Massachusetts Eatery Features Ghosts on the Menu

Darkness had just fallen and a full moon had risen when two women driving along Eastern Avenue spotted a third, standing in the middle of the road, waving her arms.

One of the drivers swerved to avoid her, colliding with the other. The accident was minor, but when the two women got out to examine the damage, they discovered a rabbit lying hurt in the road. The woman who had flagged them down - perhaps trying to protect the crossing rabbit - was nowhere to be found.

The police report on the accident last Thursday is simple: Sgt. Paul Francis and Detective Ryan Davis responded to the scene at 6:41 p.m., helping the drivers exchange papers but finding no sign of the woman in the road. She may have seen the accident, become nervous and walked away.

But people with a better sense of Essex's paranormal history, especially on the cusp of Halloween, might look around the bend in the road where the accident occurred.

There, the staff of the Windward Grille was serving dinner in a centuries-old farmhouse converted to a restaurant. For years, patrons and staff have insisted that it's haunted.

When the restaurant was the Hearthside, a waitress told the Times that patrons sometimes reported an apparition of a couple in their 30s floating near the walls. The woman wears a long white dress.

The Hearthside closed in 2004 and the Windward Grille opened, but much of the old staff stayed, as did presences that no one can explain.

A few weeks ago, Vicky Kennefick, who owns the restaurant with her husband, Tim, was cleaning the kitchen after closing when her 14-year-old daughter, Justina, came barreling in from the dining room. She screamed that she had felt a breeze, looked up and seen a shadowy figure in one of the dining rooms, called the Thirties Room. The mother and daughter were the only people in the building at the time.

"At first, I thought people were making things up," said Kennefick of the ghost stories that have come pouring in to her from staff. "But with my own kids involved, it gives it a little more credence for me."

Her son, Matthew Kennefick, 12, has only been back to the restaurant twice since the hairs stood up on the back of his neck and he sensed a presence in an otherwise empty room one night.

It's a common occurrence: Two people will be in a room when they look up at the same time and ask, "What was that?"

Staffers say they feel uneasy and sense an unexplained presence when a corridor turns frigid while the rest of the restaurant is extremely hot or lights flicker and toilets flush on their own.

Built sometime between 1640 and 1680 on land given to Deacon Burnham for his services in the Pequot War, the farmhouse was passed from generation to generation of Burnhams until 1897.

Kennefick knows of no tragedy in the house that might have given rise to stories of a ghost, though a neighbor has told her the house was part of the Underground Railroad during the Civil War and it's possible escaping slaves hid in the attic.

The house is old and creaky, which may help explain the strange noises and faulty plumbing.

"I'm sure there's a scientific explanation for all of this," Kennefick said.

Some things aren't easy to explain away. One staff member who tried to push a table across the floor during cleanup couldn't budge it and finally gave up. Kitchen employees said they have watched knives float into midair and come back to rest on the counter.

Then there's the dark-haired woman employees say they sometimes see standing at the top of the stairs in a long dress.

She's never been seen outside the restaurant, as far as Kennefick knows.

But then the police report on the accident at 6:41 p.m. last Thursday did not indicate the length of the dress or color of the hair of the woman who stood in the busy road waving her arms, perhaps to save a rabbit.

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