on thursday, my friend laura and i took libby to see the pettibone ghost exhibit at the phelps tavern museum in simsbury. our tour guide was a charming new england lady who managed to evoke something of the manner of her forebears in a most authentic way. one had the sense that the stories she told of the people who had lived and worked and married and birthed and died on these lands were the same stories that got told around the dinner table when her family gathered on the holidays.
on the other hand, she was quite clear that while the inn itself may indeed be haunted - she demurred to pass judgement, she said with a prim quirk as much a relic as any ever found in an attic - there was no historically documented record of an abigail pettibone...which is supposed to be the name of one of the ghosts who haunts the pettibone inn, which is seven to ten miles down the road.
abigail just doesn't appear in any of our records, said the lady, and then showed us a sampling of the fanactically detailed documents which the town fathers have been keeping since the seventeenth century. one had the sense that if someone didn't appear in the records of the simsbury town fathers, one could safely assume someone didn't exist.
we had moved into the second room of the tavern when we heard a curious knocking from the first room. it sounded as if someone - or even several someones - had either opened the door and come in, or was jiggling the door. our guide left us to check it out.
they're here, i mouthed to laura, as libby rolled her eyes, even though she knew exactly what i was talking about.
when our guide returned, she said there was no one there and she had no idea what made the noise. on the upper level, i couldn't resist touching a stone of the original chimney as it rose up through the house. the stone was warm to my touch, even though a fire had not burned in that hearth in decades.
one of the most interesting parts of the exhibit, i thought, were the three shoes the workmen had found during the restoration that had turned the building from a private home to more of its original state. dark with age, and creased with dust, the shoes had belonged to a man, a woman and a child. the imprints of their feet were plain - it was clear there were two right shoes, and one left.
it's an old new england custom, explained the lady. its not mentioned much in the records, but we frequently find shoes buried around the chimney - a shoe from each of the original occupants. it's supposed to bring good luck. i wondered if the ones who'd left their shoes there thought it did, but that's the sort of question libby rolls her eyes at, so i didn't bother to ask it.
as we were leaving i happened to glance across the street to the cemetery, with its long rows of stones and monuments, stretching all the way back to the seventeenth century. look, laura, i cried - there they all are. and to libby's utter mortification, laura and i waved and yelled hello.