The dark-haired man in blue and the hurrying woman
Any good town is probably going to have a few good ghost stories, and Bar Harbor is no exception. Most of our better known ghost stories, however, deal with public buildings, restaurants and hotels rather than private residences—or former private residences.
Compass Harbor is apparently one of those ghostly places. How ghostly? So ghostly that Ghosts of Acadia author Marcus Libbizi writes,
“In terms of ghostly atmosphere, nothing surpasses the Compass Harbor Nature Trail. Less than a mile from downtown Bar Harbor, the trail begins from the ocean side of Main Street. The visitor quickly enters a strange place of spellbound silence. In its eerie shores and mysterious ruins, Compass Harbor offers nothing less than a lost world haunted by the phantoms of the past.”
For those of us who live here, the mysterious ruins are well-known as the remnants of Oldfarm, a shingle-style Queen Anne Victorian where the Dorr family resided. They bought property here in 1868.
As Steven Pavlos Holmes for Harvard Magazine wrote in 2016,
“By the early 1900s, increasing threats to the scenery of Mount Desert Island led to that model of private ownership of conservation land being transferred to Maine: the Hancock County Trustees of Public Reservations was created, with Charles William Eliot as president and Dorr as vice president and executive officer. After initial land acquisitions and conservation measures, it became clear that negotiating the varied interests involved would require not a private organization but rather public ownership and management, achieved with the transfer of the assembled properties to federal authority as a national monument in 1916.”
The first superintendent of the park, George Bucknam Dorr is considered one of the fathers of Acadia National Park, spending time, giving huge pieces of land, most of his money, and a lot of his intellectual energy to creating the 35,000-acre park. Prior to the family’s occupancy, the land was the site of the Cousen’s Farm and allegedly a burial ground of the Wabanakis.
Ah, but what of the ghosts?
The trail heads from a small parking area and forks in a few directions. You can stroll out to a side street, cross the pavement, and run or hike all the way to the Schoodic Overlook. You can head up to the Dorr mansion ruins, or you can head to the cove. Exposed roots and morning fog can combine to make a pretty haunting atmosphere as you pass massive cedars, a circle of yews, ancient rhododendrons and pines.
According to Libbizi, the ghost of the Compass Harbor Trail never appears head on, but stays in your peripheral vision.
“The image is always the same,” he writes, “a dark-haired man in blue. The spirit appears only for a flash, and then he’s gone, returning when least expected. In this way, the ghost seems to stalk hikers on the trail. At night, the caretaker’s spirit manifests as a phantom light that weaves mysteriously among the trees. Although this spirit seems threatening, he does not harm anyone, only watches obsessively over the forest and nearby ruins.”
Dorr’s caretaker was John Rich, who stayed with Dorr as Dorr’s health failed. George Dorr died in 1944 of heart failure while walking with Rich on the property.
Libbizi writes of another potential spirit haunting the area. “She materializes at dusk as the apparition of a young woman hurrying down the overgrown avenue, through the haunted forest, and past the ruins of Oldfarm. Her destination is the shore, and if the moon has already risen, she can be clearly seen walking down to the tip of Dorr Point and then, most strangely, disappearing into the sea.”
According to Libbizi, Edith Wharton visited Oldfarm. She often wrote ghost stories. William James also allegedly went to Oldfarm. Mr. James was a philosopher, psychologist, historian and the first person to offer a course in psychology in the United States. He is often considered the Father of American psychology. Those two historical figures apparently lead weight to the potential hauntings.
If you go looking for ghosts or if you’re looking for history, don’t forget to look at the beautiful ruins, the herringbone pattern of the veranda’s bricks. Bricks that Dorr, Rich, and possibly Wharton and James all once stood.
FOR MORE ABOUT DORR
This Wednesday, August 31 at 7 p.m., the Jesup Memorial Library presents Ronald H. Epp, Ph.D., who wrote Creating Acadia National Park : the Biography of George Bucknam Dorr.
According to the library’s website, “Epp’s talk will focus on the excitement of discovering six concealed manuscript collections now part of the Dorr Research Archive.”
SOME LINKS TO LEARN MORE
For a fascinating series of short videos of Oldfarm from the National Park Service, click here.
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