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.