by Hunter Styles
Staff writer Amanda Drane has worked in the local food industry for 10 years, and she’s shared with us some truly great stories of her time in the kitchen, including a couple about the haunted room at Spoleto, an Italian restaurant in Northampton.
One night, about three years ago, at shift’s end, a deathly pale busboy slowly ascended the steps from the small dining room in the basement, where the eatery seats a few extra tables on busy nights. He held a stack of dishes in his rigid arms. She asked him what was wrong. “Someone just whispered my name behind me, but there was no one there,” he said. “The voice followed me around, whispering my name.” And that was it for the rest of the night. He refused to go back downstairs.
That’s not the only ghost story Amanda recounts for me as we enjoy a meal in Spoleto’s basement — halfway hoping to see something strange. According to staff, candles on dinner tables will sometimes blow themselves out, then reignite. Doors swing open and shut on their own. Servers hear eerie whispers. On one occasion, Amanda’s keys and cash went missing after her colleagues had gone home. She found them in the basement, tucked into a dark corner of a pantry she had never explored.
When she tells me the ghosts swiped her earnings, she shrugs. “Sometimes they like to take things,” she says. She is nonchalant, which is to be expected by now — Spoleto staffers have been reporting spooky shenanigans for years. Still, no one has ever provided any proof.
When I call to request a table for two in the basement, the hostess thinks I’m pranking her. But eventually, they let us downstairs, and Amanda and I have the room to ourselves.
I don’t profess much interest in the afterlife, and I have never seen a ghost. But as we descend the steps and turn the corner into the little dining room, the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. I’m not quick to assume that something freaky is afoot — I’ll believe it when I can clearly observe it, or measure it. But some things are unquantifiable and yet undeniable — like the feeling of being watched.
We sit, and Amanda admits to feeling the same thing when she stepped in. “Obviously, your head can play tricks with you,” she says. “There’s always going to be some of that. But I feel like I’ve had enough scary experiences in life that I can’t deny them anymore.”
Some ghost stories are rooted inextricably to their locations — sites with haunted histories. Over pints of beer and big bowls of pasta, I tell Amanda about a house in Historic Deerfield where a friend of mine used to live. In high school, at night, she would sometimes walk from room to room, following a white cat that didn’t exist.
Other ghostly incidents seem to trail specific people as they move through life. Amanda, for one, suspects that she attracts paranormal activity from time to time. Back in her UMass college dorm room days, she and her roommate heard unexplainable dragging sounds, found baby-sized handprints on the ceiling, and witnessed a roll of paper towels levitate from a table and go soaring across the room. Amanda moved out early, and the happenings ceased.
As we swap these stories, I let my attention rove nervously around the dining room — a nondescript setting with framed art and mirrors on wood walls. The lights in here are dim, and foot traffic thuds through the ceiling overhead. But so far, no ghosts.
Amanda tells me about her time working at a restaurant in Great Barrington, where she realized on one quiet night that a regular customer was a medium, communicating with a painting of a woman on the wall. As she talks, the lights overhead flicker slightly, and a gust of cool air slides across my shoulder blades. I tense up. But perhaps it was just the A/C kicking in.
I launch into a story about a friend of mine who went to the bathroom in the middle of the night, then could not return to bed because, for several minutes, the door knob gave off a red-hot heat. As I speak, my gaze shifts to the mirror behind Amanda’s head, where I see a glint of light hover just for a moment, then disappear. I look again. This room is mirrors upon mirrors, and the reflection could have been anything.
We go through the rest of dinner with our guard down, and we settle the bill feeling full and content. As we walk out, we agree that it may have been a bit much to expect we could coerce a spirit or two into making themselves known on short notice.
Fifteen minutes later, in the car, I check my front right pocket. My favorite pen is gone. Maybe I used it to sign for the check? I remember using the waitress’s pen. But I turn the car around anyway.
The front door of Spoleto is locked, so I enter through the back. As the staff finishes clean-up, I descend into the basement. In the dining room, the lights are off, and I flick them on one by one.
The room is as we left it. My favorite pen is there, on my chair. I walk over and pick it up. I look at it, and I feel like something in the room is looking at me.
Sometimes they like to take things.
The glint in the mirror is back. I turn to look at it, and I miss it again. I feel cold. I know I should leave, but I hesitate. Because for an instant I know that if I walk away now — like that busboy did — the voice will follow me upstairs with each step, whispering my name, making me Spoleto’s next
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