My Fight With a Ghost at Haunted Restaurant Taught Me Never to Insult a Spirit

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The following is one in a series of real-life unexplained stories. Have you ever had an otherworldly encounter? Share in the comments ...

To look at it today, you’d never guess that the ramshackle Victorian house that sits on a hill on Route 1 south of Media, Pennsylvania, had ever been a fine restaurant. Or before that, an elegant home, originally built in 1740, and expanded and "victorianized" in the mid-19th century by one Lydia Pennell and her husband.

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Shutters askew, paint peeling, walls soiled with graffiti, and vines creeping up onto the porch and into the house through broken windows, what was once The Crier in the Country is a sorry sight. "For sale or lease" says the sign at the foot of the drive. Who would buy such a wreck?

Perhaps someone with deep pockets and a keen interest in ghosts?  Because, yes, that house is haunted.

Lydia, as rumor would have it, was devastated when she was forced to move out of the home when her husband died in 1872. So after her own death in 1906, she simply moved back in.

As a ghost.

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Fast forward to August 7, 1989. Our friends Diane and Roberto had invited my husband and me to dine with them at The Crier in the Country. Having been intrigued by ghosts for a long time, we accepted with pleasure and no small amount of anticipation.

Fall wasn’t exactly "in the air" yet on this early August evening, but we were beginning to get into the Halloween spirit nevertheless as we were led to our table. There was just something eerie about the place: We felt it as soon as we crossed the threshold. The creaky floor boards, the slightly musty smell that hung in the air. This was no ordinary restaurant.

As we were lingering over our coffee at the end of the meal, our conversation turned to ghosts and hauntings. When the waitress returned to our table to deliver the check, we peppered her with questions. What did she know of Lydia? Had there been any recent sightings? Any strange occurrences that might be the work of a spirit?

"Oh yes," she replied, summoning another waitress to our table to join the conversation. A gentle wind blew through the place sometimes, even when all the doors and windows were closed, they told us. The chandeliers would begin to swing for no apparent reason. Music would waft through the rooms and then die.

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But there was a recent episode that was particularly disturbing. It seems that one evening, a long table in one of the private rooms had been set for a large party scheduled for the following day. When the manager opened the restaurant the next morning, he found the tablecloth on the floor, with all the place settings just as they had been on the table. 

We were a satisfying audience, gasping and exclaiming at each anecdote.

"Would you like to tour the place?" asked our waitress, encouraged by our enthusiasm.

"Would we?!"

So up the stairs we tripped after her, inspecting one room after the other. She saved the best room for last: Lydia’s bedroom. On the wall was a portrait of a stern-looking woman. "And this was Lydia?" I asked.

"Oh yes," said the waitress, a mixture of fear and respect in her voice.

I approached the picture of that austere lady and looked her in the eye as I remarked, laughing, to the others in my party, "She looks like someone who would haunt a place!"

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Before I withdrew from that spot, I felt something drop onto my shoe. I lowered my gaze and noticed a small fabric-covered cylinder on the floor right at my feet. I picked it up discreetly and slipped it into my pocket.

A short time later, before leaving the restaurant, Diane and I decided to make the ritual stop in the ladies’ room. As we were washing our hands, I remembered the cylinder. I pulled it out of my pocket and examined it again. The fabric was lace, and it was quite a pretty little thing, like something from a by-gone era. I showed it to Diane.

"Do you know what this is?" I asked her.

Diane, a nurse, frowned at first, then said, "You know, I think I do. Break it open and smell it."

I followed her instructions, not realizing that in doing so I would be literally knocked off my feet. The pungent odor of ammonia hit me with all the force of a punch in the nose. I was thrown back against the wall, hit my head, and cast the now-broken cylinder to the floor.

"Oh, sorry," said Diane, whose suspicions were confirmed. The offending substance, she explained, was essence of ammonia, also known as smelling salts. 

Smelling salts! The very term conjured up swooning Victorian ladies. This deceptive little vial, covered in white lace, was Lydia’s revenge. Or was it? Perhaps there was a logical explanation for my find. Perhaps restaurants kept a supply of smelling salts for diners who lapsed into unconsciousness during dinner. Well, maybe, but not The Crier in the Country. 

I checked. The person I spoke with was completely bewildered by my question.

So it was Lydia. As I rode home with my husband that evening, my eyes still watering and my nostrils smarting, I realized that I had been the recipient of a ghostly message: Mind your own business!

Written by Mary Donaldson-Evans, a writer, professor, and mom of two.

Share your real-life ghost story with us. Also read these:

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Images © iStock.com/Renphoto and via Mary Donaldson-Evans and YouTube

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