(My sister and cousin recently visited me in Litchfield for a birthday party so I took them on a Fall tour, and lunch at the “Old Jail” since it’s the restaurant on the green with the best stories.)
I was very curious when entrepreneur and visionary Russell Barton took on the challenging task of turning the Litchfield jail, dating back to 1812, into a contemporary mix of retail, businesses and apartments. It wasn’t just the logistics of making the project happen, it was the fact that this building had housed British soldiers, murderers, and possibly innocents.
According to www.historicbuildings.com, “The former Litchfield County Jail, constructed in 1812, is the oldest public building in town and one of the oldest penal facilities in the state.” Hartford Courant staff writer Lynne Tuohy wrote in June 7, 1993, “The jail’s purpose — to punish — cannot be forgotten. It saw its share of executions.”
Compare this to the listing on www.hotpads.com “This fabulous Penthouse unit on the third floor, with private elevator, is part of a stunning renovation of the former Litchfield Jail.” There is a clothing boutique, salon and bake house, as well as the penthouse, but the anchor is the Marketplace Tavern, carved out as a theme restaurant and bar with many of the old jail’s architectural details intact.
My friend M. and I were recently enjoying a drink and appetizers at the bar, and while chatting with the couple sitting next to me, the woman said “I can’t believe that dining and drinking in an old jail would be this chic!” M., who is very attuned to the spiritual world, asked the bartender about the restaurant being haunted, and she laughed it off, so we laughed along. As we got up to leave, someone handed over my takeout bag, and we retrieved our purses, still chatting and joking with others at the bar. As soon as M. stood up, she leaned against me, saying she felt dizzy.
What happened after that is a bit of a blur, but I remember helping her walk outside, and she immediately fell to the ground and became violently ill. I called for an ambulance, which quickly arrived, and I followed them to the hospital. It was a Friday night, and the Emergency Room was busy with two serious trauma cases. I think we stayed there about six hours, waiting to be seen. M. wanted to get up and leave, claiming she felt better, but at that moment, a doctor appeared. Since she hadn’t imbibed anything unusual and seemed to be fine, he was at a loss to make a diagnosis.
On the way to her home, she asked if we had paid the check; neither of us could remember. In fact, she didn’t remember us talking to the woman next to us. I chalked that up to her illness. When I got home, I ran through the photos I’d taken — one was a person I didn’t recognize, and another an image of a man’s arm covered in a tattoo of what I identified as a Brig with two square-rigged masts that would have been a fighting ship during the War of 1812. When I opened my take-out bag, on top of the food container was an eerie white pumpkin. I like to decorate with gourds in the Fall, but I had not seen anything like that at the bar. When I sent M. a message, her response was “It’s from the ghost.”
We are very fortunate to have an A-Team right here in Connecticut — the Ghost Hunters of Connecticut, who recently researched supernatural happenings at the Woodbury Public Library. And evidently there are several other A-Teams on the hunt for spooks because Connecticut is famous for paranormal activity.
I have the white pumpkin on my front step — and I’m keeping my eye on it.