Talking to old timers in Ashland I soon saw that they have all heard the stories. It is an absolute local legend. It was around then that I began wondering if ghost stories might somehow play a big part in the marketing of this establishment.
It was an unavoidable question. Even the sign out front has a spectral-looking image of the original owner, Captain John Stone, based on a 19th century tin type photograph of him that hangs on a wall inside. A spooky painting of the captain hangs on another wall, done such that the eyes follow you around. Another sign asks guests to refrain from stirring the fire in the fireplace; it features a little cartoon of Stone that says, “I’m watching!”
They do maintain a sense of humor about their ghosts. I began wondering if the knock on my chair leg was someone’s prank, maybe someone’s attempt at manufacturing harmless new ghost stories to keep the cash register moving. The earlier ghost stories often involved guests being prodded and bumped – by nothing. It would not take magicians at the level of Penn and Teller to arrange a quick unseen thump.
But as I thought more about it, it seemed unlikely. If they were caught doing something like that it would be a public relations disaster. The risk would not be worth it. No, I think the owners of Stone’s are merely embracing a previously existing heritage of ghost stories. Although one past owner, “Cappy” Fournier, may have been using tales of ghosts to drum up business. He was certainly enthusiastic about them.
Fournier took over the property in the mid-1970s and began a thorough refurbishing. (This pub is quite old. Andrew Jackson was president when it first opened.) It was during this renovation work that he started seeing ghosts. “Practically every morning” he saw one, Fournier says in this video clip, which hopefully has not dematerialized off of Youtube like the apparition at the window.
I know they didn’t have digital camcorders in 1975, but I think I would be packing a Bell and Howell 8mm movie camera at work if I was seeing a ghost every day. Fournier brought in a succession of psychics, who “sensed” presences and cold spots, and a long tradition of ghost stories came roaring back to life at Stone’s Public House. Of course, believers will argue that Fournier refurbished the place after it had spent years in decline, so the ghosts were there all along but weren’t being noticed because nobody was going there.
For my part, I courageously returned with my pal to the eerie (actually quite pleasant) patio at Stone’s after the winter ended. I sat in the same wrought iron chair, and forcefully whacked it on the leg. Nothing. As hard as I tapped on it, the reverberation wasn’t there. I started wondering if even someone kicking the chair would make it buzz like it did before. Then, by chance, my friend tapped his knuckles against the leg of his chair. Very faintly I felt the reverberation in my own chair.
There was no mistaking it. I only felt it vibrate, just barely, when he knocked on his chair. We tried it several times. The brick floor was the answer. The bricks lay flush against one another and transferred kinetic energy, like the old kinetic pendulum ball novelties. Tapping on my own chair triggered nothing. But any impact that sent energy into the brickwork of that floor would be transferred to the iron legs of my chair. So, nothing had kicked my chair that day last fall, instead a very strong kinetic force had been transferred to the brick floor. It could have been someone dropping a beer keg in the kitchen, or a vehicle bumping the wall outside, or someone hammering on something in the basement.
I can’t account for the decades of other tales of the supernatural, but my own episode is now resolved. Which is a good feeling, because belief in ghosts has brought mostly misery into this world. How many millions of people through the ages spent their time living in dread of unseen evil spirits? Forget ages past, it is happening now.
The funny thing is, this pub shouldn’t need ghost stories to draw business. It’s a funky old place with good food and an atmosphere like nowhere else.
Stone’s Public House! It’s the place to go to get your kicks in Ashland, Mass!