Rumors of a ghost inhabiting Bowers Harbor Inn, now known as Mission Table, have endured for decades. But are these rumors true? And just who is this ghost that some claim to have seen at the historic restaurant on the Old Mission Peninsula?
First, a bit of history. In a Grand Traverse Journal story dated Oct. 1, 2014, local historian and author Julie Schopieray maps out the history of the Bowers Harbor Inn and the rumors of a ghost. She writes that a farm was established there in the 1860s by Chester and Anna Hartson.
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In 1909, the farm was purchased by Jennie E. (Worthen) Stickney (not Genevieve; more on that later) and her husband Charles F. Stickney. The couple spent the winters in St. Paul with Jennie’s sister Clara Mann, in Chicago with Charles’ sisters, or in warmer climates. However, from spring through fall, they stayed in their farmhouse on the Old Mission Peninsula, where Mission Table is now located.
In 1910, Charles partnered with J.C. Howe to establish the Howe & Stickney Canning Company. He utilized his business skills to promote the harvest and food processing business, which he’d learned by following his father and grandfather into the shoe and boot manufacturing business.
After the farmhouse was damaged by fire in 1927, Jennie hired her nephew, well-known architect Kenneth Worthen, and his partner, Percy Dwight Bentley, to build a larger home around the shell of the old farmhouse for around $175,000. The beautiful new structure was a perfect place to entertain their family, friends and fellow businessmen, and Jennie loved serving her own jams, jellies, brandies and pies from the fruits harvested on their farm.
The Stickneys continued to farm the land, hiring local men to run the farm and ladies to help out in the house. My dad, Walter Johnson, born in Mapleton in 1923, worked at one time as the Stickney’s chauffeur.
Schopieray writes that as the Stickneys got older and their health began to decline, they hired a personal nurse to care for them. Jennie suffered from diabetes, heart disease and in her later years, possibly dementia. Their nurse and her children lived with them in Bowers Harbor during the summers and traveled with them during the winter months.
In March of 1947, Mrs. Stickney died at the Pantlind Hotel in Grand Rapids, where they had a suite for the winter. Mr. Stickney, while confined to a wheelchair, continued to enjoy their Bowers Harbor home for two more years until his death at Munson Hospital in Traverse City in August of 1949. Having no heirs of his own, he left his wealth to their caregiver, likely to help her support her children since she would no longer have the income from the Stickneys.
While it’s unknown whether Mr. Stickney had an affair, as legend holds, what we do know is that Mrs. Stickney did NOT hang herself in an elevator shaft in the Bowers Harbor home, also part of the ongoing legend of the ghostly hauntings. The deaths of Mr. and Mrs. Stickney are unremarkable in terms of scandal.
“The real story is about two elderly people who needed help from their widowed nurse, a person to whom Mr. Stickney did leave his worldly possessions, but only out of respect and gratitude,” writes Schopieray. “With no children of his own, Charles felt his nurse was a perfect recipient of what was left of his estate. She had two children to raise and the Stickneys had come to care about the entire family. Others connected to the Stickneys and left out of the will may have felt entitled to some of the estate, that bitterness leading to jealous rumors about an alleged indiscretion between Charles and his caregiver. However the false stories started, they are nothing more than rumors and unsupported gossip.”
Schopieray adds, “It is a shame that Mrs. Stickney, a woman with no one to defend her legacy, has had her life story so completely tarnished.” She hopes that the rumors of jealousy, infidelity and suicide will fade over time.
In fact, Stickney’s name did not even appear to be Genevieve, as noted in all the articles and stories about the family, the residence and the hauntings. Schopieray notes that Stickney’s birth, marriage, will and passport documentation indicate that her name was never Genevieve, but Jennie.
“The only document with the name Genevieve is her death certificate, signed by a physician who did not personally know her. He could have assumed Jennie was short for Genevieve, or, in her state of dementia, she might have started calling herself by that name. For 80 years she went by the name of Jennie, her given name.”
But is there a ghost roaming the halls at Mission Table? And if so, who is it? Could it indeed be Jennie Stickney, who even though she died in Grand Rapids, returned in the afterlife to her home on the shores of beautiful Bowers Harbor? Could it be Chester, Anna or Nida Hartson, all of whom passed away in the old farmhouse prior to the Stickneys arrival?
Based on anecdotal evidence from people I trust, it’s clear that there is some paranormal phenomena happening inside that building. Here’s where things get interesting.
OMP resident Linda Seibel worked at Bowers Harbor Inn (now Mission Table) and The Bowery (now The Jolly Pumpkin) from 1981 to 1993, and she believes that the ghost is Mrs. Stickney.
“There were many odd events that happened to the staff in those years,” says Seibel. “Stories about her pranks of lighting candles after all the guests were gone, to moving dishware in crazy places. There was an actual photograph taken of a silhouette of a body shape in the upstairs bedroom window. Anyone who worked there believed her presence was around us.”
She notes that Stickney’s particular area of interest centered on the women’s bathroom at the top of the spiral staircase. “A friend, while using the restroom, had a roll of toilet paper unroll from the vanity and shoot towards her feet under the stall door,” says Seibel. “Of course, she came out and there was not a person in sight.”
But Seibel she has her own story involving Stickney.
“It was late October and I had worked a party in what was called the Patio Room, now Mission Tables’ bar area. I needed to carry many chairs back upstairs to the storage room. As I reached the top of the staircase, with as many chairs as I could carry, I then pulled them across the carpet to the last room in the hallway. As I passed by the women’s bathroom dragging the chairs, I was stopped immediately, from a force that would not let me move any farther. I came to a stop and looked to see who or what was resisting me. As you would guess, there was not one person there. I instantly knew that Genevieve had struck again.”
Seibel says she loved working there and felt honored that Stickney noticed she was there.
My sister-in-law, Sherie Boursaw, also worked at the restaurants and tells a story about an odd occurence that happened on the stairway.
“I was on the stairs taking dirty dishes to the Bowery kitchen, and something told me not to walk in the middle of the steps,” she says. “I moved over and as soon as I did that, I felt someone try to trip me. I told Mrs. Stickney to knock it off.”
Bethany Ryan, who currently manages the restaurants, says she believes Stickney’s ghost still haunts the restaurant, “mostly just to let us all know she’s still there,” says Ryan.
“She will mess with the music and the lights, water faucets turn on and doors pop open by themselves. The grandfather clock that’s no longer in service will chime on it’s own, especially in October.”
Jennifier Fouch Dunwell’s grandpa, John H. Brittain, laid all of the floors upstairs at the Bowers Harbor Inn. “He told us it was one of the only times he was truly freaked out and scared to go to work,” says Dunwell. “He was working alone after hours to lay the floors and he kept hearing chains being dragged across the floor, along with the sound of someone walking. Every time, he would leave the space where he was working to find out who it was, and he could never find anyone.”
Ruthanne Bohrer-Agosa tells the story of when her daughter Madison left a recorder in the elevator, with permission from the restaurant manager. When they played the tape back the next day, they heard some very interesting noises.
“Starting around 2 a.m. and continuing to 4 a.m., there was a mechanical sound like chains engaging in movement, a tea kettle whistling, and what sounded like a pile of books being dropped on a table,” says Bohrer-Agosa.
Others tell stories of lights suddenly turning on after they’d been turned off, dishes being moved, mirrors and paintings mysteriously falling off the walls, the elevator moving, and Jennie’s image in the hallway mirror near the upstairs bathroom.
Do you have a Bowers Harbor Inn ghost story? Tell us in the comments section below.
Interesting article , Jane. Thanks for the research.
Thanks, Connie. I think this is one of those “to be continued” stories. I just ran out of time and wanted to get it posted by Halloween (in the nick of time, under the wire). But there are lots of other people on my list to interview – so we’ll work on that for next Halloween.
Thank you for your article. Having done extensive research on the Stickneys I’ve been terribly frustrated with all the misinformation that is out there. I don’t doubt that people have experienced things in the Stickney home–it was never my intention to argue that– only to debunk completely false rumors and offer ideas because there were other people who lived and died there. From what I discovered with my research, the Bowers Harbor house may have been the only home the Stickneys owned (They alternately lived in upscale hotels and with family and traveled a bit) and Jennie likely felt most rooted there. I appreciate that you took the time to read my article.
Thanks for the note, Julie, and for your research about the Stickneys. It was a case of perfect timing here, because right before I wrote this, I did the Oakwood Cemetery walk with Larry Hains and he mentioned the Bowers Harbor Inn and your research. It really is such a shame that Mrs. Stickney has gotten such a bad rap over the years.
My sister and brother worked there, Stephanie and Arthur Kranites. I am sure they probably have some good stories. Late 70’s and early 80’s.
Thanks for the note! If they’re into sharing, feel free to have them contact me – [email protected]! Love hearing about all the stories there.
I grew up down the road from Bowers Harbor Inn and this is the first time hearing the true history of the place. Thank you!
Linda Seibel was my art teacher at Old Mission and I remember her telling that story about the chairs not moving. Spooky.
It’s hard to listen to the stories of folks who were there, and not believe that something other-worldly was going on. I’m a believer!
My mom was a waitress there back in the 70’s and on occasion the big bell upstairs would ring. One saturday when we were there with mom helping her clean the accountant came running out of her office scared to death because the plug to her adding machine came flying out of the wall.
What a story! Thanks, Laurie! I’m a believer.
I worked at the Bowery for a year back in 1995 and lived across the street on Hedeen Drive. I know of three incidents. I had a salad flip off the counter in front of me when I was in the kitchen waiting for others to be made. Our manager came in one day with a cut on his nose. The ghost had slammed the women’s bathroom door shut on him as he was turning off lights and closing. Back then, you could not even close the outer door as it dragged on the carpet. I was taking an order for a couple on the upper balcony of the Bowery. It was in July and was quite warm upstairs. I have long hair and all the sudden an arctic breeze blew past me and my hair went straight behind me as a ghost passed. It scared the daylights out of the couple that was ordering and they got up and left.
Sept. 94. My wife and I are having dinner there. It’s storming outside to beat the band. I go upstairs to use the men’s room. The urinal is tucked back in a corner next to the stalls. There is a crank out window there. It’s open. The lightning strikes reveal the torrential rain poring off of the roof and the huge pine trees swaying back and forth in the wind. Perfect setting for what happened next. All of a sudden the toilet paper holder in the stall next to me starts loudly unwinding. I see no TP. The stall door opens and slams shut and I here someone walking out the door. I finish, wash up and go out the door. I look down the larger room on the right and see a large person walking away. I tell the waitress and she brings several pamphlets to the table for us to read. One has a picture of a large Genevieve in it. I start making fun of her haunting a restaurant where she can eat all of the food.
I had ordered fish in a bag which the BHI was famous for. Made it many time a day. When I bite into the lobster tail it’s still frozen and raw. They re-cook it for me. I got sicker than a dog that night. Taught me a lesson about making fun of the dead. Especially one that is still hanging around. Definitely something going on there.
My mom is a Stickney and after her uncle passed away she found an old newspaper article talking about the haunted inn. It is in very good condition other than a few tears and today she found out that her great uncle has actually been to the inn and he took a picture of an article that looked like it.
I have seen this apparition in the women’s bathroom. It was prom night in the early 1990s. I was primping in the mirror when I saw a woman in long full skirts enter the room. It being prom night, I didn’t think much of it. There were many other young adults there that evening. She passed by and I assumed she was headed to the loo. As I finished my fussing and turned to leave, I was surprised to discover that I was alone. I checked around the room to be sure.
I have no doubt whatsoever there’s a female spirit there. In 1980’s at the Inn, I attended a Physician’s conference with a friend (I was an RN. I had an Angora sweater on, a strand got on my contact lens. As I was in the upstairs bathroom at the mirror, I saw a woman with a long dress enter the lounge area adjoining the bathroom. I told her I had something in my eye and was having difficulty getting it out. The door never opened or closed but I hurriedly got Out when I realized a human wasn’t there! I’m receptive to Spirit and had no doubts. I was frightened.
My friend managed the Inn evening’s and I heard the stories she’d share. Especially locking up at night with lights turned off, and driving away lights went back on. I believe one must be receptive to spirit in order to sense or see one… and don’t understand it but don’t question it.
Now my son (Steve Gill) friends Jon and Greg I just found are owners there. Great job! I’m curious if I’m renovating they ever experienced anything. It’s true, and the Women’s lounge was Definitely where she (whom ever it is) is there!
I worked as both a hostess and manager at Bowers Harbor Inn and had a couple of “odd” experiences while there. One night as I closed the restaurant and turned off all the lights as I was driving away all of the sudden all the lights came back on. No I did not go back to check on it. Another time I put a chafing dish away in a room where it was when not in use. The next time I went to get it out (and no y had been in there since I put it away) it was on a different shelf across the room from where I left it. Never felt she was being malevolent, just liked to mess with people!