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A Famous Provincetown Haunt: The Former Martin House Restaurant

By Thomas D’Agostino

This segment takes us to Provincetown, one of the most noted tourist stops in New England. Arlene and I spent a weekend recently visiting some of the more arcane attractions the area has to offer and decided to check in on one of our favorite haunts, The Martin House Restaurant. We once visited and investigated the Martin House in 2006 while working on the book, Haunted Massachusetts.

To our dismay, the restaurant is now a private residence. The building, one of the only left that faces the water, was for many years an eating and /or lodging establishment. The shore was once the actual highway for travelers before Commercial Street was cut through that section of town. You may not be able to dine with the spirits, but the haunted history of the building as told here may hopefully appease your appetite.

The original builders of the house remain a mystery, per the records. The Town Hall and courthouse burned down in the 1800s, thus creating a conundrum as to the home’s exact origin. Captain Nathaniel Tracy, a prosperous merchant of the 18th century, mentions the house in his memoirs dating back to 1755. In the 1930s it operated as a boarding house. From the 1970s through 2006, the building operated as a restaurant under several names. In the mid 1800s, the owners of the home were reportedly involved in the abolition of slavery. They had two places in the house that were allegedly part of the Underground Railroad. A chimney complex on the first floor creates a natural cubbyhole where slaves could hide on their journey to freedom. This area became known as “Snug Harbor.” A partition was placed in front of the room and coats were hung on the wall to appear as a simple closet. There is another small room on the third floor where slaves could hide. Former restaurant owners, Tony and Rick Valentino stored liquor in the small apartment, stating the paranormal activity in that room rendered it inhospitable as a bedroom.

For many of the runaway slaves, The Martin House was their last stop to freedom. For a few, it was their last reported stop in life. Witnesses in the dining room have seen the apparition of what appears to be a small family of slaves huddling in terror in the tiny crevice of Snug Harbor. Shortly after taking ownership of the restaurant in May of 2005, Rick walked in from the outside patio where he was confronted by a hazy form in the chimney complex. He calmly asked himself, “What am I looking at?” He stared at it for what seemed like a very long time knowing it was not of this world. He looked away for a moment to summon his partner but the entity had vanished. Though they were both familiar with the haunted history in the building, they were a bit surprised that the activity would happen so soon after they moved in.

Snug Harbor, where slaves were hidden

Another experience they related concerned a woman who refused to sit in the upstairs dining room. It was once a bedroom and became home to two resident ghosts. The ghosts of that floor are those of a little slave girl and the spirit of Captain Tracy’s wife. Many people have felt her presence in the room. She usually made herself known when there are but a few diners in her old bedroom.

Another strange occurrence at the house was the unexplained moving of paintings on the walls. “Every night we leave, the paintings are straight but every morning when we open up they are all moved out of kilter. We have to straighten every one of them almost daily.” Rick stated.

One of the pastry chefs on several occasions experienced the ghost of the little slave girl. He slept upstairs during the winter months when one of the rooms was used as a condo. He claimed she once stroked his face with her fingers. He was continuously roused from his sleep by something touching his nose. At one point ghost actually pushed his nose. That is when he told the ghost to stop it. The ghost reluctantly abided. The third floor where slaves were reported hidden has such temperature fluctuations that only liquor can be stored there. Previous owners and employees have fled that room and stairway leading to it in haste as something grabbed hold of their leg while ascending the narrow stairway.

The former dining room to the right of Snug Harbor also boasts a ghost. Adults and children alike witnessed the apparition of a sea captain. One child actually shouted, “Look mommy, there’s a man dressed funny in the room.” The child was adamant about the man seated at the table in “funny” clothing. Others witnessed the captain, dressed in his centuries old sea attire, seated at the table staring straight ahead as if in deep thought. I went over to the table during our investigation and reached into the corner. At that point I reached right through a cold spot. My wrist and forearm was cold yet my hand felt warm. I quickly retracted my hand and grabbed my equipment. By then the cold spot was gone and the readings were normal. I did not feel any negative energy at all. The ghosts are not malevolent by any means, just curious and sometimes a bit on the prankish side.

The Long Island Institute of Paranormal Studies conducted an investigation in the restaurant in May of 2006. They were amazed by how many energy readings they obtained during their visit. The restaurant soon closed and in 2009, was purchased and renovated for private use. The owners have kept much of the historical charm of its former years as an inn and the ghosts it can be assured still like it that way.

Note: the new owners report no current activity as of a few years ago. Please respect their privacy.