It was the winter of 1996, and I was living in a little cabin on Twitchell Pond (about 60 miles west of the coast) in a small village in Maine called Locke’s Mills. (For those who are unfamiliar, the difference between a “pond” and a “lake” is not the area it covers, but it’s deepest depths. Twitchell Pond appeared larger than some lakes I had encountered, but it wasn’t deep enough to be given the “lake” label.) I worked as a waitress at a small bed and breakfast called The Sudbury Inn in nearby Bethel, Maine and served its guests breakfast and lunch each weekday. Most of the visitors were skiing enthusiasts from Connecticut and Massachusetts, but there were lots of Canadians who came for holiday, too.
Each morning I woke to temperatures as cold as 15 degrees Fahrenheit below zero. I’d run out to my car, turn on the engine, and run back inside to shower and dress. Within 30 minutes, my Jeep was warm enough. The trip from the cabin to the inn was roughly 15 miles, but depending on weather conditions, it could take me close to 40 minutes to get to work. Traveling the winding road along the edge of the pond each morning, I was always amazed by the beauty of the snow-covered evergreens to my left, the glassed-over water to my right, and the icy road beneath and ahead of me. Surprisingly, I wasn’t alone. I always passed a dedicated runner I secretly named “Frozen Fred” at about the same point along the road each morning. If I didn’t see Frozen Fred, I worried about him until the next time I saw him. He became as expected as the sunrise to me on those lonely cold mornings.
By 6:00 am, I made it to the inn where I was met at the kitchen entrance by the restaurant’s sous chef, Christine. (We could call her a sous chef because she was educated at the Culinary Institute of America and worked at the inn which boasted three Michelin stars. Yeah! A 3-star restaurant in the wilderness of Maine!) While Christine prepped the home fries, I prepped the orange juice and checked the front desk registry to see how many guests I should expect. The innkeeper always greeted me with a warm smile. She was a quiet and reserved blonde who was a long-time resident of Maine. She was the absolute opposite of me, but we got along very well. She gave guests that warm, cozy feeling innkeepers should possess, while I gave them a little boost of energy and excitement to start their day of downhill and cross-country skiing. Before this job, I had no idea how energetic I could be in the morning hours.
By 9:00 am, all of the guests had been fed and were either on their way to Sunday River Resort or to numerous nearby locations to cruise along well-groomed cross-country ski trails. As the only waitress for breakfast and lunch, I was responsible for just about everything. I washed the dishes, cleaned and reset the tables, vacuumed and swept up the blueberry muffin crumbs that sometimes trailed to the front door, and I restocked the bar if the dinner servers from the night before either forgot or were just too lazy to do it for me. By 10:00 am, I was able to order my brunch, and Christine let me order any item from the menu I wanted. (One of the perks of working at a small place with great people!)
Before moving to Maine that January, the only lobster dish I had ever eaten or even heard of was whole lobster. In Maine, lobster (pronounced by true Mainers as “lobstah”) recipes have no end. There are lobstah rolls, lobstah bisque, lobstah lasagna, and lobstah pie. Since I could order anything from the menu, I always ordered lobster gazpacho and a side of whatever home fries were left over from breakfast. By the time Christine had my meal prepared, the housekeeping crew would show up and order their brunch, too. The crew was just two women who lived in or around Bethel their entire lives and had been working at the inn for many years. My guess was they were both about 50 years old. Rough and calloused, their hands told their true life story. Since my soup didn’t suffer if it sat for a while, I’d always wait for them and the three of us would eat at one of the luxury dinner booths often highly coveted by guests seeking that cozy, winter romantic dining experience. (If they only knew who occupied those booths before them!)
One morning before brunch was served, I was stocking the bar. Out of the corner of my eye, I spotted a tall man dressed in dark clothes and wearing an uncommon looking top hat. He was walking near the window opposite the bar. Without looking up, I said, “Sir, breakfast is over but lunch will be served in about 30 minutes if you don’t mind waiting.” I finally looked up. He was gone. I was a little spooked. He seemed to walk off without making a sound even though every floor board and door hinge in the inn squeaked whenever anyone walked through. I looked across the room at all the tables from the glassed-in porch seating area to the luxury booths near the fireplace. No one. I continued to clean until I heard Christine ring the kitchen bell to indicate my brunch was ready.
I sat down with the ladies and asked them if they had seen anyone matching the description of the man who simply seemed to vanish from the dining room. They both turned and looked at each other and then looked at me.
Linda shouted, “You saw him! She saw him!”
I asked panicking now, “I saw who!? Who did I see!?”
In an instant, a warm rush of blood flooded my body and chest. I could feel my face warming and I stood up to go to the restroom because I had the sensation that I was going to pee myself. As I was walking toward the ladies’ room, I heard Linda whisper, “The ghost. He’s still here.”
I entered the bathroom and splashed water on my face and looked at my reflection. Had I really seen a ghost? Do ghosts really exist? How else could I explain someone being in the dining room but not making a sound? I dried my face and could feel myself cooling down. I walked back to the table and asked the ladies:
“Who is this ghost? How can you be so sure that’s what I saw?”
They filled me in on some of the inn’s history…
Built in the 1800’s, The Sudbury Inn was once a busy railroad stop hotel. The ladies mentioned how the inn experienced many active nights of debauchery, drinking, and gambling in its early days. They mentioned tales of people dying in their hotel rooms or being shot over unpaid debts. They mentioned that the guy I saw in the top hat is always spotted in that same location by the window across from the bar, because that was once the main entrance. It seems he’s trapped, but no one had seen him in several years until I mentioned him that morning.
Trying to make logical sense of what I had seen (or thought I had seen), I described the man again to the ladies. All they did was nod as I repeatedly asked, “Are you sure? Are you sure?”
I spent several more months working at the inn and looking over my shoulder. After experiencing my first Maine spring (affectionately referred to by locals as mud season for good reason) I decided to head back to the warmer mountains of Maryland and leave the ghost behind.