Around this time of year, we become especially attuned to things that go bump in the night. For those who work in bars and restaurants — especially in Vermont’s centuries-old buildings — the end of service often intersects with the witching hour. Chefs, kitchen staff, innkeepers and servers in the state’s older buildings brim with tales of unexplained chills, shadows darting across the room and glasses falling of their own accord.
We’ve fielded so many reports of haunted restaurants, bars and inns over the years that we, the morbidly fascinated food writers of Seven Days, have long wanted to compile them into a ghostly culinary travelogue. Once we began reporting, though, the process didn’t go as smoothly as we expected. The proprietors of two Burlington pubs and a Shelburne restaurant were among several who talked about their ghosts off the record but bristled at the idea that their hauntings might be publicized.
Fortunately, a few spots seem to wear their resident ghosts like badges of honor, or at least to accept them as part of the scene. Those include Burlington’s Shanty on the Shore and the Norwich Inn, where the former owner, a bootlegger, still plays with taps and faucets.
Asked about the state’s haunted restaurants, Vermont’s resident ghost expert, Joseph Citro, gives a dispassionate reply. “It’s hard to keep up with haunted restaurants, because as haunted restaurants become more popular, it seems more and more of them are ‘haunted,’” he quips.
Citro perks up when we tell him that for every “public” restaurant ghost, we know of a few off-the-record ones. “Now that’s something I’d be interested in,” he says.
Shanty on the Shore
181 Battery Street, Burlington, 864-0238
Reported ghost: Isaac Nye
Today, Shanty on the Shore is known for its plentiful raw bar and “Lobster Maine-ia,” with lobster featured in everything from rangoons to potato skins. Back in 1833, though, the building was Isaac Nye’s general store on the four-lot stretch of land and dock known as Nye’s Wharf. Nye’s eccentricities during his life — including a fondness for funerals — may only be matched by his purported posthumous antics.
Nye purchased the future Shanty from the estate of Gideon King, a businessman known as “the admiral of the lake,” who died in 1826. (More on him later.)
According to a newspaper article quoted on a website devoted to Nye family history, “When only 44 years old, Isaac Nye announced that business was ‘distasteful’ to him and closed the shutters of his storehouse, never to open them again.” That would have been in 1840, 11 years before Nye sued the Rutland Railroad for damages after it built a 40-foot-wide stretch of line that passed between the store and his wharf.
Nye’s 1871 obituary in the Burlington Free Press details what ensued: “The goods in the store when he closed it, remained and mouldered upon the shelves. He would sell nothing of them, and what is left of them are still there.” After closing the store, Nye lived in a small room at the rear of the building, where the family that lived above brought him his meals. In his later years, he had a companion, an Irishman named James Fogarty, who came to live with Nye in 1855 at the age of 12.
With help from the few people in his inner circle, Nye was able to limit his excursions to what really appealed to him: funerals. According to Thea Lewis, author of Ghosts and Legends of Lake Champlain and owner of Queen City Ghostwalk, it didn’t matter whether he knew the deceased. Nye followed the procession until the last clump of dirt was patted down on the grave.
Nye’s eagerness to avoid human contact earned him the nickname “the Hermit of Champlain.” Lewis speculates that Nye had a medical reason for his homebody habits: He may have been slowly going blind, perhaps due to macular degeneration. Losing the ability to read could have caused him to close his store and to avoid lawyers when it came to ultimately settling with the railroad. “That’s my tour guide’s intuition,” Lewis says.
When Nye passed away, his bizarre story made the New York Times, which quoted the Free Press’ April 28 obit. The writer attended the funeral, which respected Nye’s request that he be laid out on the counter of his store amid his rotting wares. “On the shelves around were the remnants of piece goods and glass ware, placed there perhaps forty years ago, and with the dust of a generation upon them,” reported the Freeps.
While Nye’s mortal body may be long gone, he reportedly hasn’t left the building. Al and Kim Gobeille own Shanty on the Shore, as well as lakeside staples Breakwater Café and Burlington Bay Market & Café. “We believe he is still here,” Kim says of Nye.
She says it’s not uncommon for employees alone in the restaurant to hear footsteps overhead. Apparently, Nye is afraid of the dark. He’s been known to turn on lights that staffers have shut off for the night. Kim Gobeille herself was present at closing time one night when glasses at the bar began to rattle. “There was no breeze,” she recalls.
But that’s not as extreme as a story Lewis says former Shanty employees reported to her, that when opening up one day, they found that all of the restaurant’s tables and chairs had been moved against the walls. Perhaps Nye is just trying to be an efficient employee. It is his store, after all.
American Flatbread — Burlington Hearth
115 St. Paul Street, Burlington, 861-2999
Reported ghost: identity unknown
The spirits are less friendly at American Flatbread — Burlington Hearth, previously Carbur’s Restaurant. Manager Tracy Howard has been at Flatbread since its 2004 opening and says the restaurant’s first two years were fraught with ghostly occurrences.
The dishwashers that Howard remembers mysteriously turning on themselves were a mere inconvenience. But when a wreath hanging over the fireplace flew (not fell) across the room one night, it was clear this shade meant trouble.
Soon after, one of Howard’s managers came upstairs from the basement office to find the door locked. Except that door had no locking mechanism, recalls Howard — something appeared to be holding it closed. “She just was completely freaked out about it,” Howard says. “There was sort of a core group of original employees that were here that had jointly experienced things.”
On her ghost walks, Thea Lewis reports a similar story about the space from its Carbur’s days, in which a server was locked in a walk-in cooler.
Howard says her spookiest experiences simply involved feeling a strong “presence” when she was alone in the restaurant at night. “I’m not saying this is what changed everything, but I just kept sending out a message: ‘You know what? This is really scaring me, and I would prefer that you go away,’” she says. It seemed to do the trick. “I’ve been here late at night since then, and I don’t feel like we have a ghost or spirit here.”
So chances are you won’t get a side of poltergeist with your Evolution Salad and Medicine Wheel pizza. But if the specter is dormant (for now), when did it arrive? A manager who worked at Carbur’s in the early 1980s tells us he never had a ghostly experience at the restaurant. A few informants claim it’s because the haunting started later in the Carbur’s era, when a young cook took his own life after service one night.
Lewis originally agreed but now has a different take. She places the source of the building’s odd phenomena much earlier, with the rough-and-rowdy rum runners who once plied their trade in the tunnels under Burlington.
This is where Gideon King reappears in our story. Between 1790 and 1820, King controlled most of the lake’s trade, with ownership of at least 40 percent of the ships on the water. On land, too, he had something of a monopoly, with properties including a tavern on the square that would become City Hall Park.
With Burlington’s proximity to Canada, most of King’s trade was with St. John’s and Québec. Thomas Jefferson’s Embargo Act of 1807 put a major cramp in his style, but King didn’t stop trading with our neighbors to the north. He just took it underground — literally. According to legend, he built a network of tunnels that extended from the lake to major distribution points in the city. Those tunnels have since been closed off, but Lewis believes the spirits that populated them simply moved on to Flatbread’s basement.
What makes her favor this explanation of the identity of the ghost, or ghosts? Lewis cites the reaction she got when she changed the story on her tour to reflect the rum-runner theory. “It was as though we were really setting somebody off,” she remembers. “We had people who were sensitive to spirit energy really react violently: One girl seizured; one gentleman was feeling like he was having a heart attack; one woman fainted.” To protect her clients, Lewis has since moved her group farther up the street when she tells the story.
Ye Olde England Inne
433 Mountain Road, Stowe, 253-7558
Reported ghost: identity unknown
Chris Francis has owned Stowe’s Ye Olde England Inne for 30 years without a ghostly incident. Without having personally witnessed any, that is. Some of his guests and staff haven’t gone so unmolested.
“I’ve had a bartender run out of the cellar, scared out of his wits. He felt like someone was next to him,” recounts Francis, whose inn includes both guest rooms and Mr. Pickwick’s Gastropub and Steakhouse, known for its game dinners and great beer. “The [staff] would feel drafts of cold air; lights being off when they should be on; unexplained things down there.”
Strange experiences are not limited to staff. “We’ve had guests talking about strange noises, or their dogs freaking out, which [they] attributed to a ‘presence,’” Francis says. “One lady in particular talked about an experience of someone sitting on her bed, someone she described as a Paul Bunyan-type figure — though it wasn’t scary, she told us,” he notes.
In 2006, a guest staying at the inn wrote on TripAdvisor of “whispers and banging noise” in his or her chalet. The guest attributed the sounds to loud neighbors — until the dog “started crying and crying really bad … I heard the voices all night, and so did she.”
Most of the spectral activity has transpired in the centuries-old original part of the inn, an area that includes the restaurant and bar, as well as the cellar underneath and the rooms above. Seven years ago, Francis shut the inn for 24 hours and brought in a paranormal expert to suss out ghostly activity.
“He set up the equipment and played it back to us,” Francis recounts, but admits he can’t remember what was caught on tape.
But 10 minutes after we get off the phone, Francis calls back. Apropos of nothing, he says, “One of my staff just came back from the office and says, ‘Here is that ghost recording.’ How coincidental is that?”
Francis reads back the transcription, which the paranormal expert wrote on the cover of the tape’s envelope. “One voice says, ‘Come right back.’ Another, separate one says, ‘Watch,’” he reads. “Another, ‘Body don’t like.’ And another...” He laughs. “‘Lying cow!’”
Norwich Inn / Jasper Murdock’s Alehouse
325 Main Street, Norwich, 649-1143
Reported ghost: Ma Walker
About seven years ago, a friend and I checked into the Norwich Inn for the first time and were given Room 21, up on the inn’s third floor. That night, we both felt unsettling energy sweep over us, and I barely caught a wink of sleep.
In the morning, we went down to the front desk and sheepishly asked, “Do you have any, er, ghosts?” The clerk immediately brightened and launched into a narrative about the hijinks of Mary “Ma” Walker, who most often made mischief in the room across from ours, Room 20.
In 1920, Charles and Mary Walker purchased the Victorian-style inn on Norwich’s Main Street. They had a tiny business problem, though: Prohibition began that year, too, which put a dent in the inn’s trade. So Ma Walker, as she was known, took to selling and serving beer illegally from the inn’s cellar.
Or so the rumor goes. A cartoon drawn in an inn register from the Roaring ’20s depicts Dartmouth students with frothy mugs hoisted in the air. Almost a century later, the Norwich Inn is still an inn, restaurant and locally famous brewpub. But brewing’s not the only way Ma Walker’s legacy lives on — some say she never left the place.
For years, guests and staff at the inn have occasionally seen a spectral woman in a long black dress gliding through the dining room and upstairs guest rooms. Anecdotes from Taryn Foster, innkeeper for the past six years, suggest this haunt has a fixation on liquids.
Inside Room 20, a guest noticed the sink tap going on by itself. In another room, a staff member swore that the showerhead spurted on as she cleaned the tub. Just about a year ago, in Room 32, a female guest said she heard her water glass roll under her bed, only to find it upright and still filled with water.
“She also had the water turning on and off in the bathroom,” Foster recalls. “She went on and on, and said, ‘I’m just having a hard time sleeping because of this ghost. Can you move my room?’”
Sally Wilson, who co-owned the Inn for 15 years with her husband, Tim, recalls another longtime guest of Room 20 coming downstairs one morning with a chilling tale. He thought his wife had shaken him awake in the middle of the night, but arose only to realize he was alone. To add to the unsettling scene, a rocking chair in the corner was rocking of its own volition. “We all thought he was a little nuts,” quips Wilson. But the man was a trusted friend, and enough sightings rolled in over the years that she eventually granted the story some merit.
After Ma Walker’s escapades made it into a Boston Globe travel story, Wilson recalls that “the phone rang off the hook the next day for Room 20. We could have booked it for a month!”
With or without ghosts, the Norwich Inn still pours serious spirits in Jasper Murdock’s Alehouse — as well as a raft of highly regarded beers brewed in a converted chicken coop on the property. So be vigilant as you nurse a pint of toasty Second Wind Oatmeal Stout or a plate of eggplant fries with aioli — Ma could be watching.
Green Mountain Inn
18 Main Street, Stowe, 253-7301
Reported ghost: Boots Berry
In 1833, Peter C. Lovejoy built the Green Mountain Inn. He didn’t stick around the place after his death, but an employee who was born seven years later in the inn’s servants’ quarters, now Room 302, reportedly did.
While much is known (or has been artfully invented) about Boots Berry’s life, perhaps more is known about his afterlife. No one seems to know his real name, but Shawn Woods, the historian behind Stowe Lantern Tours, believes Berry gained his nickname while in prison in New Orleans. That’s also where the horseman learned to tap dance, a skill he’s now said to take to the roof of the inn on snowy nights.
Before his jail sentence, Berry was a respected horseman at the inn, just like his father. Dismissed after alcoholism caused him to neglect the horses, he had made his way back to Stowe by the early 20th century. As the story goes, one night in the winter of 1902, Boots spied a young girl on the roof of the Green Mountain Inn, stuck in a snowstorm. He made it up to the roof and lowered her to the ground, but slipped and died on his way down. According to the tale, this all happened just above Room 302.
Innkeeper Patti Clark is happy to play host to Berry as the inn’s “house ghost.” She says he hasn’t yet made it to the restaurant, the Whip Bar & Grill, for a turkey dinner or chicken roulade. When not tap dancing in (or above) Room 302, Boots prefers the casual comfort of the breakfast-only Main Street Dining Room, just below his room.
This is a haunt who appears to like breakfast and have a penchant for nabbing keys. According to Woods, he flushed some belonging to a Texas family down a toilet next to the restaurant a few years ago.
Woods recalls another key-themed incident involving a New York businessman who came on his tour last summer. When the group stopped at the Green Mountain Inn, the New Yorker commented ad nauseam that he “positively did not believe in ghosts,” Woods says. But after the tour, “He frantically called me … and said, ‘Did you see my keys anyplace?’ and I said, ‘The ghost has them.’” When Woods went looking for the keys, they were waiting at the Green Mountain Inn.
Himself once a nonbeliever, Woods attests that “people that have made some anti-Boots Berry comments — all of a sudden their keys get pulled out of their pockets.” When he recently experimented with a divining rod in the halls near Room 302, it went wild, affirming his conviction that Boots still prowls the inn. Woods has held on to his own keys — so far.
A Hartford inn and restaurant
(whose proprietors prefer it remain anonymous for this story)
Reported ghosts: numerous, from the former lady of the house to children who run through the halls
In the common room of one of my favorite Upper Valley spots, a fire usually roars from late fall through spring, and I often take a spot on a comfy couch nearby to sip Sangiovese and nosh on appetizers. But the cozy experience is not the only draw. The place has fielded so many stories of ghost sightings that staff used to keep a handout on “confrontations with spirits” behind the front desk, though they’ve since begun keeping the haunting under wraps.
Built in the late 1700s by a former Revolutionary War militiaman, the riverside inn is rich in creepy phenomena, according to the flier and the recollections of staff, contractors and guests. There have been reports of whistling, disembodied footsteps, unexplained chills and eerie depressions that appear on beds as if human forms were sitting there. Almost every time I visit, someone shares another story, and an internet search quickly reveals tales of unexplained experiences at the inn from both guests and reporters.
In one guest room, a female guest reported being surprised by the ghost of an unhappy young woman. In another, a couple who pushed two twin beds together woke to find an elderly couple lingering at the foot of the beds as if in disapproval. The next day, those guests identified the apparitions from the portraits of former owners that hang in the inn.
Many of the inn’s encounters involved the sighting or presence of the former lady of the house — passing through doors, shuffling by in hallways, or whistling or whispering in the common areas. She’s even been seen in the restaurant, where guests might be nibbling their Dijon-crusted racks of lamb, and so much superstition clings to her portrait that the light above it remains constantly illuminated.
One Halloween night, the inn’s bartender confided his own spooky tale: While talking to a guest in the lobby late one night, he saw a male apparition in 19th-century dress pause outside the window, staring back at him.
Regardless of the ghosts — or perhaps because of them — the inn remains an atmospheric place to settle in with wine and apps. But if you want to go ghost hunting, you’ll have to find this haunt yourself. After sharing their ghost stories for years, the current staff has decided to keep the spectral activity hush-hush. I’ll need to give Joe Citro a heads up.