KENNEBUNK, Maine — Diane de Seversky was working the front desk at the Kennebunk Inn one summer night when a diner at the associated restaurant requested a new table.
“This one gentleman came running in from the patio and said, ‘I know what I saw,’” de Seversky recalled.
Once the patron calmed down, he explained that while seated outside, he glanced up and caught the anachronistic image of a man in a double-breasted suit peering out from a second-story window.
“He was obviously not from this era,” de Seversky said of the man in the window.
The Kennebunk Inn was built in 1799 and spent decades as a doctor’s home office before it was converted into an inn about a century later. It’s one of 17 Maine inns and resorts listed by HauntedPlaces.org as being inhabited by ghosts — and one of six places in the Kennebunk and Kennebunkport area.
“With inns and hotels, number one, those places are often renovated, sometimes several times. Particularly up in Maine, unless it was built as such, they’re typically old mansions or old colonial homes,” said Thomas Verde, author of the book “ Maine Ghosts and Legends,” first released in 1989 and updated for rerelease in 2013.
“It could be that ghosts stayed at the hotel [while alive], enjoyed it and had a good time there,” he said. “Sometimes I find that ghosts are in places that they enjoyed and didn’t want to leave. Maybe they didn’t know they were dead yet.”
“Maine has a very rich history of inns,” said Kat McKechnie, co-founder of the paranormal investigation team Maine Ghost Hunters.
“Very large, elegant captains’ houses get turned over, bought and turned into inns, so they have a lot of history,” she said.
That is plenty of time for owners, employees or customers to pass on and possibly get supernaturally attached to the old buildings.
Chef Shanna Horner O’Hea bought the Kennebunk Inn 12 years ago with her culinary partner and husband, Brian O’Hea. Since then, the acclaimed chef has risen in profile on the national scene, appearing on popular Food Network shows “ Chopped” and “ Rewrapped.”
But perhaps the most famous employee of the inn has been dead for decades.
Verde wrote that accomplished 20th century poet Silas Perkins — whose poem “The Common Road” was broadcast from a national radio hookup from the funeral train of President Franklin Roosevelt — spent his twilight years working as the night watchman at the inn.
One day in June 1952, Perkins, then 72, left the inn to buy a newspaper across the street. Before he reached the other side, he collapsed from a heart attack. He was quickly helped back to his beloved inn, where he ultimately died from the ordeal in Room 17.
That’s the room Shanna Horner O’Hea called “our most haunted,” with visitors reporting unnaturally cold brushes of air, rattling doorknobs and opening doors.
But although Perkins’ last room is considered the hottest cold spot in the inn, O’Hea said the poet isn’t alone among the 215-year-old building’s apparitions.
The chef said a local psychic medium has visited the establishment on a number of occasions and insists there are three ghosts haunting the place: Perkins; a man named Cyrus who once worked the front desk; and a little girl named Emily.
Emily is “playful, running up and down the hallways and knocking on the doors,” said O’Hea.
Cyrus? He’s not a bad guy, the inn’s employees say, but is perhaps the most ornery of the ghosts.
According to de Seversky, she was hired to work at the inn 11 years ago, and 2½ months into her tenure, she was staying late to work on some paperwork after the restaurant closed one February night when something strange happened.
There were no guests at the inn and the restaurant’s alarm was set.
“It felt like someone came right up next to me, and I heard a voice say, ‘Muuuah,’” she recalled. “It was definitely a loud moan. Whoever did it was obviously trying to test me — to see whether I’d run or stay. It was somebody who was menacing. He had a menacing side to him.”
The local psychic has told the O’Heas that Perkins is a peaceful and polite soul who still invisibly accompanies women to their cars when they leave the place. And that moan didn’t sound like a little girl, so de Seversky assumed the scare came courtesy of her front-desk predecessor Cyrus, maybe trying to get his workspace back.
“My understanding is that they’re here to do their old jobs,” O’Hea said. “Which is great — we’re not paying them.”
Verde said the case of the Kennebunk Inn, which he featured in his book, shares similarities with many other stories of inn hauntings he has researched or written about.
The ghost activity seems to spike after a big change at the properties, and frankly, the ghosts are pretty tame.
“Many of these stories were not bloody guys coming out of the darkness wanting to strangle you. They’re just a series of quiet, little, unsettling things,” said Verde, whose book also chronicled the supposed haunting of the Capt. Lord Mansion in nearby Kennebunkport. “It was as far removed from ‘Friday the 13th’ as you could get. And it was at least 50-50 or maybe 60-40 in terms of [witnesses] who really never believed in any of this stuff.
“I’ve found that ghosts would make themselves known or pop up whenever there are renovations done, or when a new family moves in,” he said. “So any kind of change in the atmosphere there … would begin to stir up ghosts.”
In the case of the Kennebunk Inn, the first reports of apparent paranormal activity — including glasses flying off the shelves of the bar and smashing — came after an ambitious renovation of the place in 1978.
When the O’Heas first took over 12 years ago, Brian O’Hea said that one morning when he began to prepare the restaurant for Sunday brunch, the stereo mysteriously starting blaring, all the lights came on and the doors all opened up.
“The ghosts get uneasy,” Shanna Horner O’Hea said. “They like things to stay the same, so maybe that was their way of saying, ‘Hey, we’re here.’”
O’Hea said she’s open-minded about the supernatural but skeptical about stories of ghosts smashing bar glasses three decades ago.
“I tend to think that was a case of the waitstaff trying to cover up some mistakes,” she said with a laugh. “We’ve had some broken glasses since I’ve been here, but we’re not blaming the ghosts.”