On the northeast side of Portsmouth, at New Castle, a grand Victorian hotel overlooks sailboats, fishing boats and yachts.
For generations, the Wentworth Hotel, also called Wentworth-by-the-Sea, was a summer destination for wealthy families.
Built in 1874, this hotel was synonymous with ‘opulence’ through the 1960s. However, times changed and — by the late 1970s — the next generation showed less interest in their parents’ vacation choices.
As a guest during the waning days of the Wentworth’s popularity, I encountered some of the hotel’s ghosts.
At that point, the fourth floor was dusty and abandoned. It had once housed servants who’d arrived with families staying at the hotel.
By the late 1960s, the fourth floor was strictly off-limits to small children… which was exactly why I went there. I’d sneak off when my parents were busy with golf lessons, formal afternoon tea, or swimming laps at one of the hotel’s pools.
My first trip to the fourth floor wasn’t an idle visit. I’d seen a woman in a long dark dress, and a white apron and cap, dash up a narrow staircase from the third to the fourth floor. After waiting until she was near the top of the dusty stairs, I followed her.
At the top of the stairs, she’d vanished. I thought she’d slipped into one of the tiny servants’ rooms on that floor, but I couldn’t find her anywhere. I roamed from one room to the next, noting torn floral wallpaper, rickety wooden chairs and sagging cots.
Eventually, I realized that the only footprints in the dusty hallway were mine.
That was the first of many encounters with the ghosts on the fourth floor and the turrets of the Wentworth Hotel.
In February 2008, I returned to the Wentworth. I was taking pictures and double-checking my stories for Weird Encounters, the sequel to the book, Weird Hauntings. (As I did in Weird Hauntings, I’ve described some of my favorite first-person tales of real ghosts.)
Because I’d spent so many childhood summers at the Wentworth, I had no trouble finding my way back to the fourth floor. Since the Wentworth became a Marriott Hotel in 2003, they’re not dusty little rooms any more; the fourth floor is as opulent as the rest of the resort.
In February 2008, entering the front door of the Wentworth hotel was like returning home. It took me a minute to get my bearings since the entry had been remodeled, but I soon remembered the floor plan and found my way to the elevators.
On the fourth floor, I could feel that familiar, homely ‘ghost feeling’, especially at the staircase landings near the hallway ends. Twice, I saw figures appear and vanish, but perhaps that’s because I expected them. One was a man dressed in black tie formal attire… or he may have been a butler or valet.
The other figure seemed female, but I didn’t see more than a filmy outline that disappeared in a split second.
In addition, it may have been coincidence that the door to one of the most haunted rooms was unlocked and unoccupied during my visit. To me, that suite of rooms feels happily haunted, perhaps by a man of the sea. He’s a loner, and not likely to bother anyone who won’t welcome his presence. I had the idea that he was pleased that I remembered him, and left the door open.
I didn’t see anything, but I smelled the faint aroma of good pipe tobacco.
My visit was brief, but I’ll be back at the Wentworth when the weather is warmer. On this short tour, I was able to confirm that the ghosts are still there. There’s something very comforting about that.