October 27, 2010

Soup to Nuts: Maine restaurants serve up spooks du jour

Do you believe in ghosts? They do at the Maine Street Grill in Standish, where things go bump night and day ... and that's not the half of it.

By Meredith Goad mgoad@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

STANDISH — Scott Berry, kitchen manager at the Maine Street Grill, was cooking some pasta. He turned away for a moment, and when he turned back, the spoon he had placed on the edge of the stove was in the middle of the floor.

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Slamming doors, running footsteps, children giggling and that inexplicably moving spoon are just a few of the signs of the ghosts believed to inhabit the Maine Street Grill.

Photo illustration by Michael Fisher/Staff Artist – Photo of Maine Street Grill by Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

click image to enlarge

Visitors to the Maine Street Grill are urged to be cautious on the stairs, where there have been instances of people feeling pushed by unseen forces.

Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

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Hmmm. He hadn't heard it fall. Figuring he must have knocked it over, he washed the spoon well and placed it farther back on the stove, where there was no way it could be knocked off.

Once more, he turned away for a moment, and when he turned back the spoon was in the middle of the floor again.

"At that point," Berry said, "I just tell him to stop, I don't have time to wash dishes all night."

"Him" is one of the ghosts that haunt the Maine Street Grill. The spirits manifest themselves in various ways, from little pranks in the kitchen to frightening dark eyes that glare from the hallway.

The staff hears voices murmuring, children giggling, doors slamming and the sound of footsteps overhead. Every morning, a ghost greets line cook Adam Baker with a friendly tug on his apron.

A digital radio in the kitchen changes stations by itself and turns itself on and off, even when it's plugged into different outlets. Take-out boxes occasionally fly off of a shelf in the kitchen. The fryolater regularly shoots from 350 degrees up to 400 without any of the cooks touching the dial.

"Up on the third floor, there's supposedly a woman that was murdered, and she attracts children," said Allie O'Brien, one of the wait staff. "She's also very friendly, very touchy, very caring, maternalistic. She will touch your hair."

The fairly new restaurant – it opened in March at the corner of Routes 25 and 35 – is in one of the oldest buildings in Standish, also known as the Thompson House. The first 30 acres of the Standish settlement was given to a Reverend Thompson, who lived here with his family.

WASHINGTON DANCED HERE?

When the house was built in 1783, it only had two stories. In 1845, the reverend's eldest son, William E. Thompson, added a third level with a floating dance floor and turned the place into an inn and tavern. George Washington may have danced here once when he came to town.

Another rumor is that an American Indian servant – the woman O'Brien says touched her hair – was killed in a corner of the dance room.

Dan Roberts, owner of Maine Street Grill, knew none of this when he rented the old building with an option to buy.

"I didn't hear (any ghosts) until I'd already committed, and during the buildout we started hearing plenty," Roberts said when he took me on a tour of the haunted restaurant last week.

The previous occupant of the building had been Fairpoint Communications, so Roberts needed to do a lot of renovations before opening. While he was working, a woman stopped in and introduced herself, then said she wanted to tell him a story.

The woman told Roberts she once babysat for a little girl who lived in the house. One day, the woman found the girl up on the third floor, which at that time was the attic.

But the girl wasn't alone. There was a female ghost standing next to her.

The woman thanked the ghost for watching the little girl, took the child downstairs, "and never babysat there again."

Roberts was not a believer, but during the renovations, that began to change.

"I was in the basement and heard someone come in the front door and down the hall," he recalled. "I came running upstairs, and found both doors still locked and nobody in the building. Since then, it's happened several times," including one Sunday three weeks ago when customers told Roberts they heard someone running on the third floor. Again, Roberts checked it out, but no one was there.

Customers encounter the ghosts mostly through noises, eerie feelings and a door in one of the first-floor dining rooms that opens by itself. Sometimes, it happens two to three times a day. Roberts showed me the door and rattled it loudly to demonstrate that a gust of wind couldn't possibly be the culprit.

"My dog, during renovations, would run to that door and scratch at it," Roberts said. "The people from the phone company have often asked, 'Anything happen with the door?' "

STAFF-MEETING VISITATION

Roberts says his scariest encounter occurred during a 9 a.m. staff meeting in the first-floor dining room.

"We all heard a noise that made four grown men turn," he recalled. "And at the same time, you heard us all swearing. 'What was that?' Literally, I saw the perfect outline of a person, see-through, and it was there for three to four seconds."

To Roberts, the opaque figure he saw floating in the alcove between the first-floor dining rooms appeared to be a woman. He immediately ran into the other room to see if someone was there, but it was empty.

Roberts went to the kitchen to fetch Berry so I could hear his version of the story. While I was waiting, I chatted with waitress O'Brien, a student at Bonny Eagle High School. She recently brought some of her classmates to Maine Street Grill for an overnight visit so they could make a film about the ghosts for a class project.

That night, she said, they heard a female laughing, footsteps and scuffling.

"We were taking pictures downstairs, and there was a full apparition of a man, clear as day," O'Brien said. "You could see a beard, glasses, his coat and everything."

The man's glasses were very round, she said, and he was wearing a tie with his black coat.

That wasn't the only apparition O'Brien saw that night. As she sat in a room downstairs, "we had a guy leaning in and out of the room, waving. And it happened two or three times. It was very exciting, very nerve-wracking. I was so scared."

"I believe I've also seen a girl," O'Brien continued. "I haven't told anybody about this. I was coming up the stairs, and she was standing in the doorway and I went right back downstairs and tried to stay cool."

The little girl appeared to be blonde and was wearing period dress.

MOSTLY BENEVOLENT, BUT ...

Most days, O'Brien said, the hauntings manifest as hair tugging, shirts being pulled on, condiments falling over on their own, and voices.

"You can hear laughing," she said. "You can hear children giggling. Downstairs, there's a growl supposedly also heard by a cook, and I heard it myself. It was very disturbing."

A growl?

"A growl. A grown man, like, uuuuuhhhhhh. Like that."

With the little hairs on the back of my neck now standing at attention, I followed Roberts upstairs so I could talk with Berry, the kitchen manager with the wayward spoon. As we climbed from the second to the third floor, Roberts warned me to be careful because this was the stairway where people had been "pushed."

On the third level, the floating dance floor creaked loudly as we walked around. This room is now used as a function room for larger parties, and it has hosted all sorts of happy occasions, from garden club meetings to bridal showers.

Roberts showed me the small lightbulbs in the big chandeliers and said sometimes they go off by themselves, as if someone has untwisted them a little, then come back on later.

On the wall plaster in the corner of the room where the woman was supposedly murdered, there are drawings of little girls skating in period clothing and writings dating back to 1808, when William Thompson signed and dated the wall.

Roberts jumped up and down on the floor, bouncing and making a racket. "This is a floating dance floor built in the 1800s," he said, "and where you are? That's the cold spot."

I stood in the corner where the murder is supposed to have occurred, but felt nothing.

As we were looking at the drawings, it slowly came into my consciousness that there was a beeper going off somewhere. It sounded kind of like a kitchen timer or one of those timers on watches. "Do you hear that too?" Berry asked.

BEEP, BEEP, BEEP

Roberts started down the stairs, searching for the source. Berry and I walked toward the front rooms on the third floor, and Berry stopped at the attic door. The split second – I mean really, the split second – that he opened the door, the beeping stopped. We could find no watch or cell phone in the adjoining rooms to blame for the incident.

Berry sat down in the floating dance floor room and told me about the pasta spoon with a mind of its own and the wacky fryolaters. The first time the fryolaters shot up to 400, Berry thought it was his own fault, that he had just set it on the wrong temperature. "But the second time around, I just told them, 'You need to stop, or someone's going to get hurt.' "

Berry said he didn't believe in ghosts until he started working at the Maine Street Grill. The experience that put him "over the top" was the morning meeting in the first-floor dining room, when everyone saw the same apparition. To Berry, it looked like "a black mass."

"We all saw it," Berry said. "It was right there. We all just said, like, 'Did we just see that?' I've never experienced anything like this before in my life."

One day, Berry was down in the basement, "and behind me, I heard a growl."

"It was uuuuhhhhh, only it lasted a little bit longer," he said. "And I kind of froze. You do the looking over your shoulder type of thing, and there's a furnace down there, pipes down there, and so I told myself it's just that.

"It was not the furnace. I know it wasn't."

The next day, Berry had what he considers his scariest experience in the house. He was in the same area where the meeting had been held. He walked around the table, hit a light switch knob and turned, looking back toward a little alcove.

"There's a guy, about 6-3, thin, just standing there glaring at me," Berry said. "It scared the life out of me. I ran into the kitchen. My prep cook was here still at that time in the morning. I ran into the kitchen, and he said, 'Dude, what's wrong?'

"He says, 'You look like you're outside' (because there were so many goose bumps). They're coming back right now, just thinking about it. It literally scared me. I did not sleep that night. I felt like a 5-year-old kid under the covers, looking around. All I can see are the eyes – coal-black eyes."

"It's one of those things where you're looking at it, and you just don't believe what you're seeing," Berry said. "You know what I'm saying? It's like, really?"

Berry has also seen a female ghost peering at him from the porthole-sized window in the kitchen door.

At this point, Berry leaned over and ran his hand down my left arm. "You get a lot of this," he said. "They're touching."

One night, after Berry and another employee closed the restaurant, they walked together to their cars and "for some reason, I just looked over my left shoulder and looked up past the window, and in the third-story window over here, I see the torso of a girl. A little girl. It looked like long brown hair. Long, curly brown hair. Wearing white."

Berry said the other employee refused to look. "I don't want to see it," she said.

Berry never looks up at the windows anymore, either. "When I come in, I do a walk through the entire restaurant," he said. "I say good morning and just greet them and go on my day."

LITTLE HUGGER

Corey Sturgeon, the dining room manager, has not seen any ghosts, but he has felt and heard them, especially a child ghost. About a month ago, shortly after the restaurant had closed for the evening, Sturgeon came up to the third floor to retrieve something from the small office there. He made his way back into the room with the floating dance floor.

"I got maybe 3 feet in, and I felt a little kid just run up and hug me," Sturgeon said. "It hit me. It almost paralyzed me. I really couldn't move, and I was covered in goose bumps, and a sadness kind of came over me. It was just a strange, strange feeling that I couldn't get a grip on."

Sturgeon said his experiences at the Thompson house have made him a believer. Before, he said, "I was one of those people that (thought), 'Eh, it's there, but they're just not real.' "

Sturgeon again pointed out the corner of the room where there's supposedly a cold spot. I told him I had already been over there two or three times and couldn't feel a thing. Just for the heck of it, I stepped back over.

This time, I went a bit farther into the corner. It was like stepping into a refrigerator. There was a clear delineation between this cold spot and the rest of the room.

"Oooh! Oooh! Oooh! Oooh!" I manage to yelp, totally creeped out. "It's very cold right here."

Dan Roberts makes sure there's always two people in the restaurant at closing time so his employees don't have to feel uncomfortable being alone with the ghosts. He's had two ghost-hunting groups visit, and one promised to help the apparitions pass on to the other side. Things quieted down for a while after that visit, he said, but then the hauntings started up again.

Roberts believes there are several ghosts in the house, all of them benevolent, except perhaps for the scary man downstairs. There may be two women (two people have told him that one of the women is named Christine) and at least one child.

Roberts, who was a history major, says he would like to know "who they are, when they were."

He has invited me back for an overnight visit with a ghost-hunting group in November.

Stay tuned. I'll report back on the experience – that is, if I don't chicken out.

Bawk, bawk.

 

Staff Writer Meredith Goad can be contacted at 791-6332 or at: mgoad@pressherald.com

 

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Additional Photos

click image to enlarge

Dan Roberts, owner of the Maine Street Grill in Standish, says a litany of incidents at the restaurant have convinced him that the building is haunted by ghosts. The drawing at right, which Roberts found on the wall when he renovated the building, is of girls skating on a pond; Roberts believes that at least one of the ghosts in the restaurant is a young girl.

Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

  


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