When I lived in RI, I worked in a modest restaurant located at a crossroads. Gregg’s was a popular destination for nearby Brown University students, families and local businesses. A bright, sunny two-story eatery, it had splashy Leroy Neiman paintings, cream-colored leather booths, an ever-rotating desert case on the first floor, a well stocked bar downstairs. and a tragic secret.
Originally, on that location stood a home. A home where a poor mother witnessed her daughter struck and killed by a speeding truck. A woman who was so traumatized that she never left her home. Even after death. A woman who now haunts the location where our now restaurant stands. A ghost who inexplicably harassed me and even might have tried to kill me!
Restaurants, like theatres, hotels and hospitals are job sites that are commonly reputed to be haunted. Like those other locations, restaurants are emotionally charged environments (has anyone heard of a haunted tax office, a spooky grocery store?). Restaurant staffs are constantly involved in urgent situations; there is trust and disappointment, there are difficult people, uncooperative coworkers and always the concern that you are going to not rise to a customer’s expectations-to the detriment of the bottom line. The guests also have an emotional connection to the restaurant; it is where they celebrate, commiserate, call home and seek refuge. Places with such heightened emotions attached to it are perfect vessels that attract and retain energies from this plane and beyond.
I was not the only Gregg’s employee who had an encounter with, “The Lady in Red”. Since Gregg’s inception, this ghost’s difficult and restless spirit had bedeviled all of us in a variety of ways. Nobody knew her name but at least the male staff knew what she looked like. A definite flirt, she would only appear to them. A 40-ish woman from the 50’s she wore a red shirtwaist dress with petticoats, pearls and shiny black high heels. One popular story usually shared during a new hire’s first week is the tale of how a new busboy encountered her at the end of his first night. And his last night.
After the last guest left, this hapless boy locked the entrance doors only to turn around and see a woman in a dated-looking red dress sitting in the 2nd to last booth on the right. He nervously stuttered that they had just closed and then he turned around to unlock the door. However, when he turned back around to let her out, she had disappeared! He then stepped outside-the keys still in the lock –got in his car and never came back .The female staff members’ experiences with the Lady in Red were just as perplexing but a little more troubling. The servers, female managers and even Jenny, the co-owner have been poked, tripped and glasses knocked over in their presence. In the kitchen, she would flirtatiously whisper the cooks’ names but she would hide the waitresses’ slips for the orders.
The first of 2 events that happened to me almost occurred unnoticed. During a Saturday night dinner rush, I started a new pot of coffee, placed an order for a martini and then just walked a few steps to the right of the computer to pick up the cocktail at the bar. I worked downstairs in the pub and it is a very compact space. It probably can seat at the most 70 including at the bar. You can walk just a few steps between the beverage and salad station to the computer and then right to the bar to pick up drinks. So when I was picking up the martini I was able to turn around immediately behind me to watch the coffee brew. Much to my horrified confusion, I turned just in time to see the filter basket slowly pull out from the machine! Because it was a Saturday night, the other servers were too preoccupied to see what I was witnessing. However, as soon as the water started to spray, we simultaneously grabbed towels and the broom to clean up. As I was sweeping the last of the grounds, I asked the waitress next me how the filter could be pulled out like that. She shrugged and said there isn’t a logical reason for it but weird things like that happened at Gregg’s all the time.
That weird incident was just inconvenient and messy but the next one was even messier and possibly sinister. It was one in the morning and the last guest just left. The other waitress closing with me was collecting the glassware from the table while I started to shut down the salad bar. Above the unit were 2 long glass shelves about 3 feet apart, the lowest one about 3 feet above the salad unit-and me. They had just been installed about two weeks ago, the tops shelf had plants on it but the lower one was still bare. As I was putting away the chickpeas and Italian dressing, I heard a faint crackling noise. I looked around and down but I could not see anything that would cause that noise. I looked to Laurie who had finished with the glasses and now was using the carpet sweeper. At that point, the crackling noise became loud enough that I could determine were it was coming from-right above me! Wide eyed, I looked up to see a hairline fracture continue from the far right corner of the pane and slowly continue pass me. Transfixed, I did not have the wherewithal to move. Fortunately, Laurie had more of a presence of mind and quickly pulled me away just as the pane broke in half and crashed into the salad unit. After we look upon the myriad of glass shards in front of us, we looked at each other with our mouths wide open. And just like the coffee filter episode, Laurie said that weird things like that have happened before but there was no reasonable explanation for it.
Most hauntings are usually experienced by the staff but are also can be perpetuated by them. This is not surprising, actually. Restaurant work is very emotionally taxing: the customers can be demanding or downright belligerent, co-workers can be unreliable or treacherous, management uncaring or even in some cases, misogynistic. And keep in mind that these emotionally fraught relationships are played out during the frenetic pace of serving food/drinks to a constant flow of people. Seven days a week. Frequently, the most common staff member that stays behind is the owner itself. When you think about it, whom else has the most emotionally invested? Their restaurant is their livelihood, the very reason why they get up in the morning, an extension of themselves.
The owner of Vincent’s Steakhouse, Vincent Lorenzetti was definitely a soul that was invested in his place, in life and in death. Like most enterprising individuals, Vincent was a Type A personality: demanding, hyper-detailed, never easily satisfied, not comfortable in letting others take the reins. An avid cigar smoker, employees often remark that they smell cigar smoke before or after the restaurant opened. During a visit with my meet up group, Fork, Knife and Spook, the staff shared many stories that confirmed Vincent’s ghostly presence. One of the servers shared that while she was leaving the basement break room, an older male voice gruffly demanded her to get back to work. Our bartender, Kristie, mentioned that on nights when she closed and if it was slow, glassware would slide off the bar. She wondered if Vincent was upset that the proceeds for the night weren’t that great.
The most intriguing elements of the haunting were not witnessed by the staff, however, but by some of the members of my meet up, Rob and Hope Goff. Rob and Hope are the founders of Agawam Paranormal, Western Massachusetts’s foremost paranormal research group and they have investigated Vincent’s several times. Eager to share all of the details of one particular investigation, Rob happily took out his laptop to show some astounding footage. During one investigation, the team set up motion detection cameras throughout the restaurant including upstairs where besides feeling like they were being watched they also felt that they were NOT at all welcomed. While the team was downstairs in various rooms, the upstairs cameras positioned near the motion detectors picked up something intriguing. Something unseen tripped off every motion detector as it went from the office to the end of the stairs. About an hour later, the same cameras captured a very large circle of light, not exactly an orb, it was too large, come out of the office closet and float out of the office. It then went down the stairs through a wall next to the front entrance.
It is not only the owners who like to stay behind. At the Taproom in Wilbraham, one of the several ghosts is Eddie, a former dishwasher. The Taproom is located in a quiet bedroom community a few miles outside of Springfield. The building was built in 1826 and housed several businesses: a boardinghouse, an inn for stagecoaches, a residence for a local farmer and it was even a stop for the Underground Railroad.
In the 1970’s, Eddie was a regular when the restaurant was known as O’Driscolls. Retired from his office job and widowed, he had a lot of time on his hands. When the dishwasher pulled a no-show, Eddie stepped in and worked there on a daily basis. That is until the day they found him unconscious in the dish room. Before the ambulance arrived, he had passed away but his spirit has yet to clock out. According to the manager, Sharon, the dishwasher would occasionally start on it’s own-particularly after the restaurant had closed. The staff also shared that the kitchen door swings by itself from time to time. The door is not near any draft or window or entrance. The dish room is not the only place where his presence is felt, however. After his shift, Eddie would sit at the far right end of the bar, his favorite spot. People unfamiliar with the story of Eddie claimed that they would feel someone try to push them off when they attempted to sit on his favorite stool.
New England is understood to be one of the oldest places in the country and it is also known for its thrift-hence the term, “Yankee thriftiness”. We take pride in not wasting anything and our property history reflects that. Most buildings that have been around for at least 25 years have probably been repurposed at least once. Our restaurants are definitely no exemption. Naturally, a haunted restaurant becomes that way because the energy of the enterprise can sometimes attract spirits that have stayed behind from previous incarnations. Sometimes, the emotional and psychic energy is so strong that it can resuscitate spirits that lingered even before there were businesses-like the “Lady in Red”.
The Taproom’s other ghosts were from a time when the building was a boarding house. Sharon had mentioned that besides Eddie, two of the more active ghosts are a mother and son. Although their names are not known, the staff is quite familiar with their activity, which primarily occurs on the second floor or the basement. The young boy’s laughter and the subsequent swish of his mother’s skirts can be heard either day or night.
The paranormal writer, Hans Holzer, coined the phrase, “stay behind” for those who are so attached to their location that they stay put even after death. Regardless if the building has changed purposes, been renovated or moved, whether they are residual or intelligent, they remain. One of the saddest cases of a stay behind is the story of Abigail at the Storrowtown Tavern. Storrowtown Tavern is a popular restaurant located in West Springfield, just a few miles from Vincent’s Steakhouse. The tavern is part of a complex of historic buildings that were transferred from Central Massachusetts and placed along the Big E Fairgrounds. Although research determined that the restaurant served as a tavern there was not much else was discovered.
Agawam Paranormal also has done several investigations at Storrowtown Cassie M, one of their mediums had intuited that her name was Abigail and she used to work a housekeeper at the inn. Cassie was not able to determine why she still lingers but she sensed that Abigail moves from the banquet room (AKA the Vermont room) on the top floor and the powder room next door. Abigail flits from window to window, mumbling to herself, eternally confused about her new surrounding and why these new guests don’t see her. Although these new guests don’t see her, Abigail’s presence is felt. Guests and employees have heard a woman sighing behind them, the shadow of a woman in old-fashioned dress passing by the rooms’ entrances. During our meet up at the Storrowtown Tavern, I unexpectedly encountered Abigail myself. The women’s restroom has a waiting area that it divided by a wall and solid door. While I was washing my hands I heard a woman talking in the other room. Not wanting to inconvenience her, I hurried up and said while I was opening the door, “It is all yours!” I walked into an empty room! The stairs to go back to the first floor are right around the corner but there was no way that she could left the room so quickly .The Vermont room as well as the office-the only other rooms on the 2nd floor were also dark and unpopulated. When I went back to our table and recounted what had happened, Cassie and Hope confirmed my suspicions. During one of their investigations, they captured several EVP’s of a young woman in the women’s room waiting area.
Like the “Lady in Red”, a spirit sometimes can be associated with the land that the restaurant was built upon. A young Revolutionary War soldier named Jake frequents the historic Know Trail Inn in Otis, MA. The inn has been in business since the 1760’s and is located along the Knox Trail, a path that played a pivotal role in winning the Revolutionary War. Although his origins are not certain, Jake has been a noted presence since the end of that conflict. He makes himself known to the waitresses, especially the younger ones. He likes to turn the lights on and off, plays the jukebox while certain waitresses are counting the tips and plays with the locks on the doors. One server in particular, Bethany, is a favorite target. Often when she closes, Jake will lift and flip around a very large padlock attached to a door located near the wait station. At first, she thought it was somebody playing a prank; however, the lock is too heavy to be jostled from behind the door. In addition, Bethany was adamant that the lock was being lifted up and around as if guided by unseen hands.
I am sure that other servers have had the same type of dreams as I had. You are back to a restaurant that you once worked, the tables are never-ending, the food mysteriously changes as soon as you deliver it, you go down to the storeroom but you can’t find what you are looking for. Once you have worked in a restaurant, a little piece of stays behind-I sometimes guess what kind of tips I would make whenever I step into a new restaurant. The excitement, the emotions and bonding that occurs while working in a restaurant never goes away. So is it any wonder that those who have gone before us didn’t feel the same way? I bet you wouldn’t expect that from your local H & R Block office.