Thursday, September 24
Arguably the most prominent historic landmark in Stockbridge, the Red Lion Inn has been in existence since 1773 when Silas Pepoon first established a tavern there.
Over the course of more than two centuries, it has gone from being a smoky saloon for fomenting revolution to one of the most famous and well-regarded historic lodgings in the region. It has been through 20 proprietors and three name changes, and it even has burned to the ground and been rebuilt. It has accommodated presidents, dignitaries and many celebrities.
Turns out, it may accommodate even stranger denizens.
I first encountered rumors of a haunting at the inn a couple of years ago, through some reviews on the popular site tripadvisor.com that referred to unusual activity in room 301. The first, in August 2004, was from a man who said he felt something touching his head and tugging the bed sheet. Almost one year to the day later, a second reviewer reported several times waking up to the feeling of having their toes being pulled on, as well as the sound of footsteps and the sensation of an unseen force fluffing up the comforter.
A month later, a third review described the guest being woken all night by cover-pulling from the foot of the bed. When the man turned to look, he saw a man in a top hat and "olden day attire," who then vanished in a white mist.
This, it seems, is not the only part of the inn said to be haunted. Guests have told staff of unusual sightings in other rooms, and one former housekeeper stated there had been rumors among some of the cleaning staff going back at least a decade about the whole fourth floor being haunted. In addition to the man in the top hat, there are vague rumors about a ghostly young girl carrying flowers.
One intriguing story can be found in the current edition of the inn's "Stories," a courtesy booklet of anecdotes penned by former guests recalling their experiences staying there. In it, one Sheryl Ciccarelli recounts an incident taking place in Room 424. One night in April 2003, she awoke quite suddenly to an overwhelming feeling that someone - or something - stood over her bed. Looking at the clock as she woke her husband, she noted the time: 1:35 a.m. In the morning, they discovered that their daughter had left them a message to tell them that a rainstorm had knocked the power lines out to their house, causing a shower of sparks and a great commotion in the neighborhood. The time of her call? 1:35 a.m.
Other miscellaneous incidents have been mentioned in various other parts of the complex. The most significant involves a gentleman who asked to be relocated from his room, he said, because of the sheer number of "spirited" guests he encountered. The gentleman turned out to be celebrity medium James van Praagh.
Last year, Joseph Flammer and Diane Hill, a pair of ghost-hunters from Long Island, spent the night in room 301, bringing with them a variety of sophisticated equipment. In addition to a pervasive cold spot at the foot of the bed, they reported knocks coming from within the armoire adjacent to it. They also claim to have captured video recording an amorphous "something" sweeping across the room to bang into the camera tripod.
Intrigued, I wanted to see for myself what oddities room 301 might hold and made arrangements to rent the room. I arrived on a beautiful Sunday afternoon and quickly checked in. Room 301 is a bright, cozy little room at the southernmost end of the main building, with nothing overtly spooky about its appearance.
I immediately turned on a digital recorder and started snapping photos. I didn't expect anything terribly dramatic. Over the years I've visited more allegedly haunted places than I can count, and only a handful of times have things gotten very weird. It may be ghosts just don't like to deal with the press.
The only particularly curious thing observed during my stay involved certain electrical fluctuations. I'm not a professional "ghost-hunter" by any means, but I did happen to have an EMF detector on loan from a friend. In a nutshell, what this does is measure electromagnetic field fluctuations. Typically, these are emitted by electrical appliances, wiring and other such equipment. However, in one area of the floor between the foot of the bed and armoire, I got persistently high spikes, much higher than those closer to the TV and other electronics.
It would be difficult to completely rule out wiring or other mechanical emissions coming from under that area of the floor as a cause of these readings, but given the fact that most reports of odd phenomenon in 301 seem to involve that part of the room, it seems worth consideration.
So who or what might haunt the inn? My first thought was to look into the fire that leveled the building in 1896, but this is said to have resulted in no loss of lives. In 236 years of history, though, the inn has had many thousands of visitors and staff, and there's no real agreement on what era the alleged ghosts of the inn might hail from.
Could be there's just something in the name. In the process of scouring for data on the Stockbridge haunt, I was intrigued to find a profusion of haunted Red Lions. The 17th century Red Lion Inn of Avebury, Wiltshire, is widely held to be haunted by a former innkeeper, and the Red Lion in Gloucestershire has been said to feature the ghost of Anne Boleyn. Then there's London's Red Lion Square, where the shade of Oliver Cromwell is said to hang about, and the be-spooked Red Lion Hotel of Pontefract, Yorkshire. Back on this side of the pond, Chicago's Red Lion Pub is said to be frequented by half a dozen former patrons from various eras.
Is our Red Lion really haunted? According to Carol Cosco Baumann, director of marketing and communications, "Every now and then, we hear about a guest that has had an experience that they attribute to a ghostly presence. In the past four years, I can count the number of such instances on one hand. That said, we keep our minds open to the possibilities!"
Perhaps the best way to assuage your curiosity is to go see for yourself. I recommend room 301... just keep an eye on that strange spot at the foot of the bed.
Joe Durwin is a longtime local mystery monger. Send tips on haunted places, macabre sightings, curious artifacts, crackpot theories, pernicious rumors and other accounts of the strange to firstname.lastname@example.org