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The lady vanishes

At a Barnstable inn, the owners say there's one visitor - a blond woman in a bathrobe - who's never checked in...or out

BARNSTABLE - If there is a ghost in residence at the Beechwood Inn, and nobody's saying for certain there is, she's more the friendly Casper-type than a creature from your worst Halloween nightmare.

Nicknamed the Mischievous Lady by innkeepers Ken and Debra Traugot, this phantom prankster has been known to unscrew light bulbs, flip over curtain rods, and bolt doors shut from the inside. Debra swears the ghost, paranormally well-mannered, once chirped "Good morning!" when she walked in unexpectedly.

She's discreet, too. After Ken spied her through a ground-floor window hovering in the inn's parlor, he circled back twice for a closer look. Both times the lady vanished, or whatever ghosts do.

"She was playing hide-and-seek with me," Ken says. "It took me a few moments to think, wait, what did I just see?"

Debra's hair-stands-up, I'm-a-believer moment? The morning she received the ghostly greeting, accompanied by music playing in an empty room. Two women had just checked out of the room. Debra had assumed one was still in there when she'd entered the adjoining bathroom without knocking. Informed that both guests had in fact driven off, Debra was unable to breathe for a few seconds.

"You try to reason away everything at some point, or at least not say it out loud," Debra says. "Then something like that happens, and you go, oh my God. It's real."

At this point in our tale, a note of skepticism seems in order.

The Traugots would not object, having been skeptics themselves. They're perfectly comfortable with their ghost story being public, but they haven't made it a central part of the inn's marketing strategy ("Romantic Victorian Inn" is their website's description). They do not sell haunted-house admission tickets or hold seances in the breakfast room.

Investigators of paranormal phenomena have visited the Beechwood Inn and done their thing. No irrefutable evidence of spectral behavior has turned up. Comments in guestbooks dating back to 1994, the year the Traugots bought the place, dwell on the inn's many charms but rarely its otherworldly attractions. (A few guests have checked out in a hurry, however.) People to whom the Traugots refer as ghost mavens often book one of the rooms where the Mischievous Lady has been seen, heard, or sensed. Inevitably they check out without much of a ghost story to tell.

"Whenever someone has wanted something to happen, nothing has," Ken says. "She won't put on a show."

Thomas D'Agostino, a researcher for the International Ghost Hunters Society and author of the book "Haunted Massachusetts," once spent an afternoon at the inn, taking measurements and collecting data. He and his wife, Arlene, employed a variety of devices, including cameras, digital sound recorders, and an electromagnetic field tester. Having investigated more than a thousand cases over the past 25 years, D'Agostino says he approaches each potential haunting as neither a skeptic nor true believer.

"We didn't pick up much there," D'Agostino admits. Ken is "very level-headed, though," he adds. "I doubt he'd make up stories like these just to increase business."

Eerie encounters

The Traugots purchased the six-guest room inn a dozen years ago. Ken, a former manufacturing engineer and financial services executive, and Debra, whom he met while working for Citibank, enjoyed traveling together and staying at cozy country inns. Convinced by a friend that they, too, could be innkeepers, the Traugots searched for a B&B that was near the water, had antique furnishings, and a large private residence, and was well known to travel-guide readers.

The property was not a fixer-upper, says Ken, who has made only minor upgrades (cable television, Internet access) while basically leaving the house unchanged. Framed by a sweeping front porch, the inn sits within walking distance of Barnstable Village.

The Traugots are the third family to run Beechwood as a business. Built in 1853, the house was a private home until 1980 and had no ancient history of hauntings, according to Ken, although the previous owners did mention a resident ghost they'd playfully named Arthur.

"The wife laughed it off it as a figment of her husband's imagination," Ken says. "As a technical person, I didn't believe in ghost sightings - until it happened to me."

His first encounter occurred their first Christmas season at the inn, when Ken sensed "a strange presence" in the house. Things got progressively eerier after that. After two female guests checked out of the Rose Room one morning, Ken discovered he'd been locked out of the room. None of the locks had been bolted, he says, except one that could be latched only from the inside.

Then Debra had her "good morning" moment, followed by Ken's sighting of what looked like an older woman with long whitish-blond hair wearing a bathrobe or housecoat. A few months later, two guests came down to breakfast and asked, "Do you have ghosts?" They went on to describe a white-haired lady in a housecoat. "I was speechless," says Ken.

Who might this old lady be? Ghostly speculation has fallen upon an incident at a nearby inn more than 30 years ago.

Built in 1716, The Barnstable House had been the site of many strange sightings and happenings over the centuries, according to an account compiled by D'Agostino. In 1975, smoke began billowing from the house late one night. Firefighters reported seeing a woman with long blond hair in an upper-floor window. The house was otherwise unoccupied, however. The woman, reportedly dressed in a white gown, floated off in the direction of the Beechwood Inn a quarter mile away. Her identity, if any, remains a mystery to this day.

Says Ken, "I think our ghost left the Barnstable House to find a more comfortable house and decided to stay here."

The Traugots say they're not terribly religious or spiritual people, and that hasn't changed much even if their belief in ghosts has.

"I just think it's cool," Ken says. "It's made me appreciate that some people have different powers of observation than others."

Rather than being nervous or frightened, says Debra, "I feel quite honored to have her here." As for the couple's teenage daughter, she says, "The only thing she's annoyed with is not experiencing any of this herself."

Joseph P. Kahn can be reached at jkahn@globe.com.

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