October is here. The clam shacks and ice cream shops close for the season. The soft, endless summer days are replaced by cool air and dark skies in the late afternoon. Fireplaces send billows of wood smoke up chimneys, and dried leaves crunch underfoot. It’s the time when tales of haunted Cape Cod are whispered across campfires and porches.
History Sets the Stage for Tales of Haunted Cape Cod
Although Plymouth and its famous rock get a lot of attention, it was Provincetown at the tip of Cape Cod where the Pilgrims first landed in 1620. Bartholomew Gosnold, an English explorer, named the area in 1602 after a successful fishing trip yielded “a great store of codfish.” Cape Cod is one of the oldest regions in the United States. So much of what contributes to the charm of Cape Cod is its past– antique sea captain’s homes nestled in quaint villages and pre-revolutionary cemeteries with headstones perched at angles listing names like Jedediah, Prudence, Phineas, and Comfort.
These images, combined with Cape Cod’s complex history incorporating indigenous peoples, puritans, and sailors, set the stage for the many tales of haunted Cape Cod. These are groups known for their rich oral traditions. Stories have always been the best way to explain mysteries, offer cautionary tales, and provide entertainment. For hundreds of years, there have been tales of haunted Cape Cod that draw upon the stories of those who lived, worked, and raised families here.
The Dillingham House, Sandwich
Like many haunted tales of Cape Cod, the story of Sandwich’s Dillingham House is intertwined with tragedy. According to the legend, in 1813, Branch Dillingham died by suicide, leaving his wife Ruth and nine children behind. A few weeks later, Ruth died, orphaning the children. Visitors claim to hear the children’s voices and footsteps in the house. Door latches are said to open on their own, and rocking chairs rock away, empty. There are police reports on file detailing the disturbances, most of which occur during October.
The Barnstable House
A 10-year-old girl, Lucy, is said to haunt this historic home. During colonial times, houses were built near water sources. Young Lucy is said to have been playing with her blue ball when it rolled into a spring adjacent to her home. When she tried to retrieve the ball, she fell into the spring and drowned. Lucy’s grief-stricken mother never believed she was gone and is said to have waited in her rocking chair for Lucy to return. She remains in her chair to this day. If you visit The Barnstable House, you may see the empty rocking chair in the “blue room” rocking back and forth on its own. Others have caught a glimpse of Lucy herself, wandering the property or chasing after her blue ball.
This haunted tale of Cape Cod has several chapters. Edmund Hawes, a former owner of The Barnstable House, distraught after losing his fortune, hanged himself from a nearby tree. His spirit is still felt around the property, and he is said to be watching the house from the trees.
In the 1970s, a fire consumed The Barnstable House. Firefighters raced to rescue a woman named Martha, trapped on the third floor. When they arrived to save her, she had disappeared in the smoke, leaving no trace. Many have claimed to see glimpses of her flowing white gown and high collar trailing through the halls of the home.
The Old Yarmouth Inn and Tavern
Established in 1696, the Old Yarmouth Inn and Tavern is the oldest operating inn in the United States. Before the Civil War, the inn and several others on the Cape were stops on the Underground Railroad, providing sanctuary and a place to hide for those fleeing slavery. Over the years, several guests have described detailed interactions and sightings of apparitions.
One male guest woke to the sensation of a foot massage by unseen hands. He was so jarred by the experience that he raced to the front porch, where he stayed until the sun came up. Another guest awoke to find a man “with full cheeks and jowls” dressed in 19th-century clothing standing at the foot of his bed. The man appeared to be disgruntled that another was asleep in his room.
Guests and staff at the Inn claim to hear voices whispering to them and see kitchen appliances operate independently. There are also said to be gusts of cold and hot air appearing from no known source, and bartenders at the inn must hold glasses while they pour to prevent them from shaking.
The Roland Kelley House, Dennis
The beautiful Victorian home at 480 Main Street in Dennis is said to be haunted by its former owner, Captain Rowland Kelley. Residents have long reported door knobs rattling and the sound of footsteps on the stairs. True believers in the occult often claim that ghosts choose to reveal themselves first to children. At the Roland Kelley House, a young resident reported seeing a man standing at the edge of her bed. His gaze was fixed on her, but she could see right through him. His image was transparent.
The Captain Linnell House, Brewster
Sea Captain Ebeneezer Linnell was thrown against the spokes of his ship’s wheel during a deadly storm. The spoke punctured his lungs, killing him, and his crew buried him at sea. His first mate sent a letter to his widow, Rebecca.
She was so devastated she is said to have waited sixty years in the cupola of the home that Captain Linnell had built for her, clutching the letter and waiting for his return. She never remarried. Guests visiting the Captain Linnell House claim to see her figure still in the cupola, waiting for her lost love to return from the sea.
The Orleans Waterfront Inn, Orleans
This tale of haunted Cape Cod was featured on the Sy Fy Channel’s Ghost Hunters. The show’s producers’ research confirmed evidence that unexplained voices and shadows are heard and seen in empty rooms. Three restless souls are said to wander the halls of The Orlean’s Waterfront Inn. The first is Hannah, a prostitute who lived at the Inn when it was a brothel in the 1920s and was reportedly murdered one evening. Joining Hanna are the ghosts of Fred, a former bartender who hanged himself in the cupola of the Inn in the 1950s, and Paul, a dishwasher who died by suicide in the Inn’s basement. A motorist reported seeing a naked woman dancing in front of a window on the Inn’s fifth floor, but the fifth floor was empty. Others have claimed to feel a blast of cold air come from nowhere, doors opening on their own, and candles being lit with no one in sight.
More Tales of Haunted Cape Cod
For those interested in digging a little deeper and learning more about the genesis of these and other tales of haunted Cape Cod, Mark Jasper has written the book Haunted Cape Cod and the Islands. Read the book, and spend the day visiting these storied old homes and inns. You may wish to take Cape Cod’s Haunted History Tour in Barnstable to learn more about haunted Cape Cod.