I have always loved ghost stories, and I have always loved to travel. In fact, one of my favorite parts of traveling to new places is digging into the local legends of each area. But for all my love of spooky things, I have never been quite convinced that ghosts actually exist — and what’s more, for all the “haunted” traveling I’ve done, I have never actually spent the night in a reportedly haunted house.
Or at least, I hadn’t until now. This is when Airbnb sends me to one of the allegedly haunted properties listed on the platform to experience it for myself. This is how I find myself heading to Dixfield, Maine. This is how I find myself spending the the night in the Marsh-Edwards House.
And this is how I find myself wondering if maybe I do believe in ghosts after all.
About an hour and a half north of Portland by car, Dixfield is a tiny town. As of 2010, the population was only about 2,500, according to the United States Census Bureau. Like much of New England, though, it has a long, long history behind it — and the Marsh-Edwards House is significant part of that history.
Originally built in 1881, the Marsh-Edwards House is currently owned by Ann Marie Cook, who has been restoring the property for the past year and a half. Under the overarching heading of the Weld Street Inn, she runs a bakery out of the house's kitchen and rents out its three guest rooms — Tina’s Room, Bob’s Room, and Marjorie’s or Hope’s Room — to visitors both via her own website and through Airbnb. And she does it all despite the fact that she never even intended to move to Dixfield, let alone into this particular house. As Cook, who is originally from Massachusetts, puts it, she “bought it by mistake.” Her realtor didn't mean to send her the listing for 28 Weld Street — but once Cook saw it, she felt compelled to make an appointment.
The house was in rough shape; it had sat empty for years. But, says, Cook, “I walked in that door, and I had to have it” — so she made it happen. And after she closed on it in February of 2017, she went right to the house and stayed in it that very night. “I opened up the door, and it was like” — she makes a swish noise — “‘Welcome home. We’ve been waiting for you.’”
Although she has always believed in the supernatural, Cook didn't know anything about either the house’s history or its paranormal activity before she bought it. But after she moved in, locals kept asking her "what her ghosts were doing" — and when the inn opened for business, visitors began reporting… incidents. Oddities. Knocking sounds and other inexplicable occurrences. One guest even left in the middle of the night and didn’t return.
So Cook started looking into it — and through extensive research carried out at the Dixfield Historical Society, digging up deeds and records and photographs and letters, as well as through her own paranormal investigations, she has been painstakingly piecing together the house’s tale.
As is often the case with old houses, the story of the Marsh-Edwards House is the story of the people who lived in it. Built in 1881 by Frank and Mary Stanley, it has long been one of the grandest in Dixfield. Neo-Colonial in style with Victorian details, it features a double parlor, a dining room, and a large kitchen downstairs; the upstairs holds an additional kitchen, bedrooms, and a suite of three rooms consisting of a lady’s parlor, a sitting room, and a small bedroom. (These three rooms are now the guest rooms.) A brick barn, which was originally a carriage house, is also attached to the main house; extensive renovations made to it in the 1980s added even more living space to the building.
After the Stanleys sold the place to Albion and Matilda Marsh in 1887, the Marshes and their large, sprawling family tree would go on to occupy the house for nearly 100 years. In fact, they might be there still — even in death.
Albion, for example, lingers in the upstairs hallway. His and Matilda's daughter, Chestina — who was one of five children — is, too; she's what Cook calls her "black widow": Married twice, she lost both husbands suddenly of unexplained causes. Her daughter, Marjorie Hope, likes what are now the guest rooms. The large sitting room is Hope's favorite.
And then there are the children.
There’s no historical record of them, but there are two other Marsh-Edwards spirits in the house. Cook believes them to have been children had out of wedlock by Chestina and Hope — children who were hidden away in a secret room uncovered during the renovation of the barn carried out in the 1980s, and who died very young.
She calls them Faith and David.
Faith, she believes, was Chestina’s; shortly before Chestina was about to be married, though, Faith fell out the barn window — and, in fact, may have been pushed out of it by Albion's sister, Annette. David, meanwhile, seems to have been Hope’s. He is believed to have drowned in the well once located on the property, which has since been covered over with a small pond.
Cook acknowledges that her sources here are ghosts; absent a paper trail that documents the children’s existence, the story seems far fetched. However, Cook has spoken to elderly residents of Dixfield whose experiences and memories match up with what she says she’s learned from her spirit box and the mediums who have read the house.
The spirits in the house — and there are many more than those mentioned here — make their presence known in a few ways, says Cook. They might move objects, for example. Sometimes they’ll actually manifest. And many of the ghosts are quite talkative, although they usually need a little help to find their voices. On living in a house with this much reported activity, Cook talks about it the way other people do about particularly obnoxious roommates. “If they do something, I just yell back at them,” she says.
It is with all of this history and all of these stories spinning around in my brain that I begin my part in the night’s investigation. Because, yes: I am here to witness a ghost hunt.
The event is open to the public, so people begin arriving at around 5 p.m. That’s also when the paranormal investigation team, Ghost Research and Investigations of Maine (GRIM), starts setting up their gear. Cook provides dinner while we all mix and mingle.
Then, at about a quarter past seven, we begin.
We start with a gallery séance held in the double parlor, performed by medium Patricia Pepin. Pepin speaks of many things — a tall man, a volatile being, a gentle lady, a boy and a girl, and, perhaps, an angel. It’s interesting to watch, but difficult to verify; as a group, I feel we supply too much information in response to what she tells us for it to be convincing.
But although I feel skeptical about the séance as a whole, it does set the tone for the rest of the evening nicely. Here, we are given a choice: We can stay downstairs and have Pepin give us individual readings, or we can go upstairs with GRIM to conduct a full paranormal investigation.
I go upstairs.
The items you might find in a ghost hunter’s tool kit vary; we lean heavily on two spirit boxes, audio recorders, and what’s known as an ovilus. Spirit boxes are radios which have had their scan locks are disabled, allowing the devices to cycle continuously through AM or FM frequencies. The idea, according to spirit box inventor Frank Sumption, is that entities can take the “raw audio” produced by the boxes — the white noise, the static, and sometimes pieces of actual broadcasts — and manipulate it to communicate with the living.
We use our smartphones as audio recorders to try to capture Electronic Voice Phenomena, or EVP — that is, when something shows up on an audio recording during playback that wasn’t audible at the time it was recorded.
Then there’s the ovilus. Traditionally, they use measurements from EMF meters cross-referenced with databases of words to help give entities a voice. Although they exist as standalone devices, there are also many, many ovilus smartphone apps; that’s how I realized I’ve used an ovilus before — I already have one. (This one, in fact).
We spend the next several hours working our way through the upstairs rooms, focusing largely on the spirit boxes, but with an ovilus running simultaneously. I also record as much as I can with my phone’s voice recorder.
I don’t manage to capture a single EVP. I record a total of 140 minutes of audio — about two hours and 20 minutes — and I listen to all of it when I return home. Alas, though, I do not detect any sounds or voices in it that hadn't been audible at the time the recording was made.
GRIM seems to find something:
But I find nothing in my own recordings.
I won't lie: I’m disappointed.
The rest of the evidence I collect is also inconclusive — although there are a few moments that give me pause.
In the smallest bedroom, we set up the larger of the two spirit boxes, which projects what it picks up through a speaker. The box runs continuously, spitting out all manner of noises; suddenly, though, a woman’s voice emerges from the box, clearer than anything else we've heard from it. I hear it say “Annette."
I intellectualize it. I tell myself that I was already primed to hear that name; after all, I had just been given a crash course in the Marsh-Edwards family’s history. But then Cook speaks for a moment about the role she believes Annette may have played in Faith’s death — and shortly thereafter, the ovilus pipes up. “Shamed,” it says — exactly what Annette would have felt about an illegitimate child.
We have a smaller spirit box, as well. It’s used in a slightly different way than the larger one: Rather than using a speaker, it’s hooked up to a set of headphones, which a person wears while blindfolded. While the spirit box interpreter, unable to see or hear anyone else, listens to the device and repeats aloud whatever word they hear, the rest of us ask questions, as we might during an EVP session.
It’s hard to do if you’re not used to it. But when a well-practiced spirit box interpreter puts those headphones on, eerie things can happen — exchanges like this one, which occurs in the former sitting room:
Question: “Can you tell me about the little boy that went into the well?”
“For shame,” the spirit box interpreter replies immediately.
Question: “Did someone kill the little boy?”
A second or two afterwards, the interpreter says, “Little.”
Question: “Or was it an accident?”
There is a long pause here — maybe 30 seconds. Then, four words from the interpreter come in quick succession: “Outside. The well. Jumped.”
Question: “So it wasn’t on purpose? The little boy fell?”
Another long pause; then: “Jumped. Accident.”
We continue in this vein for some time, but little else of note occurs. At around 11 p.m., the evening finally wraps up. Cook hands me a bottle of sprayable sage and tells me she’ll leave the door to her living area unlocked in case I get nervous in the middle of the night. And I go to bed.
I do not see any ghosts.
The night is rather quiet, actually, despite the fact that I am staying in the sitting room — most active room in the house. I do take a few precautions before I turn in; I thank the spirits for allowing me to stay the night, for example. But although I prepare myself for at least minimal activity — say, feeling a tug on the sheets in the middle of the night — not much happens.
I sleep fitfully. I always do when I’m in a new place, so this does not surprise me; however, I also know that my restless night was caused at least in part by the fact that — for all my skepticism — I was spooked.
And, to be fair, two things do happen during the night. They’re not conclusive — but they’re… something.
First, I experience several episodes of sleep paralysis. This, in and of itself, isn’t anything new; I’ve been experiencing sleep paralysis for decades, and I always know what it is when it's happening. However, I haven't had an episode in a year or two... until now.
Second, it’s possible — possible — that I hear a knocking sound. Unlike the sleep paralysis, I’m less certain whether or not this one is a dream, or maybe exploding head syndrome... but I know that knocking sounds are common in the Marsh-Edwards House. The guests who had stayed in my room the previous night had even experienced it, according to Cook.
The next morning, I have coffee and freshly baked bagels (if you’re ever near Dixfield, try the inn’s bagels; they’re delicious). I talk more about the Marsh-Edwards family and the history of the house with Cook, and I explore the building a bit more.
I am still not convinced that ghosts exist; however, I am not entirely unconvinced, either. And I do see how compelling the case for their existence can be.
I fly home.
The Ouija board is from 1910; it was found on the property during renovations.
But that is not the end of the story.
It doesn’t conclude until many days after I arrive home.
You see, the medium, Patricia Pepin, had given me a reading at the end of the night. During the reading, she had brought up something about my eyes — she told me over and over that she was getting something about them becoming damaged or hurt. And she also told me that I might want to ask the spirits not to follow me home. I took her advice; it had seemed wise to do so, even if I didn't think anything was actually going to come back with me.
Here is how the story ends:
About 10 days after I get back from Dixfield, my eyelids suddenly become very dry, very red, and very, very inflamed. It’s bad enough that I have to visit a doctor; my eyelids are so puffy, it’s difficult to open them.
I’m still dealing with it. And I still don’t know what the underlying cause is.
Also, the day after I return, I open up the ovilus app I have on my phone. I haven’t touched it in ages, but now that I know what it is, I'm... curious. I leave it running in my living room while I work.
I almost forget it’s on.
After a long silence, it speaks: “Dixie,” it tells me.
Dix...field?, I think.
I can’t help myself. “…Faith?” I ask tentatively.
It has just one more word for me:
I turn it off.
And somehow, I just can't bring myself to turn it back on.