Many New England towns have
ghosts. You wont find it in the town history, but, Windton, Maine is no
different. The residents all know about the spirit. Whats unusual is
Windtons ghost is more bawdy and playful than evil.
Gastuf Blahung founded the
village inland from coastal Portland in the eighteenth century. The lake town
was small and its core business was the sausage trade. Gustaf had brought his
skills and family recipes when he had emigrated from Bavaria. Besides
Blahungs company, there were two other sausage makers. They prospered and
the town grew. Small farms raising crops and pigs, maple syrup producers
and lumber work employed most of the other residents.
The source of the unnatural
occurrences came about four decades after Windton was settled. A young girl
named Gertrudabelle lived with her father who worked in a sausage shop. Gertie
was a quick-witted, carefree and playful child. She loved two things: being
sociable to make people happy; and, singing in the Episcopal Church. The girl
loved to sing. Her strong voice stood out with an almost giggling trill to
Her family didnt have
a lot of money, but made due. Gertie was happy and enjoyed the simple
pleasures. She learned to sew her own clothes, and, had a preference for bright
colors and flamboyant styles out-of-step with the typical conservative attire
of the small town. Nonetheless, she was soon making and selling dresses
As Gertie grew, she added a
third interest: boys. She loved the boys. As soon as she was of age, she
started experimenting in the joys of carnal relations. To attract the boys, the
clothes she made began to have a more risqué look. They showed flashes
of Colonial flesh.
Windton was growing, but it
had a problem. There was a shortage of workers. The town lacked amenities to
keep the young men amused. Most notably, the town didnt have its own
brothel. People had to travel all the way to Portland for that form of
disreputable entertainment. Thus, Windton couldnt attract workers and
many local boys were leaving for more thrilling destinations. Ahead of its
time, Windton had a progressive collection of business leaders. They decided to
address the problem by starting their own whorehouse.
from the religious folks in town, the group believed the business would be more
acceptable if managed by a popular local.
Gertrudabelle was an
obvious candidate. She was attractive, friendly and it was well known that she
had an enthusiasm for sex. She had developed special skills in her avocation.
Her successful dress enterprise demonstrated she had a head for business. The
town leaders approached her with the business proposal.
As throughout history,
there were few business opportunities for women. Gertrudabelle pondered it and,
being a sharp entrepreneur, made a counter-proposal.
Gertie said, If
were going to do this, I want to do it right. First, you have to pay for
my education. I will attend the Portland Finishing School for Girls for three
months and intern at the Blahung factory for another three months to learn
business practices. Second, there will also be a tavern for food and drink.
This forwardness appalled a
few of the more misogynistic men. But, after all, it was their proposal to
start the brothel. Her initiative impressed other members. They saw it as a
good sign Gertie had the skills and sense to prosper. Gustaf Blahung, Jr. said,
Gertie laid out her plans.
The business group would fund the start-up. She would run the business, keep
the profits, repay the loan. These were penny-pinching New Englanders, so they
hesitated. But, if Windton were to thrive, like towns immemorial, they knew it
needed its own red light district. Even if it was a single house. She had
them by the proverbial balls. But, Gertie didnt want to squeeze these
guys. She knew them all, and many were friends. So, she sweetened the deal.
Gertrudabelle said, If you prefer, the loan can be repaid in trade at the
brothel, and, at a discounted price.
This won the men over and
they worked out the details. Gertie insisted on a final requirement. The town
must agree to protect her working girls. All, including the constable, agreed.
Delighted at the win-win, they prepared a contract, and cut the deal.
Within months, Gertie and
Windton had its first brothel in a new house on Dam Street. It was called
the Cathedral of Pleasure in the Pines. A candle in a large red glass sconce
hanging from the porch identified the Cathedral.
The town prospered. as did
the Cathedrals business. Madam Gertrudabelle established a booming side
trade selling the erotic clothes she designed. Windton had a happier and
Numerous folks liked
Gerties effervescent personality and saw the tavern and brothel as an
essential business. She was also charitable and generous in support of local
causes and those in need. By and large, residents were a tolerant community and
preferred to leave moral judgments to god. Many of the townswomen had grown up
with Gertie. Now, they saw her as strong and a role model for how women could
enter the commercial world. More than a few bought the clothes she made.
Especially, her line of racy bloomers.
Yet, there was a fly in the
ointment. The prudes in the town were not happy. They were a small group, yet,
had some influence. Especially, at the Episcopal Church. Gertie had continued
attending. In fact, she was one of the most popular and enthusiastic singers in
Prunella, the minister's
wife, lead the puritans. Economics and business sense overcame her objections
to the Cathedral. Therefore, she took a more indirect tactic and
insisted, Its not appropriate for her to attend our
Gertie was popular among
the men, even the ones who didnt frequent the brothel. They argued that
she was doing the town a service, and, the ladies should cut her some slack.
Even the Minister pointed out that Jesus was open-minded and forgiving.
Demonstrated by his befriending the prostitute, Mary Magdalene.
To temper the situation,
Gertie reached out and offered, You can use a room at the tavern for the
Church sewing circle. The prudes refused.
increasing success, these prigs also became jealous. They were covetous of her
independence and her obvious happiness. And, Gerties sexual freedom and
pleasure. Prunella suggested the Madam was a bad influence on the
communitys impressionable daughters. Eventually, the church ladies
wore down their spouses. The Cathedral wouldnt be closed, however, the
church barred Gertrudabelle from the congregation.
Gertie knew what was going
on and wasn't surprised. But, she didnt roll over. She enjoyed the
churchs services and gods message. But, especially the
singing. She kept sneaking in and used her dressmaking skills to disguise
She was usually discovered.
But, it got her in for the day. Sometimes, she dressed as a male traveling
salesman and drew on a beard. But, when she started to sing her voice
gave her away. One clever scheme was when she posed as Gertrudabelles
look-a-alike cousin, Gabriella, from the city. With the help of some of her
clients in the church, this worked for a few weeks. But, the ruse was
After a while, Gertie gave
up the effort. Instead, she helped start another congregation, the Assembly of
Heavenly Bliss. It began small, but grew as it welcomed everyone. Under
Gertrudabelles leadership, the Assembly had a wonderful choir. It became
known to have some of the most upbeat singing in Southern Maine.
Gertie lived a long and
happy life. When she passed, her headstone was in the shape of the steeple of
her beloved, Assembly of Heavenly Bliss. And, her will provided it always had a
red candle burning.
That might have been the
end of it. Except, shortly after she died, strange things began to happen
during services at the Episcopal Church.
People claimed to hear
Gerties unique voice during the songs. More troubling, some women would
experience the strangest phenomenon. They described it as if someone was laying
on hands. Right in the middle a prayer or hymn, their bodies would experience a
fondle or a tweak.
Their squeal of surprise
would disrupt the service. Some parishioners claimed the confusion was
accompanied by a distant and mischievous giggle. At first, the targets would
attempt to ignore the sensations. When pressed, their explanations were
dismissed as unholy imaginings.
Over time, the incidents
became too frequent and prevalent to disregard. Sometimes, it would start as if
a breeze lifted their skirts. For others, they sensed a light brush
against their clothes. At times, it progressed to a full-on grope of their
breasts or thighs.
For the sufferers, it was
quite disturbing. Some claimed to be possessed by the Holy Spirit. But, this
massaging wasnt something found in the Bible. When ladies tried to
disregard the sensations, they became more insistent. Only women, and only
adults, were the targets of these possessions. Although not limited
to them, it focused on those ladies known as the most prudish and
No one could explain it.
Because the incidents coincided with apparent echoes of
Gerties unique giggle, a rumor started that it was Gerties Revenge.
The minister didnt know what to do. He feared the more it was discussed,
the more it would lead to wanton thoughts and carnal sin. But, he held private
prayer services with some of the prey and even directed the demons
to leave this holy place. It was to no avail.
The women who were groped
couldnt overlook it. It was too physical, too real and too all-consuming.
The attention was never harmful. In private, some of the recipients confessed
it was, in fact, pleasant. Some congregants took to discussing it at the their
quilting bees. A few brave souls whispered to close friends it was the most
satisfying sexual exploits of their lives.
The first wave of the
phenomenon lasted for months. It attracted unwanted attention to the church
from the curious and those hoping for their own touch from Grabby
Gertie. After a while, the spiritual contacts faded in
frequency. But, they never completely went away. To this day, its not
unheard of for a parishioner to yelp in surprise, or moan in bliss.
Grabby Gertie became a part
of local Windton lore. Teenage boys joked about it and teased the girls who
attended the Episcopal Church. It is said, that during the service, some of the
women pray for a visit from Gertrudabelle as relief from the long and boring
Even today, some claim that
if you attend a Sunday service, Gertie might bless you with a sacred