Stone’s Public House

Ashland, Massachusetts

Something crashes in the dead of night, a plate or glass leaving its cupboard, aided by an unseen hand. It is that same hand, perhaps, that catches the neck of the unwary, squeezing in forceful rebuke. Doors unlatch and swing wide before slamming shut as if someone were angrily walking through the room. And from the street the sounds are heard. Passers-by might think it just the late night staff cleaning the restaurant after a long bad day by the lights that flip on and off from room to room, but they would be wrong. The staff left hours ago, and there is no one left inside. At least, no one living.

Massachusetts is well known for the darker regions of its past. When people think of hauntings in the state, it is usually Salem that comes to mind. However, there are other places whose histories are just as dark. Old restaurants are fun places at which to eat, especially those preserved with loving care. Still, in the lives of those buildings, it is difficult to avoid tragedy. Though the reasons behind such tragedies are varied, their results are the same. Souls that are restless, lives cut short or the remnants of a guilty conscience, remain within the walls, doomed to walk the hallways until retribution or release, which may never come. Such is the case with Stone’s Public House in Ashland.

John Stone was a giant of a man. The rough-hewn farmer had quite the reputation, not only for his experiences as a captain of the militia but also as a savvy businessman. He realized early on that land was the key to a man’s success and bought up most of the area in the middle of Unionville, which became Ashland. His instincts paid off, as in the 1830’s he discovered that a railroad was to be built right through the center of town and his land. Sensing money to be made, the shrewd businessman built a hotel right alongside the tracks.

The “Railway House,” as it was then called, was an instant success, opening to a crowd of 300 people on September 20, 1834. Anyone who traveled the railway stayed at the hotel, engaging in card games, the finest food Stone could provide, and other diversions. It was so successful, in fact, that Stone only ran the place for two years, after which he continued to live on the property and leased his house to a long string of innkeepers. John Stone died in 1858, a wealthy man.

It was during the tenure of one of these innkeepers that tragedy of the worst kind befell the house. Ten-year-old Mary J. Smith was playing near the tracks when the train rolled into town. Horrified patrons of the inn witnessed the horror of her body struck by the train and rushed to help her. Though a doctor was called, he did not arrive in time. On June 11, 1862, the little girl died of her injuries.

Nearly thirty years later another death marked the building, this one less horrific than the last. A local fellow named Bert Phillips loved the inn and its relaxed atmosphere. He would spend many evenings drinking himself into a stupor in the bar downstairs and, according to legend, often refused to leave. He got his wish in 1890, when he died in his favorite inn.

Over the next few decades the inn’s reputation changed. It was no longer a place for the weary traveler, but a place for the railway workers to spend their paychecks on all sorts of excesses. The building’s face began to mirror the business dealings inside, falling into disrepair. It seemed for a while that Stone’s inn would be allowed to deteriorate into the ground.

In 1976 Leonard “Cappy” Fournier recognized the historical importance of the old inn and bought it. He spent the next several years restoring it to its former glory. However, when renovations began, Fournier began to notice strange goings-on in his new purchase. Doors would unlatch and swing open while lights began to turn themselves on and off, despite the addition of new wiring and expert craftsmanship on the doors. He did not discuss the strange phenomena at first, thinking the events to be his imagination. However, three years after purchasing Stone’s Public House, he could take no more and began to tell others of what was happening.

There are many ghosts that haunt the old inn, the most famous of which is also the most shocking. The upstairs function room long had a history of negative feelings, and with a bit of research, Fournier discovered the room was the scene to a card game between a New York salesman named Mike McPherson and John Stone, among others. McPherson, it seems, was the big winner of the evening, which led Stone to believe he’d cheated. He ordered several servants up to McPherson’s room, telling them to club him over the head, take his money, and drag the body out back. It is unclear whether or not the gambler’s death was intentional, but he died nonetheless. Still, it is not McPherson who roams the halls but Stone himself along with a maid named Sadie, Sam Thompson the cook, and a bartender named Will. According to psychics who have investigated the place, the four are bound in remorse for their heinous act and continue to walk the hallways, waiting for absolution that will never come. Stone has been blamed not only for crashing dishes and plates but also for roughly grabbing unsuspecting people by the back of the neck and dragging them toward the door. Some even swear they can feel the eyes of John Stone’s portrait, which hangs on the wall, staring at them.

Mary Smith, the girl killed by the train, has been seen over the years staring out the kitchen window toward the train tracks. Some question the veracity of the story, thinking it to be merely a colorful legend. However, those doubts are quickly quelled by a trip up the stairs to the attic, wherein lies a bloodstained dress that is of the correct size for a ten-year-old girl.

The other patron that refuses to leave is that of Burt Phillips, whom the employees characterize as a fun-loving prankster. He’s often blamed for water taps that won’t turn off or that turn themselves on. He also is notorious for tapping unsuspecting patrons on the shoulder. Of course, when they turn, they find no one behind them.

Present Day:
Stone’s Public House is a thriving business that boasts excellent food and hospitality. The four-story structure has been extensively renovated and preserved, giving patrons the feeling that they may have stepped back in time and making them expect to see John Stone stalking around the corner at any moment. However, even the assistant manager has been quoted as saying he wouldn’t be caught dead in the house alone at night.

Best Times:
The best time to go to any restaurant, especially one with the reputation of Stone’s Public House, is simple: When you want a good meal. Stone and most of the other resident souls make appearances often, though one isn’t likely to notice it during the dinner rush. Mary, it seems, most often appears in the month of June, around the date when the train took her life. However, anyone wanting to confirm the story can do so at any time. Mary’s dress is kept in the fourth floor attic to this day.

See you in two weeks!

Scott A. Johnson

Original artwork by Bill "Splat" Johnson

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