The Desert of Maine is a 40-acre swathe of land covered by glacial silt near Freeport. Scientists believe the silt, finer grained than sand, was a glacial lakebed covered by topsoil over thousands of years.
In 1797, a farmer named William Tuttle bought 300 acres on the site. He built a large barn, grew potatoes and raised sheep. But the Tuttles didn’t rotate their crops and let their sheep overgraze the pasture. One day, a small round patch of silt was exposed. Then it grew. And grew. And grew, until the family grew alarmed.
Over time, the silt took over the farm, covering pasture and buildings. The Tuttles struggled to save their farm, and even tried to make bricks from the sand. The mica content was too high, though, and the bricks crumbled.
Finally in the early 20th century the Tuttles abandoned the farm. Henry Goldrup bought it in 1919 for $300 and opened it as a tourist attraction six years later. In the 1950s, a camel named Sarah was brought to the Desert of Maine, but she was so tourist-unfriendly they sent her to a zoo.
There’s another story involving ghosts: It was another man named Thomas Grayson who bought the farm. The farm flourished until Grayson contracted a fatal disease. He asked his second wife to give the farm to his son by his first wife. But once Thomas died, she gave the property to her own son by a previous marriage.
Years after the death of Thomas Grayson, a patch of sand the size of a dinner plate appeared in a field. it grew steadily until it claimed the farm. Some Mainers swear they saw the ghostly figure of a man walking in the blowing sand.
The photo above was taken by Paul Carter in March 1936 as a photographer for the U.S. Resettlement Administration. His caption reads “Top branches of apple tree showing above sand. It is reported that three twigs blossom in the spring.” The U.S. Resettlement Administration was a New Deal agency that resettled struggling rural and urban families to government-planned communities between 1935 and 1936.
The Desert of Maine is now a tourist attraction where you can camp, picnic, take a tram and play golf. There’s also a gift shop.
With thanks to Haunted Maine: Ghosts and Strange Phenomena of the Pine Tree State by Charles A. Stansfield Jr. Photos courtesy Library of Congress.