presents. They also leave hay or carrots for his beautiful white horse. Does this sound familiar?

But let’s get back to Krampus – he is usually brown or black and hairy, with horns. In Eastern and Central European folklore he is St. Nicholas’ companion, bringing coal or switches to the naughty children. Sometimes he carries chains, which he rattles to scare the youngsters into being good.

Taking this one step further, December 5th has become known as Krampusnacht in some countries – Krampus Night – as that’s when he will come around to the houses leaving coal or switches, and in some cultures, even taking the bad children away! Since the 1800’s Krampus greeting cards have been exchanged, often using humorous rhymes or poems to lighten the scary character drawings on the front.

Continuing to morph or evolve, in folklore of The Netherlands, Belgium, Luxemburg, Indonesia and some areas of the Caribbean, St. Nicholas’ companion is “Black Pete” rather than Krampus. He is thought to be a former slave that St. Nicholas freed or a chimney sweep that is covered with soot – hmmm…. coming down the chimney? He also brings coal and switches to the naughty children and might take them away in the burlap bag he carries with him. In these cultures, poems are also used to celebrate the feast of St. Nicholas on December 5/6.

Hopefully in 2020, Krampus or Black Pete will understand that the world has suffered enough and only goodness and kindness will be spread on December 5/6, December 25 or any other day that you might celebrate.


Friday the 13th and Superstions

When I was growing up… step on a crack – break your mother’s back, lucky rabbit’s foot, a 4 leaf clover, wish upon a shooting star, and crossing your fingers were the most common superstitions that I remember. As a young child, these were not known as superstitions but just part of my culture – like covering your mouth when you yawned or saying excuse me if you interrupted or bumped someone.

Of course, having a black cat cross your path or walking under a ladder were known, and growing up in a ranching community, a lucky horseshoe was very common!

I didn’t know it, but saying “God Bless You” or “Gesundheit” when someone sneezes is also a sign of superstition – it was originally said so the devil doesn’t steal the person’s soul, now just a wish of Good Health.

Since it’s Friday the 13th, I thought I’d tell you about some other superstitions that I’ve learned about over the years.

Don’t go to the barber or hair salon tomorrow – it’s thought to be unlucky to cut your hair on Friday the 13th! Apparently, you shouldn’t cut your hair or nails on any night. Pirates felt it was unlucky to ever cut their hair, or their fingernails.

Sailors had/have many superstitions – one of them is to never set sail on a Friday. This apparently applies to any travel! Uh-oh weekend travelers, misfortune may occur…

If you do happen to be a sailor, or you’re embarking on a boat trip or cruise, be sure to board with your right foot first! Left foot first is considered unlucky – BUT, if you happen to be in France, it’s lucky to step in dog poo with your left foot – where do these things come from?!

Did you know that “knock on wood” came from the good luck fact that good spirits live in trees?

Itchy palms indicate that you have money coming your way, but did you know that an itchy right elbow signifies exciting news and if the left one itches, expect the opposite!

If your nose itches inside, trouble might be heading your way, but an outside itch symbolizes that someone, or something annoying is coming.

Did you ever get a chain letter? I remember a few when they were common – you must send this on to 10 others or the chain will be broken and you’ll have the bad luck!

We often hear of celebrities or sports idols wearing certain pieces of clothing, or colors for luck. Some folks wear or carry charms of sorts to help them along the way. I recently learned that carrying a cod head bone in your pocket is good luck – 2 from the same head is even better!

Does that sound strange? What about the wishbone from a turkey or chicken – the large end gets the wish when it’s pulled apart. Another one from childhood that I’d forgotten about!

When you wake up in the morning, remember to get out on the “right” side of the bed, so you’ll be assured of having a great day – Sleep Tight, Don’t let the Bed Bugs Bite! Oh, that’s for another post…