Gay Bed & Breakfast of Very Mild Terror: Christopher’s by the Bay in Provincetown

For every ghost story that I’ve written about, there are at least two more which either didn’t make it into any current book due to time restraints and/or incomplete information or, because of discrepancies found during my extensive research, ended up getting dropped before they were even finished.

Sadly, one story that never made it into Queer Hauntings was the reported haunting of Christopher’s by the Bay Bed & Breakfast in the heart of Provincetown, Massachusetts. Back in December 2008, I spent an afternoon on the phone with innkeeper Jim Rizzo who operates the inn with his partner Dave McGlothlin. Whenever I reach out to haunted businesses, I’m never sure what (if anything) to expect. And Christopher’s was certainly no exception.

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Christopher’s by the Bay (highlighted in red) is clearly shown on this Sanborn Fire Insurance map, dated October 1889. [LOC]
Digging into the property’s history has proved challenging since many town records were destroyed by a fire in 1920. According to deeds and surviving historical/property records, the current Italianate house was built in the 1880s on land once owned by Captain John Garland (shown as a vacant lot on an 1880 plat map; a 1908 deed transferred ownership from Captain Allen West Rich (1840-1912) to one Julia Rich). Additions including a shed dormer were made around the 20s or 30s, possibly during the time when it was used as a summer home by artist Edith Lake Wilkinson (1868-1957).

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Johnson Street around 1910. John Garland’s house (far left) can be seen with what would become Christopher’s by the Bay directly behind it, obscured by a tree. [PHPP]
For nearly 50 years now, guests have enjoyed these accommodations through their many incarnations, beginning in 1970 as Swanberry Inn, then Carpe Diem Guesthouse in 1998 (which moved down the street and still exists today—and, yes, it’s also allegedly haunted), and finally Christopher’s (named for its then-owner, chef Christopher Covelli) the following year. Jim and Dave bought the business in April 2006.

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Christopher’s as it looks today. [J. Rizzo]
Early into our chat, Jim confessed that he had never been a believer in ghosts. Owning an allegedly-haunted inn didn’t change his stance. Dismissive about the paranormal as he may have been, he readily admitted that guests and locals have mentioned bizarre-yet-not-frightening experiences to him. The most common reports—as is often the case with any haunting—is the feeling of being watched. But Jim did recall one day not long after acquiring the property when he found a local psychic named Mark Singer standing outside staring at the inn; Singer approached him and said, “You have a presence here. A woman and two children.” He assured Jim that they were benevolent, adding “…[they’re] happy you’re taking care of the house.” One name came into the psychic’s mind: Elizabeth. Whenever anything strange happens, they amusingly attribute it to her.

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One of the inn’s gas fireplaces. (Note the encyclopedias above.)

That wasn’t the only unexpected, out-of-the-blue remark about Christopher’s being haunted. An employee checking the gas fireplaces on the ground floor suddenly stopped in a room at the rear of the house and shuddered, telling Jim, “You have a presence in here.” The room directly above it was where a guest claimed to see a female apparition. Benevolent as she might be, she’s a bit of a neat freak; on more than one occasion, the smoke alarm has made a strange sound whenever the bed is unmade and the room left uncleaned for too long.

Another curious incident happened in the front room on the second floor when an old Encyclopedia Britannica flew off its bookshelf and landed at the foot of the bed.

Though Jim took all these incidents with a healthy level of skepticism, their black Labrador Retriever’s behavior can sometimes make him feel uncomfortable. He can often be found sitting in the doorway between the kitchen and dining room (between the original house and later addition) at night, growling suspiciously at nothing (or things seen only by him moving about the room). The originally rear door of the house now leads to the innkeeper’s quarters. All the rear exit doors near the dining room are in different places now, and a cottage was added directly behind it. Curiously, one guest did ask about “the [dead] people who don’t know how to get out of the room” as well as “the basement” (which according to Jim is only a small 8′ x 5′ cellar directly beneath the dining room with no immediately-obvious entrance).

Today, the guest rooms are named after popular painters. When it was Carpe Diem, the room names were paired with well-known literary figures. It was also during its brief time as Carpe Diem that then-innkeepers Rainer Horn and Jurgen Herzog of Cologne, Germany, were interviewed by author Mark Jasper for his 2002 book, Haunted Cape Cod & the Islands.

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The front lobby of Christopher’s.

According to Jasper, the innkeepers had recently discovered that the building had once been a funeral parlor, but their research was incomplete. Yet they, too, had been experiencing strange activity and were aware of the inn’s apparent hauntings, though they admitted its unpredictability; sometimes, the house was almost alive with strange activity, but there were also periods of complete quiet. In the basement, people had experienced whispering in their ear, breath on their neck, and a shadowy human figure. A female guest relaxing in the hot tub watched as a couple dressed in Victorian clothes strolled through the backyard and walked into the same basement. Another guest in the Tennessee Williams Suite was disturbed by his locked door opening and closing four times one night until he placed a heavy suitcase against it.

On the first floor in the Eugene O’Neill Room, the bathroom sink would regularly become dirty as if someone had shaved in the vacant room. On the bed, an indentation similar to a person laying down was not uncommon either. But it’s most haunted room, according to its previous owner, was Room 9: the Shakespeare Room. Beyond the strange noises, shadows, and feelings of being watched by some unseen presence, two former guests once stated that in the middle of the night told them to “get up and get out!” Though they were unsure of the identities of the many ghosts on site, rumor had it that some of the activity could be caused by a former manager named Kevin who loved the inn so much that he returned to it after his death.

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Christopher’s cozy, relaxing patio.

If you happen to find yourself in the oldest art colony in the United States, be sure to stop by Christopher’s or book a few nights there on the quiet street. It’s quite a beautiful old place just down the street from many of the LGBTQ businesses that still make Provincetown a gay mecca. It just so happens to be a short walk to Provincetown Cemetery as well as Peregrine Theater (founded by Ghost Hunters star Adam Berry and his husband Ben), too, I might add.

Just don’t let Kevin, Elizabeth, or their translucent roommates scare you away.

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