Some Maine restaurants advertise their hauntings, knowing full well that some folks love a good scare with their meal.
Ghosts are good for business.
The Jameson Tavern in Freeport has a whole section on its website devoted to its “spooky history,” including the story of a little girl who apparently doesn’t know she’s dead. (www.jamesontavern.com)
Last year, Empire Dine and Dance posted video online showing its resident ghost moving a curtain.
I put out the call to local restaurants for their ghost stories, and heard some spooky tales that are sure to put the howl into your Halloween. Most restaurant specters are harmless, but a few appear to be as temperamental as fussy chefs, tossing dishes on the floor and scaring the staff.
Maybe they’re just hungry.
• When Jay Villani started the renovations at Sonny’s, his restaurant at 83 Exchange St. in Portland, he began hearing unexplained noises and having creepy feelings that made him look over his shoulder.
One day, as Villani was working in the bar area, every bowl and baking dish stored on a shelf in the back room simply came crashing down. “The shelf didn’t fall over,” he said. “Everything was across the floor. It kind of freaked me out, so I put everything away and I left.”
About two weeks later, Villani was cooking on a busy night when a regular customer asked to see him. The customer had brought in her mother, who claimed to be able to see spirits.
“She looks right at me,” Villani recalled, “and she goes, ‘How long have you known the ghost has been here?’ And I said, ‘What are you talking about?’ She said, ‘I’m looking at him right now. He’s in the mirror.’
“I always thought it was an older dude, and she described this thing that was right out of a Dickens novel. It’s this turn-of-the century guy. He’s kind of olive-skinned, with a big nose.”
The woman told Villani the ghost is benevolent and not to worry about it. The ghost’s activity died down a lot after that, and Villani stopped getting those creepy feelings. The restaurateur thinks the ghost just wanted him, as the new kid on the block, to acknowledge its presence.
Villani thought about doing some kind of ceremony to get rid of the ghost, but decided it’s just fine with him if the dead man wants to walk around his restaurant.
“I’m infringing on someone else’s space now, you know what I mean?” he said. “I’m just a renter. That guy’s here for the long haul.”
• Doug Fuss at Bull Feeney’s, 375 Fore St., Portland, reports that about seven years ago, two customers walked in the front entrance, stared over at the far stairs on the other side of the room, and said to the host: “What a great idea for such an old historic building to have ladies in period costume walking down the stairs!”
The problem? Fuss hadn’t hired anyone in period dress.
The staff at the pub has also reported period-dressed ghosts in the Tea Rooms, which are accessible by the same staircase.
There are a couple of bathrooms at the pub that used to be a room with leather chairs and sofas called The Whiskey Room. When the room was being renovated, there was an old piano in there that people heard playing by itself.
And it wasn’t a player piano. Bwahahaha.
• Sam Dicenso has worked as a maintenance man for DiMillo’s, 25 Long Wharf, Portland, for almost 30 years. He claims to have been haunted by a ghost below decks for his entire career on the ferry boat-turned-restaurant.
Dicenso first noticed that he was not alone when the boat first opened for business in 1984. He’d open his shop in the morning and leave to do a project on the other end of the ship, only to find the lights turned off when he returned. Dicenso has heard men talking around the controls in the original engine room. One male spirit called the other man by name – Frank. Dicenso has also occasionally felt a hand on his shoulder.
If you had asked Dicenso before he started working on the boat if he believed in ghosts, he would have replied, “No way.”
• At the Inn by the Sea off Route 77 in Cape Elizabeth, home to the Sea Glass Restaurant, ghost-hunting guests are offered a copy of “The Lydia Carver Story.”
In 1807, Lydia Carver of Freeport was a bride-to-be who lost her life in a schooner wreck on an unexpectedly rough journey home from Boston. Her body was found on the beach the next morning, lying next to the trunk containing her wedding dress.
Sixteen passengers, including Lydia, died in the shipwreck, and most are buried in a tiny graveyard next to the inn. Lydia is believed to haunt the inn, where the staff reports she rides the lobby elevator and plays tricks in the restaurant.
“I used to think I was going crazy,” a dining room manager named P.J. is quoted saying in the brochure that’s given to the inn’s guests. “I would leave the dining room at the end of the evening meal. The tables were set with all the china and tableware at each place, for the next day’s breakfast. When I opened in the morning, the plates and cups would all be piled on top of each other. The silverware, too.
“One time, a metal cashbox that we kept in the kitchen flew off the shelf and across the room. It was very unnerving.”
• We end with the creepiest tale of all, told through my e-mail exchange with two local chefs.
After I sent out my initial e-mail asking chefs for their spooky experiences, Chef Erik Desjarlais of Evangeline, located at 190 State St. in Portland’s Longfellow Square, sent me a short message saying that his building has a “hat man shadowperson.” He included a link he had googled that shows what the specter looks like: www.jesusisnojoke.com/theshadowpeople/id19.html
Shortly afterward, a separate e-mail arrived from Chef James Tranchemontagne of The Frog and Turtle, 3 Bridge St., Westbrook. Before opening his Westbrook place, Tranchemontagne owned Uffa!, a restaurant that occupied the same space as Evangeline. Tranchemontagne said Uffa was “definitely” haunted and suggested I ask Desjarlais if he has seen anything.
“Crazy things would happen all the time,” Tranchemontagne wrote. “Always dismissed it as an old building until one morning there was an old man near the walk-in, then gone.”
Desjarlais’ reply? “That’s right where I saw the Hat Man.”
The walk-in is in the basement. Tranchemontagne had an office down there too.
“There would be times when I would be there by myself and just leave,” he wrote. “It would be 2 in the afternoon sometimes. Once I was sitting at my desk, which was far back in the lowest basement. I turn and he is there, clear as day. Then gone. Was out of that building in 4 seconds.”
Tranchemontagne said he saw the apparition only twice, “but felt him a lot.” He often heard footsteps and pipes banging. He said the image Desjarlais provided was “strikingly close” to what he saw. To Tranchemontagne, the old man looked like a farmer in work jeans and a straw hat. He was transparent.
“It is very creepy to hear similar accounts of this without me and Erik ever talking about this.”