ST. ELIZABETH, ME THE LIFE OF SYLVESTER BECKETT      Sylvester Blackmore Beckett was born in Portland, Cumberland County, Maine, May 16, 1812. He was ninth of a family of twelve children of William and Grace (Blackmore) Beckett, who both came from England. On Spet. 19, 1842, he married Louisa Mills Davis, daughter of James and Elizabeth Davis, of Maine. His wife left him a widower in 1857 and he never remarried. She bore him three children, two of whom, George Waller and Lizzie Grace, died in childhood. The eldest daughter, Augusta, married George W. Verrill, an attorney in Portland. Mr. Beckett died at his home in Portland on Dec. 2, 1882, aged seventy years, six months and seventeen days.      Mr. Beckett, more than most of her citizens, was identified with the later history of Portland, and it is unfortunate that a man so well-acquainted with the character of his contemporaries should have failed to preserve minutes of them and of his own eventful and adventurous life.       He attended the town school kept by "Master Libby" and and the Portland Latin Schoool, but received no collegiate advantages. Notwithstanding this, he was a close student, and by application obtained an education such as is rarely acquired by what is termed a liberal course. he was well-versed in Latin, French and Greek, as well as his native English.      Many literary sketches and scraps are found among his papers, indicating that in his teens he wrote prose and poetry for publication.      Soon after his majority he took a a voyage to the West Indies in the "Bud", a sailing vessel; was shipwrecked, and his narrative of the event proved a thrilling experience. Upon his return to Portland he was engaged in settling up various estates, bringing him into some commercial enterprises. Having a good offer about 1840 (the date is not certain), he took up his residence in Huntsville, Alabama where he spent a couple of years, and edited a paper there the greater portion of the time.      Returning to Portland again he engaged with John Edwards as reporter on the Portland Bulletin, afterward merged with the Weekly Tribune and Bulletin. February 25, 1843, he he commenced reporting for the Portland Advertiser, which position he filled for several years. In his experience as reporter and editor he acquired the habit of system, and collection of valuable statistics, that served him well in later life.      In 1848 he engaged in writing and publishing a series of articles on the business facilities and and advantages of the towns through which the Atlantic and St. Lawrence, now the Grand Trunk, railway passes, which were of great advantage to the business interests of Portland.      He was admitted to the Cumberland bar in 1859. he made himself familiar with the titles to property, and was well informed in regard to all local matters. Much of his time all through his life was employed in settling estates.      In politics, he was a Republican; for many years a member of the school committee, acting as its secretary; clerk of the Common Council in 1844 and 1845, and represented Ward One in the council in 1851. As chairman of the board assessors, which position he held for fifteen years, from 1860 to 1875, his services were highly appreciated. When he went into the office he systematized the methods by which values were placed on property, and his judgment always proved equitable and reliable.      He was one of the original projectors of Evergreen Cemetery, which today is the pride of the city. In his diary, under date of October, 1850, he wrote, "I have been examining the woods of Mr. Buckley, at Stevens' Plains, with a view of endeavoring to prevail upon the city authorities to purchase the place for a burying ground." His efforts were successful, and in justice to him we must say that he did more than all others combined to secure that beautiful plot of land. It may be questioned whether the city of Portland would ever have obtained it without his wise and and persistent efforts, as there was great apathy among the people concerning the project at that time. It is certainly true that his shrewd management secured it for a moderate sum compared to what it could have been purchased at any time since. This is a good illustration of Mr. Beckett's foresight of the indispensable needs of a growing city.      He commenced publication of the Portland Directory and Reference Book in 1851, which he continued, in connection with Mr. Brown Thurston, to the time of his death. A set of the volumes gives the appearance of a large family, from the thick book of the fifteenth volume to the little thin pamphlet which formed the first.      He was author of the "Portland, White Mountain and Montreal Railroad Guide," illustrated in 1853, which was among the first of that class of works which in these days have become so numerous and so indispensable.      He was early on an Odd Fellow, and secretary of his lodge, and one of the trustees of its funds for many years.      He was voted into the Maine Press Association as an honorary member, in 1870, and took great interest in its work and excursions.      He was an ardent lover of nature, and this led him into the woods and along the seashore, where he became familiar with birds and woodcraft. His study of ornithology was full and practical. The Portland Society of Natural History was the special object of his delight and labor. For many years he was its secretary, and an active worker in all its affairs. To him it owes much of its present prosperity, with its beautiful building and grounds. It was through his influence that the funds of the Portland Athenaeum were brought into its treasury.      He was a working member and for some time secretary of the Cumberland Agricultural Society, and the life and genius of the Portland Horticultural Society, and was better acquainted with the flora and fauna of Cumberland County and that state, than any other man.      He was a member of the Widows' Wood Society, associate in the Portland Fraternity, and a constant patron and director of the Portland Provident Association.      While thus active in the duties of his profession, and devoting so much time to public and social interests, he still found time to pursue his literary tastes. he was a careful student of all that met his eye, either in the physical, animal or vegetable kingdom. he was an easy, natural, fascinating, and versatile writer, and his pen was never idle when it could employed for the pleasure or profit of his fellow man. His powers of description were far above the average of literary men. His keen and quick perception, broad culture and vivid imagination, made his thoughts flow very pleasingly in poetic measure. Some of his pen-portraits in verse will outrank many of our celebrated poets, in our estimation. Besides a great many fugitive poems and sketches furnished in the Portland Sketch Book, published in 1836, and various publications all through his life, he left behind a large number that have never been given to the public.      His "Hester, the Bride of the Islands", a lyrical poem of three hundred and thirty six pages, published by Bailey and Noyes, Portland, in 1863, received very flattering notice from the critics at the time. he devoted considerable time, the last few years of his life, to the careful and thorough revision of this work, and completed it, with the intention of publishing another edition.      By his business ability he acquired a handsome competency, and in 1869 and 1870 spent a year in European travel. His letters to the Portland Press during that time were read by his fellow citizens in Portland with great interest.      He was an eminently social, kind-hearted companionable man. He planned and built, largely with his own hands, a tasteful stone cottage on the shore of Cape Elizabeth, where he spent much time in the enjoyment of the sea, and in hospitably entertaining his friends.                   Mr. Elwell, of the Portland Transcript, says, "For thirty years we annually spent a day with him on the seashore at Prout's Neck, and it is a sad reflection that the companion of so many pleasant excursions, and all the members of the Libby family who gave us so cordial a welcome in those old days, have passed away."      Mr. Beckett belonged to no church, but was not without specific and pronounced ideas regarding the life beyond, which may be characterized as spiritualistic. He never used the words death or died, not even upon the gravestones he had prepared for his departed family, as he considered what is usually designated by those words as a transition, or passing along to another state. (Text by Brown Thurston in "Report" - Maine Press Association)   THE HAUNTING OF BECKETT'S CASTLE      Beckett's Castle is located on a private road leading to the oceanfront in Cape Elizabeth, Maine. It is a gothic-style stone castle that features a three-story tower. Sylvester Beckett patterned it after a typical English castle, but on a much smaller scale. It is unique in that for all intents and purposes, it really is a cottage with a castle facade.      Beckett had some definitive ideas about life after death and in the poem, "Hester, the Bride of the Islands" he offers us a glimpse of his views:       Life, spirit, soul! They come and go          But whence and whither who can say         A something dwells within, we know            And finds expression through the clay If the soul dieth, if our years         On earth, of discord, joys, and tears Be all of life, then life is vain,                                                                             And Heaven's great work imperfect!                                                                       No! Death is but a second birth -                                                                     And man, immortal, oft returns.                                                                           Such things are not illusions - Nay                                                                       Nay still do man-immortals sway                                                                    In life's affairs! And often blend                                                                                 With souls of earth in sweet commune.        It is clear that Beckett not only believed in the afterlife but that departed souls can and do return and the idea of "ghosts" are all too real. To this end Beckett was said to conduct séances in his home that were attended by some of his closest friends. These were mainly more of the ilk of abstract and open thinkers - artists, writers and those who embraced a more philosophical approach to such things.        Beckett so believed in this transition from life to death and the soul being eternal that he spoke often of his intention to return to earth upon his death.        Since he passed away in 1882, there have been a host of strange occurrences reported at his former home. New owners claim they saw a blue-ish human form pass manifest until it eventually dissipated into a mist that continued to move about the castle. The castle tower is also the site of some odd claims, those of knocks on the tower door and unexplained cold breezes that flow through it.        Photographs and paintings hung by current residents have been found moved to other locations or placed in a different arrangement. Bedsheets have been pulled off and placed in heaps on the floor.        By the 1980's the activity was so pronounced and habitual that the owner, the late Robert Lins, enlisted the services of a psychic medium and author of paranormal phenomena named Dr. Alex Tanous in an effort to intervene and shed some light on what was happening there. Also along for this was a  reporter from the Portland Chronicle, Lynne Campbell, who had been assigned to do a story on the alleged haunting there. After hearing of the repeatedly odd phenomena in the home, Campbell contacted Dr. Tanous, who was also a parapsychology professor at the University of Southern Maine.        Lins insisted that among other anomalies was a picture he had hung on a wall over his stove that had come down no less than four times and found in the same position in each time, face down behind the stove. Each time he re-hung it, the action would repeat itself.        He also complained of being held down by some unseen force while sitting in his living room.      In one startling instance, a door that led from his bedroom to the tower would open and close by itself until a frustrated Lins nailed it shut one night to put an end to it. The door then opened again, pulling the nails out of the casing as it did so, just missing Lins’ head.        In another frightening episode, a hot wind forced the front door to slam open, rushed through the house and similarly forced the back door to forcibly open as it appeared to let itself out. If that scenario in and of itself is not terrifying enough, this all occurred during a winter storm!        During Tanous' walk-through he immediately claimed he sensed multiple spirits in the house moving about. Some, he said, were painters who still are practicing their vocation there.  When he came to Lins' bedroom door that led to the tower, he claimed there had been a forceful and physical confrontation of some form with one of the entities on that spot. An attempt was made to contact Sylvester Beckett and the psychic confirmed that he still dwells in his former home, making his presence known from time to time. While there are other spirits present, he is the most dominant and considered that part of the house his domain.        Utilizing a tape recorder to help document the night's activities, Campbell claimed there were a series of "clicks" recorded that made any type of clear playback almost impossible.        Campbell and Tanous returned later in the year, close to the 100th anniversary of Beckett's death. Tanous suggested they set up in the living room as he "felt" this was where the investigation would bear the most fruit. While sitting quietly with some other people being employed as independent witnesses, Tanous suddenly proclaimed, "He's here."      Three knocks came from an adjacent room. No one except them were in the home at the time, and a check of the room confirmed that. When they returned to the living room, Tanous began to channel the spirit of Sylvester Beckett in a voice not his own. "Beckett" went on to explain that he was raised to believe in no separation between life and the afterlife and that he had simply returned to what he loved best. His writing had reflected that belief. He claimed in the latter stages of his life he was considered to be "eccentric", mainly because his mind was beginning to slip.        As befits her job as a journalist, Lynne Campbell approached the entire project with a healthy dose of skepticism. During this session, though, she had to leave the room while suffering a terrible coughing fit. This may or may not have been simply a coincidence. There are other aspects to this situation that also call for an interjection of objectivity. One of the witnesses, a woman named Veronica said her pen would not write properly while she attempting to take notes during Tanous' trance, but worked fine afterward. It should also be noted that during the time Tanous was channeling Beckett, the tape recorder displayed only static on playback, but cleared up immediately after Beckett had left the room, so to speak. Tanous later speculated Beckett had detected Campbell's skepticism, resulting in all these malfunctions.        The current owners claim a few unusual incidents there, but do not feel they are sharing the house with Sylvester Beckett or any other spirits at this time.   Additonal sources:   Haunted Portland: From Pirates to Ghost Brides by Roxie J. Zwicker   Maine Ghosts and Legends: 30 Encounters with the Supernatural by Thomas Verde