Walking through the front door of , the evidence of Christmas cheer is everywhere.
One is immediately hit with the Dickensian beauty of the place; the antiques and old portraits, the dark wooden tables, lanterns and candles that decorate the hearth beneath the low beamed ceilings. According to locals and ghost hunters, the charm does not stop there.
Built as a home in 1736, it has continuously been run as an inn since 1754.
It is called the Curtis House Inn because five proprietors of the place were named Curtis, and none were related. Coincidences abound in this charming inn, once named to be among “the top caravansaries in the country” by a long defunct publication entitled Milestones and Memories.
Some would say there are no coincidences at all.
Instead, unusual occurrences are blamed on the spirits of centuries and only decades past. Experts of the paranormal have come to visit and claim it is a highly haunted place.
One of the area's most notable communicator of spirits is Lorraine Warren, who along with her deceased husband, are world reknown for their work with a certain haunted, and very famous home, in Amityville, Long Island.
“I have been aware of the haunting of the Curtis House for a very long time,” Warren said. “My husband and family have gone there. There is a bedroom upstairs, that first bedroom, that room always seem to very active. Sometimes when people come here from out of state for visits, I always ask them if they want to stay at a real haunted inn.”
The ghosts of many Christmases past are said by regulars and employees to still roam the halls. According to TJ Hardisty-Brennan, the inn's owner who has lived at the inn most of her life, there are at least four known spirits who continue to live there.
- She describes a matronly woman who watches over the dining room.
- Another is a rider, an elegant confederate gentleman, who is said to be quite loud about removing his boots at night.
- Then, there's Sally, who Brennan describes as her dear friend, who is believed to be a young woman who seems to prefer one of the bedrooms on the second floor.
- Joe, a former dishwasher who truly loved the place, asked to be buried on the property and his wishes were honored by Brennan's father.
TJ gathered her employees around to tell stories about the ghosts they speak about in affectionate terms.
“I've been helping out with the rooms,” Juanita Chappell, a retired waitress, said. “I was looking for TJ the other day and I went to the second floor, and I see the chair rocking back and forth, back and forth. I figured TJ was up there and she must have knocked it as she went by, maybe she was bringing the laundry up. I went upstairs and looked in every room and she was not there. When I came back downstairs, the chair was still rocking back and forth, back and forth.”
“I know who's here,” TJ said, with a cheerful grin. “I have my own little relationship with them. Last March, we dismantled every room upstairs and Sally, which is what we call her, could not stand it. There is a chair in a room upstairs, and we are the last ones out of here each night, and when we came up in the morning, the chair was twisted to face the wall. The drawers were all pulled out, and she was mad! We laughed and would go up there and say, 'Sally, will you just give us time. If you would just relax, you will like it.' And sure enough, she has calmed down.”
“There is a matronly figure in the dining room and she just likes everything to be as it should be,” Brennan continued. “ At Thanksgiving, we had a customer call me over, and she asked me, 'Have you been told you have spirits here?' I said, yes, but you don't know how people are going to take it. The woman said, 'She just wants you to know, she is very content, her day is done, and it went very smoothly. She is very happy with the way her day went.' We had a busy day that day and they, the spirits, just like to see how everything went.”
One of the spirits worked in the kitchen when TJ was a child. “There is a young man who worked here when he was 14-15 years old. I told him to go downstairs and get some firewood for the fireplace in the lobby. He comes running back up the stairs, and he would tell you the exact same story if he was standing next to me. He came up and said, 'I can't go down there, there is a guy sitting on the stairs eating his mashed potatoes!'
“I just flippantly went, 'Oh, so you saw Joe. Just go get the firewood.' And he said, 'But you just don't understand, he had white pants and a white shirt, and he was not clean shaven, he was sitting there eating his mashed potatoes!' I said, 'James, that's where Joe always went. That's where he always sat and ate his mashed potatoes and had his cigarette.' Joe was actually the dishwasher here when I was just a child. I said, 'James, the only way Joe will cause trouble is if you yelled at him for having a cigarette or tried to take his mashed potatoes away.”
Brennan laughed remembering the shock on the boy's face. “So probably eight years go by, and my sister and her husband took a spatula, because Joe always had a spatula in his hand, and they made a plaque and put Joe's picture on it for Most Valuable Employee kind of thing. So, James comes up at Christmas-time and when he saw that, he said, 'Oh my gosh! This is the guy I saw!”
According to TJ, there have been many customers who have no idea the inn is haunted, but there have been some who report incidents that are more humorous than frightening. “Some people don't know a thing about it, some come because of that, some want to stay, but there was one person who was so polite about it.” Brennan laughed again, recalling the woman's reaction.
“We had a woman who was here for a few days, and she came down one morning and said, 'I cannot stay here. It's absolutely beautiful, everything is wonderful but there are spirits here. I wish I could stay here but I am making them uncomfortable because I am uncomfortable.” She said, 'I have never seen them, it's never happened to me before, but it happened to me now.'”
Employees of the inn are familiar with the comings and goings of the spirits. Opal Strattman, who works as an assistant to Brennan said, “You go upstairs and the TV will be on, and you know no one has been up there. The beds get messed up.”
TJ laughed again and reported, “Someone complained that they couldn't sleep because the covers kept getting pulled down in Room 16. The woman came downstairs for dinner the next day and asked if we had ghosts. When we said yes, she nearly fell over.”
Donna Kent, another Connecticut specialist of the paranormal who has been featured in the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, visits the Curtis House frequently and brings students with her to study the energy. She has seen orbs of light in many rooms, including the attic, and has detected energy in rooms where nothing else was going on.
“TJ has been choosy about letting ghost hunters come in because they can cause more trouble than good,” Kent said.
Brennan agreed. "The spirits are happy unless people are disruptive. I let Lorraine Warren and Donna Kent come. Donna said they are very content, and as long as you don't set them off, or stir up trouble, it's fine. But if you come in here like gangbusters, to stir things up, they don't like it."
Kent wrote in her book "Ghost Stories and Legends of Western Connecticut" that The Curtis House has had an incredibly long history filled with mysterious details. “There was a hidden entrance that was used by the masons before they were allowed to practice in their own building. One of the owners, Lucius Foote, was murdered after a big win at a card game. His body was found in a shed behind St. Paul's. The portraits in the house have been known to cause trouble if not placed where they want to be. The Curtis House is actively haunted, but it's because the spirits of those who enjoyed the atmosphere loved it so much they didn't want leave.”
The Curtis House seems to continue its centuries old popularity with the living and the deceased. “I have never had a terrifying feeling at the Curtis House. Like the Ghosts of Christmas Past and Present, there may be something to learn from these spirits. Life does continue. And the best way to get through the day is to do so in a respectful manner, whether it's with people or those on the other side," Kent said.