Bowers Inn / Mission Table Restaurant and#150; Traverse City
Although probably best known for its wineries and annual Cherry Festival, Michiganand#8217;s Traverse Bay area is also the home of the Mission Table Restaurant (formerly called the Bowersand#8217; Inn). Located twenty minutes north of Traverse City, on the coast of the Mission Point Peninsula, the Mission Table Restaurant was the first stop on my ghost hunting journey. Iand#8217;d never sought out and visited reportedly haunted hotels or restaurants before, so I was a little nervous, unsure how my questions about specters would be received by staff, other guests, and owners. I was pleasantly surprised by the warm welcome I got at the Mission Table.
The drive up from Detroit was a long but pleasant one, and despite technical issues with my GPS, I had no difficultly locating the summer retreat turned fine dining restaurant using the directions from their Website (missiontable.net) as my only guide. The big blue building sits on the peninsulaand#8217;s main road, and though it is sheltered amongst the pine trees, itand#8217;s not hard to miss. As I drove around to the parking lot, which looks out over a vineyard, I tried to remember as much as I could of the story of Genevieve Stickney, the Mission Tableand#8217;s resident spectral inhabitant.
Genevieve and her husband J.W. Stickney, then an up and coming Chicago businessman, purchased the property in the late 1800and#8217;s. At the time, the property consisted of an old farm house with a small orchard of fruit trees, and was one of only a handful of homesteads on the peninsula. While J.W. built his million-dollar-plus lumber and steel empire, Genevieve went to work building her own successful, home-based business, making jams, jellies, and brandy. Eventually, the couple tore down the old farmhouse and built the mansion that stands on the property today, which they used as a summer retreat.
Sadly, a story that should have been happily-ever-after ended in betrayal and heartbreak. As she aged, Genevieve became increasingly overweight, which resulted not only in a decline in her health, but increasing depression and emotional insecurity. One of the employees at the restaurant told me that at one point, Genevieve removed all of the mirrors on the property, presumably because she didnand#8217;t want to look at herself any more. Genevieve is often described by historians of the Inn as and#145;bitterand#8217; and and#145;jealousand#8217;. It was during this period of physical and emotional decline that the Stickneys installed an elevator between the first and second floors, because Genevieve was no longer able to climb the stairs. J.W. also hired a young nurse to assist his ailing wifeand#151;but it turned out the nurse was doing more to help J.W. than Genevieve.
When J.W. passed away, Genevieve discovered that J.W. and the nurse had been carrying on an illicit affair behind her back for years. J.W. left his entire fortune to the nurse; Genevieve was left with only the house. She fell into a deep depression and eventually hanged herself from the rafters in the elevator.
Since Genevieveand#8217;s death, the property has changed hands several times, with little if any reports of ghostly phenomena, until 1959, when Jim and Fern Bryant purchased and renovated the old house, and began converting it into a restaurant. Since then, there have been many sightings of Genevieve, and even a few of J.W.
In 2006 John Carlson and Greg Lobdell, natives of Mission Point Peninsula, purchased the property and changed the name to the Mission Table. Carlson and Lobdell have worked closely with the Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy and Michigan Historic Preservation Network to preserve and protect the historic estate. In addition, Carlson and Lobdell instated a menu that includes local produce, and spotlights locally brewed beer, and wine from local wineries.
Arriving a little before three P.M., the Mission Table Restaurant wasnand#8217;t open yet, but the Jolly Pumpkin, a cozy little pub located at the rear of the main building, was serving lunch. I only wished I didnand#8217;t have several more hoursand#8217; drive ahead of me after I left Traverse City; I would have loved to have tried one of the local beers with my lunch. After ordering, I rather sheepishly gave my pre-planned speech to my server: and#147;My nameand#8217;s Helen, and Iand#8217;m here because Iand#8217;m writing a book about haunted places in Michiganand#133;and#8221; Iand#8217;d barely gotten the word and#145;hauntedand#8217; out of my mouth, when my waitressand#8217;s eyes lit up a bit and she smiled.
and#147;I donand#8217;t actually believe in ghosts,and#8221; she told me quietly, and#147;but this place is definitely haunted!and#8221; She promised sheand#8217;d be back to talk to me, just as soon as she cashed out her other table. Well, that had gone better than Iand#8217;d feared! (The Mission Table does have a whole page on their Website dedicated to Genevieveand#8217;s story, but you never really know how people are going to react when you start asking them about ghosts.)
When my waitress returned, she told me that sheand#8217;d spent a lot of time at Bowers Inn when she was younger. and#147;My family used to bring me in here all the time, but I never saw or heard anything until I started working here a few months ago.and#8221; She was careful to explain that everything sheand#8217;d experienced could be explained as something other than Genevieve playing tricks. Lights flickering, even a beer tap going on by itself, could probably be explained away as just and#145;one of those things.and#8217;
But we both agreed that while flickering lights could be caused by a loose wire, beer taps donand#8217;t usually just open up and start pouring on their own (sheand#8217;d lost several pints of beer before she got it shut off again; it wasnand#8217;t just a trickle). Iand#8217;ve worked in restaurants myself, and have poured beer from taps; theyand#8217;re not hard to pull, but they donand#8217;t just fall open without help. Still, a loose beer tap isnand#8217;t proof positive of Genevieve Stickneyand#8217;s afterlife presence in her home.
While I finished my lunch, my server went to find another waitress, Terri, who had been there longer and could tell me a lot more about Genevieve. Terri was getting ready for dinner service over in the Mission Table Restaurant, and I was invited to walk around upstairs before going over to talk to her.
The Jolly Pumpkin and Mission Table are connected through short series of halls and stairs and customers are welcome to go up and have a look around. I eagerly climbed the stairs and walked down a narrow hallway into the main building, the home Genevieve had shared with her husband, J.W., a hundred years ago. Looking around, it was apparent that the owners had gone through great lengths to preserve much of the turn of the nineteenth century charm, and it was easy to imagine what it must have been like for the Stickneys, during the happier days of their marriage, spending summers in this big, beautiful house, on the lakeshore.
Even knowing the whole story I didnand#8217;t feel anything especially ominous as I walked around upstairsand#151;until I ducked into the ladiesand#8217; room to change the batteries in my camera, which was starting to act up (most likely that had more to do with me than any ghosts!) As soon as I opened the ladiesand#8217; room door, I immediately feltand#133; something. Not quite a chill, but some sort of presence. Of course I shrugged it off at once. Ever the skeptic, I figured it was my own mind playing tricks on me; after all, there I was prowling around all alone in an old, reputedly haunted building. So, convinced I was spooking myself, I switched out my cameraand#8217;s batteries and went downstairs to find Terri. She was in the main dining room, setting up for an early dinner reservation, but more than happy to take a few minutes to talk to me.
Terri had been at the Mission Table and#147;from the start,and#8221; since the new owners took over in 2006and#151;and from the very beginning, sheand#8217;d been aware of Genevieveand#8217;s presence in the old building. It stated at one of their first staff meetings; the entire staff was assembled in the dining room, not far from where we were standing. and#147;I was sitting right over there,and#8221; she pointed to the far corner. and#147;We were going over the menu and we were getting to taste everything, when suddenly I felt a chill.and#8221; Terri told me she initially shrugged it off, but then the woman sitting next to her asked and#147;do you feel that?and#8221; Sheand#8217;d felt the same icy chill.
Of course, itand#8217;s an old building, it could just have been a draft, right?
Terri didnand#8217;t think so, and by the time we were done talking, I was inclined to think there might be something to Genevieveand#8217;s story, too.
On another occasion, Terri told me, she and another waitress were standing upstairs, near an ornate gold mirror that hangs in the hallway, surrounded by old photographs. (According to several histories online, this mirror was purchased by the Stickneys because it seems to make people looking into it appear slimmer.) Terri and her co-worker were standing on opposite sides of the mirror, but no one was in front of it. She describes what they both saw reflected in the mirror as and#145;an auraand#8217; or a misty apparition. It passed across the mirror and vanished. Neither woman would have believed what theyand#8217;d seen, if someone else hadnand#8217;t seen it, too.
The next story Terri told me was about the ladiesand#8217; room upstairsand#151;the one I felt the presence in. (I hadnand#8217;t mentioned my experience to her.) Apparently, the ladies room is one of Genevieveand#8217;s favorite haunts. One night, when Terri was changing clothes after work in the ladiesand#8217; room upstairs, she heard a loud rattling at the door of the outer room (The ladiesand#8217; lounge upstairs has two rooms, the lounge area and the restroom itself.). She shrugged it off, but upon exiting, an irate customer accused her of holding the door shut, preventing her from entering. Terri was nowhere near the door when the customer was trying to open itand#151;and the door doesnand#8217;t have a lock. She said Genevieve has held the door shut on several people.
On another occasion, Terri told me she was serving a large party and one of the guests asked about the restaurantand#8217;s haunted history, adding quite firmly, that she doesnand#8217;t believe in ghosts. Terri smiled and offered to tell her a few of her personal stories, if the guest wanted to hear them, as soon as she had a minute. As dinner progressed into desert, Terri served this particular woman a dish of frozen yogurt. The dish was cold, the yogurt was coldand#133;and a moment after Terri set it in front of her customer, the dish shattered (no one was hurt). Terri jokingly and#145;tiskedand#8217; her customer, saying that was what she got for saying she didnand#8217;t believe in ghosts. Then a thought occurred to her.
and#147;Are you a nurse?and#8221; Terri asked her customer.
Puzzled by the odd question, the guest confirmed that yes, she was. Why?
Terri told her Genevieveand#8217;s story. Apparently, the only time Genevieve is known to get at all nasty is when it comes to nurses. Little wonder, given her husbandand#8217;s infidelity.
Terri did tell me that sheand#8217;s never felt uncomfortable working in the old haunted restaurant; she tells Genevieve and#145;good nightand#8217; every day when she leaves work. and#147;Gennieand#8217;s more of a prankster than anything else,and#8221; Terri expressed firmly. and#147;She likes to play with the lights and the sound system.and#8221; On any number of occasions, management has turned everything off for the night and gone upstairs to do the end of the day paperwork, only to come back down later to find the lights and music back on, even though no one else was in the building and the doors were securely locked. Terri also told me that when the owners were renovating the landscaping a while back, workers dug up all sorts of jam and jelly jarsand#151;Genevieve had gotten quite eccentric in her later years and had taken to burying