a playful spirit
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Gertie’s Ghost
by Bill Diamond



Many New England towns have ghosts. You won’t find it in the town history, but, Windton, Maine is no different. The residents all know about the spirit. What’s unusual is Windton’s 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 Blahung’s 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 it.


Her family didn’t 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 to others.. 


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 didn’t have its own brothel. People had to travel all the way to Portland for that form of disreputable entertainment. Thus, Windton couldn’t 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.  


Anticipating resistance 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 we’re 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, “Continue”.


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 it’s own red light district. Even if it was a single house. She had them by the proverbial balls. But, Gertie didn’t 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 it’s 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 Cathedral’s business. Madam Gertrudabelle established a booming side trade selling the erotic clothes she designed. Windton had a happier and satisfied buzz. 


Numerous folks liked Gertie’s 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 the choir.


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, “It’s not appropriate for her to attend our church.”


Gertie was popular among the men, even the ones who didn’t 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.


With Gertie’s increasing success, these prigs also became jealous. They were covetous of her independence and her obvious happiness. And, Gertie’s sexual freedom and pleasure. Prunella suggested the Madam was a bad influence on the community’s impressionable daughters.  Eventually, the church ladies wore down their spouses. The Cathedral wouldn’t be closed, however, the church barred Gertrudabelle from the congregation.


Gertie knew what was going on and wasn't surprised. But, she didn’t roll over. She enjoyed the church’s services and god’s message. But, especially the singing.  She kept sneaking in and used her dressmaking skills to disguise herself.


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 Gertrudabelle’s 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 ultimately exposed.


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 Gertrudabelle’s 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 Gertie’s 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 wasn’t 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 sanctimonious.


No one could explain it. Because the ‘incidents’ coincided with apparent echoes of Gertie’s unique giggle, a rumor started that it was Gertie’s Revenge. The minister didn’t 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 couldn’t 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, it’s 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 sermons.


Even today, some claim that if you attend a Sunday service, Gertie might bless you with a sacred massage.




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