Saturday, October 29, 2011

Halloween Tour – Remnants of Maritime Disasters - Castine, Maine

The abandoned remains of Gardiner G. Deering, a five masted schooner, lies in Smith Cove

From the history-drenched community of Castine come two tales. The first, of a spectre lingering on after one of the worst naval defeats in U.S. History. The second, hard evidence of a prophetic dream. Read on if you dare, but be warned: There is almost no kayaking involved!
I begin with the most famous ghost tale from Castine, that of the Little Drummer Boy. The legend began simply enough, in 1855, when William Hutchins, shared his memories of the Penobscot Expedition. The Penobscot Expedition took place in 1779 during the American Revolution. It was an unsuccessful attempt by the US forces to free Castine from British capture. Either through incompetence, inadequacies or bad luck the entire US fleet was captured or burned. Castine remained under British control through the end of the war.
William Hutchins, who had been 14 in 1779, included in his tales the story of a drummer killed during a skirmish at the Half Moon Battery.

William Hutchins noted that the soldier’s ghostly drumming could be heard at midnight near where he was killed.
The Half Moon Battery Plaque is across the street from the center tree
Over the years the location of the ghostly drumming has changed. Originally heard down by the shore, it shifted up to high ground and Fort George. The fort was built by the English in their first occupation of Castine during the Revolutionary War, and rebuilt, again by the English, in their second occupation of Castine during the War of 1812.
Fort George still remains, a combination state historic and children’s athletic field.

Rumor has it, the best time to hear the drum beat is August 1, on the anniversary of the attack.
Bernard Cornwell, in his highly enjoyable book about the Penobscot Expedition, The Fort, pays homage to the tale. His young drummer is given instructions which may explain why his spirit lingers on. (Here on Amazon, Bernard Cornwell talks about his book while he walks around Fort George)
Castine has adopted the story of the Little Drummer Boy as its own, and often includes him in summer festivities. The Wilson Museum has more details about the Little Drummer Boy.

Schooner Juliet Tilden
For a more localized disaster, we drift to the Castine cemetery. There, a simple dark rock shares a family plot with one other gravestone, that of Frank Perkins. The oval lump, about two feet by one, looks like a piece of bedrock which was impractical to move.
The rock is in front of the middle gravestone
But feel along the edges and you will find three carved initials, SFP. The story behind those initials begins with a dream.

In 1867, Mrs. Clark awoke from a nightmare in which she saw the schooner Juliet Tilden cast upon a deserted sandbar. The Juliet Tilden was a newer schooner, heading out on only its second journey. The voyage planned was simple enough, fishing up by the Magdelene Islands. Mrs. Clark, known locally as a "forerunner" shared her vision and a few men signed off the trip. Sadly, one who did not was her son Will Clark.
Another who did not sign off was Sam Perkins. Still, some foreboding must have worried him, for the night before it sailed he went down to the slate rocks by the harbor and carved his initials there. He told his father, Frank, that if he didn’t come home this was to be his gravestone.
No one on board survived that journey. Wreckage of the Juliet Tilden was found a few months later up by the Magdelen Islands. Sam’s carved rock was moved to the cemetery. (And, though I can’t find any proof, I suspect Sam carved his initials more to the center, and those initials have worn away. I think the deeply carved initials found along the edge were added by a more professional carver.)
Eighteen men and boys local to Castine were on board when the schooner was wrecked, making it the worst local disaster. Those in Castine still remember; the Juliet Tilden has been the subject of an exhibit at the Wilson Museum and the subject of at least one short story.


  1. I love the Castine much history to well as a tie up at Dennett's (if you can find some space) for some chowda'!

  2. Castine is a wonderful place in the summer. A beautiful variety to paddling, great food, so many interesting streets and houses. Can't say I visit much off season though...once Dennett's and The Breeze shut and the cold winds blow, it loses a lot of appeal, to me anyway.