Summertime in the Belgrades
July 11 – 17
The Guide Ghosts of Great Pond, Part 2
by Rod Johnson
My wife Doris and I were having lunch at the Sunset Grill, when by chance we sat with Pam Cobb and her husband Mark, who operate a girl's camp on Great Pond called Camp Runoia.
After a second Sam Summer Ale, and quite out of the blue, I began spouting off to Pam and Mark about my run-in with a ghostly guide back in 1966. It had happened on a very foggy night out near Hoyt's Island. Having never told the story to others, it must have been time to do so, as I spared no details. Pam began to get a little gray pallor.
When my story was done, a moment of silence ensued. Soon Pam whisperingly said, "I think my dad knew they existed and that they gathered on Great Pond from time to time." Pam must have needed to tell her dad Phil's story. He had told it to her and her siblings some 40+ years earlier.
He started the story by telling of a strange weather inversion that brought thick fog, socking in Central Maine. The fog came quickly around 6 p.m., when the campers at Runoia Girls Camp normally went to the dining hall.
That night, Phil was alerted that one of the young girls had become separated from a group while stumbling back to her bunk shack in the soupy fog. He immediately went out and began a thorough search while calling the child's name.
Moving slowly and carefully, even with his knowledge of every inch of path, making headway was no small challenge. The rocks and roots were a constant menace. He purposely headed down the path toward the beach and boathouse, stopping every few steps to call and listen for a reply.
It was not long before a frightened reply led him to the scared young girl, sitting on the bow of a small sailboat that had been pulled up on the beach earlier in the day. Phil called back to the lodge with his walkie-talkie to alert everyone that all was well.
Just as he and the young girl started to slowly pick their way back up the path, they became aware of distant music playing. Even with the dense fog, the sense was that the music was wafting from due east, directly in line with Oak Island.
The tunes were those of old from the early 20th century, such as "When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again" and "Ida, Sweet as Apple Cider." He recognized the tunes from old 78 r.p.m. records that he and wife Betty often played on the vintage RCA Victrola back at the farmhouse — records from their predecessor, Miss Lucy Weiser.
The humming seemed to be accompanied by a fiddle and maybe a harmonica as well. Not being able to fathom what was happening out there over the lake, but knowing it was more than a figment of his imagination, he and the young girl stood spellbound.
Then suddenly the aura completely changed. The music faded away and a sharp breeze came up, quickly dissipating the fog within minutes. Stars began to appear and the path back up the hill to the bunkhouses became clear. Phil returned the child to her rightful group in bunk shack # 3, where her friends greeted her with hugs and words of compassion.
Later that evening Phil recounted the story to Betty about the music emanating from Oak Island. She appeared skeptical but tried to keep an open mind.
The next morning at daybreak, before any campers or counselors awoke, Phil slid the 18-foot Old Town canoe off the beach and headed for Oak Island, about one half mile due east. He had slept fitfully and needed to come to some conclusion about the music that had wafted through the fog only ten hours earlier.
Upon approaching the island's rocky shore, Phil decided to work his way around to the south end to a spot he knew would not damage the 80-year-old, canvas-covered canoe, when he went ashore. The beloved tender vessel had been bequeathed to him by Miss Weiser.
After landing and quietly sliding the canoe up onto some dri-ki, he stood perfectly quiet and let his eyes adjust to the low light under the dark hemlock canopy. After a few cautious steps toward what is considered to be a nice campfire spot, Phil's heart rate jumped up at least 20 beats per minute. At the same time the whiff of a wood fire came to him, he spied the rocked-up fire pit — where a tiny wisp of smoke was rising from the ashes of a recently doused blaze.
After being momentarily frozen in place without so much as a blink, he found himself taking very small steps towards the pit. He cautiously stepped over the heavy pine plank supported by boulders on each end, one that had served as a bench for decades. The dirt floor of the area around the pit had been swept clean, as with a pine bow or some crude broom, leaving no tangible signs that man may have been there recently.
Mesmerized, Phil slowly sat down on the large plank, stared at the smoke wisps and took in the aura of quiet. The only moving life seemed to be the ants around the pit area, diligently scouring for their first meal of the day, also a mother robin feeding her young in the giant hemlock's overhanging limb.
After seconds passed, a familiar noise shook him from the trance. He then came back to reality, knowing that the noise was the morning bell at Camp Runoia, a 7 a.m. ritual for the past 100+ years. The bell signaled a wake up call for all and the beginning of a new busy day at camp.
When rising to leave, his eyes caught some recent carvings in the old plank seat. The whittlings were still present on the bench and some on the ground below it. He suddenly realized that ten sets of initials had been carved into the bench and touched them lightly to confirm their presence.
After some seconds passed, he decided to copy down the initials for further ponderance. Finding no writing utensil on his person, he used a tiny blackened stick from the fire pit to scribble the initials on the back of a Day's Marina receipt, still in his shirt pocket from the previous day's purchase of gasoline and outboard oil.
He felt the urgency to get back to camp and begin the day's chores, carefully sliding the antique canoe back into the water. After a quickened paddle back to the mainland he became engulfed in the daily challenges of running the girls' camp with his family and staff.
Please join us next week for the third and final
Rod Johnson was born and raised in the Belgrade Lakes in the 1950s and '60s.