Haunted hearse tour gives visitors and residents a dose of spooky history

2 years ago

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — The Haunted Hearse Tour has given a chilling drive through Presque Isle’s history, with just a few ghost stories to tell, since 2019.

The tour began at the Historical Fire Station at 11 Church St. on Halloween night with a walk inside to the new section’s second floor. The three tours are spaced out for age groups with younger kids attending the 6 p.m. tour, another at 7:30 p.m., and the older adults at 9 p.m. tour.

Kim Smith, secretary-treasurer of the Presque Isle Historical Society board, led the Haunted Hearse Tour, which was inspired by the 2018 findings of the Maine Paranormal Investigation Team after visiting 20 different sites around Presque Isle. Smith and the Historical Society board president Craig Green came up with the Haunted Hearse Tour as an interesting way to bring out the investigation team’s findings and reach a wider audience.

“One of the things they asked is that I not tell them anything about the sites we were going to. They wanted to come up with their own findings and present that to me if they were on target or not. They were every single time,” Smith said.

After seeing the Fire Station, the tour is broadcast live through one of 20 different radio stations from the 1996 Cadillac hearse to participants’ car radios. Green drives the hearse. The hearse tour goes around the corner to City Hall and down into the basement for two of 13 haunted sites around Presque Isle.

Some of the sites included driving past the 1875 Vera Estey House and the Lotus Bar learning about the town’s history, with Smith painting a picture of Victorian architecture and ghostly haunts through the car radio.

Smith said that 41 percent of people do not believe in ghosts, 40 percent do believe in ghosts and 19 percent are undecided. Part of the history on the Haunted Hearse Tour is learning about the different blocks and a business building that housed several businesses.

“Well I am definitely one of the ones that would border on the line of being a skeptic, but a lot of the key things that Kim talked about swayed me a little bit to the other side,” said Historical Society board member Linda Menard. “Whether you’re a believer or not, the history and all of the stories that go along with the tour that she gives is very well worth the trip if people have never done it before.”

Menard said the tour was about a four- to five-mile loop with the farthest spot being out toward Mapleton Road where Smith told the stories about phrenology in the late 1800s — the study of bumps on the skull that reveals a person’s personality traits. An attorney named George Smith took phrenology lecturer Luther Bateman to find the body of James Cullen buried along Mapleton Road and took his head for examination.

The investigation Team visited during two weekends in June and August, bringing equipment like a spirit box, an infrared and digital camera, audio recording equipment, a 360-degree motion sensor, dowsing rods and a crystal scrying pendulum.

“Even if you don’t believe in ghosts, it’s entertaining because you’re still learning local history while you are going to these sites,” Smith said.

The tour concludes at the 1912 old jail of the Fire Station on the right side of the building. Down in the 14-by-28-foot concrete steel basement jail, Smith recounted the facility’s use and the spirit that haunts it in the solitary confinement room at the back. The paranormal investigation team discovered this entity using its spirit box.

“We’ve had people that are really into the whole finding the ghost thing and they bring their own little tools with them. They have a blast and so do the people that don’t necessarily believe, but kind of like the spooky and to hear more about the darker history of Presque Isle,” Smith said.

Green acquired the hearse from the funeral director of the Strong-Hancock Funeral Home in Damariscotta. The hearse would’ve been discarded by the funeral home and replaced by a new hearse. The Haunted Hearse Tour runs once a month May through October with three tours offered on Halloween night.

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — October 31, 2022 — Kim Smith (middle), secretary-treasurer of the Presque Isle Historical Society, asks the crystal pendulum if there are any ghosts on Halloween night outside of the Historic Fire Station toward the end of the Haunted Hearse Tour. (Paul Bagnall | The Star-Herald)

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — October 31, 2022 — Kim Smith (middle) secretary-treasurer of the Presque Isle Historical Society leads the Nason family tour group into the basement of the Presque Isle City Hall describing what The Maine Paranormal Investigation Team found when they visited in 2018. (Paul Bagnall | The Star-Herald)

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — October 31, 2022 — The 1996 Cadillac hearse for the Haunted Hearse Tour parked in front of the Historic Fire Station in Presque Isle on Halloween night with Larry the Skellington peering out from inside. (Paul Bagnall | The Star-Herald)