I've chosen hotels for many things - location, price, the promise of a fireplace. But never before have I picked a place solely on the likelihood of bunking down with a ghost.
But if I am going to stay over in New Hope, Pa., reportedly one of the most haunted towns in the country, above room service, above convenience, above a free continental breakfast, I want a certifiable spirit.
And, truth be told, in a town so crowded with ghosts, so outright infested with 'em, - they've been spotted ghouling it up everywhere from backwoods bridges and foggy street corners to popular restaurants and a tattoo parlor - I expect to bump into a specter or two just strolling through town.
My search leads me to the Inn at Phillips Mill, an 18th-century stone cottage slathered in ivy and charm. Judging by its Web site, the inn is the essence of old-fashioned romance, all brass beds and floral wallpaper.
In addition to the frippery, the inn supposedly has a ghost. More to the point, it has a ghost and a vacancy. Being as I'm calling on short notice in October, New Hope's high season, and I've already been turned away by two other haunted inns, that's all I need to hear.
When they tell me that they don't accept credit cards, I'm scared already.
Upon arriving in New Hope, I quickly learn that the town is of two minds about its ghosts. There are those who embrace and promote them, who silkscreen them onto Chamber of Commerce T-shirts and talk them up like proud grandparents. And then there are those who, if you so much as mention the "G" word, mark you one candy corn short of a bag.
The woman who shows me to my room (and takes my check in advance), tells me, as she leads me up two flights of winding stairs, that I have what's called "the attic room."
"Is it haunted?" I ask hopefully.
She stops and turns. "Sorry, what?"
"Is it haunted?" I repeat. "'Cause I read that it was."
"Oh," she says, giving me something of a look before turning her back and continuing the steep climb. "I don't know anything about that."
If the not-exactly-living have staked a claim in New Hope, who could blame them? If all is equal in the afterlife, a ghost could do worse than this cozy idyll.
The essentially one-stoplight town that hugs the banks of the Delaware River wears autumn well. Drying leaves scatter and scrape across brick walkways, and it seems that every other tavern, inn and shop celebrates the season by arranging pumpkins, mums and dried cornstalks.
Strolling on Main Street, peeking into one adorable shop after another, having a leisurely lunch at Mother's Wine Bar & Restaurant, I forget all about the otherworldly. I have to pull myself away from the artisan jewelry and crafts at Topeo and the beautiful pottery at Heart of the Home to focus on what I came for.
To get back in the spirit spirit, I buy a friend's dog a treat decorated in Halloween colors at Bow Wow, a canine boutique.
Further proving my serious-mindedness, at C'est La Vie, a French bakery tucked into an alley along Main Street, I buy myself a ghost-shaped butter cookie.
I check out TearDrop Memories NorthFork Pet Antiques on Mechanic Street, a store long on both name and creepiness. In addition to numerous headstones for sale, owner Greg Cristiano boasts "over 3,000 post-mortem photographic images and 300 Victorian hair wreaths." That's human hair.
To my utter disappointment, the one thing Cristiano doesn't have wedged into his dusty shop is a ghost.
"If anyone would have seen one, I think it would be me," he says, before sending me across the street to Boi's of New Hope Art Gallery where the owner deals with almost as many ghosts as customers.
Perhaps the most anticipated part of my stay is the ghost tour. On Saturday nights from June through the third week in November, and also every Friday night in October, seekers of spirits gather at the corner of Main and Ferry streets for a guided walking tour of the town's most haunted spots.
During the last two weeks of October, aboard the New Hope & Ivyland Railroad, folks can also ride a haunted Halloween train, an event the typically child-friendly attraction has rated "PG-13."
Leading my tour is Adele Gamble, a veteran guide to the supernatural and also, during the day, receptionist at the local Buick/GMC dealership. Wrapped in a black cloak and with only a lantern (with a witch carved on top) to light the way, Gamble stops first at the Logan Inn, a lovely building that dates back to 1722 and is easily the most haunted spot in town.
As we ghost-seekers huddle across the street from the inn, Gamble points to the second-floor corner room, the infamous "Room 6," sometimes known as "Emily's Room." I tried to stay there but, in the witching season, the room books months in advance - Halloween night 2009 is already claimed.
Though other ghosts roam the inn, too, Emily, the mother of a previous inn owner, takes most of the credit, making mischief in her room by lowering the thermostat, changing the clocks, throwing around guest's shoes and leaving lavender-scented vapors in her glowing wake.
For about an hour, Gamble leads us from one spooky spot to another, peeking behind darkened buildings, stepping carefully along the deserted canal towpath as she tells us of classic town ghosts and those she's felt herself.
She mixes in advice about the local cuisine. "I like to play up Porches," she says of another of the local inns. "Yes, it has a haunted room, and they give you a breakfast that's unbelievable."
After the tour, I ask Gamble if she really believes. "I wouldn't be doing this if I didn't," she says.
I also ask her why she thinks so many ghosts haunt New Hope.
"Well, if you really think about it, this town goes back hundreds of years," she says. "That's a lot of heartache, a lot of energy, a lot that's been left behind here."
Leaving Gamble to blow out her lantern and drive home, I head across the street to Farley's, a cozy independent bookshop. It's got Haunted New Hope, which I'm looking for, right near the register. I pick up a copy and, for good measure, a collection of classic ghost stories.
I drive back to my inn with plans to crawl into bed with the scary books and wait for the ghost. According to the book, she's a dowdy one, swirling about in a long black skirt and high-necked blouse.
But I see and hear nothing. Unless you count the tick of an errant smoke detector and the hack of a phlegmatic old man apparently staying in the room below me. I thought the congested fellow might have phantom potential until he continued to wheeze well into the morning as I left to hit Rice's Market.
Rice's is a 30-acre outdoor market with produce, crafts and flea market goodies open every Tuesday morning and Saturday March through December. There's nothing haunted about it. It's just fun.
Before I leave town, I'm hoping for a glimpse inside the Logan Inn, the town's ghoul ground zero. If you come to New Hope for ghosts, you simply can't skip it.
Fortune, for once, smiled upon me. The occupants of Room 6 had just checked out and Katie Pouy, the incredibly sweet manager, told me I could peek inside.
Actually inside the room that I and the ghost tour had gaped at from the street the night before, I took in the plush burgundy carpeting, the mirrored armoire, the carved wood bed frame.
After what must have been a busy night for her, Emily wasn't immediately present. No cold spots. No traces of lavender.
But remembering that she sometimes toyed with time, I turned on the TV to check the clock on the set. It read 12:30 a.m. At 12:14 in the afternoon.
Spooky satisfaction at last.
if you go
New Hope is about a two-hour drive from Baltimore. Take Interstate 95 north to the New Hope Exit 51. Go north on Route 32. Follow through Washington Crossing and into New Hope. Route 32 N. becomes Main Street in New Hope.
Inn at Phillips Mill, 2590 River Road, New Hope, 215-862-2984; theinnatphillipsmill.com
. Located in an 18th-century former stone barn, the inn is on the National Historic Register. The accommodations are spare; some rooms don't have showers. Rates in season start at $109.
The Logan Inn, 10 W. Ferry St., New Hope, 215-862-2300; loganinn.com. This former tavern dates to the 1700s and has 16 rooms, including the supposedly haunted Emily's Room No. 6. Rates start at $100 per night and there is a two-night minimum.
Ghost Tours of New Hope, Adele Gamble, 215-343-5564, ghosttoursofnewhope.com. From June to November, tours meet weekly on Saturday night at the corner of Main and Ferry streets. In October, there are also tours on Friday.
New Hope & Ivyland Railroad, 32 W. Bridge St., New Hope, 215-862-2332; newhoperailroad.com. Offers scenic train trips, including dinner trains, aboard vintage rail cars from New Hope through Bucks County.
TearDrop Memories NorthFork Pet Antiques, 12 W. Mechanic St., 215-862-3401; teardropmemories.com. You probably won't find your holiday gifts here, but it's worth a stop for the heebie-jeebies.
Rice's Sale & Country Market, 6326 Greenhill Road, New Hope, 215-297-5993; ricesmarket.com. A 30-acre outdoor market with vendors offering a variety of goods, including antiques, produce, baked goods, jewelry and handbags. Open every Tuesday all year and Saturdays, from March to December.
New Hope Chamber of Commerce, P.O. Box 633, New Hope, 215-862-9990.