(MCW note: Linda Lord’s post was delayed, so we’re switching the schedule. Enjoy Janet’s post, and we’ll have Linda for you tomorrow)
I’m Janet Morgan. I was born and raised in the small town of Wiscasset, Maine, where I haunted the library as a child. While I’ve always been a great book and library lover, I would never have guessed that one day I’d become library director in that same library.
During my 28 year stint at the Wiscasset Public Library the most frequently asked questions concerned the two ships in Wiscasset harbor. People were curious as to why the Hesper and the Luther Little were abandoned there. While the ships fascinated Wiscasset visitors, the question that most intrigued me came from a local teenager when an 8th grade class visited the library: “Where’s the ghost?”
“But we don’t have a ghost here,” I said. “You must be thinking about the Governor Smith House, or the Musical Wonder House. They’re across the street.”
“Nope, he’s here,” the girl insisted. “Everyone says so.”
I couldn’t convince her to the contrary, and I didn’t think I would hear the end of it if “everyone says so.” So I began to search for a library ghost. A number of books have been written about Maine ghosts, but I had no luck in discovering a library ghost. I did, however, uncover quite a number of ghostly sightings in Wiscasset. I was ready – or so I thought – when the next teenager walked into the library to ask the same question. Her response surprised me: “But there’s a picture of the library ghost online!”
As soon as the girl left I went to my computer and searched. Yes, someone had actually posted a picture of a library ghost. The still shot of a vague figure, taken looking into the Wiscasset library from outside, was less than convincing. But I knew this would not be the end of it. Because ghosts intrigue teenagers, they would be back with more questions, in my spare time, I did research in the archives. I eventually found my library ghost story.
The building now housing the Wiscasset Public Library began as a bank for the rich ship owners and sea captains who settled in early Wiscasset. The bank opened for business in 1806, complete with a different type of bank vault. A jug vault was placed under the flooring of what is now the library’s reading room. The only way into the jug vault was through a trapdoor. To discourage thieves, the space between the cellar wall and a lining outside the jug vault was filled with water. Had anyone decided to dig to the jug vault they would, conceivably, have drowned. There was no record, however, of this happening.
The story centers on a boy who was sent down into the vault. Why they did this wasn’t divulged. It is assumed that someone forgot he was down there, for he was closed in – or so the story goes – and was no longer living when a banker opened the vault again. This was our ghost. The teens who subsequently visited the library went away thrilled with the story.
One would think that once I decided to write mystery stories featuring a ghost I would use this one. The protagonist of my Killdeer Farm mystery series is a Maine librarian who inherited more than a farm from her grandparents. She lives there with a ghost, whose origin is yet another Wiscasset ghost story.
I, too, was a teenager when I had my first encounter with a ghost. A friend told me that she had a Civil War ghost — dressed in a gray uniform — in her home. Nothing would stop me; I must see him. I stayed overnight in that house a number of times before Judy pointed him out to me. Yes, her story was true, but one aspect of it made me curious. I never could reconcile how a Rebel soldier ended up in Maine while still in his Confederate uniform.
If I couldn’t solve this mystery, I decided to make up my own solution. So a few years ago I wrote a short story about him. My fictional Ben Ames captivated me to the point that, when I began writing Killdeer Farm mysteries, Ben became an essential part of the series.
Poetic Justice and Composted Tyrant are the first two books in which Jessie Tyler struggles with the reality of her husband’s death. Ben not only helps her through difficult times, but assists her in solving crimes in the fictional town of Wyleyville, Maine.
My third Killdeer Farm mystery, Katahdin Drowning, will be published in May. In it, Jessie finds a body at Baxter State Park, where she, her son, and friends are hiking the final leg of the Appalachian Trail. There Jessie Tyler and company assist the police in unmasking the killer.
And life comes full circle. Every time I enter the Wiscasset Public Library’s reading room I am reminded of the ghost boy who died in the jug vault that once rested below my feet. And that might be a good idea for another story.
Great article! Never knew the story of the boy who died under the bank. Can’t wait to read “Katahdin Drowning.”
Love the Killdeer Farm novels!
Janet, thank you so much for joining us at Maine Crime Writers during National Library week.
Fascinating. We do get to research some very interesting things as librarians.
Great article. I can’t wait till “Katahdin Drowning” comes out. I never knew about the ghost in the library or Judy’s ghost.
The Killdeer Farm series is a very interesting read with some really different characters and great story lines. I love everything about Maine and these stories bring the reader right into the state. I am very much looking forward to “Katahdin Drowning”.