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The ghosts of Princeton and Athens

Some places seem made for ghosts, like dilapidated shacks or Victorian mansions. Others are less obvious. In Princeton and Athens, some buildings are especially haunted— but you wouldn’t know just by looking at them.

The haunted restaurant— Princeton

A historian to the bone, Pat Smith collects stories by the hundreds. She’s also led a varied life. A lady of many talents, Smith has done everything from owning a restaurant to building restoration. She currently directs the Princeton Railroad Museum. It’s no wonder Smith has lots to tell about Mercer County. And some of her best tales involve ghosts.

“The first thing that happened in my restaurant?” she muses. “A customer came to me and asked if I had a dining room upstairs. She had heard lots of laughter and people coming up and down the steps.”

This was news to Smith. Her restaurant, a former house, had upper floors, but these were closed to guests.

Still, the customer was adamant. “They were having a real good time!” she declared.

Smith filed this away and didn’t give the matter any consideration. But late one night, after closing the restaurant, she sat in her car. It had been a long, demanding day, and Smith let her thoughts wander. As she composed herself, her gaze settled on the side of the house. What Smith saw remains fixed in her memory.

“There was a light from the window, and I literally saw the curtain rising up, then down,” she says.

Then, lights turned on upstairs. Had someone snuck inside? Smith and her staff returned to the restaurant early the next morning, expecting to find stolen items. Nothing was missing.

“We thought, ‘That’s really weird,’” Smith recounts.

Things became even more mysterious. During their search, they found a flower arrangement on steps leading to the basement. The feminine touch inspired Smith to call the ghost “Mary.”

Things settled down for the most part. Almost every night, though, the foyer door would creak open around 9 or 9:15 p.m.

“I increasingly had the perception that the ghost— or ghosts— were checking to see if we were still there,” Smith said, noting that this happened after closing hours. Once, a family arrived just before 9 p.m. The young daughter fretted about missing her favorite show about ghosts. Smith was only too happy to share stories about the restaurant’s haunted residents.

Another child, a boy, remained unconvinced. “I don’t believe in ghosts,” he insisted.

Just then, the foyer door creaked open.

“How did you do that?!” exclaimed an older lady, turning to Smith.

The young boy instantly changed his tune. “I didn’t say I didn’t believe in them!”

At other times, the ghosts were more active. Once, while entering the attic, a waitress heard a harsh, low voice telling her to leave. She quit that very day. At another time, Smith’s adult daughter felt something grip her arm with surprising force.

One of the customers had an alarming experience, too. Smith remembers when an older man approached her one afternoon.

“You know, this place is haunted,” he informed her, looking strained. The gentleman had been in the bathroom. When he tried to leave, the door wouldn’t budge. Then, a woman’s invisible hands started to stroke his hair. That did it. Alarmed, he gave the door an extra jerk and was able to escape.

“All of these things were pretty strange and unexplainable,” Smith says, who doesn’t know what to think about ghosts. She has since moved on from restaurant ownership. But if you’ve eaten in Princeton, there’s a chance you’ve dined in Smith’s haunted house.

The dark shadow— Princeton

As director of the Princeton Railroad Museum, Pat Smith also oversees multiple exhibits, artwork and artifacts. It’s also possible she manages a ghost.

Not too long ago, a paranormal investigative group got permission to explore the building. Skeptical but willing to keep an open mind, Smith accompanied them to the attic. They simultaneously glimpsed a shadow creeping away from them. Nothing seemed to create it. Intrigued, everybody followed the shape.

Smith then had an intense feeling of evil. “I’ve never experienced anything like it before or since,” she emphasizes. “I felt the hair rise on my neck and arms.”

Overriding all protests, the director insisted that everybody leave the attic. She then called her daughter despite the late hour.

“I was that scared,” Smith stresses.

Fortunately, the places where guests can visit are bright and cheerful. The Princeton Railroad Museum is known for its cute caboose, which you can explore. There’s also a fun gift shop. If a ghost really haunts the place, don’t worry— it’s stuck in the attic.

Concord University— Athens

West Virginia boasts lots of colleges— more than 40, in fact. Of these, Concord University ranks towards the top. Its long history and modern programs are distinct advantages. In fact, Athens’ star institution dates to 1872. After a fire ravaged the school in 1910, though, the campus moved to its current location in 1912. The original building still exists today. Its prize feature is the 20-ton carillon, a musical instrument with tuned bells.

Today, the 123-acre campus has a strong reputation for its undergraduate programs. But that’s not the only thing Concord is known for – it’s also rumored to be haunted.

Most experiences seem to happen at the Laura A. Sarvay residence hall. It’s one of the older buildings on campus, which could explain some of the odd encounters. Many students (in online comments) have heard doors opening and shutting. Others have seen toilets flushing by themselves.

In terms of apparitions, it seems that a female ghost rules Sarvay. Various residents have seen her in their rooms. She often appears at night, wearing an old-fashioned dress. At other times, items inexplicably move. Who can say for sure what’s really happening? Whether or not you believe in ghosts, mysteries like these definitely make life interesting!

Have you ever encountered a ghost in Princeton or Athens? Share your story!


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