"Tales of Murder and Hidden Treasure!" Smuttynose Island by peach93
Smuttynose Island Travel Guide: 5 reviews and 4 photos
As a child I spent a week every July on the Isles of Shoals, a group of nine rocky islands 10 miles out from the coast of Portsmouth, NH. Four of the islands are in New Hampshire, while the other five are over the state line in Maine.
The island we stayed on was Star Island, from which you could see clearly across Gosport Harbor another, smaller island, more of a large rock really, with nothing on it but two small, abandoned houses. This island was Smuttynose.
As kids we of course thought that the name Smuttynose was hilarious, the island named for its odd nose-like shape. We also loved hearing the adults tell us all about the legends of Smuttynose: the rumors of pirate treasure buried there by Black Beard, heroic tales of Native Americans fighting off the British during the War of 1812, and of course, what we wanted to hear about most were the murders.
As the story goes, two Norweigan fisherman, their young wives, and one of their sisters were living on the island in the early 1870's. On March 6, 1873 the two men went to Portmouth to get supplies, leaving the women at home. While they were in Portsmouth a former employee of one of the men, a German immigrant named Louis Wagner, overheard the two discussing the money that they had been saving to purchase a new fishing boat. Seizing the opportunity, Wagner supposedly rowed his way out to Smuttynose planning to steal the money from the unsuspecting women.
The following morning two of the three women living on the island were found murdered with an ax that they had been using to break the ice on the well. The third woman was found alive, but nearly frozen to death as she had spent the entire night hiding among the rocks.
Wagner fled by train to Boston that night but was promptly caught and sent to trial on double murder charges in York, Maine. He was convicted as charged in spite of the lack of physical evidence and was hanged for the crime in 1875.
Today there is some speculation that Wagner may have been innocent, but the truth will likely never be known.
The story of the Smuttynose Murders is quite famous in New England lore. I remember quite well a folk song written by New Hampshire native John Perreault called "The Ballad of Louis Wagner". A friend of my Dad and stepmother used to sing it to us at night with his guitar before bedtime. I can still hear it in my mind if I sit quietly enough.
The murder story was also made into a novel by Massacusetts writer Anita Shreve. Her book, The Weight of Water, came out as a film by the same name in 2000 starring Sean Penn and Elizabeth Hurley.
Due to its remote location, Smuttynose is home to a variety of wildlife. The most prevalent of these are the sea birds,... more travel advice
If you want to see Smuttynose there is only one way to get there: rowboat. From the mainland you have to take the ferry... more travel advice
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