March 22, 2008

Sink or Swim: The Curse of the Saco River

I was excited when we first decided to research the legend of the Saco River. I’ve grown up in the region so I’d always heard rumors of something being wrong with the river, but I’d never really heard the whole story. Even my dad had heard the stories when he was growing up. Some of his friends had moved to Saco when he was still in school and relayed the legend. Recently, after our article came out, he also told me that when he was younger he used to get magazines with facts about all fifty states. When he received the Maine magazine, the story of Squandro and his epic curse was featured in there. So, we obviously weren’t the first ones to research this. However, with my dad knowing all this, I find it a little odd that he’d try to get me to canoe down the Saco with him every summer while I was in high school…

So, basically, the story goes like this. Squandro’s baby, Menewee, was tossed into the Saco River in 1675 by English sailors whSaco River - 1603o thought all Native American’s could swim instinctively. This view was based upon the idea that Europeans typically do the breath stroke, while Native American’s would be seen doing the doggy paddle. The baby, obviously, didn’t float. Instead his mother, leapt into the river to save the baby, but they both drowned. It is speculated that Menewee’s mother was also pregnant with another child, and that is why the enraged Squandro placed the curse on the river that three white men would drown each year, to replace the lives that were lost that day. This curse would only be broken if all white men ‘fled from the hemlocks on the banks of the Saco.’

Mandy and I quickly realized it would be nearly impossible to sort through all the death records for each town that borders the river along its 134 mile stretch for the past 300+ years, all the time trying to weed out the drowning cases. While this would easily prove the curse’s validity, there is just no way the two of us could take on that endeavor. What we did instead was research the deaths over recent years, of which there always seemed to be a few annually around the Biddeford-Saco area. From this data, we figured it was conceivable that over the other 133 miles the river passes along, which the river can be treacherous, other lives could quite possibly be claimed.

Like many of these stories we come across, it is hard to prove an absolute positive or negative. And, like always, it is up for our article’s readers to make up their own minds about what we present. However, one thing’s for sure, I’m STILL not canoeing down that river with my dad this summer.


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