DESCRIPTION / HISTORY
Visiting this quaint, historic cemetery was a very pleasant experience. The cemetery has a lovely view, as it “slopes gently down from north to south, overlooking the Fore River Basin and the western horizon”. Graves are scattered around and among patches of trees.
Folks from all classes were laid here to hopefully have eternal rest. It also has a wooded section. Family mausoleums of the wealthier members of society still stand proudly. Other lovely stone monuments that weren’t vandalized still mark graves. Some gravestones still mark the departed’s resting place, despite all the abuse this cemetery has endured up until 2003, when the city was shamed into doing a better job in maintaining and restoring it.
Western Cemetery is the second oldest cemetery in Portland, Maine. Originally, this land was part of farmer George Bramhall’s property in the late 1600s. Unfortunately, farmer Bramhall was brutally killed by an Indian attack, during the first French and Indian War, called King Phillips War. Farmer Bramhall’s grave was probably one of the first graves dug here, perhaps destining this land to be a burial ground. Part of Western Cemetery was indeed a burial ground, for a section of it holds the remains of many veterans of the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812, 17 years before the city of Portland bought it to be the new city cemetery. Near this burial ground, a home for the poor and indigent once stood there as well, but was torn down at some point.
In 1829, the city fathers bought the land and created The Western Cemetery. In 1841, more land was bought and added, completing the present 12 acres of the cemetery. Western Cemetery was Portland’s main cemetery from 1829–1852, until Evergreen Cemetery was built in Deering, a suburb of Portland.
One 1841 parcel of land bought, formerly known as Brown’s Hill, became the Catholic Cemetery section of Western Cemetery, as there was great need for such a section. Many Irish Catholics who had immigrated from Ireland to escape the infamous potato famine had settled in Portland. From 1843 to 1882, 900 people were buried in this section. Many of them had hard, stress-filled lives, and their relatives had hoped that these brave immigrants could finally find rest in such a beautiful spot.
Though no one knows for sure, because of a massive fire in the late 1800s, that burned down most of Portland, and the poor record keeping done by the city government over the years, 6,600 people are thought to be buried in Western Cemetery, filling its entire 12 acres. Western Cemetery was deemed to be all bought out in 1910. Last known burial happened in 1987, in a long established, family plot.
Throughout the years, people and the city government, who were supposed to be caring for Western Cemetery, have been negligent in its upkeep, as I’m sure they considered other priorities to be a more pressing need for city resources. Thus, the upkeep and restoration/protection of this historic relic, Western Cemetery, was put on the bottom of the list. This is more likely to happen when a city or state government is in charge of a property deemed not valuable or having problems, making it subject to budget cuts.
A full cemetery offers little profit or practical benefit, and they couldn’t sell it “as is” either. At least they didn’t try to move the massive amount of graves to another cemetery, and build on the land something else, or sell the land to a developer.
Throughout the years, the Western Cemetery suffered large numbers of grave desecrations and acts of vandalism, as no one seemed to care at all. The example was given in one source that from July 1st, 1988, to August 1st, 1989, 1,942 tombs were desecrated, and headstones were stolen as well.
Out of the 900 Irish immigrant graves, only 50 headstones remain. On Sunday August 15, 1999, Division 1 of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, in Portland, dedicated a stone marker, marking the Catholic Ground on one side and remembering the Irish Famine immigrants who settled in Portland on the other side, to try to honor the dead in this Catholic section of Western Cemetery, perhaps to quiet the restless souls, disturbed because someone took their headstones.
The crowning insult came from the Portland City Council, in 2000, who declared that The Western Cemetery was now the new off-leash doggie park, where dogs were free to pee and poop over everything. They thought that they had come up with a practical use for a full cemetery.
However, in June of 2003, The Portland City Council was taken to the woodshed, so to speak, after a fiery commentary was posted on Internment.net, by Paul O’Neill, who was the President of Division 1 of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, in Portland, Maine. Paul led the charge with his commentary. Here is a summary of his bullet points: “What makes the Western Cemetery case so indefensible is the fact it has not just simply been neglected, it is being deliberately, actively, systematically and relentlessly desecrated with the city’s blessing. The City of Portland has designated the Western Cemetery not a park but an ‘off-leash dog park’. This means that instead of spending a few dollars to fence in an appropriate area for dog walking and running, dog-owners are invited to and encouraged to bring their dogs into the Western Cemetery to romp all over and relieve themselves on people’s graves.”
A firestorm of protest erupted, and after a fierce debate between dog lovers and concerned citizens in front of the Portland City Council, dogs were banished from Western Cemetery, and a new dog park was created elsewhere in the city. A restoration project of the tombs began in October of 2003, because of a newly formed private/public partnership, between the Stewards of the Western Cemetery and the City of Portland. City of Portland exclusively funded the restoration of many of the family tombs.
Though the gravestones are still missing, Western Cemetery is now treated with the respect that it deserves. However, damage has been done, and some spirits are still restless.
HISTORY OF MANIFESTATIONS
When graves are disrespected, desecrated, headstones stolen, often spirits become restless, angry at the living.
Over the years, there have been reports of many restless spirits still wandering the cemetery, perhaps looking for their lost headstones.
Shadow people have been seen at all hours of the day and night.
Perhaps people have felt unseen presences, or heard voices.
Perhaps some EVPs/pictures have been caught on tape, for many sources claim that Western Cemetery has many incidents of paranormal activity.
Probably so. When a cemetery has been neglected, and traumatized for as long as Western Cemetery has endured, it goes to reason that some entities are upset, confused and annoyed with the dolts who were supposed to be guarding their final resting place. The marker in the Catholic section should soothe some restless spirits there, but others who were attached to their headstones may still be wandering around, looking for them. (The Mourning Room Display) The positive changes in the Western Cemetery, and the new respect of the Portland City Council will probably calm some spirits down, though the trust was broken for a long time.
Many visitors have seen, and probably heard and felt the presence of restless ones, pulled back into this world by the long-time neglect and vandalism done in Western Cemetery.
Probably many paranormal investigations; both scientific and psychic, have been done in Western Cemetery, but perhaps they don’t have permission to reveal any details because the Portland City Council doesn’t want the consequences of their bad behavior of poor upkeep and neglect of at least 70 years of Western Cemetery be on display via EVPs or other hard evidence gathered.
Western Cemetery is located in Portland’s West End neighborhood, adjacent to the city’s Western Promenade. This pie-shaped cemetery has three streets that surround its borders. Western Prom runs around the pie-shaped southern border, Vaughn St. runs along its east boarder, and Bowdoin St. is closest to its northern boarder, though their are a row of houses between Bowdoin St. and the cemetery.
Take Congress St. east. Turn right onto St. John Street, going south. It turns into Danforth that bears east. Turn left onto Vaughan St. and look for the entrance.
- Ghosts of Maine, by T.M. Gray, Schiffer Publications, 2008
Our Haunted Paranormal Stories are Written by Julie Carr