Room No. 9

Talk of the Walk - Summer 2012

When I showed up at the Buxton to book a room, one of the inn’s proprietors, Audrey Orr, had a question for me: “Would you like a room in which you are more likely to get a ‘visit?’” Well, yes, I told her. That’s why I was there, after all. The Orrs (Audrey and her husband Orville) are selling the historically haunted inn in Granville after running it for more than 40 years, and I wanted to stay there before it sells and becomes, well, who knows?

“Put her in 9,” Orr told the woman working the front desk.

Room No. 9. It’s said to be one of the most haunted spots at the Buxton, and the visitor I was expecting was the spirit of Ethel “Bonnie” Bounell, the inn’s owner from 1934 to 1960. The room was once Bonnie’s apartment, and she, of course, died there. (Isn’t that always the way with ghost stories?)

Audrey herself has had only one encounter with a ghost. It was the 1970s. The Orrs recently had purchased the inn, which had been a stagecoach stop in the early 1800s. Audrey was painting in the main building. In her peripheral vision, she says, she saw a man. But when she turned, the man was gone. When she went back to her painting, sure enough, there he was again. Audrey spoke: “I don’t know what’s going on here. But it’s scaring me.” And that was that. Nothing has bothered her since.

Orville, on the other hand, has had many sightings, and admits that he’d seen spirits long before the couple bought the inn. “It’s not something I asked for,” he says. He’s seen the man who haunts the first floor, who is said to be Major Buxton, the owner of the inn from 1865 to 1902. Orville’s seen Bonnie, too. And he’s felt the presence of her cat, a spirit many guests have reported jumping onto their beds, purring in their ears, or dashing between their legs. Orville just lets the spirits do their thing. Wander around. Walk the balconies after hours. Check on the guests. “They’re not bothering anybody,” he says. To Orville, it’s a matter of respect. The way he sees it, we’re all spirits, aren’t we? That’s why the Orrs have never knowingly allowed professional ghost hunters to do a full inspection of the inn. “They just try to stir them up,” he says, and Orville sees no reason for stirring.

When I arrive in Room No. 9, I don’t either. In fact, I’ve changed my mind and have little interest in spending the night in Bonnie’s room, even though a psychic once told Audrey that Bonnie is lending good energy to the place. Really, the only stories the Orrs tell about Bonnie being at all aggressive are still lighthearted. A cook once made disparaging comments about her, so she showed up in his bed—and kicked him. A contractor, who was working on the renovations in the ’70s, claims he was shoved by Bonnie after scoffing at the whole ghost idea. Orville lets out a “serves-them-right” giggle, because to him, Bonnie, who in life was a beautiful, lively, light opera star, is just giving the nonbelievers and the disrespectful a hard time. To tell the truth, Bonnie actually sounds like my kind of gal. If I’m just honest with her, I thought as I settled in for the night, maybe she’ll leave me be, just like Major Buxton left Audrey alone after she expressed fear. “Just so you know,” I said aloud to the room, “I don’t really want a visit.”

I pushed all the lace curtains back, and was relieved to see a present-day Granville going on outside the room with the creaky doors and antique mirrors. Still, the butterflies in my stomach just would not quit. At home, I might have reached for the remote and popped on a murder mystery. But dead people didn’t seem like the way to go here. Ghost hunting shows like A Haunting and Paranormal State were definitely out. What I needed was something mindless. And the Housewives of New Jersey fit the bill. My plan was to watch that show like a hawk, never taking my eyes off the screen to glance in a mirror, or to see who might be sitting in the chair across from my bed. Even if Bonnie stopped by, she would take one look at the housewives and figure she had better things to do, like go hang out with Major Buxton in the tavern.

I eventually fell asleep, but when I woke at 4 a.m. my fears kept me awake for good. I listened to an infomercial for Bosley’s Hair Restoration (It grows just like real hair!). Then the Food Lovers Fat Loss Solution (You can drink wine! You can eat chocolate!). Finally the sun began to rise.

When I headed back to the Buxton the next day, Orville, Audrey, and I sat in the upstairs dining room and told ghost stories. Orville kept glancing around the room, and I couldn’t help but wonder if he saw things that I didn’t. He told me that sometimes he can feel the spirits on his skin.

“Like goose bumps?” I asked.

Turns out that’s a telltale sign that you’re in the presence of something otherworldy—and my skin was crawling.

Published June 2012