Saturday, October 31, 2009

Belle, the Ghost of Port Cape

Listen to the story of Belle.

The Port Cape Girardeau Restaurant and Lounge is one of the oldest buildings in Cape Girardeau. It has anchored “Warehouse Row” on the riverfront since at least 1860 as a warehouse and commission house, and finally as Port Cape Girardeau. With plenty of history here worth haunting, Port Cape is home to one of the most well-known ghosts in town.

Dale Pruett has been bartending at Port Cape for twenty years. While the old building creeks and moans in its own particular way, he has spent too many late nights alone in the old building -- and heard a few too many sounds that he just can’t explain.

Dale led us upstairs to an area that is used for storage on the top floor. In the corner, an old wooden elevator – the first elevator in Cape Girardeau – sat unused and covered by sheets and pieces of plastic. A dim light bounced across the musty room as Dale sat us down to tell us about Belle, the ghost of Port Cape. There is no better setting to talk about a classic haunting.

“Well, they say maybe she jumped out the window but I’m not really familiar with that story exactly. Or maybe she was Grant’s mistress or something, but…could be.”

Dale gave Port Cape’s ghost the name “Belle” because he got tired of saying “the ghost.” He says that a few days after coming up with her name, “I was out in the hallway downstairs, and nobody was in the bar area. And we have a bell…a nautical bell…and it just suddenly rang. Not just a little bit, not just a ‘ting,’ but really hard. I wasn’t in the room, so I came back and looked, and the hammer was hanging there on the leather strap, and I just thought, ‘Well, I guess she likes her name.’”

Dale says that his sightings of Belle span over the twenty years that he has been at Port Cape. All of the workers at the bar and restaurant are familiar with Belle, and the legend of the ghost has become part of the culture of the restaurant. Before Dale started to work at the bar and restaurant, he says he was ambivalent about ghosts. “I toyed with it, you know, ‘yeah, why not’-type thing, but this more or less confirmed it.”

“We’re friends. Yeah. Well, I don’t know about friends, but…” Dale says. But some people are not so chummy with the ghost. “Most of the new people that are here aren’t on friendly terms. ‘Go upstairs and get a whatever.’ ‘I’m not going upstairs. Not unless someone goes with me.’ Over the years, there’s been several of those people.”

Dale now thinks that Belle likes him. “I wasn’t really sure in the beginning,” he says. “But now we have to like each other. I’m not going anywhere, and she isn’t, either.”

So what exactly does a ghost like Belle do? “Just little annoying things,” Dale says. “Noises. Footsteps. And there’s nobody there. You’ll check it out, of course, because you don’t know. I just want to make sure it’s not a hard body—those would bother me…You know, feel her hand on your shoulder…you know those things are kind of spooky…I just hope it’s Belle.”

Others have caught glimpses of Belle as well. They will often report a strange figure in a long, flowing, 19th century period dress moving from room to room before disappearing altogether.

“What I have seen up here, as far as seeing things, they look like…orbs, I guess…floating across the room,” Dale says. “Of course, they were heading to the same stairwell I was heading to myself. Needless to say, with them ahead of me, I didn’t run. I let them go ahead.”

“You just blow it off, you know, ‘Yeah, that was, you know…okay, I didn’t see that.’ And then it’s like, ‘Gosh…It’s happening more often,’ but like I said, it doesn’t happen when you want it to.”

“She comes and goes when she wants. I’m on the clock, and she isn’t. ‘I’ll leave you alone—I’m leaving. You can stay here all you want.’”

Although sightings of the actual ghost are few and far between, Dale says that Belle has her own way of making herself known.

“She’s kind of playful. I was doing the checkout one evening, and every time I’d do my paperwork, my peripherals would go wild,” he recalls. “I’m in there all alone. So I slapped my hand on the table and said, ‘If you’ll just be quiet and leave me alone for a minute, I’ll be gone.’ And it went away. Then after about twenty more minutes of paperwork, I left. Sounds like you could come up with a scenario for all of this—light off the river, or mirrors, or something—but no, that isn’t what it was.”

“If somebody says they think they saw the ghost—Belle—they’ll tell me a story, and if it’s a recurring thing, they saw Belle,” Dale says.

One such encounter occurred about 15 years ago when a couple from Wisconsin stayed in one of Port Cape’s furnished rooms for the weekend, during which time they actually captured the elusive ghost on film.

“They just loved the room downstairs,” Dale says. “There was nobody in there, so they took a picture from one wall looking at the other—north looking south, east looking west, that kind of thing—and he sent back some pictures. At that time, we had antique tables and chairs in that room. There were the same white orbs in three of the chairs in every picture. It was just an orb in a chair—the same three in all the pictures.”

So does Belle have friends? “Well, by those pictures, there are probably others. And I assume that there are. And they may change off, and I just use the one for…blame everything on her.”

To skeptics, Dale says that nothing substitutes for experience, and that all it takes is living with a ghost to change your mind. “I had somebody ask me, you know, ‘That’s just poppycock,’ you know, ‘Bull.’ What would you tell somebody that didn’t believe in ghosts? I said, ‘Move into a haunted house.’”

No comments:

Post a Comment