Tragedy at Kellyland

Olive McLean Bacon Calais Academy Yearbook photo 1930

Jayna Smith wrote  an article in this week’s Advertiser [note: originally written October 30, 2020) in which she described the tragic drowning of Herbert and Olive Bacon in Woodland on Halloween in 1947. Their canoe had capsized while crossing the Grand Falls Flowage from their home in Kellyland.

Olive Bacon was Olive McLean of Calais, a 1930 graduate of Calais Academy. Herbert was the third child of J.W. Bacon and Lillian Bagley Bacon  of Grand Lake Stream. A grand daughter of the Bacons is convinced that there is much more to the story than the contemporary accounts admit and that her grandparents were, in fact, ” shot and murdered in the canoe”. After reading Jayna’s article we decided to do some more digging to determine if any evidence exists which could support this claim. We have found none.

For those who have not had the benefit of reading Jayna’s article in the Advertiser we will review the facts as they were known in 1947. The first news accounts of the deaths were published in the Portland Press Herald and the Bangor Daily News on November 3rd, 1947. For those unfamiliar with the geography, Kellyland is in Baileyville and borders the St Croix River and Grand Falls Dam flowage several miles to the northwest of the Woodland Mill and is, of course, above the Grand Falls Dam.

Portland Press Herald Nov 3, 1947:

Searchers tonight have failed to locate the bodies of Herbert Bacon and his wife Olive of Kelleyland believed to have been drowned in the St. Croix River Friday night when their canoe capsized as they started for their camp at Grand Falls, 10 miles downstream.

Grappling operations, under the direction of Deputy Sheriff Walter King, were begun soon after the overturned canoe was found 300 feet from their home and subsequent investigation revealed that they had not reached the camp, all of Bacon’s tools were assembled as he left the last time he worked on the building.

The family dog, with the couple when they started out, swan ashore when the canoe capsized and wet, shivering and whining, was found later at their home.

A crew of men working along the river spied the overturned craft and one of them, starting for the Bacon home met Francis Abbott and the Bacon’s only child Jean, 8, who had passed the night with the Abbott’s daughter, Sally, after attending a Halloween party held by schoolchildren.

Leading the little girl home, Abbott found the door locked and the dog standing outside.

Authorities were notified of the probable drowning and immediately began their search for the couple.

On the same day the Bangor Daily published the following:

From Bangor Daily November 3, 1947

Search Continues For Young Couple Thought Drowned

 WOODLAND Nov 2, 1947

Volunteer searchers who continued their search today of the murky waters of Tomah Stream near here reported a fruitless probe of the 200-yard area for the bodies of Herbert L Bacon 37 and his 33-year-old wife the former Olive McLean of Calais presumed drowned some time Friday afternoon. Mrs. May Perry Woodland operator quoted authorities saying that the search for the couple began when their dog who had accompanied them on the trip appeared at home Friday dripping wet after the couple left Kellyland during the afternoon for their camp three miles away on Grand Falls Flowage Lake.

Searchers found the overturned canoe at the mouth of Tomah stream and picked up a life preserver a quarter of a mile beyond this point. Although the area covers only about 200 yards the search was made more difficult by the muddy waters caused by the low ebb to which the drought has left Maine streams and lakes. Deputy Sheriff Walter King of Woodland said tonight that the use of searchlights on the end of poles thrust into the water and two airplanes during the day brought no results.

Bacon graduated from Woodland high school and his wife from Calais academy. A seven-year-old daughter Jean did not accompany her parent on the trip.

The papers followed the search with interest for several days but nothing was found.

November 5 Portland Press Herald:



Woodland November 4

Day and night search for the bodies of Mr. and Mrs. Herbert Bacon of Kellyland, believed to have drowned in the St. Croix River by the capsizing of their canoe Friday night, had been unsuccessful up to a late hour tonight, Deputy Sheriff Walter King of Woodland said.

Deputy King, who has been in charge of the search, said that 25 men have been grappling, a water scope had been used and an airplane had made several flights. The river is low at the point where the couple is supposed to have lost their lives and there is practically no current.

The Bacons, with the family dog, started out in their canoe to go to a camp they were building. Their overturned craft was seen by men working along the shore.

The dog, wet and whining, was found at the Bacon home where he had gone after swimming ashore, and when investigation revealed the couple had not been at the camp King instituted the search.

Finally on November 7th Mrs. Bacon’s body was found near the mouth of Tomah Stream where the capsized canoe was first seen. There was as yet no sign of the body of her husband.

Bangor Daily November 7:

Guides Discover Body Of Woman Missing A Week


Searchers were rewarded today in their week-long hunt for the bodies of Mr. and Mrs. Herbert L Bacon of Kellyland presumed drowned last Friday when two Grand Lake Stream guides found the body of Mrs. Bacon at the mouth of Tomah stream near here.

With the announcement that the body of the 33-year-old former Calais woman had been found, Deputy Sheriff King said he had asked for a fresh crew of 25 to 30 men to resume searching for Bacon tonight.

 The body was found by Ollie White and Emery Yates both of Grand Lake Stream this noon and was taken to the Irvin funeral home in Calais.

 Search for the couple began last Friday when their dog who had accompanied them on a trip to their camp three miles away on Grand Falls Flowage Lake appeared at home dripping wet. The hunt picked up impetus with the discovery of an overturned canoe at the mouth of Tomah stream and has been continued ever since.

 Mrs. Bacon the former Olive MacLain of Calais was graduated from Calais academy She was the mother of a seven-year-old daughter Jean who did not accompany her parents on the ill-fated trip.

The search continued for the body of Herbert Bacon but was hampered by weather conditions.

Bangor Daily November 9, 1947:

Says Winds Hamper Search For Body Of Woodland Man

 WOODLAND Nov 9 — Deputy Sheriff Walter King of this town said tonight that heavy winds were hampering efforts to recover the body of Herbert L Bacon, believed drowned a week ago last Friday in Tomah stream.

The body of Mrs. Bacon was recovered Friday at the mouth of Tomah stream, but the week-end storm had roiled the waters of the stream King said making it difficult to see more than a few feet beneath the surface. Mr. and Mrs. Bacon who had left their home near here on a canoe trip Oct 31 to their camp on Grand Falls Flowage Lake were first missed when the dog accompanying them returned during the evening.

Searchers since that time have been handicapped by muddy waters in their’ attempt to locate the bodies.

The search was eventually abandoned and Olive Bacon was buried in the Calais Cemetery. Her obituary was published in the Calais Advertiser on November 12, 1947. It was nearly two years later that Francis Albert and Forest Dennison made a grisly discovery:

Bangor Daily August 20, 1949

Find Leg Of Man Drowned In 1947 In St Croix River


Part of the remains of a man presumed drowned In the St Croix River two years ago was found late yesterday Walter King of Woodland chief deputy sheriff said tonight.

 Francis Albert and Forest Dennison of Kellyland identified the shoe on the remains of a left leg as that belonging to Herbert Bacon believed to have drowned with his wife in a canoe mishap Oct 31, 1947. King stated the appendage was found by Paul Slipp about a mile above the power station at Grand Falls. King stated the canoe was found the day after the accident happened in 1947 near the mouth of Toman stream and Mrs. Bacon’s body was found two days later King said.

 King who was investigating officer on the original case said that the couple was building a camp on an island in the river and that the general situation on the island after the two people were reported missing indicated that there may possibly have been an accident and either Bacon or his wife was hurt and that in haste coming across the river the canoe with outboard motor capsized. Memorial services for Bacon were held on the banks of the St Croix in Kellyland this summer. 

The above is the complete historical record of the tragedy and there is nothing to indicate the death of the Bacons was other than a tragic accident. Olive Bacon’s body was found within days of the accident and showed no sign of foul play. Had she been shot the fact would have been difficult to conceal given the number of searchers in the area who must have seen her body when it was recovered. Further the accounts of the accident are entirely consistent with an accidental capsizing of the canoe.

There are some minor inconsistencies such as the distance from the Bacon’s home to the camp and whether the Bacon’s had actually reached the camp and capsized on the way home. Further Mrs. Bacon’s body and the canoe were found at the mouth of Tomah Stream which is on the opposite side of the flowage from Kellyland. We were curious about this as the dog swam back to the Bacon’s home after the canoe capsized rather than swim to land near the bank of Tomah Stream. We discussed this with Mike Marshall who spent many years as a game warden in the area. He assures us the canoe could well have capsized near the home and both the bodies and the canoe driven by the wind across the flowage. This seems the more likely scenario as the dog was able to swim to the Bacon’s home.

The Bacon’s daughter Jean was their only child. At the time of the accident she was about 8 years old and went to live with her grandmother and uncle’s family at 16 High Street in Calais. Jerry Lapointe lived next door and remembers the family well. Jean’s grandmother was Sadie Anderson McLean and her grandfather Henry McLean who was not in the household, having died in 1942.

When the accident occurred Olive’s brother Ralph and his wife Alva were also living in the High Street home with their four daughters Norma, Donna, Barbara and Linda so Jean grew up with her four cousins and by all accounts had a normal childhood. She can be seen above as Mary in the St Anne’s Christmas pageant of 1952.

Linda McLean recalls the family’s version of the accident was slightly different from the contemporary account – “The speculation we always heard was that Herb must have fallen off the cabin roof and broken his leg and that Olive was trying to get back for help when the canoe capsized.”

This version may have originated from the 1949 article above which contradicts the earlier versions from 1947 which claim the Bacons did not reach the camp. Nonetheless there was never any question in the family that the deaths were accidental. Further Floyd McGlinchey’s family now of Milltown rented the house to the right of the McLeans who had purchased the house as a rental property. Floyd was 12 at the time and recalls the drownings were much discussed around town but never as anything other than a tragic accident. He does not recall any evidence of “foul play” which would have been the talk of the town if there had been even a hint of such a possibility.

Jean Bacon graduation photo 1959

Jean graduated from Calais High school in 1959 and in August of 1960 married Wilson Bartlett of St. Stephen. The couple must have moved almost immediately to Ontario as the Bangor Daily reported in 1960 in the real estate transfer notices: “Jean Bartlett of Ontario to Ralph McLean of Calais, one half interest in common to a lot and buildings on the northeast side of High Street in Calais”.

As her grandmother Sadie had died in 1958 we are safe in assuming she left her property equally to her son and only child of her daughter Olive.
We understand Jean is still living in the Bangor area. It appears from Jayna’s article that Jean may have been the source of her daughter’s belief that Olive and Herbert were murdered. Still however deeply held this belief may be, there is no evidence in the historical record to support this version of the events of Halloween 1947.

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