When I was a young lad of fourteen I saw the kitchen of the Hilltop House for the first time. I had never beheld a place so filled with stainless steel with the air thick with the smell of fried chicken, freshly baked breads and cakes, and other delectable treats that made my stomach gurgle with delight. It was amazing to behold. I spent my formative years working in that kitchen, learning the trade from Chefs whose names escape me. I studied their knife work, I learned soups, sauces, bases, salads, combinations of color and flavor, spice palettes, and so many other things that would increase my knowledge in the kitchen (and my waist line). I went from busboy, to dishwasher, to prep cook. From there I advanced quickly to Chef Tourrenade and finally to Sous Chef, Under head Chef Bill Snell. I, not to sound brash, was good at what I did, and everyone loved my cooking. The other cooks and I would stay late to clean up and make sure things were ready for the next day. It was such a relaxed atmosphere that no one ever minded staying late.
I recall when I first noticed the thing in the kitchen.
I was 17, and I was alone, finishing up cleaning the kitchen. I had turned off the radio and began to snap off the light switches when I noticed the huge old cast iron overhead pot rack begin to sway in a breeze I did not feel. then the occasional bump or thud from behind the closed dry storage door. At this young age I thought nothing of it, it was after all, an old hotel full of thumps and groans.
As the years drew on, the happenings became more noticeable. Guests would call the front desk in the dark watches of the night and complain about the noise from the kitchen. Pots would seemingly leap from their hooks on the huge over head rack and clatter with an echoing finality to the old tiled floor below. Lights would flicker behind locked doors, and the chef’s office would become unearthly cold for no discernible reason. Some other the waiters and waitresses who were cleaning the dining rooms would often think someone was in the kitchen from the shadows they would see pass in front of the porthole style windows in the double kitchen doors. The unmistakable smell of burning food would often be caught by a passing guest or employee only to be found to have no source. Knives, sharpened and place in their proper place would be found inverted in the rack the next morning. And perhaps the most disturbing were the reports of a deep groaning laugh that would bounce up the “servant’s stairs” that led from the kitchen to the upper hallways of the hotel. (This stair was used by the staff to discreetly move between floors without obstructing the guests in the maze like hallways of the old hotel)
The years spin by at a lightning pace as you age, and I had gone to college, I’m returning to the old hotel at the age of 28. A little wiser, and just learning about things paranormal and weird. At this time I am studying paranormal phenomenon of all kinds, foremost are the hauntings of Harpers Ferry…with particular focus on my beloved Hilltop House. I knew all the stories, I knew this place like the back of my hand. I knew where all the paranormal hot spots are and if I didn’t my mother was happy to show me.
I was reared in the scientific end of the paranormal. I wanted to measure, quantify and study the energies of a haunting. I wanted to record evidence, visual…audio…it didn’t matter. I wanted solid proof. More times than not, I found it. I held no stock in psychics, mediums, or those with “a gift”. Almost all of those who made those claims turned out to be charlatans and con-artists. So I trusted in my intellect and the infallible proof of cold hard fact.
The thing in the kitchen always intrigued me. It had since I was 17. mainly because I noticed it more than anyone because of my intimate relationship with the kitchen, and the hotel itself. So when I returned once again to the town I called home, I wanted to conduct an investigation in the kitchen as soon as I could. I received permission without question. the owner, obviously, knew me and had no qualms of me being in the hotel with a small group after hours. So myself and a small team of three people set up various bits of equipment in various areas of the kitchen. We had the best (for the time) gear we could afford. We set up infrared cameras where it would catch the entire kitchen. Motion sensitive camera switches, wireless audio recording devices, we were very proud to have had, on loan from another paranormal group, the use of a FLIR camera. We were set up and ready to, as they say, “go dark”…
The four of us spent the long hours of the night in the near total dark of that kitchen. The only light was the faint glow of the lobby that desperately tried to reach us from across the large dining room through the smokey porthole windows in the kitchen doors. Our ears strained for any sound. Our eyes searched for the shadows in the darker shadows. Instruments whirred and recorded. Cameras clicked and uv flashes popped like lightning in the dark. We waited and watched.
Nothing happened at all. Not a whisper. Not even a stray breeze. The kitchen was quiet. All the things i noticed through the years didn’t happen. There wasnt even the feeling of something MIGHT be there with us. It was completely inactive. This, as we all knew was the unfortunate truth of ghost hunting. Hauntings never happened on schedule, and proof, when found was something to treasure. This is something most do not realize about the field of paranormal investigation. it is often sensationalized by television, where the evidence is presented weekly in a neat little package after only one hunt in a building they know next to nothing about. They don’t see the nights spent in dark dusty places with nothing more than scraped hands and filthy jeans to show for it.
This was one of those nights where we could have been asleep in a comfortable bed. Instead we were crouched in innocuous corners of a darkened hotel kitchen searching for this poltergeist that lurked in the kitchen. We packed up our gear and went back to my apartment in the old barber shop building that was quite literally around the corner from the grand old hotel. With a final sigh of exhausted, frustrated relief we sat on the couches of my apartment and all of us quickly fell asleep.
When we awoke, we all agreed to meet the next day to go through the tapes and video to see if we had happened upon anything in the way of scientific evidence of the Thing in the kitchen.
Not a voice on any recorder, not even a vague mist on the infrared. Nothing. To say i was frustrated would be putting is mildly.
The years spin by even faster, marriage, a child, jobs and more adventures and i find myself looking on the kitchen one last time. The hotel is closed now, no smells emanate from the flat top grill. The fryers no longer bubble and pop. The stainless steel, once bright and resplendid in the glow of the over head lights, have lost its luster and stands now, subdued and lonely. The knives, pots and pans are long gone. The food stores long since used up, or sold off. The grand kitchen once vibrant and alive…the virtual HEART of the hotel…now sits quiet, cold and dead. I sigh, and with a heavy heart i reach to turn the lights off one last time.
And then i looked up and saw that huge, heavy cast iron overhead pot rack sway ever so slightly. It started with a barely audible squeak of old metal on even older hangings. Then it picked up pace untill it was swaying noticeably. And as suddenly as it started, it stopped. Not with the gradual slowing of a pendulous object… The rack stopped as suddenly and surely as if something had grabbed it and held it in its place. I smiled broadly. My heart picked up its pace in my chest and i felt an ice-cold breeze rush past me, leaving the kitchen going into the grand dining room that stood empty and cavernous. And i swear i heard a voice whisper “good-bye.” as that breeze flowed around me like water around a rock.
To this day im not sure if i heard that whisper, or if i wanted to hear that whisper…but the kitchen, now crumbling and in decay, will forever live in my memory.