You stand in the jail cell, lights out, gripping your friend’s arm, unsure whether it would be good to encounter one of the ghosts being described.
On the one hand, why else did you come here? But on the other… maybe you’ve heard too many stories tonight about being followed home.
Well, I think it’s safe to say there are many more reasons to go on the Barnstable Ghost Tour than to see a ghost.
Started in 2005 by its president Derek Bartlett, the Cape and Islands Paranormal Research Society (CAIPRS) offers tours, conducts research locally on paranormal incidents, and tries to find answers for seemingly unanswerable questions.
Bartlett began ghost hunting in 2000 because of a photograph he took that he couldn’t explain. He founded CAIPRS in 2005 when that year he changed his annual lecture at the Sturgis Library on the paranormal to a compilation of “Known Haunted Locations of Barnstable.”
To research, Bartlett and his team asked around about ghost stories and rumors—they spoke to locals, read about the folklore. Then, they looked into buildings’ histories, going to the historical society, libraries, and property records. They take anything connected to the stories they’ve heard and dig deeper to look for evidence.
Upon my tour experience last Spring, the amount of research put into these stories stood out to me the most. Bartlett said, “Of course, you can’t have a good ghost story without some great history,” which becomes perfectly clear throughout the tour.
I don’t think I’ve retained more from any history lecture than from what I know listening to the stories on the Barnstable Ghost Tour, and that wasn’t even talking about gory wars or scandalous monarchies. It was local history in boring Barnstable where there’s nothing to do. Yet I vividly recall what I heard on the tour I went on at age four.
Some may question the accuracy of this so-called history. But Bartlett prides the Society on its authenticity; they even have a Resident Skeptic on the CAIPRS staff.
Bartlett explained the job as someone who doesn’t believe in ghosts but is open to the possibility, and looks for all the non-paranormal possibilities to explain questionable events. This allows the society to confirm that something isn’t mundane as they follow up by ruling out all of a skeptic’s reasoning.
Even Bartlett himself said he has “a great dose of skepticism,” which he proves on tours. He’ll say if a story is questionable, and tell you when something doesn’t really have evidence, or emphasize when it does.
Having been on ghost tours in Seattle, Key West, and Edinburgh, the accuracy and research by the CAIPRS team is what makes Barnstable’s tour special.
Ultimately, the tour is a chance to be told a story, and the history makes it real, while the paranormal keeps it interesting. History class with an edge—not just so you’re engaged, but scared, your adrenaline spiked (if you’re lucky).
Going on the tour at age four and 15, I actually don’t think I was any more afraid the first time. However, I did skip the scariest spot: the old jail. The colonial site still stands today, and I couldn’t even go near it on the outside in daylight to take pictures without getting spooked.
Inside, the tour guide shuts the light off to tell stories, and offers the chance to walk to the back cell, where it’s most common to see two figures standing around you.
While in the jail, many people have said their necklaces have been toyed with, a little boy has tugged on pants pockets, something crawled across the floor and touched their feet, and women have described tall shadowy figures playing with and sniffing their hair.
But Bartlett doesn’t believe these are former inmates (which may have relieved me a little on the tour). Instead he thinks they’re spirits that have gravitated to the spot since people come there looking for ghosts.
Eleven Ghost House
The stop on the Barnstable Ghost Tour with the most history is The Barnstable House, at 3010 Main St, Barnstable. Also known as the “House of Eleven Ghosts,” this is spot was constructed in 1716 and has tale after tale to altogether bring the total known spirits in residence to 11.
According to Bartlett, the house was first owned by the Paine family (their grandson being Thomas Paine) when it was built.
After them, Edmund Hawes lived there during the American Revolution. Hawes killed himself up the street after losing his family’s money. Many have described seeing a tall man with a white shirt and black hair in and around the house, believed to be Hawes.
In the early 1800s, a Dr. Samuel Savage owned the house. There, he and his wife had nine children, only one of which lived past 20. Rumors that Bartlett has heard and read say Savage dabbled in the dark arts. (Finally someone other than a young woman is accused of witchcraft in Massachusetts.)
Bartlett admits he doesn’t know if the rumors are true, but if so, he and his team believe he’s the reason the building so haunted.
After the Savages moved out, in moved Captain Grey, who was quite ordinary in comparison, although after his death in the house, many have said they’ve seen him in the building followed by a servant.
Another one of the more famous ghosts is a little girl named Lucy with “brown hair and a mischievous look on her face.” Rumor has it she was playing hide-and-go-seek with her mother when she either drowned in a well or suffocated in a traveler’s trunk.
Although many have said they’ve encountered Lucy in the house, Bartlett said, “I’ve looked for the research and I cannot come up with any child dying in or even drowning underneath the house, because there’s a river that runs beneath it, or by suffocation, and I couldn’t even come up with a little girl named Lucy ever living in the building.
For years, the house remained residential, with countless accounts of odd activity from tenants, until it was made into a restaurant in 1950.
Employees and patrons also described many odd incidents, such as tablecloths being pulled off tables, chairs being tipped over, seeing Lucy, silverware being thrown from spots where no one was standing, and getting punched, kicked, pushed, and shoved, all according to actual stories Bartlett has collected from previous employees.
Most notably, in the 1970s, the Barnstable Fire Department received a call from the restaurant in December. When they pulled up, they saw a woman waving at them in the windows. They proceeded to search the entire property and house but they found no one there. Bartlett says this story can be found in the newspapers when it occurred.
In 1980, the restaurant became office space, as it remains today. Bartlett said since then, inhabitants have continued to witness things out of the ordinary, “from hearing footsteps to items flying across the table by unseen hands, doors slamming, seeing figures in the window, and that’s actually what continues to happen today, just odd occurrences.”
Bartlett’s Personal Experience
Bartlett has his own story from the House of Eleven Ghosts. He and a team of four went to investigate the house, and they got off to an eerie start when none of their equipment would turn on.
“We resorted back to old ghost hunting techniques; our own eyes, ears, pads, paper, pens,” said Bartlett. He then split the team up throughout the house in pairs and went to the break room (the house is now office space) alone.
Frustrated to be in such an important investigation with nothing to record, Bartlett shut the two doors to the room and turned off the lights. He then put his head down on a pad of paper and tried to think of a new action plan.
Then, he heard a click. He turned his head but it was too dark to see anything, so he looked to the other door to see it opening, illuminated by the red exit light filtering in from the hallway.
Bartlett closed his eyes and heard a bang as both doors hit their door stops, flying open. He said, “What comes into that room to this day I still never know what it looks like, never know what it was, I never open up my eyes, but the sensation I got was pure negative energy, some people call it evil, because as I sat there with my eyes tightly closed, every negative emotion I’d had from childhood to that day flooded through my body, and that such as you know, fear, anger, sadness, revenge, jealousy, in that—I wanna say about five to ten seconds.”
For the only time in 18 years, Bartlett left an investigation. He spent the rest of the night in his car while his team remained in the house.
No one else saw anything paranormal in the house that night.
But in the weeks to follow, Bartlett saw dark, shadowy figures on a regular basis. He said they don’t show up on tours or in those situations, but when he’s at home or driving.
He said some people call him crazy, but when these figures show up and he’s not alone, others see them, too.
Now, to me, what was really shocking was how this didn’t stop him. If things started following me home from paranormal investigations, I would stop investigating. I would not tempt these dead people to stick around. But Bartlett persists today, even as he continues to be shadowed by paranormal beings.
He said, “When I do my investigations, it’s more to give the people looking for answers their answers.”