“America’s First Documented Ghost” By Neal Murphy

October 8, 2021 - How many of you readers believe in ghosts? How many are on the fence about this? How do we reconcile accounts of ghost sightings by honest, reputable people who evidently witnessed a strange event? I have never witnessed a ghost sighting personally, but have, I believe, been visited by angels, but that’s another story.

Among the strangest ghost stories ever recorded happened in the unlikely state of Maine. I have nothing against Maine, but I do believe that if I were a ghost I would select a more populated area should I want to reveal myself.

As legends of ghost sightings go, the very first documented ghost sighting in North America occurred on August 9, 1799 when Abner Blaisdel first heard the strange noises in his house in Machiasport, Maine. He shook it off, however in January of 1800, a disembodied, female voice was heard with an understandable message. The ghost utterance exclaimed that she was the wife of Captain George Butler, and that those who heard her were to send for her father, David Hooper. So, they did.

Upon Mr. Hooper’s arrival, he, too, heard the voice and confirmed that it was that of his daughter, Nelly. Soon after her father confirmed the integrity of the ghost, Nelly began appearing in various forms, and especially as a recognizable apparition, often floating above the ground and appearing very white as if a glowing light. She would eventually make appearances in order to converse with the Blaisdel family who gathered in the basement of their home.

Nelly Butler’s ghost would eventually be seen by so many spectators that she became sort of a celebrity, becoming the talk of the region. Those who tried to debunk the ghost would have to try to disprove it by investigating the rooms, removing people they thought might be pulling a hoax. And, the ghost, it is said, was more than willing to accommodate their requests, revealing her presence with and without the family present.

Perhaps the best description of Nelly Butler came from a graduate of Harvard University, Reverend Abraham Cummings, who initially thought the ghost sightings to be rubbish until he saw the specter for himself. He described her first looking to him like a white cloud of light that rose from the ground away from him, then instantly appearing near him, as if the ghost saw him and came over in a split second. The spirit cloud then transformed into a child-sized figure that grew into a full sized adult apparition. Magnificent rays of light were said to emanate from her head, slightly frightening due to the new experience.

Rev. Cummings was so impressed that he wrote a pamphlet titled Immortality Proved by the Testimony of Sense which tells of his encounter as well as his attempt to align it with Biblical scriptures. Brown University is said to possess one of the few remaining copies of this pamphlet.

There is one more odd twist to this story. Nelly, who died after giving child birth, suggested that her former husband, Captain Butler, marry Abner Blaisdel’s daughter, Lydia. Becoming a phantasmal matchmaker, the ghost eventually got her wish, blessing the union. Nelly is said to have told her former husband to be kind to his new wife, accurately foretelling of Lydia Blaisdel’s future premature death – something that indeed happened after giving birth to her and the Captain’s first child.

Maybe Nelly had made her point or maybe she was just tired and ready for eternal rest, but she was seen only once again after her visit with Rev. Cummings. Captain George Butler, Nelly’s husband, reported that she appeared to him one night in his bedroom and gave him a tongue-lashing because he had promised her that he would never marry another woman.

Typically, the woman got the final words.

Excerpts from “America’s First Ghost”, Yankee Magazine, February 1994