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State of fear: Four haunting Mass. tales

David Butler

A popular North Shore restaurant with chills on the late-night menu. A Berklee College dorm where restless spirits make music of their own. An old mansion in Western Mass. with a frightful past. And a huge, black creature that stalked the Cape. It’s the season when spirits come alive, and Massachusetts abounds in spine-tingling tales. Here are four of them:

The bump in the night

TEN CENTER STREET, Newburyport

From the day she was hired at Ten Center Street in Newburyport, restaurant manager Stacey Kelley heard the stories of the ghosts that supposedly haunt the place. For a while, she clung to her skepticism. Until “that night.”

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Several years ago, she was closing the place by herself, counting money in the basement of the old brick building, a former private residence that dates to 1790. Just outside the office, she heard a crash “that sounded like someone dropping a tray of coins,” she recalls.

She ran up the stairs and out the front door, and she called the owner. “I just left your restaurant unlocked,” she said she told him.

Now, Kelley said, “It’s very rare that anyone’s alone in this building.”

Strange things have been happening at this popular restaurant since it opened in the 1970s. Bartenders routinely talk about glasses that shatter with no one nearby; the temperature sometimes drops drastically in certain spots.

The staff is so familiar with one presence in particular that she has a name: Lucinda. (There’s a rumor she is the spirit of a woman pushed to her death down a flight of stairs when the building served as a brothel, Kelley says.) Before a recent renovation upstairs, Lucinda even had a favorite table.

A few months ago, the owners of Ten Center hired a medium to investigate. She claimed she encountered the spirit of a woman in the corner of an upstairs wait station and a spectral gentleman in a top hat in the basement.

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General Manager Sean Ryan tells of the time he was in the pub alone one night when he had the sudden, undeniable sensation that it was time for him to leave. He was only too happy to oblige.

But Ryan might just be well-suited to work there: He says he grew up in a house in Middleborough where an exorcism was once conducted.

‘Weird shadows’ and ‘bizarre noises’

BERKLEE COLLEGE OF MUSIC DORMITORY, Boston

The big Berklee dorm at 150 Mass. Ave. was once the Sherry Biltmore Hotel, which was damaged in a major fire in early 1963. Four guests died and 27 more were injured. An 8-year-old boy told investigators he had been playing with matches in a sixth-floor room.

Students living in the dorm have shared ghost stories for years, according to former residents. They feel breezes when the windows aren’t open and hear all kinds of unidentifiable sounds. The ghosts are assumed to be victims of the fire.

Colt Wolff, a third-semester film scoring major and a former resident of the dorm, said he was recently shown a photo taken by friends in one of the rooms. Behind the young musicians in the picture was a blurry image that looked like the face of an uninvited guest, he said.

“People see weird shadows and hear bizarre noises at night,” he said with a smile recently while he was working the front desk at the building’s lobby. “You’re like, ‘Well, it’s an old building, so there’s no way to know.’”

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The boy who admitted setting the hotel fire was the son of a cast member of a touring company that was throwing a party in several suites on the sixth floor that night. The production might be of interest to Berklee students who have lived in the dorm: it was “The Sound ofMusic.”

Restless spirits, creaks and moans

THE HOUGHTON MANSION, North Adams

The Victorian mansion of the first mayor of North Adams has creaked and moaned with unexplained phenomena for nearly a century.

Almost two decades after his term in office (1896-97), Albert Houghton was riding in a chauffeur-driven car with his daughter and a few friends when the driver swerved to avoid a team of horses and the car plunged off a soft shoulder. Houghton and the driver survived, but the mayor’s daughter and one of their guests were killed.

“The next day, the chauffeur went into the stable, put a gun to his head and shot himself,” said Ron Kolek, co-founder of the New England Ghost Project, which has taken television crews to the Houghton Mansion to experience its eerie presence. Days after the driver’s suicide, the grieving mayor died suddenly at home.

Local historian Paul W. Marino says the mayor’s death was likely caused by undetected internal injuries.

Ever since, city residents have passed along rumors of restless spirits roaming the unfortunate home’s labyrinthine corridors and upstairs servants’ rooms.

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In the 1920s, the building was remade as a Masonic temple. For years the Masons spoke of mysterious slamming doors, rattling doorknobs, and other disturbances.

When they were contacted by an author who planned to include the Houghton Mansion in a book about Massachusetts haunts, the Masons hired Kolek’s Ghost Project to investigate.

On overnight vigils, Kolek and his crew say they have witnessed sudden drops in temperature, doors that swing open by themselves, and rapidly draining camera batteries.

“The Masons wanted to be sure,” said Kolek, an environmental scientist. “Now they kind of embrace it.”

A phantom in black with ‘eyes like balls of flames’

THE BLACK FLASH, Provincetown

When the phantom of Provincetown was first reported in the 1930s, some locals were suspicious that the demon happened to arrive around Halloween. Surely it was just some town prankster, right?

The old Provincetown Advocate noted, “It ain’t usually until ‘cabin fever’ time that the balmy stories start.”

But the creature, dubbed the Black Flash, seemed superhuman to those who claimed to encounter it. Dressed in some kind of robe or cape, it appeared to have bat’s wings, and it had the unnerving habit of suddenly dropping into a solitary stroller’s path from a tree limb or rooftop.

“He was all black with eyes like balls of flame,” one of the first residents to come face-toface with the phantom said in a newspaper account. “And he was big, maybe 8 feet tall. He made a sound, a loud buzzing sound, like a June bug on a hot day, only louder.”

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“It jumped out at me from nowhere and spit blue flames in my face,” a boy told police.

Alleged sightings of the Black Flash continued for several years. One homeowner, who found his dog barking at the tall figure, claimed he shot it, but the Flash just laughed maniacally and leaped over the man’s backyard fence.

The Provincetown story grew to be so popular that neighboring Wellfleet briefly circulated a tale of its own about a “Wellfleet Tarzan.”

Local lore, referenced in Joseph Citro’s book “Passing Strange: True Tales of New England Hauntings and Horrors,” has it that the Black Flash made its last appearance in the mid-1940s when it chased a family of schoolchildren home to their empty house.

As they cowered inside, one of the children doused the phantom with a bucket of water from a second-story window. It has not been seen since.

James Sullivan can be reached at sullivanjames@verizon.net.