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By ROBERT VILLANUEVA email@example.com
GLENDALE — Autumn twilight creeps over the small town of antique shops, restaurants and 19th-century homes. Glendale is a town embraced by fall, where front lawns fill with dry leaves and pumpkins decorate front porches.
Area residents and tourists ward off the slight chill in cozy nooks and comfortable confines of downtown businesses.
But at The Whistle Stop Restaurant, employees claim at least two visitors are guests from beyond the grave.
I arrived at the well-known eatery because of stories I’ve heard of ghosts that haunt The Iron Horse, the second floor of The Whistle Stop. Workers tell stories of hearing chairs and tables being moved upstairs as they work in the downstairs restaurant or saloon-style doors swinging on their own.
The Iron Horse is used for private parties and Saturday buffets. Most employees don’t often go up there, but Lacey Perez, daughter of owners Mike and Lynn Cummins, does. She frequently has to turn off lights or use the business office located there.
Perez has heard several stories about the saloon doors swinging on their own. Employees also have reported hearing footsteps in the empty dining area.
“I’ve heard that myself,” Perez said.
On at least one occasion, Perez said, an employee recounted an incident involving physical contact with the ghost. As the story goes, two workers were upstairs preparing the buffet area and dining room. At one point, one employee was in the buffet section and felt a tap on her shoulder. She thought it was her co-worker. But that employee was in another area upstairs.
The employee who felt the tap screamed when she discovered no one was near her.
For as long as Perez can remember, employees have spoken about a ghost that’s come to be known as “Ethan.” No one’s sure why he got that name, but employees frequently invoke it.
“If anything weird happens or anything unexplained, they say, ‘That’s just Ethan,’” Perez said.
But Ethan isn’t the only ghost said to walk the dark wood floors of the second floor.
On Dec. 13, 2005, a tragic accident at the railroads near The Whistle Stop resulted in the death of Elsie Thompson, a longtime employee of the restaurant. Thompson’s daughter, Virginia, who also works at the restaurant claims her mother is still around.
“She worked here 30 years, and this is her kitchen,” Virginia said, standing in the kitchen of The Iron Horse.
Virginia believes some of the activity ascribed to “Ethan” is actually her mother.
“I believe mama tapped me on the shoulder a few times,” she said.
Other activity, such as a kitchen utensil being repositioned or a burner being turned off, convinces Virginia her mother is still around.
Employee Courtney Gibson has heard enough stories from fellow employees who work upstairs that she doesn’tlike to go there.
“If I do, I make a quick trip,” Gibson said.
Likewise, Patty Peters, an employee of 14 years, had a co-worker who told her about chairs that would move by themselves or doors that would shut on their own.
“I’m terrified of the place,” Peters said. “I would not go up there.”
Built in 1911, The Whistle Stop was a general store with a pool hall upstairs during the 1920s. Later, it became a hardware store that — in 1975 — began serving breakfast and lunch in a 12-booth section, Mike Cummins said.
With the success of the food counter, the hardware store was phased out and the building became The Whistle Stop restaurant. In 1989, after renovation, the upstairs — which previously had been used as a storage area — was opened as The Iron Horse restaurant.
The Cumminses and supervisor Scott McGowan don’t particularly believe the stories. They’ve never experienced any of the activity, either. Mike frequently works upstairs.
After interviewing the co-owners and employees, I spent time alone upstairs, leaving my digital voice recorder at various locations or asking questions aloud. I explored the area.
The 18 steps leading up to The Iron Horse are covered in the center by a carpet runner, and stenciled floral designs on the walls of the stairwell create a warm, home-like atmosphere.
Upstairs, dark wood floors and French windowed section dividers create a maze of dining and work areas. The lighting is low but not dim, and the murmur of customer conversation from downstairs wafts up.
Creaks and squeaks are plentiful, but I did not experience anything unusual. I did, however, review my recordings later.
While I can’t account for every noise on the recorder, I can’t say with certainty one way or another whether I caught something. I plan to re-evaluate the recordings.
Still, I didn’t feel uncomfortable in The Iron Horse.
But then, I don’t have to work there.
Robert Villanueva can be reached at (270) 505-1743.