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July 20, 2013

Have a spooky slumber party in Harpers Ferry

WASHINGTON — At the Town's Inn, in Harpers Ferry's Lower Town, I booked the one room with an en-suite bathroom. The trade-off: There was a possibility that I'd have to share my bed with a stranger.

My potential roommate was not from this world, which meant that she probably wouldn't hog the covers but just hover above them. Still, I hoped that she'd decide to visit a dead relative in another West Virginia town the night of my sleepover. I'd even pay her bus fare.

Lodgings with Tolstoyan histories (war, peace and love) often incorporate ghosts into their lore and decor, an interior design detail that complements the sepia-toned photos and heavy drapes. Yet the apparition in question wasn't some cuddly Casper that a pal of the mother of the housekeeper had seen one night after downing two glasses of sherry. This one had supposedly been spooking my room the morning of my stay, based on alleged sightings by paranormal experts (unfortunately not ghostbusters). While I was merrily driving to the historic stone inn built in 1840, the boo chasers were in my guest room, reportedly snapping photos of a female spirit and capturing audio of her saying, "Help me, Jeff."

Nervously settling into the Appalachian Room, I asked the co-manager and teller of the ghost story, "Who's Jeff?" He smiled and told me his name: Jeff.

And what did she need help with? I wondered. Perhaps her luggage or parking, both rational requests for a historic hotel with steep stairs and reserved spots near the train station. Or escaping a nightmarish incident from centuries ago that she was trying to communicate to the living? Lalalala - I can't hear you.

"Baby girl, you'll be fine," said Jeff, as he handed me the room key. "She's a nice ghost."

Then he went back to the kitchen to finish up dinner service at the restaurant downstairs, leaving me alone in my room. I looked around at the homey surroundings and furnishings inspired by Mrs. Stipes Boarding House, a museum in Harpers Ferry National Historical Park. The town, which sits at the confluence of the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers, is known for its surrounding natural beauty and prominent role in Civil War history.

The Heritage House contains three guest rooms; my nesting space was the only one with an attached bathroom. The Potomac and Shenandoah rooms have separate private bathrooms off the second-floor hallway. Robe-wrapped guests must wander outside their rooms to brush, rinse, floss and flush.

By comparison, my journey to the privy involved a few paces around the full-size bed - avoiding the mirror above the fireplace, where the team had supposedly photographed the ghostly image - and a step down a small ledge to the toilet, sink and slate-tile bath and shower.

The inn is semi-unplugged: No TVs, but the Internet connection is strong and the gather-'round recreational activities are plentiful. The third-floor parlor is a rumpus room filled with books and games. I also discovered a convivial scene at the restaurant, where every bump-in with an employee resulted in a friendly exchange and, in one case, an order for a generous pour of pinot grigio.

The restaurant's front porch seats a tight squeeze of two - one night, an adoring couple; the next morning, a pair of biking buddies in Spandex catsuits. Indoors, the room to the left provides more tables and chairs, plus the Sundry, Snack, and Supply Shoppe, a stocked commissary catering to Appalachian Trail hikers with ramen noodles, blister aids, protein bars and other mega-trekking essentials. Of course, even if you're only ascending a flight of stairs to your bed, you still might need a juice box and a cookie.

Guests, diners and after-work drinkers also convene in the spacious back yard, beneath the star-spangled sky. As I gulped down some courage, I chatted with employees about their haunting experiences. They told me that a specter would ring the doorbell and run (how second-grade) or move items around (how mother-in-lawish). A male ghost soldier would lock the Potomac guest-room door and prevent the key from working. So don't forget any important items in your room; you might not be able to retrieve them immediately.

Eventually, the staff clocked out and I had no choice but to retreat to my room. I curled up on the bed, wrapped in blankets and a comforter. I made a cup of tea and waited for my roomie to materialize.

Throughout the night, I heard footsteps and banging doors. When I peered down the hallway, however, it was vacant. As the sky started to brighten, I finally fell asleep, the nightstand lamp still burning.

In the morning, I flung open my door with the enthusiasm of a coed survivor in a horror film. I came face-to-face with the family across the way. I asked whether they'd heard the mysterious sounds.

"No," said the mother. Then she looked at the two little gremlins who required frequent late-night bathroom runs and added, "We're the ghosts."

         

 

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