Greg Latimer, investigative reporter of the paranormal, seeks to find the truth about Mary Howe

Buried alive: The Damariscotta medium whose ‘death’ still haunts the living

Fri, 10/10/2014 - 3:00pm

    DAMARISCOTTA—Greg Latimer, an investigative reporter specializing in the paranormal, is working on a special case this fall and winter. One might call it a “cold case.” A very cold, 6-feet-under case.

    Latimer, author of Haunted Damariscotta: Ghosts of the Twin Villages and Beyond, runs Red Cloak Haunted History Tours with his wife, Sally Lobkowicz,, along with Mysterious Destinations magazine.

    The story of a woman, Mary Howe, being buried alive has long been a local legend in Damariscotta.  Here’s the long and the short of it:

    Investigating multiple sources, Latimer uncovered bits and pieces of the life of Howe, an unmarried medium in her 50s, whose family built the Howe House on Elm Street. In the late 1800s, Howe House was a popular tavern. Today, it is an apartment complex known as Clark’s Apartments, and according to Latimer, has been the site of reported hauntings. At the time of her so-called “passing,” Mary was a practitioner of spiritualism, a movement based on the belief that spirits of the dead could communicate with the living, which was very popular at the time. Mary used to lead séances for guests with her brother, Edwin, and her specialty was going into deep trances. One night in 1882, Mary slipped into a trance that lasted about a week before it started to become the talk of the town. As written in Haunted Damariscotta, “She was described as having little or no respiration or heartbeat, while her skin stayed a natural color and her limbs remained flexible.”

    During this time, her brother kept Mary’s body warm with stones, fully believing she would come out of this trance like the other times, but other townspeople began to have doubts.

    By the time two weeks had passed, her body was still warm to the touch and not ashen in color, nor was there any odor of death, yet she still had not emerged from her trance. This observation was passed down to local historian Harold Castner from his aunt, Laura, who had personally witnessed Mary’s state, along with her future husband, Kendall Dunbar, publisher of the Twin Village Herald. However, one person who doubted that Mary was still living was Dr. Robert Dixon, a government-appointed physician who observed her and pronounced her dead. It was a determination her brother vehemently protested. Many other residents joined in support of Edwin, but to no avail. On a December night, Dr. Dixon, assisted by the county sheriff and an undertaker, came to the Howe House with a wooden coffin, placed Mary into it, nailed it shut and carried her away on a horse-drawn hearse.

    From there, the resolution of this story grows murky. There is no record of Mary Howe’s burial in Damariscotta.

    According to Latimer’s sources, the closest cemetery in Damariscotta, known as the Hillside Cemetery, a.k.a The Metcalf Cemetery, wouldn’t accept the coffin, because the administrators still thought her alive. So, as the story goes in Haunted Damariscotta “...a grave had been dug by out-of-town gravediggers who didn’t know the circumstances of the burial. When these gravediggers learned of the situation, they refused to participate any longer. Working alone into the night, the two county officials lowered the box into the dark pit, covered it with sod and then worked to conceal the grave so that those who believed Mary was still living wouldn’t try to dig her up.”

    Anecdotal information from the time period indicates she was buried in the "Glidden Cemetery," but it isn’t clear if this was the Glidden Street Cemetery or the Glidden Cemetery on River Road in Newcastle. Latimer, a former police evidence photographer in Los Angeles, Calif., and former investigative reporter for the daily Los Angeles Herald Examiner has a theory.

    “My personal feeling is that if you look at the Glidden Street Cemetery, it’s right in the middle of a neighborhood that was populated at the time. It’s not the place to plant someone if you’re trying to hide her. So, that makes the Glidden Cemetery in Newcastle on River Road that much more attractive to hide someone,” he said.

    For the sake of this story, we ventured over to the Glidden Cemetery in Newcastle on River Road to see if there were any clues. In this tiny, hillside graveyard, surrounded by a Gothic iron fence, we took care not to step across graves, a practice Latimer does, not just out of respect, but necessity.

    “In some of these very old cemeteries when there is a sagging in the ground due to crumbling wooden coffins, people have been known to step into and down through a grave,” he said.

    Some of the plots in this cemetery are missing markers. Latimer explained this was likely due to the fact that the gravesites were marked with wooden markers, not granite; typically a cost-saving element for poorer families. Those wooden markers have disintegrated over the years, which makes it tougher to match the plots to names.

    This fall and winter, Latimer plans on making multiple site visits to both cemeteries to look for anything that might indicate an unmarked grave.

    "Even if such indications are located, there is a good probability that a number of grave markers at these sites may have been lost to time and the elements. But one never knows where new information could lead," Latimer said.

    His purpose as a reporter is to solve this mystery and give peace to Mary’s descendents. “In the 1880s, Mary Howe was considered a particularly extraordinary woman and attracted a lot of attention for her séances and spirtualism,” he said. “Just by the fact that she was carried away in the night and buried, perhaps, alive is tragic enough. But, there is no marker for her. So, we’re trying to resolve it.”

    Red Cloak Haunted History Tours and The Lincoln County News are sponsoring Latimer's efforts to find the grave. Red Cloak Haunted History Tours will lead an effort to raise funds for a marker and The Lincoln County News will publish articles on the progress of Latimer's investigation. If Latimer does find where she was buried, he assures the public there is no plan to exhume her.

    “It wouldn’t do much good anyway,” he said. “Any evidentiary value would be gone at this point, I think.”

    Latimer added, “I think it’s probable we’ll find the cemetery she’s buried in but I’m not sure it’s likely we’ll find the actual location. All of the information we’re looking at boils down to one thing: If you’re a going to bury someone in a cemetery, you’re going to make a notation of it so that you don’t accidentally dig that person up when you’re going to bury someone else.”

    This notation is the key element to solving this cold case. “That’s not something, pardon the pun, someone is going to take to his grave,” said Latimer.

    Latimer will be participating with other authors on “Ghost Night” on Oct. 30 at 8 p.m. at the Maine Coast Book Shop & Cafe in Damariscotta. Anyone who has a personal experience with the paranormal is invited to tell their story.

    Kay Stephens can be reached at