Community listens to creepy stories of downtown Presque Isle during tour
PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — Despite evening temperatures in the mid 30s, a crowd of over 20 individuals gathered at the historic fire station on Church Street in Presque Isle for the beginning of a tour that would take them to many historic locations and reveal the “slightly scary, kind of creepy” stories of unusual folks who once inhabited the city.
The Presque Isle Historical Society’s 8th annual Haunted Lantern Tour marked the first of two walking tours on Friday night. After a brief guided walk through the alleged “haunted” stairs of the fire station, historical society treasurer and secretary Kim Smith led the group down the darkened sidewalks of Main Street and Academy Street to 13 locations such as the former “Bolton Block” and the former home of a sheriff who was involved in the story of New England’s only known lynching.
Early in the tour the group stopped in front of the building on Main Street that now houses the Presque Isle Elks Lodge and Northern Lanes Bowling. Smith explained that in 1800s Presque Isle, a “block” referred to a building that housed many different businesses. In 1935 the Bolton Block burned down and was later rebuilt, but in 1943 the building burnt to the ground again, this time killing the man for which it was named, Billy Bolton.
But an even more chilling story has roots in both historical days and the recent past. Across the street from the Bolton Block sits a building that previously housed a pawn shop, its aging original sign still hanging above the doors. The most recent man who owned the pawn shop and apartment rooms above the store, George Jaime, was found guilty in 2013 of stabbing and beating to death his live-in girlfriend, 38-year-old Starlette Vining, in 1998. Jaime, who was 76 at the time of his trial, was sentenced to 40 years in prison.
Smith told the intrigued crowd of the scary way in which prosecutors proved Jaime to be guilty of murdering Vining.
“They found bone fragments in the building,” Smith said.
Many of the stories told during the Haunted Lantern Tour involved ghosts of former city residents who are said to still be haunting the area to this day. One of those “ghosts,” is Jim Cullen, who is the only known person to have been lynched in New England. Dressed in Victorian clothes the “ghost” of Sheriff James Phair, also known as historical society volunteer Guy Landry, stood on the lawn of Phair’s former Academy Street home and told the creepy tale. He explained that Cullen wore size 14 shoes and that one day in the winter of 1873 he decided to steal a pair of boots from a store in Mapleton.
When the store’s owner, David Dudley, noticed the next morning that the pair of boots were gone, he told authorities. Two men — Deputy Sheriff Granville Hayden and Deputy Officer William Hubbard — followed Cullen’s large tracks to the camp of John Swanback, a man who often employed Cullen, 11 miles past Mapleton. The men served Cullen an arrest warrant but decided to spend the night at the camp before bringing him to jail.
During the night Swanback and Minot Bird, a boy who had been staying at the camp, woke up to find Cullen murdering Hayden and Hubbard with a 3 ½ pound ax and quickly escaped the premises.
“This Cullen fellow wasn’t a very bright man and many people in town did not like him,” said Landry. “Little did I know, about 100 people found Cullen and hung him from a tree until he was dead.”
Sometime after Cullen’s death, an unknown man from out of town claiming to be a university professor showed up and stated that he wanted to dig up Cullen’s body and detach his head so that he could use his skull for research on human temperament. The man did indeed accomplish his mission but turns out he was part of a circus touring group whose sideshow featured “freaks” and detached human skulls for entertainment.
While his head might have left Mapleton, Cullen’s “ghost” still haunts the nearby roads, according to Smith.
“If you’re driving near Mapleton and you see a man walking and looking for his head, that’s Jim,” she said.
The Haunted Lantern Tour proved to be popular with attendees, including Martha Buc, of Mapleton, who came with her parents, mother-in-law and three children.
“This is the second year I’ve gone on the tour. I enjoy getting to walk around to the old buildings and learn about the histories that I might not have known before,” Buck said.
Two walking tours were also held on Saturday night, along with two tours on both Friday and Saturday night aboard the historical society’s Molly the Trolley.
“We found a unique way to tell some of the darker stories of Presque Isle’s past,” Smith said.