May 28, 2010
Update: July 26, 2014 to add the latest deaths to the list.
A few weeks ago, some friends of mine asked about the Saco River Curse, as yet another series of horrible deaths occurred this last week and everyone around town was saying “it’s the curse.”
A quick search online, told me that while there was mention of the Saco River Curse on a few random sites, none of the mentions were written by any one who lived here in Saco, Maine, let alone had ever even been to Saco Maine at all, and most of the information found online, does NOT match the local history of the story. And so, being a native of York Hill, and being a descendant of the Native American Indian family whom the "curse" is accredited to (we are also the oldest family in America to still be living on the original settlement land.
King gave it to us as a land grant in the 1500s and 500+ years later we are still living on it) it seemed only appropriate that I create a web page about the LOCAL history of The Saco River Curse and how it came about.
Today the Saco River Dam at York Hill is considered one of the most haunted rivers/dams in the world. At a rate of no less than 3 men drowned every year for more then 500 years, the death toll is now over 2,000 men killed at York Hill.
No year has passed with less than 3 white men killed by falling into the dam, and most years 5 death occur, while some years there have been as many as 10 deaths.
For those who don't already know: My dad lives on York Hill btw, and here is a picture of the location in question:
I live on the beach, right at the delta of what is said to be a haunted river that is said to have a water demon living in it. It's the Memeqwasi aka The Saco River Curse: The simplistic version of the story is that there is an island in the river just before the delta, in the 1500s some sailors took an Indian Chief's baby and tossed it in the Saco River Waterfall at York Hill, Saco, Maine (what is now The Saco River Dam at Memorial Bridge on Factory Island) his wife jumped in the save the baby and they both were killed on the rocks in the white waters between the falls and the delta into the Atlantic Ocean. Said chief put a curse on the river that 3 white men would die each year.
While stories told by outsiders vary widely, here at the location of the event itself, the story told by locals is vastly different. The Saco River Curse is a local legend based on a strange and unexplained series of deaths that have occurred at the Saco River Delta where the river meets the Atlantic Ocean.
The LOCAL history of the Saco River Curse goes like this:
One night, in 1547, three drunken sailors rowed across the river to Saco Island, kidnapped a baby from the Indian tribe, than rowed across to York Hill, where they threw the baby into the waterfall, claiming that Indians were born able to swim, thus it would survive the fall. The baby's mother followed after them, and jumped into the falls trying to save her baby. Both the mother and the baby were crushed to death on the rocks below.
The husband/father was also the tribe's chief/medicine man/witch-doctor/shaman/holy man (depending on which local resident you ask and which version of the story was told to them by their grandparents). Infuriated at the white men for killing his wife and child, he went to the waterfall and called up the river demon/god Memeqwasi (a werefish monster merman type of thing) to never let the white men forget what they had done asking it to punish the white men, by killing three white men in the waterfall of York Hill, every year so that no one would ever forget what these men had done.
The exact nature of the event itself is unknown. The only actual records that exist, simply say that 3 drunk sailors, tossed a "savage baby" into the water to prove that "savages" were born able to swim, and that the babies mother jumped in to save her child and "dead this day: 2 Indians". Records than report that the husband/father stormed into the settlers camp and threatened them with a curse. Beyond this there are NO ACTUAL DOCUMENTS saying anything else. There are however some alarming death tolls on this same location.
Death records have been kept since the 1600s and to date, no year has passed since with less than 3 deaths in the waterfall at the Saco River Delta or on York Hill overlooking the falls. At some point in the mid-1700s locals began to attribute these annual death tolls as being a result of "the curse", and from there the rumors grew and went wild, (and still grow to this day) each time a new death occurred(s).
The first reported accusation of a curse came about when the York Family arrived. The York family moved to Saco (Maine) and built a house on the tiny 1/2 acre island overlooking a huge waterfall where the Saco River dumps into the Atlantic Ocean. They named the place York Manor of York Hill. The house was built on the exact location where the 3 sailors stood, when tossing the baby in. The family was warned not to build their house on that spot, that it would anger the ghosts of the "dead Indians." The house still stands, but no longer on York Hill, it was moved some hundred years later, believing that if they moved it off the spot of the deaths, it would break the curse. Today a hydroelectric plant sits where the house once stood.
On the other side of the river was Saco Island (today known as Factory Island at the Memorial Bridge Crossing). On Saco Island lived the tribe of Native American “Indians” (my family) who worshiped or rather feared a local river "demon", a type of Memegwesi, or water dwelling trickster.
On the mainland just a few hundred yards away, was the port where sailors docked (and still dock to this day - and is where I park my Volvo when you hear me talk of parking on York Hill).
In addition to several "natural deaths" (by drowning) there have been an alarmingly high rate of murders. The most famous of these murders was the Bean Murders of Factory Island, which resulted in he capture of the abortion doctor who had made a habit of pretending to be a mill girl in order to kill all the women who'd had an abortion. He pleaded that he had been possessed by the river demon and got off with hardly any punishment.
In the late 1800's York Manor was torn down by terror crazed locals who were convinced that the house was haunted by the ghost of the father/husband. They believed that tearing down the house would end the curse. The remains of the house were saved, however and the house was rebuilt elsewhere in Saco, where it stand today, in it's giant Victorian apartment building form, ironically, next door to the Saco Ward of the LDS/Mormon church on Smith Street (named after the Smith family as it is where they lived before moving to Vermont), behind the Amato's, beside the RiteAid, across the street from Thornton Academy. That big yellow Victorian, is what was once, many years ago, known as the York Manor of York Hill. (Oddly that particular intersection has the highest crosswalk pedestrian death toll in the area, and many blame this fact on the so called "haunted" house that was moved there from York Hill.)
In the mid-1900's with the death toll now toppling the thousands, locals decided that the only way to end the curse was to destroy the waterfall. Which they did. Today where the waterfall once was, there is now a huge dam and a hydroelectric power station now sits where once sat York Manor at the peak of York Hill.
In the early 1800's a huge mill factory was put on Saco Island, and the death toll skyrocketed, as a transvestite serial killer took advantage of the curse and took to rapeing mill girls and then tossing them in the waterfall.
Most deaths are fisherman drownings, (and therefore not unexpected as this is a fishing area and fishing is a high risk job in any location) but this is also the location of The Bean Murders, a rather strange event involving a serial killing transvestite who lived here in the 1800s; According to the large plaque mounted on a rock at this location, he was a radical abortion doctor, who doubled as a mill girl, and would kill all the mill girls days after they had had abortions, than dump their bodies in the river, only 5 bodies were ever found - washed up in the swamp beside the river, which is now the location of the Saco Police department and the annual Saco Spirit Car Show).
Throughout the years since 1547, there have been thousands of sightings here on York Hill, of a tiny white skinned man with webbed hands. He is known by locals as "The White Monkey" or as the French locals call him "le'Etiole" (man from the stars). Sightings have occurred up and down the coast of Maine and Massachusetts, with a few occurring in Hew Hampshire, Vermont, New York, and Quebec. While some speculate that there are many creatures being seen, other suggest that the times, dates, and places suggest that only one creature is in fact being seen, and being seen as he travels from one river to the next. Sightings in multiple places have never occurred simultaneously.
During the Revolutionary War General Lafayette lived here and attended the church on the hill, (the church was torn down in 2012) under the belief that if the white men could appease the River god, the colonists would win the Revolution against the British.
In the late 1700s Joseph Smith's (founder of the LDS/Mormon Church who contrary to urban myth never set foot in Utah or lived in the West at all) family lived here in the early 1800s (before he was born) before moving to Vermont and then New York, his mother had reported talking to the "dead Indian ghost" who came out of the river and visited her every night.
During the Civil war Abraham Lincoln came here to visit the river in hopes of getting a glimpse of the River ghost, Alexander Hamilton made frequent visits to the river convinced he could get sightings of the demon.
Two of the most famous sightings (as in got the most widespread media attention), did not actually occur in Saco or even in Maine at all: the Dover Demon sighting in the late 1970's and the much speculated White Salamander/Angel Moroni sighting in the 1820's, by the then 12 year old Joseph Smith, in Vermont, who appeared more to be saying the story to compete with his mother’s earlier reports of “the old dead Indian chief”. In his diary he wrote it was a “white salamander” which was a Victorian term meaning “old white haired gnome or faerie” and has nothing to do with amphibious frog like animals.
A year later he would change "white salamander" to "ghost of an Indian Chief", and at age 14 he would tell his parents it was "an angel", at age 21 he again changed it to "Jesus, Son of God" at which point he added new elements to the story, including gold plates and founding a church. His story changed so many times that it has been brought into question many times as nothing but a hoax. There is must question about how the locals came to believe there was a connection, between these sightings and The Saco River Curse. (I am myself a 5th generation LDS/Mormon so I don't really know what to think about the supposed connection of The Saco River Curse to it's being the supposed cause of his eventually founding a church, but this is one of the strong beliefs held by most locals.)
In the 1980s an Olympic Gold Medalist drowned while attempting a Guinness World Record to be the first human to swim across this dangerous stretch of rapids.
In 2005, a tourist with 2 arguing girlfriends took advantage of the Saco River Curse to kill both his girlfriends and dump them in the river claiming "the demon came out of the water and took them right off the shore" a few weeks later their bodies washed up on the beach and his hoax was uncovered.
In 2010 two entire families (10 people total) vanished when one car went out of control, hit another car, and both cars went sailing off the bridge into the river.
On July 26, 2014 five more victims were killed in a murder suicide, when a man shot his entire family to death, during the Saco Spirit Car show.
The deaths in between those years were far less dramatic, but have included more than a dozen people hit by a train, some 50+ children falling into the dam, a dozen or so drunks walking off the bridge, and a whopping more than 1,000 drowned fishermen.
While this is the location for a large portion of the Greater Portland Area fishing industry, no fisherman who lives here will launch a boat in the river until AFTER there have been 3 white men killed in this spot that year. Most years see 5 deaths before March arrives, but some years the boats don't go out into the water until as late as August - those are the years you see Lobster prices skyrocket to as much as $30 a pound.
Both of the bridges contacting York Hill aka Factory Island to the mainland, are lined with white crosses, and the edges of the island are peppered with hundreds of white crosses, put their by family members of the many who die on these shores each year.
There are hundreds of families in the area who refuse to drive across either bridge or set foot on the island, and take a much longer out of the way rought to by-pass this now main road and avoid the risk of not making it across.
Every year teams of ghost hunters, paranormal investigators, crytozoologists, and ufologists set up along the river in desperate hopes of getting a glimpse of what many term "the amphibious alien who resides in these waters"; there were a few years where no death occurred, oddly on those years were the sightings of The Loveland Frog, just a few miles south of the area, leading to the belief that the Memeqwasi and the Loveland Frog are the same cryptid.
This area has become such a huge hot spot for cryptid hunters that the Cryptozoology museum was built only a few miles away. With more than 2,000 deaths occurring in this small stretch of land, some suggest The Saco River is the world's most haunted river, and one of the most haunted ghost hot spots in the world. There have been many sightings of "strange white man-beasts" in the swamps and forests along the river. Sightings describe seeing "a white monkey man", "a white salamander man", a "white frog man", lots of "little grey aliens"...the stories vary in many ways but are consistent in one thing: he's small, barely 5 feet tall, has rubbery slimy frog-like stark-snow-white skin, and abnormally large blue eyes rimmed with wide bands of black rings, has teeth like a piranha which he shows if cornered, and he runs away like a scared deer as soon as he's seen, often disappearing into the water - this description remains consistent with every sighting.
Sightings of this unidentified cryptid creature have existed in the area for at least 500 years. Because the sightings/descriptions and the creature's actions, remain consistent, cryptozoologists believe there is only one creature, a reptile man of some sort, likely amphibious, who is abnormally long lived, same as turtles which can reach many hundreds of years old. Some say it is intelligent enough to have had a deep loyalty to the Native American whose wife and baby were killed, and blindly murders 3 white men every year simply because he was asked to do so, so many years ago.
The Memeqwasi actually gets blamed for a lot more than it should. It's one of those things where EVERYTHING gets blamed on it, because it's an easy cop-out answer. Fact is, this is a dangerous river and stupid people like to stand on the edge ohhing and ahhing and snapping photos and they often fall in and drown. The walls on either side are a smooth sheer cliff carved into stone, you fall in there is nothing to hold on to, nothing to grab, nothing to stop your fall. The water below is a frothing, churning white rapid fury, bubbling angrily over sharp jagged rocks, most folks who fall in smash their brains out before they have a chance to drown in the rapids. I was born and raised here on the Saco River Delta, I'm always in the crowds along the shore when the Coast Guard is dredging the river for bodies (an event which happens every few months).
The water is frigid cold rarely above 40F and reaches as much as -50F in the winter (yes it does freeze solid some years). We get 7 feet of snow most winters (as much as 20 feet some years), and when Spring arrives the last place you want to be is anywhere near this giant River which started hundreds of miles North of us, way up in the tip-top of Canada. We are the outlet - the delta of this the 5th largest river in Maine, and every tree, rock, and carcase it picked up on it's way down here get's belched up on the shore of Old Orchard Beach each Spring. That's the REAL reason we shut down the town in October and don't open it up to the public again till May - because the Coast Guard comes in every March and April to scrap smashed boats, dead trees, dead horses, dead moose, dead deer, dead seals, dead birds, dead fox, and often dead humans off the beach. Come June 2 million tourists are sunning on the beach with no clue the carnage that the Spring thaw left up and down the shores. Everybody and everything that falls in the Saco River, ends up here on our beach.
There are families all up and down the river who send their children to bed each night with nightmare tales of the demon rising up out of the water to eat them if they stay up late. Grandmothers string garlic over doors to keep it out of the house at night. Grandfathers nail iron horseshoes over windows to keep it out.
Everyone one in the area is all superstitious and terrified out of their minds that the water demon is going to rise up at night and steal their children. You are deep in the heart of New England's most superstitious region when you set foot in the Saco Bay Area of Southern Maine, talking to some folk you'd think it was still the 1600s - belief in demons, witches, curses, are going hard and strong and no amount of scientific fact can sway them. The scientific fact of the matter is, that it's a big river, a long river, a wide river, and here at the mouth of it, it's an angry rocky river...there is far less demon involvement in the deaths along the Saco River, than people want to admit. It makes them feel better to blame a demon/ghost/monster, rather than to believe this is simply a naturally dangerous river.
Many church groups in the area, have annual services along the edge of the river where they sing and dance and praise god while pouring oil in the water and declaring "the curse removed". This includes the LDS/Mormons, The Salvation Army, several various Baptists and Pentecostals denominations, and countless others. Easter Sunday is usually their big day to do this. A lot of us locals like to go stand on the edge of the river to watch the church groups out there chanting and pouring blessed oil into the river in their annual attempts to remove the curse.
However, here's where the story takes a big change...
You see, not everyone around here fears the curse or even believes in it.
The Native American side of my family has lived on this land since the 1400s, yes, since before the white men "discovered" America. Every year, as has been the tradition of our tribe to farther back than anyone can remember (1400s is simply the farthest date we can trace back too) the entire tribe would migrate to the apple orchard (today called Old Orchard Beach), to the riptide whirlpool (now called Goosefair Brook's aka The Gully), just east of the Saco River Delta. On this day, (now placed as June 26th) the entire tribe would walk out into the Atlantic Ocean as far as they could without having to swim (which is quite far because of the low sandbar - you can walk out over a mile at low tide). On this day the River God would leave the river (his winter home) and return to his (summer) home in the ocean and all who stood in the water to wait for him would have all sickness, disease, and bad fortune washed away. As the people walked back to the shore, anyone who found Sand Dollars, Star Fish, or MoonSnails, was considered especially blessed by the Memeqwasi The tribe would then return to what is now Portland Avenue, a 1/4 mile inland and plant huge plots of food.
My family still lives on the farm at Portland Ave, the oldest family in New England to still be on the same land. When the Scottish Traveller Gypsies were hunted down and persecuted by the white men, they took refuge with our family/tribe and thus how I am both Native American and Scottish Traveller Gypsy. Me and my family still leave offerings to the Memeqwasi at the edge of BachElder Brook (a brook that branches off the Saco River and flows through the center of our land, thus the rich fertile farm lands which we still tend) and we still walk out into the Ocean on June 26th each year. The Native American locals do not fear the "evil" creature which roams through the swamps along the river.
There are French locals and Quebec tourists, whom claim the creature is named Etiole (the man from the stars) and is a French speaking brackish water faerie. They claim that no Frenchman has ever been killed by the creature, because a French sailor tried to stop the 3 British sailors for tossing the baby in the river. They also claim that it was Lafayette's coming here to communicate with the blood thirsty Water Faerie that was why the colonists won the Revolutionary War. As a result of this aspect of the rumors, in the 1800's hundreds of French families moved into what is now Biddeford, Maine the giant mill town which is literally built on the river, with the buildings hanging out of stilts and the river rushing under them. Today there is a park Mechanics Park, sitting on the location where the sailors tossed the baby in the river, and this park is the location of the LaKermese Festival, held every year in celebration of the fact that this is the safe haven of Francho-Americans who were blessed with good fortune by the Water Faerie.
This is where I live, where I was born and raised, and it is this local legend that sits at the heart of every Monster Porn book I write, and this location is the setting for all of my 683 books. The Memeqwasi is part of everyday live for the families who live along the Saco River Delta, that means that everybody and his third cousin fully believes in the fact that sea monsters are real and they are going to swim up out of the ocean, into our river, break into your house at night and drag you kicking and screaming into the river where it'll rape you than eat you. I don't know how hanging garlic and horseshoes over doors and windows is going to protect them, but whatever, I guess if it helps them sleep at night.
Is there a curse? I don’t know. I actually don’t believe in such things, I kind of find it foolish that others do, but whatever.
As a result of growing up and living in this location for more than 40 years, because of the culture I was raised in (basically a Maine fishing village that is overly high strung on 16th century superstitions gone wild), and that fact that all the old families here in Saco/Biddeford/Old Orchard Beach region live absolutely terrified out of their minds of this myth that they call “The Saco River Curse”, I do find it rather hard to believe anyone who claims to have seen angels, demons, ghosts, or monsters, simply because I live here in the heart of these terrorized towns and every day walk my dog down the slope to the banks that is the site of the deaths of the woman and her baby and, well, no River Curse has killed me.
How much of the tales told by locals about the curse is true and how much is just locals running away with their imaginations is unknown, but the numbers don't lie. a lot of people have died in this river over the years. Is it a curse causing the deaths or just stupid people getting too close to dangerous waters? I leave that for you to decide.