The town of Waltham is known for its caves and other geologic phenomena. MAINE AN ENCYCLOPEDIA PHOTO

Harvey Duff’s midnight adventure at Cave Hill

Editor’s note:

“Harvey Duff’s Midnight Adventure” first appeared on May 30, 1889. The lively account of the intrepid boy’s midnight escapade in and out of Cave Hill’s cave was written by Ellsworth city councilor John L. Moor. Moor served as a state representative in the Maine Legislature for six years. His piece also was printed in the Lewiston Journal. It makes a spooky read-aloud before the fire this coming Halloween night.  

WALTHAM — For the Maine lover of adventure, it is not necessary to venture thousands of miles away from home to explore the mysteries of nature in underground caverns for our own state has many such, and nonetheless wonderful, of the lot located not a stone’s throw from the highway. This cave has never been thoroughly explored although its existence has been known for more than 70 years. Marvelous are the stories of the old forefathers’ adventures in the poky holes beneath the bowels of the hill.

The most widely diffused legend in connection with this cave is that somewhere in its confines lives buried the bulk of Captain Kidd’s treasures. The great pot of melted gold and chest of gems that he wrestled from the men of peace and wealth. From the last two generations, many a search party has ventured through the bush-covered mouth of this cave, only to return a few hours afterward confused and sometimes frightened, but never with the memory of seeing the treasure pot.

Yet it is not the stories of their trials, nor their delusions that make the most entertaining narratives. It is the one of the young man who feared neither darkness nor superstitious omens, who went down into the depths of the cave alone and at night. Who came back unharmed with evidence of his excursion just for the sake of a cheap jackknife.

This young man, Harvey Duff, it is said, explored more of the cave than any man known, but how he found his way out even he never knew. All he knew was that he groped along ’til a puff of air told him that he was near an opening. He crawled out, falling into a stream, which told him that he had made an exit not where he had entered. For a mile or two, he wandered wet and confused through the woods. At last, he recognized the buildings of a neighbor four miles away from the place where he entered the cave.

This was 70 years ago. Harvey Duff was a hired boy in the only house on Cave Hill. The country was heavily wooded then and houses and turnpikes were few and far between. That night, a party of three men

Young Harvey Duff accepted the challenge to go into the cave in the dark and retrieve a wolf’s skull in exchange for a jackknife. GETTY IMAGES PHOTO

sat at the fireplace. One of the men owned two cheap jackknives, which were scarce in those days. The conversation touched on the curious cave. Earlier that day, some men had stumbled across it and wormed their way into the inner chamber. They continued exploring until they came to a heap of what looked like wolf bones. At the fireside, the men discussed the wonder of it all while one of them whittled.

“Say, Wilson,” Harvey Duff said. “Can I buy that other knife from you?”

“No, you can’t. Don’t you know a knife cuts friendship?” was the reply.

“Oh, bosh, with your superstitions,” Duff said.

The men’s talk turned to the loneliness of a subterranean cavern and of the feeling that possesses all those who find themselves underground.

“Bet, you wouldn’t dare go up there now,” said one.

“I’ll acknowledge that I wouldn’t hanker for the trip,” another replied.

“Pooh!” said the young Duff. “I wouldn’t be afraid to go down and walk through that cave at midnight and alone.”

“Hear the boy…” the two jackknives’ owner said.

“Big noise, little sand,” scoffed another.

“Tell you what,” Duff said. “You give me one of your jackknives and I will walk that cave tonight.”

“But how’ll we know you do it?” asked the man.

“You said there’s a wolf skull in the big chamber?”


“Well, say, if I come back with the wolf’s skull, is the knife mine?”

“Sure, boy, but don’t venture it. You never can do it.”

But Duff wanted that jackknife. He left the house shortly after midnight, taking a few matches with him.

The men waited nervously for an hour or more, and then, growing alarmed, they started in pursuit of young Duff. They reached the mouth of the cave and stood for a long while before they could muster the courage to venture in.

Finally, one of them squeezed through and struck a match. The other followed. Both stood a while in the dark corridor and yelled, but the only response to their calls was a wild, rumbling noise like the roar of a distant hurricane. Thoroughly frightened, they beat a retreat and scrambled back, pale and trembling, to the house on the hill.

They were discussing the subject around the blazing fire when the door opened and Duff entered.

“Give us the knife, Wilson,” he said, laying the yellow fronted bone of a wolf in Wilson’s lap.

Harvey Duff won his jackknife in exchange for retrieving the wolf’s skull in the dead of night from the caverns inside Cave Hill in Waltham. GETTY IMAGES PHOTO

Wilson promptly fainted and his companion fled.

“I thought it was a ghost,” he said.

“I ain’t no ghost,” Duff said. “But I must be something in the nature of spirit to find my way out of that dark hole.”

Since then, many explorers have tried to find the passage leading to Duff’s exit, or the brook in which he fell, but without success. The story is scoffed at by some, but many living in the vicinity of Cave Hill believe in it firmly today.

And the cave is still there as proof of the story.

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