April 7, 2013

In Kingfield, you just might have a ghost of a chance

After all, the founder was a man of high spirits -- figuratively and perhaps literally.

By Deirdre Fleming dfleming@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

KINGFIELD - Stop in a shop; ask someone on the street; it doesn't take long to find a local in this colorful, cheerful western Maine town who'll talk about the hotel that anchors this village of artists, artisans and outdoors people.

click image to enlarge

The 98-year-old Herbert Grand Hotel, located just down the Carrabassett River from Sugarloaf, is frequented by skiers ... as well as possibly some former guests who checked out but can never leave.

Deirdre Fleming photo

click image to enlarge

Dawn Sova manages the Herbert Hotel, and also her nerves quite well given she is a permanent resident in the old building that is believed to be haunted.

Deirdre Fleming photo

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This is a ski town, a hiking town, a fishing outpost and wilderness destination, down the road and around the bend from two of Maine's big ski mountains. And almost 100 years ago, that's what Herbert S. Wing bragged about after he built the stately inn The Herbert Grand Hotel, which he named after himself.

But Wing is dead. And as his grand hotel goes up for sale for the fourth time in 20 years, one has to wonder. Is it just a comfortable hotel in ski country?

The locals will tell you, no.

Walking up Main Street, Courtney Battistelli of Carrabassett Valley stops and looks at the outside of the hotel, and shakes her head.

When Battistelli skied at Sugarloaf two weeks ago, a man on the chairlift who was staying at The Herbert described a story she had heard before.

"He normally skied at Sunday River. He said he definitely did not believe in ghosts before, but he did not want to be proven wrong. He said it was creepy and he definitely had questions," Battistelli said. "There are probably antsy ghosts ruminating around. It has interesting energy. Just look at it. It even looks creepy."

The stoic, stately white columns in front of the hotel are classic Wing, a successful entrepreneur who built the hotel in his name in 1918. Evidentially, Wing liked control over the town's affairs as well as his large hotel.

"There are stories about the electricity. He owned the electricity. If someone ticked him off, he'd turn it off. Apparently he did have a heart of gold. He tried to help a lot of people. But if they crossed him, they'd get hurt," said owner Rob Gregor, who lives in Lake George, N.Y., at his other hotel.

Inside Longfellow's Restaurant other locals have stories. One who didn't want to talk about the hotel called a friend, RaAnne Wahle of Kingfield, a former Herbert housekeeper. Wahle didn't mind talking.

"I worked there for five years about 15 years ago. I remember a man staying in 318 came downstairs and asked the lady at the desk. He said he woke up and felt a dog lying on his chest," Wahle said. "One time I was upstairs and heard a little girl jumping rope. But I turned back and there was nothing. I thought I saw movement but there was no detail. I wouldn't clean up there alone. No way. I didn't like to go to the third floor, period."

Some guests discount the rumors, like Paul Murphy of Bar Harbor, who stayed at the Herbert to ski Sugarloaf last weekend.

"It doesn't make a difference to me because I don't believe any of it," Murphy said.

But Gregor doesn't shy from telling the stories he's heard from guests and locals the four years he's owned the Herbert.

"The one that sticks in my mind is a gentleman staying for a wedding. He had a weird experience with a dog and a kid in front of Room 318. Another housekeeper's sister had a different experience in 311 or 318. She was very creeped out. But whether someone is imagining it or there is something a little more supernatural, who knows? That's the fun of it," said Gregor, a New Jersey native.

And Herbert manager Dawn Sova, Gregor's mother, said the stories and lure are a part of the hotel, no different from the old fireplace and antiques.

(Continued on page 2)

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