Arthur Harriman was just settling in for his nightshift at the Town House Junction car barn one autumn night in 1921, when a blood-curdling scream jolted him to his feet. His wife Elizabeth had begged him not to work nights. Now the sound of her terror set him running as fast as he could to the house they shared across the street, midway between the Farmers Club and Town Hall in North Kennebunkport.
For about a year, the Harriman family had rented the lead color house with yellow trim from Benjamin Drown. Part of the building that is now known as Wink’s Place had been moved to that location in 1902 to make way for Atlantic Shoreline Trolley business. Things seemed perfectly normal until mid-August when Arthur took the night watchman’s position for the Railway Company. Every night that Arthur had to work, Mrs. Harriman complained of hearing a rhythmic rap-rap-rapping in the walls of the bedchamber she shared with her fourteen year old daughter Florence. Arthur feared his wife had become prone to hysterics. Florence, on the other hand, had never seemed more serene.
But on this September night, when Arthur opened the door, it looked as if a cyclone had torn through his house; curtains on a closed window were flapping, two chairs were upset, a large piece of plaster had fallen from the wall, a washstand had been toppled and all the articles on it were scattered about the room. Arthur’s co-workers, Al Potter and Everett Higgins, caught up with him just in time to see the rug on the floor wriggle and squirm as if some creature was trapped beneath it. The mistress of the house was inconsolable. Her daughter was seemingly unimpressed by the extraordinary events of the evening.
The men were convinced that some animal had been trapped in the walls and had escaped when the plaster fell. Just then the rap-rap-rapping resumed and Harriman had to stop an unnerved Mr. Higgins from striking his wall with an ax. Arthur set up beds for his wife and daughter in a disabled trolley car in the barn but no sooner had they snuggled in, that the rap-rap-rapping commenced on the trolley car walls. Harriman brought his family into the rotary room for a few hours but nobody slept a wink that night.
The next morning Elizabeth Harriman took her daughter to stay with her sister, Mrs. Everett Rowe, who lived on Brown Street in Kennebunk, and Arthur notified the railway that for the sake of his wife’s sanity, he would have to resign his position as night watchman.
That night, while Florence was lying in bed at her aunt’s house, her nightgown was suddenly ripped from her body and large chunks of her mattress were torn out, as if by a steel claw. The little girl was taken into another room and a skeptical Mr. Mark Broadbent of Lowell, who was visiting the Rowes, volunteered to sleep in her room to watch over her. As he put his head down on the pillow it was whisked from under his head and the bed sheet was torn to pieces by some unseen force. Mr. Broadbent fled the room. Florence calmly followed her “protector” into the kitchen where her mother and aunt were huddled in fear. The girl gently patted her aunt’s shoulder as if to console her and the woman’s apron ripped in pieces, even though nothing but Florence’s gentle caress had come anywhere near her. Minutes after the child was made comfortable on the living room sofa and covered for warmth by an adult overcoat, the lining of the coat was shredded.
The following day, word was received that another of Mrs. Harriman’s sisters who had lived in Rochester, NH, passed away unexpectedly at midnight, the very same hour that Mrs. Rowe’s Kennebunk home had been so disrupted.
Somehow, a reporter for the Biddeford Journal got word of the mysterious events in the Kennebunks and after he published his first report on September 16, 1921, reporters came from as far away as and Boston and New York to get the scoop. A medium from Portland, whose name was not revealed, spoke to the girl for several hours and admitted to being completely baffled by the case. Florence’s demeanor had been perfectly normal since the death of her aunt but a spooked Mrs. Rowe insisted the Harrimans moved back to Town House Junction after the funeral. It was concluded that the haunting had been a forewarning of the woman’s untimely death.
All was quiet for a few weeks but eventually the strange visitor returned to the Harriman house in North Kennebunkport and continued to visit until late November. It was reported in the Biddeford Journal that local celebrities had taken an interest. Authors, Margaret Deland and Booth Tarkington each interviewed Arthur Harriman many times. Perhaps coincidentally, Tarkington published his one-act play, The Ghost Story, the following year.
“Frank Parsons, a member of the prominent New York family of that name which spends a good part of the year at Parson’s Beach,” wrote the correspondent from Biddeford, “is quietly investigating and trying to satisfy himself that the strange happenings at the Harriman home are due to natural causes.” A government specialist in Post Traumatic Stress or Veteran’s Shell Shock as it was called after World War I, stepped forward and offered to help cure Florence, whom he was convinced was suffering from the disorder.
When a reporter from the Lewiston Journal knocked on the Harriman’s door a cheerful Arthur let him in. He led him into the kitchen where young Florence was playing with her new Scotch Collie puppy. Arthur hemmed and hawed for a few minutes before informing the reporter that he would require a $5 stipend to tell his story. When the reporter objected he was shown the door but not before he was indignantly informed that the New York and Boston papers had happily paid $25. The Lewiston reporter wrote a rather sarcastic account of his visit to the Kennebunks and soon after, the haunting stopped without further explanation.