Haunted Cape Cod

Ever have the feeling you are not alone? That someone is watching you?

With a recorded history dating all the way back to 1602 – the year Bartholomew Gosnold became the first European to set foot on Cape Cod – this part of the country is famous for more than just being a vacation destination. So there is a strong likelihood that the flickering of lights, tip tap on the windowpane or sudden chill creeping down your spine is more than just a random occurrence.

It might just be a ghost.

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It is the last week of July, the height of summer, and Derek Bartlett stands in front of a crowd of two dozen people, sitting on a rock wall facing the Barnstable House on Old King’s Highway.

Nicknamed “The House of 11 Ghosts,” the building is rumored to be the most haunted on Cape Cod. One of its previous owners, Edmund Hawes, hung himself from a tree on the property; since then there have been multiple reports of his apparition walking the grounds.

The hauntings have been reported as recently as 2005. That was the year Bartlett and a team of paranormal investigators spent the night at the Barnstable House. At one point, doors on the first floor opened and closed without any explanation.

On this night, Bartlett was unnerved not by the supernatural, but by a production crew from Syfy Channel’s “Ghost Hunters,” researching whether the haunted claims of this historic gem were true.

Six years ago the same TV show paid a visit to the Orleans Waterfront Inn, a building owner Ed Maas initially wanted to demolish after purchasing it in 1996. Instead, he and his family chose to refurbish it, and soon after they realized there may be some uninvited guests.

During the Roaring 20s, the building served as a house of ill repute when one of its inhabitants, a lady of the night, was murdered. Maas believes her ghost, since named Hannah, maintains a presence at the inn, occasionally roaming its halls.

Maas said that aside from Hannah, the inn's other spirits are a bartender named Fred who hung himself in the cupola, and a dishwasher named Paul, who did the same.

Maas believes the forces are benign. “It’s a good feeling, as if I’m taking care of the building for Hannah and this is her home,” he said. “There are times when I’m the only one here in the winter and it is a very welcoming feeling."

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There is a long-established notion that ghosts maintain a presence to ensure the building they once lived in is well maintained.

This is the position held by Shelly Conway, owner of the Captain Linnell House, a stately mansion built in Orleans in 1840 by Captain Ebenezer Linnell for his bride Rebecca. Linnell, who died at sea, never saw the project completed.

“The building has a tragic past,” Conway said, noting that several times it has fallen into disrepair, but “it keeps coming back from the dead.”

That is the state Conway and her husband Bill found the home in 28 years ago when they purchased it. Shortly after, the Conways began hearing whispers that the house was haunted.

There have been multiple reports of ghost sightings. The first is of a woman in a wedding gown walking up Skaket Beach Road and past the restaurant. The second is of a man dressed like Captain Linnell walking the grounds.

There have been no sightings in recent years. Ms. Conway attributes this to the care and love she and her husband have put into restoring the building. “I walk through this house at two in the morning and don’t get the sense there is any sadness,” she said. “I think we’re sort of in a good period with the ghosts.”

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“We are the tenants and they are the landlord,” said Melissa Leonard, owner of Eastham’s Penny House Inn, espousing a similar, general philosophy towards ghosts and the buildings they inhabit.

She believes her inn is haunted by the spectre of Isaiah Horton, a sea captain who originally built the house in 1751 in Wellfleet. A century later, the home was moved to its current location.

“What we gather is his energy is still here,” Leonard said. This is most noticeable in the quirky habits of electronics, particularly when playing music. “If we turn down the sound, they turn it back up,” she said.

Guests have heard frolicking in the halls at night and reported smelling a strong, sweet perfume in some rooms.

None of this scares Leonard, who explains, “I believe we pass on and our energy can’t be created or destroyed, and we all go somewhere.”

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“Here’s where I first encountered a ghost,” Sheila Fitzgerald, proprietor of the Old Yarmouth Inn, says proudly, pointing to a table in the tavern where she, her husband Arpad and her sister Maureen witnessed the window adjacent to their seats shaking without provocation. And then, just as suddenly as it started, it stopped.

Built in 1696, the inn is the oldest on Cape Cod. According to Fitzgerald, it is haunted by at least two ghosts, whom she believes possess a playful sense of humor; they’ve been known to open doors, turn on lights, move glasses and whisper the names of staff in the years that she has operated the inn.

The inn often welcomes visitors curious about encountering the paranormal. “I think people like ghosts because they can’t be explained,” Fitzgerald said. “They either believe or don’t believe. I didn’t believe before I purchased the inn.”

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While there are undoubtedly skeptics, Angela Vital-Martowski of Provincetown Ghost Tours has encountered more people that “want to have faith that there is something out there…that our loved ones are still with us,” she said.  Her tours detail everything from Provincetown’s earliest days, when the Pilgrims arrived here on the Mayflower in 1620, to more gruesome affairs including the town’s own serial killer in 1969.

One of Provincetown’s most haunted homes is the Carpe Diem Guesthouse. Its legend is unveiled in Mark Jasper’s book “Haunted Cape Cod & the Islands.” Reports of hauntings have occurred in the William Shakespeare Room, where some have felt the presence of another being, as well as in the Tennessee Williams Suite, where doors have repeatedly opened, even when locked.

Ghosts can also be found on the complete opposite end of the Cape in Falmouth. The epicenter of this paranormal activity is on over 400 acres of land that encompass Highfield Hall, Highfield Theatre and Beebe Woods.

Highfield Hall docent Lisa Dunne is uncovering the secrets to the Victorian mansion built in 1878 by the Beebe family of Boston. Her goal is to write a series of books about the family, which had a history of eccentricities, quirks and, in some cases, mental illness.

Dunne’s interest in the building goes back to her teenage days, when she saw what she believes to be a ghost standing in the window of the bride room on the second floor. “Most of the sightings are seen there from the back of the house,” Dunne said.

At nearby Highfield Theatre, Fay, a supposed jilted lover of one of the Beebes, who is said to have hung herself, is rumored to maintain her presence by toying with the building’s lights.

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Whether Cape Cod ghosts are to be feared, respected or enjoyed all depends on one’s attitude. But one thing is for certain: we must learn to live with them. Penny House Inn owner Melissa Leonard, for one, is not surprised by their prevalence in this part of the country. “We have such a rich history here on Cape Cod,” she said. “And where you have that old, rich history, you seem to have more energy and spirits that stay.”

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