Tuesday, February 28, 2012

A Winter Retreat in the Haunted Berkshires

Every winter for the past twenty years my husband and I have left the rat-race of Long Island behind, and have taken a long weekend in Lenox, Massachusetts. Everyone asks me if we go there to ski, and I have to say that we don't. Although the skiing in the area is great, from what I've heard, we go for the peace and tranquility that the picturesque Berkshires have to offer. Lenox is the home to artists, musicians and the literary set. In fact, Brook Farm Inn on Hawthorne Street where we have been staying all these years, is a beautiful Victorian inn surrounded by poetry, writers and books...the ideal place for me.

I spend my time reading, or going antique shopping with my husband. We visit the Yankee Candle shop, the Norman Rockwell Museum, the Baldwin Extracts (where Martha Stewart and I get our vanilla) and we eat the best Cheddar Ale Soup I've ever tasted at the Barrington Brewery. There are endless things to do in the Berkshires at any time of the year, and it's quite historical as well.

There is of course, one other thing that intrigues me about the area...it's haunted. I've never encountered a ghost at Brook Farm, but I have dragged my poor husband around on ghostly adventures to see what we could find elsewhere.

Perhaps the most well known "haunted" locale is the old Red Lion Inn in Stockbridge. Built circa 1773 for Anna and Silas Bingham, it began as a general store and then evolved into a tavern, inn and stagecoach stop. It was a popular spot for travelers back in the 1800's and still remains so today. Ghostly rumors abound at the old inn which has seen the likes of many paranormal investigators and mediums. The fourth floor, in particular, has been said to have the most activity. Both cleaning staff and guests have claimed to see a "ghostly young girl carrying flowers" and "a man in a top hat." It has been said that guests have awoken to the feeling of someone standing over them at the foot of the bed. Cold spots, unexplained knocks, and electrical disturbances have all been reported. Room 301 is also known to be a haunted hot spot.

Traveling back to Lenox, the beautiful Ventfort Hall is open to the public for tours. They have all sorts of interesting events there, including on occasion, ghost hunts! You may remember this magnificent Jacobean Revival Mansion when it appeared in the 1999 film The Cider House Rules. It was originally built as a summer home for George and Sarah Morgan, sister of J. Pierpont Morgan, in 1891, and is a wonderful example of the Gilded Age in Lenox. George and Sarah lived there until their deaths, at which time it was rented out for a number of years. By 1945, the house had a series of owners and was eventually used as a dormitory for the nearby Tanglewood students. It was then used as a summer camp and hotel amongst other things. In the mid-1980's the property was sold to a nursing home developer who wanted to demolish the building. A local preservation group formed to help save the historic structure. The Ventfort Hall Association was formed in 1994, and by 1997, enough money was raised from private donations and loans, that the Association was able to purchase Ventfort Hall.

It has been investigated numerous times by the prestigious Chicopee Paranormal Investigators (CPI) who have seen and photographed apparitions and orbs. They have witnessed doors opening by themselves, and have recorded countless EVP's (Electronic Voice Phenomenon). There is no end to the ghostly activity at Ventfort Hall.

Then there is my personal favorite, Edith Wharton's house, The Mount, which can also be found in Lenox. Perhaps it is the fact that Edith was a writer which has drawn me to this location. Despite the fact that she was deathly afraid of ghosts, she spent a considerable amount of time writing about them. Her home in Lenox was built in 1902 as a writer's retreat, but her tumultuous marriage lead the Whartons to sell it by 1911. By 1942, The Mount became part of the Foxhollow School for Girls. The residents claimed to have heard unexplained noises as well as cold spots and other unusual sensations. When the school closed in 1976, Shakespeare & Company used The Mount for both their theater productions and as a dormitory. Ghostly apparitions of spirits in period clothing were reported, along with shadowy figures and continuous strange noises including footsteps, whispers and slamming doors.

The ghostly activity must still be occurring, because The Mount, like Ventfort Hall, offers ghost tours at certain times of the years.

It was just after dark when my husband and I drove up to the deserted home of Edith Wharton. He wasn't thrilled by the idea, by any means, but I was intent on taking photographs to see what I would get. I'm accustomed to photographing orbs, but the ones I captured that night at The Mount, were just incredible. Taken from the car window, it was as if the spirits were right there, coming into the car. They were simply spectacular.

So if you're looking for a little rest and relaxation, and hoping to come across a ghost or two, historic Lenox and the Berkshires should most definitely be your destination.