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Mount Washington

by Thomas D'Agostino

Mount Washington is the most prominent peak east of the Mississippi River, stretching 6,288 ft into the sky. The observatory atop Mount Washington recorded the world’s highest speed wind gust in 1934. That record stood until 1996. The mountain was also the first to have a Tip Top House. Adventurers would travel from the Glen House at the base of Mount Washington up to the Tip Top House, where they could spend the night marveling at some of the most magnificent scenery New England has to offer. People from all walks of life took the opportunity to travel the path or rail that led to the top. Many hikers over the centuries have braved the elements and taken in the scenic wonder Mount Washington has to offer. Some have succumbed to the merciless mountain’s unpredictable climate changes. It is no wonder that there might be a few spirits lingering along the peak of New England’s highest elevation.

One tragic story took place on September 14, 1855, when twenty-three-year-old Lizzie Bourne of Kennebunk, Maine, along with her cousin, Lucy Bourne, and uncle, George, left the Glen House to ascend the mountain at about 2:00 p.m. Starting at such a late hour in the day was an unwise decision for by nightfall, the company had not yet reached its destination.

A fierce gale suddenly overcame the region, and the three took shelter behind a mound of boulders. By about 10:00 p.m., Lizzie began showing quick signs of physical deterioration and soon died. It is alleged that she may have had a heart condition that contributed to her demise. Lucy and George made it through the night and at sunrise discovered, to their amazement, they were only a few hundred yards from the summit house. Lizzie was buried at Hope Cemetery in Kennebunk, but a crude stone monument was erected to mark the spot where she died. In time, the pile of stones was replaced with a more modern marker with an inscription of the fateful night written in prose and poetry.

There is a well-founded tale that on September 14 of every year the ghost of Lizzie Bourne can be seen floating about the marker where she met her demise. Many years ago, one group of hikers chose to test the legend on a moonlit night. They arrived at the Bourne monument and sat down, talking about the incident. Soon, the clouds began to obscure what little moonlight there was. As they readied to return to the hotel, one of the men shrieked in horror and pointed toward the monument. The group turned and saw a glowing figure rising from the stones. The misty figure took the form of a young woman with a sad face and flowing robes. She pointed toward the Tip Top House and then silently glided to the ground, where she lowered herself to her knees in prayer before fading away in front of the frightened adventurers. The moon shone bright on the peak once again, and the hikers stood alone at the monument, silent and stunned by what had just transpired in front of them.

It is written that Lizzie still makes her appearance at that location on September 14 of each year, watching over the vast area known as the White Mountains. Perhaps she is eternally taking in the scenery that she never saw on that fateful evening so many years ago.