PORTLAND, Maine — The floors creak, and the lighting is dim.
The beds in which Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s parents breathed their last breath are on view.
Through iron gates, pushed back from the busy avenue, street noise recedes as guide James Horrigan reads the opening line of Longfellow’s poem “Haunted Houses”: “All houses wherein men have lived and died / are haunted houses.”
Inside the famous poet’s boyhood home on Congress Street, these words, written in 1852, thunder through the chambers: “There are more guests at table, than the hosts / Invited; the illuminated hall / Is thronged with quiet, inoffensive ghosts, / As silent as the pictures on the wall.”
For the third autumn in a row, animated guide Horrigan leads people through the Federal-style home, where the family lived for three generations, to test the theory. The hair on the back of your neck may stand upright while climbing the creaky staircase at night. The poet’s words ring out: “We meet them at the doorway, on the stair, / Along the passages they come and go, / Impalpable impressions on the air, / A sense of something moving to and fro.”
Narrow hallways. Thick curtains shroud the windows. Eerie lighting. But don’t expect fake cobwebs or scary music on this tour.
“I’m not here to Halloweenify the industry. This is a tour of the house led by verses,” said Horrigan, who reads stanzas of the poem in a sitting room, bedroom and guestroom, where the poet’s parents and siblings lived and eventually died. His sister, Anne, was the last to die here in 1901.
It’s hard to say for sure whether this brick house is haunted. Horrigan is not looking for boogeymen in the bedchambers. He interprets the poem that likely was written shortly after Longfellow’s mother died in 1851. The poet took the train up from Boston, the guide suspects, and may have penned “Haunted Houses” on the second floor at a desk looking out over Congress Street.
“This isn’t the tour to dress up or go through corn mazes,” Horrigan said.
But the devil may just be in the details. Like most poems that stand the test of time, dramatics are not necessary. The words tell the story, goosebumps and all: “The spirit-world around this world of sense / Floats like an atmosphere, and everywhere / Wafts through these earthly mists and vapors dense / A vital breath of more ethereal air.”
Longfellow’s Haunted House runs through Oct. 31 and is followed by beer and snacks in the ell of the house. Maine Historical Society, 489 Congress St., Portland, from 6 to 7:30 p.m. Oct, 26-31. RSVPs are required. The cost is $15 for Maine Historical Society members and $20 for general admission. To register, visit eventbrite.com/e/longfellows-haunted-house-tickets-18194485195.