How to Make a Ghost Happy

Highfield Hall

Is there a ghost in that second-story window?

Cape Cod is a land of pirates and witches, shipwrecks and heartaches. It’s a land of lost souls. Certain houses, built while the Revolutionary War thundered on or even during the Salem witch trials, hold their secrets almost as well as the New Englanders who inhabit them. They may not look like the haunted houses of nightmares and movies. They may even look quaint or charming. But take another look. The truth still manages to seep through, with every creaky floorboard and slamming door. It could be the wind or it could be howling of a much different nature.

The Beebe familyReports of levitation, strong odors, and sightings mingle with stories of exorcisms and the unnerving sound of footsteps echoing through the night. These mysteries cling to the Cape Cod air, becoming part of its mist and moaning foghorns. A local anthropology professor believes the type of atmosphere found here contributes to spiritual activity. The low pressure and damp air bring these energies out, making them easier to see. Vibrations and energies from lives lived long ago or spirits so strong that they cling to their old lives, unwilling or unable to move on.

Built in 1878, Highfield Hall in Falmouth was once owned by the Beebe family. Emily Beebe is said to have become so attached to the house that she never left. Several people claim to have seen her wandering near the second-floor windows. Many more have heard her footsteps and skirts rustling.

Her home was abandoned decades ago and fell into disrepair soon after. Eventually, it was threatened with demolition. A group of residents stopped the demolition and raised enough to renovate the historic building.

Highfield Hall before the renovations

Highfield Hall before the renovations

Before it was renovated, I walked through Highfield Hall in search of Emily’s spirit. The front door stood as open as a gaping wound and a constant flow of bone-chilling air poured out. The imprisoned air tasted of rotting wood and mold, and felt as if it hadn’t been inhaled for centuries. Ceilings dripped with fungus, graying wallpaper peeled and flaked like damaged skin, revealing the skeleton of the house hidden beneath. Windows and mirrors were broken. Some rooms were completely dark, even in the daytime, and stood as caves beckoning to anyone insane enough to enter. After stepping back out the door into the sunshine, the emptiness could still be felt.

Emily lived with her brothers most of her life, acting as hostess for parties held at Highfield. Those who claim her spirit lived on suggest the dilapidated condition of the house distressed her and she’s now pleased with the renovations. Cultural events and weddings are held there. The wood floors shine and reflect dancing shadows, calling back the past. It’s easy to imagine an orchestra playing in the ballroom amid swishing skirts and laughter. If Emily is still looking on, she must be smiling.

Highfield Hall ballroom

Highfield Hall after renovations

Do you believe in ghosts?

Sheila Hurst is the author of Ocean Echoes, an award-winning novel about a marine biologist who gives up on love to study jellyfish. A percentage from the sale of this book will go toward nonprofit organizations working to protect the world’s oceans for future generations.

65 thoughts on “How to Make a Ghost Happy

  1. I would love to spend the night in a ‘haunted’ house. The problem is, with my left-brain thinking, if anything sinister did happen, I’d explain it away and enjoy a nice, uneventful slumber. My cynicism combined with my denseness would no doubt exasperate the ghosts, and they’d give up all attempts at haunting me. 🙂

    This was beautifully written (as always!). So glad Emily’s stomping grounds have been renovated. They’re lovely.

    • Thanks Carrie! It was scary enough walking through the house back before it was renovated. I’m not so sure I’d ever be able to spend the night in a haunted house. I even started to get a little scared while walking through it after the renovations. I’m that much of a wimp when it comes to these things.

  2. Pingback: How to Make a Ghost Happy | ecophilosopher

  3. Spooooooky! I was thinking about visiting Cape Cod but you know what, I’m having second thoughts. Great article Sheila, felt like I was transported across the pond and back in time.
    Viva Massachusetts!

  4. Wow! What a renovation. If I was a ghost, I’d be happy too and stop haunting the place. Maybe you’ve figured out the key to ghosts–they don’t like run down buildings that should be beautiful.

    • That’s true – she could have been trying to tell everyone that it really should be a beautiful place! I hope she gets to dance around in the shiny ballroom because that’s much better than navigating through cobwebs and holes in the floor. It’s nice thinking that she could be looking on during weddings and parties, but maybe she’s moved on to a better place by now.

  5. That house looks great today! Glad to see they renovated it rather than tore it down. San Diego is supposed to have the most haunted house in the US (the Whaley house). I wouldn’t know because I’ve never been there. You have to pay to get a tour, so who’s to say the ghost moves aren’t just props. I’ve stayed in spooky homes and huge castles and never ran into a ghost. I usually don’t believe in something I haven’t seen, but if I see a ghost one day, I may change my mind!

    • They were really close to tearing it down, but then it became a success story showing what people can do when they pull together for a cause. I can’t believe you were able to stay in a spooky home or castle! I definitely would have been having nightmares. I did feel something in that house but I don’t think I’ve seen a ghost either – except maybe in those nightmares! 🙂

      • The castle was one of the best experiences in my life! I followed the French family I baby sat for a week in a friend’s family castle built in the 13th century in the South of France. A few rooms were updated by most of the castle was left untouched. Giant tapestries hanging on the walls, original artifacts, family crests, etc. And of course, a great view since all castles were built on top of the highest hill. Very cool.

      • Wow – I can’t believe you were able to sleep at all! That does sound like a lot of fun though…in the daytime. 🙂

    • Thank you! We’ve got lots of history here. Let me know what kinds of things you’d like to see and I’ll send you some info.

  6. I love the title of your post, Sheila! It’s so great that this house was renovated and that you were able to see it in its pre-renovated state as well. Ghosts – who knows? Energy never disappears, right?

    • Thank you – and that’s true – energy is only borrowed after all. After walking through that house, I’m pretty sure I believe. 🙂

  7. Very interesting, Sheila, and I would love to check off Cape Cod from my bucket list someday. I’m not sure if I believe in ghosts, but who am I to say they don’t exist? One night, years ago, my hubby and I were watching t.v. in our family room, downstairs, and we heard what sounded like footsteps coming downstairs. His Mom died soon after we told her I was pregnant with her first grandchild and this happened after our daughter was born. She was sleeping in her crib upstairs. It didn’t spook us, but we thought of Diane and wondered if it was her, checking on her granddaughter she didn’t get to meet and then coming down to bid us farewell. Wonderful post, loved the photos and what a gorgeous house! xx

    • That’s such a nice story. It must have been her. I’m so glad she was able to see her granddaughter. I do think our family members stay with us in that way and hopefully guide and help us here and there. When you come to Cape Cod, be sure to let me know!

    • Thanks so much – and make sure to be on the lookout for those ghosts – you never know when they might appear! xo

  8. I’ve been to Cape Cod once and I felt that felt energy there. It sure is a great place for a ghost story. The renovation is just beautiful. I imagine Emily is happy now. I just visited a place, too, that is supposed to be haunted and is supposed to be renovated. It was quite a wreck when I saw it and has a long history. Oh yes, I believe a ghost could be living there. Cool post! I love the pictures.

    • Thank you! All the fog around here probably makes those ghosts happy. It’s funny how that energy can really be felt in some houses. I couldn’t believe the difference from when it was such a wreck to after it was renovated, but even afterwards I could still feel something there. Haunted houses are fun – as long as you don’t have to stay in them for too long!

  9. Hi Sheila, I’m glad I’m not reading this on a stormy night!!! While I say I don’t believe in ghosts, I think I probably do.
    The renovation is absolutely wonderful and it’s great that the locals didn’t let the house be demolished.

    • Hahah! I’m never all that sure if I believe either, but I lean toward believing. Ireland must have some great ghosts wandering around there. We have the same kind of weather here with the mist and the fog and they do seem to like that – or maybe it’s just easier to imagine them in that kind of weather.

  10. Hi Sheila ,

    Great to be back here after a while.

    Reading your post somehow transported me to that famous Disney World ride through the haunted mansion. When , beyond the creaking floorboards and spooks enjoying a dinner party, one suddenly finds a grinning ghoul sitting beside you in the car!

    ” When the crypt goes creak,
    And the tombstones quake.
    Spooks come out for a swinging wake.
    Happy haunts materialize,
    And begin to vocalize……”


    • Hi Shakti! I forgot about that ride. That was a lot of fun when the ghost suddenly appeared there. Love those lyrics – now I’m really in the mood for Halloween! Thanks for visiting and making me smile.

  11. Hi Sheila, I love your posts. You have such a gift with words. I’ve always loved old houses, from the amazing architecture to the promise of hidden secrets. Not sure I’d hang out there alone at night, but still very fascinating!

    • Thanks so much Jen! That’s really nice of you. It was scary enough during the day, so I can’t even imagine going there at night! It did feel like there were secrets behind every door and if I opened one of them, something might just jump out. Hope you guys have a fun Halloween. Love and miss you!

  12. Awesome! I grew up in a house that was “haunted” by ghosts. They were friendly and only flitted around, but we could smell perfume and cigars and hear a child coughing, mild things like that. My mother has seen the apparitions floating through rooms, and I occasionally felt someone near me. The house was part of the Underground Railroad system during the Civil War, but I don’t know if the ghosts are connected to that era or later. Someone did die in the house in the mid 1900s, so who knows.

    I have never heard of that house in Falmouth. But it certainly looks lovely and I think the story is fascinating. You wrote it beautifully, Sheila. Any more ghost stories up your sleeve?

    • I guess you never know when those ghosts might appear so I might try to come up with a few more. 🙂 That’s great that you lived in a haunted house! I don’t think I’d be able to sleep in one though. I’d feel like they were watching me. It must have been nice to grow up surrounded by all that history, just for the chance to imagine it.

    • Thank you – that’s really nice of you. It’s funny – I don’t usually read ghost novels because I wouldn’t be able to sleep afterwards or if I did get to sleep, I’d probably have nightmares. I loved The Shining though, so there’s always Dr. Sleep to move on to now.

  13. Terribly entertainment and, like my grandma would say “Patica pa’que te quiero!” [Legs, why do I want you, run!] Grand post! Ghosts don’t scare me since my house [cross my heart] is haunted ! I guess, they must find my home inviting ? LOVE your blog! Hope you’re well and happy and in much more peace dear~ Blessings Debbie

    • I’m glad the ghosts don’t scare you then! Maybe they’re even helping you with your writing. Sometimes it feels that way, like the words are coming from someplace else. Thank you so much, and of course I love your poems. Peace and love to you!

  14. I’ve had a few experiences that keep my mind open to the possibility that “there are more things in heaven and earth” than we know. What an amazing restoration to that house. I would think that would make Emily want to stay, not leave! I really want to do some kind of Halloween post, but the ideas just aren’t working. I still have a little time, but my hat’s off to those of you who come up with perfectly themed posts!

    • Thanks JM! How about something on that ghost tour? Those Williamsburg pictures can look pretty spooky. Lots of interesting and creepy history there. Friends of mine have seen spirits so I believe it’s possible too. My cousins lived in a haunted house and once we saw a rocking chair start rocking violently (not the kind of rocking that’s caused by the wind). So the more I think about it, the more I believe. Thinking that way made walking through that house even scarier though!

  15. Oh how I love ghosts and haunted houses! Of course, I believe in ghosts. I have friends, perfectly sane and intelligent people with good jobs (;o), who have seen ghosts. Of course, they come from cultures that accept the fact that ghosts exist, so it’s OK to admit to seeing them without being sent to the funny farm. Although, I come from a culture that poo-poos any mention of the “other world,” and I had a ghostly experience shortly after my mother’s death. So, who am I to say they do or don’t exist? I’ll just let myself be carried along this river of existence, knowing that if wormholes exist in theory, so can ghosts.

    • Friends of mine have seen them too and I believe them. I might have even seen my grandparents after they died but I don’t know if it was real or a dream. In a way, it’s nice to feel like the spirits of those we love are still with us. That’s true that all kinds of strange things exist in theory or reality so ghosts might as well. As long as they’re friendly ghosts. 🙂

  16. Love a good ghost story and yes I do believe in ghosts ever since I had a close encounter with a friendly lady of the house at the B&B I stayed at:) Happy Weekend!

  17. How lucky we’re you to visit before the renovation! The summer before last, my son played violin in the pit orchestra for The College Light Opera Company, which is right next door to Highfield. My husband and I toured that building before a performance one day but unfortunately, we did not see Emily. I wonder if she attends the opera during the summer? I absolutely believe in ghosts!

    • That’s funny – I probably heard your son play then! I love going to that theater on summer nights. I hope Emily gets to enjoy those performances too. If she can, then she must be a really happy ghost.

    • Thank you! The whole thing was strange because I wanted to see her, but at the same time I really didn’t want to see her. If she had appeared, I’m sure I would have run away screaming. It felt scary enough just being there.

  18. This is the type of place my husband and I would definitely visit. We believe in ghosts and love to go on ghost walks, ghost tours, even ghost hunts. We’ve never seen anything, but we did hear something once at Waverly Hills Sanitorium in Kentucky.

    • That sounds like a really spooky place (and not the kind of place I’d want to hear something at)! I’ve just been on the ghost tour in Colonial Williamsburg – that was a great one with all the old streets and houses.

    • Yes – the happier the better! I felt that chill at this place but maybe that’s just because I was thinking about ghosts. 🙂

  19. Being over 350 years old, my house has a few generations of “spirits”. However, they are all very welcoming and I try to repay their kindness by caring for their maison. The previous owners had left some very large photos beautifully framed. The ex son-in-law didn’t want them nor did the grandson. I realise that a number of the people in the village would love to have them but not being a royal, I don’t think King Solomon’s solution would work. 🙂 They are displayed throughout the house as they would have been.
    My personal favourite is one with a group of young men, obviously a soccer club or something, relaxing in front of a building and must be at least a century old.

    • I love those old photos too. They can really give you a feel for the time. It sounds like the photos belong there and the ghosts might not be happy if the people in the village had them instead. 🙂 It must be fun to live with happy spirits. That’s great that you’re able to keep them happy!

  20. I think ghosts and spirits are completely possible. It makes life so much more interesting if you admit the possibility into your reality. 🙂

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