Saturday, October 30, 2010

Ghosts of the J. Huston Tavern

Author’s note: This is my fourth year and 208th installment of “From the Shadows.” I just wanted to thank you, my friendly readers, for your support.

The two-story brick building has stood in the tiny town of Arrow Rock, Mo., for 176 years. The J. Huston Tavern, once an inn and mercantile for frontier travelers, is now a state historic site and restaurant – and home to visitors who never leave.

Chef Liz Huff, proprietor of the J. Huston Tavern since January 2009, has seen these ghostly visitors often.

“A ton of them,” she said.

Her first encounter was of a woman wearing a white gown Huff saw reflected in the glass of the dining room door. As the woman’s reflection moved across the glass, Huff looked into the dining room; no one was there.

“That scared me because that was the first thing I saw,” Huff said.

Huff and restaurant employees have ghostly experiences in the Tavern up to six times a day. Shadow figures dancing through the air, the sound of shuffling feet, and phantom whistling.

Cody Hedrick, Marshall, Mo., works at the tavern and has heard the whistling.

“At first I brushed it off, but it got louder,” he said. “It freaked me out.”

Coats move on racks, hanging pots bang in the kitchen, and doors swing on their own. But the most visible are the people.

“There’s a couple who likes to sit in the parlor room,” Huff said.

Huff first saw the couple in June 2009 as she walked past the hostess station and wondered why no one had filled their water glasses. As she looked at the couple, they vanished.

“No one was there,” she said. “I just started laughing.”

Although most entities encountered in the Tavern seem to be friendly, the basement isn’t the same story. Employees have developed the “Basement Buddy” system because they don’t like going into that oppressive atmosphere alone.

“It’s not pleasant down there,” Huff said. “It’s scary. There’s a heavy feeling down there like it’s harder to breath.”

A green light occasionally shoots through the basement, and employees have heard someone moving boxes when no one else is there. But one day, the oppressiveness followed Huff upstairs.

“I thought the scary part was just down there and that’s why I don’t mind being (in the tavern) at night myself,” she said.

But in the summer of 2009, Huff was closing the restaurant for the night when she realized she wasn’t alone.

“I felt someone behind me, literally a half-inch away from my body,” Huff said. “I was so scared to look back; I knew something was there but didn’t want to see it. I just kept walking faster. I made it outside and was trembling.”

But she hadn’t locked the cooler. Huff slowly pulled open the door, went back inside, and flipped on every light she could reach. Then she locked the cooler and bolted from the building.

“You know those horror movies where people can’t get the door locked because they’re shaking?” she said. “It was just like that.”

As she stood outside the door trying to put the key into the lock, the sound of someone banging pots together rang from the building. She finally slammed the key in, locked the door and drove to her father’s house. She couldn’t be alone that night.

“I think whatever’s in the basement came upstairs a minute,” she said. “I want him to stay in the basement or go away. I didn’t like it.”

Bunny Thomas, manager of the Tavern from 1976 to 1979 and proprietor from 1981 to 1986 and 1993-2000, has seen both faces of the Tavern – the friendly spirits and the dark ones.

One of her first nights on the job, a “very male, very sexy” voice said “hello there.”

“I looked around and no one was there,” she said. “In the ’70s, it wasn’t unusual to hear your name called.”

Although restaurants have plenty of turnover, Thomas said some of the turnover during her management directly related to the restless spirits.

“We had this kid who cleaned at night,” she said. “He said, ‘Bunny, I can’t do this anymore.’ I said, ‘why?’ He said, ‘I hear tables and chairs scooting across the floor and somebody called my name.’”

Thomas got a taste of the darkness when she lived on the second floor of the tavern during her divorce in the 1980s.

“The very first night I moved in, everybody came down and played cards,” she said. “When everybody left I got undressed and got in bed.”

Things quickly turned terrifying.

“I heard the stairs squeaking and I heard the floor squeaking and the next thing I knew the floor at the foot of my bed was squeaking,” she said. “I sat up in bed and there was nobody there. I put a table over that spot after that.”

The radio next to her bed would move through stations by itself, and a strange smoke occasionally floated through her room – although it wasn’t smoke.

“It was a ghost,” she said. “It was just like people described it being. It was wispy and you could see through it.”

Thomas’ fellow proprietor during the 1980s and 1990s, Clay Marsh, also experienced a few ghostly encounters in the tavern. But after Marsh died from cancer in the mid-2000s, he may have been come one of the tavern ghosts himself.

While Huff was on vacation in November 2009, Hedrick saw a man he didn’t recognize.

“Cody had a box of stuff and was walking upstairs and he walked to the top of the stairs and looked up and saw a man standing in the ballroom,” Huff said. “It was a solid human being.”

The figure wore a late-1700s to early 1800s black jacket, ruffled shirt, knickers and hat. Hedrick looked away and when he turned back the figure was gone.

But Huff had seen that outfit before – on Marsh

“It was exactly like Cody described,” Huff said. “It was the coolest thing. I thought wouldn’t that be neat if it was him.”

Copyright 2010 by Jason Offutt

Got a scary story? Ever played with a Ouija board, heard voices, seen a ghost, UFO or a creature you couldn’t identify? Let Jason know about it: Jason Offutt, P.O. Box 501, Maryville, Mo., 64468, or Your story might make an upcoming installment of “From the Shadows.”

Jason’s newest book on the paranormal, “What Lurks Beyond: The Paranormal in Your Backyard,” is available at Jason’s blog,

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