Difficulty: Moderate. Loose rocks, broken asphalt from an old road and exposed tree roots make for tricky footing in many places.
How to get there: From Main Street in Bucksport, turn onto Central Street (beside MacLeod’s Restaurant and across from Fort Knox Park Inn). Follow Central Street approximately 1.8 miles and turn left into the parking area of Bucksport Public Works (362 Central Street). Follow signs for Silver Lake Trails to the left of the blue buildings and down a dirt drive to the parking area for the trail network. A kiosk with a trail map marks the trailhead.
Information: Silver Lake Trails is a 67-acre park that features 2 miles of community trails that lead to the shores of Silver Lake, which is said to be haunted by a certain ghost — the ghost of Sarah Ware.
Sarah Ware was born in 1846 and died in 1898, according to her gravestone at the woodland edge of the Oak Hill Cemetery off McDonald Street in Bucksport. What’s unusual about her story is the nature of her demise, which was most likely at the hands of a murderer, one who was never brought to justice.
I would be relying on local ghost stories if it weren’t for the efforts of Emeric Spooner, an assistant librarian at Buck Memorial Library who in 2006 began digging up records of Ware’s death in old newspaper clippings and court documents. Spooner compiled his findings in “In Search of Sarah Ware: Reinvestigating Murder and Conspiracy in a Maine Village,” a book he self-published in 2008.
According to Spooner, Ware disappeared while running evening errands on the night of Sept. 17, 1898. Two weeks later, the community organized a search for Ware and found her in the pastures of the home of ”Mrs. Miles,” where Ware was employed as a maid. Right away, evidence pointed to foul play. Ware’s skull was badly damaged. And when local men lifted her body to place it in a coffin, her head fell off.
From that point on, her death was under investigation. The inquest jury came back with the judgement that Ware had “met death at the hands of a person or persons unknown.” However, the lead suspect was acquitted of the crime, which was never solved.
So why would Ware’s ghost haunt Silver Lake?
Her headless body was buried at the old Silver Lake Cemetery, according to a 1904 story in the Daily Kennebec Journal. In the 1930s, all of the graves in the cemetery were dug up and relocated when a dam was built and Silver Lake expanded over the site. Ware was moved to Oak Hill Cemetery, where her headstone sits behind the headstones of her mother-in-law and father-in-law, Hannah and Charles, and beside the headstones of her husband, Charles, and her daughter, Alice.
One odd aspect of the story is that Ware’s head was held as evidence in the Ellsworth Courthouse for 100 years. In 1998, her head was reunited with her body in Oak Hill Cemetery.
Or was it? Some versions of the ghost story state that her headless body is still buried at the site of the old Silver Lake Cemetery, now submerged in Silver Lake. People have reported seeing her ghost walking near Silver Lake on foggy nights, according to “Ghosts on the Coast of Maine” by Carol Olivieri Schultz. But don’t let that scare you away from the Silver Lake Trails.
The park’s six intersecting trails, which combined equal about 2 miles in length, are Peninsula Trail (0.45 mile), Shore Trail (0.82 mile), Campsite Trail (0.62 mile), Cross Trail (0.03 mile), Landing Trail (0.05 mile) and Field Trail (0.38 Trail). A colorful map of the trail network is on display at the parking area.
While enjoying the trails, be careful of your footing. While the trails are wide and well-marked with various colors of paint, some sections are extremely rocky or covered with tangles of exposed roots. Also, the trails climb hills as they move away from the shores of Silver Lake.
Fishing and camping are permitted. A campsite is located at the start of the Campsite Trail (a loop). And while ghost hunting is encouraged, hunting for animals is not allowed. Swimming is also prohibited.
Just past the kiosk is a closed metal gate. Walk past the gate to enter the trail network on the Field Trail, which is wide and bordered by thick forest. Along the way, you will notice many signs that label the different trees and their uses in human society. More of these signs are located in the field by the parking area, where trees have been planted for educational purposes.
To quickly reach the shores of Silver Lake, continue on Field Trail and take the second left, the Landing Trail, which leads just a short distance to a picnic area and boat landing on the shore. If the bench is occupied and you’re looking for a place to picnic, follow the blue-blazed shore trail along the edge of the lake and you will come across two more benches.
For a printable trail map, visit www.bucksportmaine.gov/ and search “Silver Lake Trails.” If you have questions about the network, call the town office at 469-7368.
In 2011, Spooner self-published another book on Sarah Ware’s murder entitled, “Sarah Ware: Revisited,” which includes 75 photos, maps and new perspectives and theories on the unsolved case. The book can be purchased through Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
Personal note: On a mission to plan a Halloween-themed hike, I began with a good old Google search for haunted places in Maine. I ended up on hauntedplaces.org, a relatively simple website that lists 54 haunted locales in Maine. As I suspected, most of the places plagued by ghosts are houses, forts and monuments — not something I could plan a hike around — but then I came to Silver Lake in Bucksport. Knowing that many lakeshores are visited by public trials, I crossed my fingers and typed in “Silver Lake Bucksport Trails” and found that indeed, there was a trail network that traveled to the shores of the reputedly haunted lake. So that’s how I found this week’s “1-minute hike.”
Now, I’ve never seen a ghost or any other supernatural being, so I didn’t think much of visiting a haunted lake with just my dog Oreo to keep me company. Yet the combination of cold wind, grey skies and bare-limbed trees did make this hike a bit spooky. It didn’t help that Oreo seemed to be pulling on the leash and whining more than usual, or maybe it was just my imagination.
I ended up visiting the trail network twice — first on Oct. 25 to film and photograph the trails, then on Oct. 27 to find Sarah Ware’s grave and shoot detail photos and video of the trails and town. I suppose it’s sort of ironic that my second trip to Bucksport ended with a small disaster. I set my Canon Rebel T1i camera on the back bumper of Fred the Forester, then promptly forgot about it. While backing out of the parking lot, I ran it over. The lens is a lost cause, though somehow, the actual camera is still working. I think I’ll just blame it on Sarah Ware, or whoever it is that haunts Silver Lake.