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Mark C. N. Sullivan is an editor at a Massachusetts university. He is married and the father of three children.

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Irish Elk
Friday, August 29, 2003  

As the Yankees come to town for a key late-season matchup, pennant hopes on the line, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist David Halberstam reports on the State of Red Sox Nation:

It's a condition, being a Red Sox fan, not a cult, nor a religious affiliation, although there are on occasion certain religious experiences. (Think Yaz in '67, and Fisk in the World Series in '75.) Most Americans are relatively indifferent to the past, believing that America is so powerful that history does not matter, that our nation is so strong and energetic, that we can mold the present to our needs, despite the burdens of the past. Not Red Sox fans: They know the past matters, and they know as well that you are, more than you realize, a prisoner of it. In a country where there has been an amazing run of material affluence for almost 60 years with the expectation built into the larger culture that things are supposed to get better every year, citizens of RSN know better. They know that things do not always get better. They know that the guys in the white hats do not always win in the last five minutes of the movie. They know the guys in the black hats have plenty of last-minute tricks, and that they can pick up just the right player off the waiver list in the waning days of a season (think Johnny Mize, 1949).

The Red Sox fan knows that the fates can be cruel. Never mind the Babe. Just think a mere 31 years ago -- why it was like yesterday: Sparky Lyle for Danny Cater. A 27-year-old
lefthanded reliever, who had pitched in 184 games in the previous three years, and had saved 16 that year (and would save a league-leading 35 the next year) for a 32-year-old first baseman with up to then 52 career home runs. Oh dear.

Ghosts in general are being discussed at Mark Shea's, with Rod Dreher offering an eerie account of a family poltergeist. Wandering souls from Purgatory, or something more sinister? (Via Fr Jas Tucker)

For a Halloween article a few years back I collected ghost stories from staffers of the reportedly haunted tavern in Lowell, Mass.:

Lights flicked on by unseen hands, disembodied voices and even specters in the dining room are among the eerie occurrences reported at the hundred-year-old landmark at 98 Middle St. Earlier this century it housed an annex to the old Pollard's Department Store.

Smithwicks bartender Peter Jamros recalls being alone on closing detail late one night when the large-screen TV in the bar inexplicably turned on by itself.

"I put the key in the lock and sprinted out of there," said Jamros, a Chelmsford resident. "I've been here by myself Sunday nights and gone running out of here."

Echoed tavern owner Tim Stone of Lowell: "When we work by ourselves, we get out of here pretty quick. When you're here by yourself, the building talks. Your mind runs wild, and you see things over your shoulder."

Legend has it a worker at the old dry-goods emporium fell to his death down an elevator shaft in the four-story building. Another undocumented story tells of a long-ago love triangle that resulted in a murder-suicide on the premises.

"A lot of strange things have been reported over the years, along the five levels of what used to be the elevator shaft," Stone said. "Mostly power surges - things going on and off."

A vestige of the shaft serves as an enclosure for a barroom pinball machine, illuminated by a hanging light that Jamros said has been known to go on without anyone touching it.

The bartender said a cleaning man who worked at the tavern two years ago reported feeling an icy cold breath on his shoulder whenever he entered the old shaft.

"He wouldn't go near it," Jamros said.

As bartender Jamros tells it, a former partner in the Smithwicks business was alone in the basement office counting receipts late one night three years ago when he heard the sound of a man and woman arguing upstairs in the kitchen. As he climbed the stairs to the kitchen to investigate, the noise stopped.

"He found no one there," Jamros said. "But when he went back downstairs, the noise of the argument picked up again. And there was no one in the place."

Leave the last story to current owner Stone.

Arriving to open the tavern one morning about three years ago, he says, he found on a table an open bottle of Courvoisier, two snifters filled almost to overflowing with the imported cognac, and an ashtray with two cigarettes that had burned, unsmoked, down to the filter.

A query of the manager on duty the evening before revealed no late-night patrons had visited the tavern after closing.

A rendezvous between doomed lovers from the spirit world?

"It's just one of those things you can't explain," Stone said.

And from an inn in Groton, Mass., that dates to 1678:

"Many people have seen many things," says George Pergantis, a Greek immigrant who has owned the property since 1977. "The lights go off. A waitress said she heard her name called over and over. I'm from the old country - I don't believe these things."

But staff and guests alike claim to have experienced the supernatural at the Stagecoach Inn.

The ghost of a Colonial soldier has been seen at least twice, according to longtime resident manager Gloria Lammi. In one sighting, a workman who was staying at the inn during a 1990 remodeling said he awoke during the night to see the phantom patriot sitting at the foot of his bed.

"When asked who he was," Lammi said, "the soldier didn't say anything, but just tipped his hat."

She said the resident spirits can be quite boisterous in making their presence felt. Beds have been found unmade and toilets have been heard to flush in rooms in which no one has been staying; paper towels and potpourri have been found strewn all over the floor of a restroom near the front desk, and water glasses from set tables in the dining room have turned up on the floor or even stacked in a pyramid.

One cook is said to have been scared off by a kitchen poltergeist who turned off the lights and the oven, turned on a water tap, and left the floor strewn with plastic wrap. "She went running out, hysterical," said Lammi. "She phoned to say she wouldn't come back in the building."

Tales abound over the circumstances that led the Groton inn to be haunted. Lammi has heard a story of a Colonial soldier killed in the war, whose wife, stunned at news of her widowhood, dropped her child to its death, then took her own life. Waitresses reportedly have seen a woman and a small girl in the dining room shadows.

Believe in ghosts? How can one not in New England?


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