The Working Waterfront

Living with others

History sometimes comes to ‘life’

Phil Crossman
Posted 2022-01-20
Last Modified 2022-01-20

Around mid-day on Friday, Aug. 15, 1986, while excavating on the shore of Carver’s Pond, a gravestone—in one piece and undamaged—was unearthed from a very unlikely spot, only a few feet from the shore, certainly far from the nearest cemetery. The stone was cleaned up and carefully set aside. It read:

Sarah Noyes, wife of Chaney Noyes,
born February 21, 1822
died, August 15, 1886.

In 1849, Sarah and Chaney built the big comfortable federal home that I’m so fortunate to now own and occupy. They lived here together, until Sarah died, 37 years later.

This day, Aug. 15, 1986, the day her gravestone was unearthed, was the one hundreth anniversary of her death and that night Darlene, our customary babysitter, showed up around 6 p.m. to look after our daughter Katie. I and Elaine, she lovely in a red dress, were headed out to the Haven for dinner with friends.

Darlene played with Katie for a while and then, around 7, took her upstairs to bed, read her a story or two then came back down and snuggled in on the couch to watch something interesting on TV.

Time passed and no one came back downstairs, and Darlene grew more and more anxious, then spooked.

Around 7:30, she heard the kitchen door open, and someone come in. Darlene called out from the couch, “Hello?”

There was no answer, but the footsteps came closer, from the kitchen, through the dining room. Figuring it was one of us, she barely glanced over her shoulder when a woman, dressed in red—she did notice that much—walked through the dark hall and went upstairs.

Elaine had probably forgotten something. Odd, though, that she hadn’t said hello or asked about Katie or even turned on a light.

Time passed and no one came back downstairs, and Darlene grew more and more anxious, then spooked. It would be at least an hour before we were expected to return from dinner.

She got off the couch, stepped tentatively into the hall and turned on the light. She entered the living room and turned on a light, then all its lights and inched toward the stairs that led to the second floor. Peeking around the corner and upstairs into the darkness, she could see there were no lights on upstairs either.

She tried to issue a hesitant “hello” but merely croaked. Trembling, she turned and, leaving all the lights on, retreated back to the den and there tried desperately to become one with the couch.

Around 9 Elaine and I came home to find Darlene, a tiny knot among the cushions, peeking out from beneath a blanket. She told us about the visitor in red that was still upstairs and then she hurried home. That was over 30 years ago.

Our cat does not navigate the hallway—where Darlene saw the figure in red—comfortably, and not at all unless the light is on. Then, sometimes, he skirts along quickly, more so recently, tail at attention, fur standing up, his back pressed against the north wall while hissing at the opposite wall, until he emerges into the living room and retreats to a napping place at the opposite side of the room, not to sleep but, apparently, to watch what only he sees.

And while he does often go upstairs, he will not come into our bedroom, often backing into a corner in the hall and snarling quietly but unmistakably, at our bedroom door.

No one has come downstairs yet that we know of, although several times in those 30 years, we’ve been awoken in our second-floor bedroom by a transient presence, usually at the foot of the bed, lovely in red, clearly troubled.

Phil Crossman lives on Vinalhaven, where he owns the Tidewater Motel and serves on the select board. He is the author of Away Happens, As The Crow Flies and Observations: A Maine Island, a Century of Newsletters and the Stories Found Between the Lines. He can be reached at: