Donald (Jerry) Ellis remembers the day he turned from a skeptic into a believer. It was late on a hot July afternoon in 1998 when he was clearing brush from the rear of the Sagamore Cemetery (Sandwich Road, Sagamore), where he has served as caretaker for roughly three decades. It started with the feeling of someone pushing on his chest, followed by the smell of cigar smoke being blown in his face. Despite the heat, he had stopped sweating. There were goosebumps on his arms. He rushed to his truck and then the sensations vanished.

“I’m not afraid of anything, and frankly this just frightened me,” he says. “I went from a non-believer to someone who is tolerant of this, and who believes there is something there I can’t put my finger on.” Since that day, paranormal investigators have visited the cemetery, where there are rumored to be as many as seven ghosts wandering the grounds.

Ellis believes it was Isaac Keith—the founder of the defunct Keith Car Company, who is buried in the cemetery—whom he encountered that July afternoon 22 years ago. Ellis was told by a psychic that Keith “was very upset because some of the [grave] stones were not on top of the original graves,” a discrepancy that occurred in 1909 during the digging of the Cape Cod Canal. As part of that project, two local burial grounds had to be relocated to the Sagamore Cemetery, and roughly 30 to 40 bodies were separated from their gravestones in the process. When a nor’easter washed the chalked-in names off their wooden caskets, workers could only guess which headstone went with which casket.

The legend goes that the spirits of those disturbed souls supposedly haunt the cemetery to this day.

It may sound like fantasy, but the more you delve into the history of Cape Cod, the more you realize that tales like this are not only commonplace, they may also be rooted in reality.

A History of the Unexplained
Author Robin Smith-Johnson has chronicled the region’s unusual happenings in two recent books, Legends & Lore of Cape Cod and Cape Cod Curiosities, which delve into everything from UFO sightings to strange creatures known as “Marsh People,” which are rumored to live in the Great Marsh that runs from Sandwich to Yarmouth.

Some of Smith-Johnson’s yarns are less fanciful, but still captivating, like the black bear that made its way from Sandwich to Provincetown for 17 days in 2012, as well as Helen Keller’s first visit to Brewster as a child in 1888.

“I think we tell stories to make sense of the world and also to learn about people, places and things that are different from us,” Smith-Johnson says.

Many of the Cape’s more famous legends harken back to times of yore, when witches and pirates were more than just costumes to be worn once a year on Halloween. Perhaps the most celebrated one revolves around “Black Sam” Bellamy and Maria “Goody” Hallett. It’s a love story layered in truth, wrapped in a mystery. “I am fascinated by the story of Sam and Maria,” says Tim Gigl, historian at the Whydah Pirate Museum in West Yarmouth. “I do think the story is plausible.”

The abridged version is that Bellamy had met Maria on Cape Cod and was quickly smitten, fathering her child. Before she gave birth, Bellamy set off to the Caribbean to make his fortune; it was on that trip that Bellamy became a pirate and successfully captured the Whydah, an English slave ship, and set sail for New England.

Some believe he was returning to Maria.

There remains speculation as to whether Maria was an actual person. "I think she really existed,” says Kathleen Brunelle, author of Bellamy’s Bride: The Search for Maria Hallett of Cape Cod.

As to her fate, there are a number of variations.After giving birth to their child, who died, one narrative has Hallett shunned by the town, angry at Bellamy, and turning to the devil, who transformed her into a witch. Upon learning of Bellamy’s return, she used her black magic to conjure up a storm which sank the Whydah off the coast of Wellfleet on April 26, 1717.  Only two of the 143 crew on board survived. Bellamy’s body was never found.

Brunelle prefers a more romantic ending in which Hallett was longing for her love to return. “I like the idea of Bellamy surviving the wreck,” she says. “One story has them going off to Provincetown together. I like that. It is my favorite one.”

To this day, Hallett’s ghost is said to walk Marconi Beach in Wellfleet. On dark, stormy nights when the wind is wailing, locals say if you listen closely, you can hear the cries of Goody Hallett.

Love, Towers and the Supernatural
In Dennis, not far from Route 6A, the 30-foot tall Scargo Tower sits atop Scargo Hill (Scargo Hill Road, Dennis). How that hill, and the lake it overlooks, came to be is steeped in legend, started with a Native American warrior who fell for Princess Scargo of the Nobscussett Tribe. Prior to heading off into battle, he presented the princess with four small shimmering fish.

The legend says that the princess placed those fish in a small pond, but that summer was hot, long and dry, killing all but one of them. To ensure the safety of the lone survivor, the princess’ father ordered the tribe to dig a basin, which became Scargo Lake. The excavated soil formed Scargo Hill, where Princess Scargo watched over the fish and awaited the eventual return of her love.

“Scargo Tower is sort of an iconic destination for people,” says Peter Troutman, co-owner of Scargo Café in Dennis. “There’s such a breathtaking view and you can see Plymouth and Provincetown on clear days. When you look down on the lake below, it is in the shape of a fish, which goes hand-in-hand with the legend.”

Another stone tower, in Truro, also has a storied history attached to it. At this one, located just south of Highland Light, famed opera singer Jenny Lind is reported to have sung from the top.

That performance occurred in 1850 when the tower was a part of the old Fitchburg Railroad station in Boston. While Lind was giving a sold-out performance in an arena inside the station, a restless crowd stirred outside. To appease the masses, Lind supposedly climbed the turret and began to sing to her fans below.

In 1927, when the depot was being torn down, Harry Aldrich, a prominent Boston attorney and admirer of Lind’s, purchased the 70-foot tower and had it moved to his North Truro property.

While you can’t access the tower today, it can be viewed clearly from the grounds of the Highland Lighthouse (27 Highland Light Road, Truro). According to lore, Lind’s singing can still be heard on those evenings when Goody Hallett’s screams fill the night sky on Outer Cape Cod. It is rumored that her operatic voice is enough to ward off even the mythical Witch of Wellfleet.

In almost every corner of Cape Cod, history such as the Jenny Lind Tower intersects with folklore, creating stories that are either unbelievable while containing kernels of truth, or are plausible while containing nuggets of the improbable. Ghost hunter Derek Bartlett has capitalized on this concept with his Cape Cod Haunted History Tour, which runs from mid-April to mid-November in Barnstable Village and includes stops at several rumored-to-be-haunted spots, among them the Old Jail, the Barnstable Restaurant and Tavern and the Olde Colonial Courthouse.

"I like sharing the history of Barnstable, but also giving people a possible firsthand experience of something potentially happening to them,” Bartlett says. “Does it happen every night? No. But it does happen. I like making the non-believers into believers.”