Ghosts in the Aroostook County Courthouse and Jail in Houlton
By Dena L. Winslow, Ph.D.
Copyright 2021

Originally built in 1859, with additions after that date, the Aroostook County Courthouse and Jail was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1990. It is dedicated to Justice James Archibald, who grew up in Houlton. His mother was a Putnam, one of the early settlers in Houlton. Both his father and his grandfather were lawyers. Interestingly, there is a painting of Justice Archibald hanging in the Court House which has a subliminal cross in it – located on a ring on the finger of Justice Archibald. [1]

Justice Archibald painting located in the Aroostook County Court House in Houlton. Although difficult to see, Justice Archibald has his hand on what appears to be a Bible in the painting. Special thank you to the staff at the Court House for assistance with taking these photographs.

[1]  Rhoda, Richard, interview with Dena Winslow, October 9, 2008.

The subliminal cross on Justice Archibald's ring on his right hand (lower hand) in the painting.

The building has seen its share of important trials and lodged thousands of prisoners over the years it has existed. One long-term employee who started work at the Court House at the age of 18 and worked there for over 47 years, Alice McQuarrie, had seen many things over all those years.

One very late night, while she was working alone in the building, Alice finished her work and got ready to leave the building. The hall light switch was at the other end of the long hall, so she was walking towards the door in the darkness. She had walked that hall thousands of times and knew her way, even in the darkness. As she began to walk, she heard footsteps on the second floor. She stopped walking to listen to see what she could hear in the darkness, and the footsteps stopped when she stopped. She carefully began walking again… and so did the footsteps on the second floor. By now, she had become frightened and made a dash for the door, just as she could hear the footsteps running toward the staircase to come down to the same door. Just as she reached the door, the lights came on… it was the Clerk of Courts who had also been working late, and neither knew the other was in the building. Both thought the
other was an intruder. They had a good laugh over that one.[2]

But… there were also unexplainable things that happened. Early in Alice’s career there, she had worked with Judge Lawlis (pronounced “law-less,” an odd name for a Judge!). He liked to sing while in his chambers when court was not in session. But, many years after he died, people could hear his voice from time to time – still singing in his chambers.[3]

One of the big trials when Alice began working at the Court House was the trial for the murder
of Annie Dunlap in the early 1940’s. Due to being evidence in the trial, Annie’s false teeth were
kept in the Courthouse Attic after the trial ended – and remained there for many years later.[4] One night, an architect who was using one of the rooms on the second floor courtroom heard noises in the attic. He had heard the stories about the trial of Annie Dunlap and her false teeth. Fear overtook him as he believed he was hearing Annie’s ghost in the attic and he ran out of the Court Room in a panic, in the process, falling over the banister where people made their “guilty” or “innocent” pleas. Fortunately he wasn’t hurt but he got up and hurtled himself down the stairs and out of the building as he believed Annie’s ghost was chasing him.[5]
There was also the strange occurrence of the bell in the bell tower falling into the building one night. Judge Archibald had a secretary, and that bell fell through the floors of the building landing in the chair where his secretary had been sitting. Had she been sitting there when it
2 McQuarrie, Alice, interview with Dena Winslow, September 25, 2008.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Winslow, Dena, observation from seeing the false teeth in the Courthouse Attic over many years of doing
research there.

[5] McQuarrie.