By Joe Durwin – From: The Advocate Weekly, Nov. 2009
After years of writing about and talking about weird things in the region, I hear rumors about a lot of haunted places, only a small fraction of which result in a print-worthy story. If a location is sufficiently old, in any way historic, and publicly accessible, the chances of someone, somewhere fingering it for ghostly activity is pretty high. If it’s a place of lodging, this is doubly the case.
So I didn’t exactly jump out of my chair when, following its reopening in 2005, I began to hear murmurs of a ghost at West Stockbridge’s Card Lake Inn. Given its long and occasionally colorful tenure there, I might have been more surprised if I hadn’t eventually heard something to that effect.
Recent hearsay places the origins of Card Lake in 1838, but several solid sources state that the establishment actually dates back to 1804, making it over 200 years old. Known first as the United States Hotel, it was a key stagecoach stopping point in the early days of the town. By the 1850s it was filled with the men engaged in building the railroad, owned by a Mr. and Mrs. Henry Jones, and known as Card Lake Hotel. Mr. Jones initially was denied permission to put a bar in the establishment, due to its proximity to the church and school. He then bought the West Stockbridge House, which stood in the lot across from it on Hotel Street, apparently far enough away for liquor to be served.
In the 1870s it reached a peak, as the only hotel in one of the most key railroad junction towns in the area. Soon after, as Pittsfield overtook it as a rail center, it declined as a place of lodging. For a time it functioned as a boarding house with attached tavern, and for a time had a reputation for wild nights of heavy drinking, gambling and…well, other indiscretions.
Sometime in the post World War II era, the lower floor was expanded to create the areas that now function as the dining room and lounge area. It was acquired by Westbridge Associates in 1972 and became known as the Westbridge Inn. The company consisted principally of the Rose family of Richmond, whose son Alan Gordon Rose became an important and sometimes controversial part of the revitalization of West Stockbridge’s downtown in the 70s.
Under his supervision, it went through extensive overhaul, then was sold two years later for more than five times that to Paul Buckley and Sam Erfan, former managers for the Hilton Corporation. Westbridge Associates bought it back less than a year later, reopening it for a time before closing down again, and selling it again in 1978 to Henricus Bergmans, a former innkeeper at the Red Lion.
For many years following it functioned only as an Inn, with no restaurant or tavern, much to the dismay of locals. In 2005, it was purchased by the Ellen and Mike Greer, along with a group of other partners who they’ve since bought out to become the sole proprietors.
Earlier last month, their son Dave contacted me, reminding me of the rumors that a female ghost is said to run amok in Room 1, in the second floor front of the Inn. I refreshed myself a bit on the history of the place, checked my schedule, and gave them a call. I couldn’t resist the urge to be kitschy, so I asked if the Room 1 was available on October 31. The Greers graciously granted me a complimentary stay, warning me though about the Halloween party scheduled that evening. It turned out that the Inn would also be haunted by the beats of DJ Jerrid Coty and crazy, cleverly costumed revelers.
Due to wardrobe malfunctions hinging on the difficulty of drying fake blood in rainy weather, I checked in only a couple of hours before the party was to begin. Ellen showed me to the room where strange things were most commonly reported. She mentioned that the only thing she knew for sure was that the made bed sometimes looked lain in, though no one had been in the room.
“At least,” she added wryly, “No one’s copped to it.” She suggested I speak with their cook, Mark Fierimonte, who lives on the premises year round. As such, he has spent more time alone in the building than anyone in recent years, and had several unsettling experiences to share.
On occasion, he felt a cold breeze blow against him in his otherwise warm 3rd floor room. A second later, the bathroom shade suddenly recoiled, rolling up at the top of the window. “So I go into the bathroom to pull it down,” Mark adds, “and I noticed my toothpaste bottle I just bought looked like someone pushed down on it and squirted it all over my sink.”
He has also heard sounds of doors opening and slamming, voices arguing and even once rattling the doorknob of his room, though the Inn was otherwise empty.
I was determined to investigate for myself as thoroughly as possible. The handy borrowed Gauss Meter I brought along immediately proves unhelpful, though, as everywhere in the Inn seems to generate high readings. Likely, a combination of older wiring and the vintage lamps and other appliances throughout the building make for a constant baseline of electromagnetic fluctuations. Therefore the chance of finding some odd, anomalous change in the electrical environment with this tool is basically nonexistent.
Meanwhile, I’ve been experimenting with some additional techniques for ghost-detection, combining fashionable technological methods with old-fashioned tricks from yesteryear. For instance, during the 19th century hey-day of Spiritualism, some psychic investigators believed that spirits were particularly attracted to coins and other shiny objects. So once I get the video and audio recording devices set up in the room, I take great care to stack a tall pyramid of quarters, nickels, dimes and even a few Big Y silver coins. I make sure to construct this primitive ghost-trap on a sturdy table, testing it to make sure that it won’t be disrupted by normal movement in the room, even jumping up and down next to it to vouch for its relative stability.
A couple of other low-fi pieces of equipment I put to use included a hand-buzzer and an old-fashioned hand-crank alarm clock. This is a trick I picked up from the work of Ali Allmaker, an electrical engineer turned MCLA philosophy professor and amateur parapsychologist who did extensive fieldwork investigating local haunted houses in the 1970s. His theory was that if one were to encounter some sort of poltergeist or telekinetic phenomenon, its effects might be more easily measured on simple, manual machines than with complex instruments. It also seems to fit with the cliché of ghosts being slightly mischievous.
I spent a few hours downstairs at the party, letting the devices record and wondering if the dancing downstairs would dislodge my precarious stack of coins (it’s didn’t).
Retiring to the room, I sat up for a couple of hours, reading and waiting. Eventually I turned in, with my phone set to wake me once every hour. I kept waiting to hear the hand-buzzer go off, or the crash of change. What I did hear, upon waking around 4am, was a strange scratching sound, like cat claws on wood, in the center of the room. I sat up and looked at the spot the sound was clearly emanating from, but couldn’t see anything. I got up and went directly to it, until the sound was all around me, but I didn’t see or feel anything. The sound stopped. As I crawled back into bed, I looked over to see the miniature rocking chair, complete with vintage doll, was rocking. Ominous flashbacks ensued, memories of hiding under the covers after viewings of Poltergeist and other 80s gems.
Instead, I tried to think rationally. Maybe my getting up and walking around shook the floor and made it rock somehow. It hadn’t rocked all evening, despite a lot of pacing and plenty of commotion downstairs… but maybe.