A Bit of History and Ghosts
A Bit of History and Ghosts~ Mari Kennelly’s White Lilac Inn - By Leigh Cort
I knew the minute I stepped onto the property that I loved this house. It needed me! Although it came with baggage (24 borders, water in the basement, a spooky spiral staircase leading to a trap door and a sagging ceiling in the parlor) we still closed on an unforgettable Memorial Day weekend in 1994.
The real work began on the house mid September. At least 100 times a day it was up-and-down the stairs, the scent of Clorox permeating every corner from the deep cleaning it was getting used to day after day. But there was something else in the air ~ just as I would ascend the stairs in the same spot, there was a light hint of a floral scent. Surprising ~ since there were no flowers anywhere and nothing beautiful to replace the odor of scraping plaster. I didn’t think much of it until my Aunt and Mother-in-law kept asking me what perfume I was wearing. Ha! There wasn’t time for perfume.
Creating a bed & breakfast, we had to conjure up a name that matched the sparkling Victorian image – of course it would be White Lilac – although there wasn’t a trace of a white lilac tree on the property. Then during the second year, as guests were beginning to enjoy the White Lilac Inn, the mystery began. They, too, could notice the lovely floral fragrance on the staircase, asking if there was a lilac potpourri somewhere. We didn’t have any. The season had nothing to do with their affinity and belief that lilacs were there!
Shortly after, we were hosting a Christmas tour of inns and a visitor picked up one of our brochures, sharing it with a friend saying “Here, you like old houses”. The friend, Janet Fennimore, remarked “I don’t believe it. I lived in that house”. Janet called me the next day and began unfolding stories about the house, her family and in particular, her Mother Sally.
Sally Mann Randock Francis, a New York model, who had married three times and adored the house. She and her second husband, Steven Randock, an advertising exec, were always entertaining. They loved throwing parties that could begin at Easter and last till Thanksgiving! They were friends with many Ziegfeld Girls who stayed at the house – and during Prohibition, the original Butler’s Pantry was known as ‘The Bar’…Betty Grable pin-ups and all. During their ownership, they built the large parlor fireplace during the depression; a man stopped by willing to work for food and the family could now stay warm.
The Randock’s eventually purchased the ‘Rainbow Cottage’ from Mrs. O’Neil and became the 8th owners, aptly named by previous owners John & Lillian Rainbow. With so many owners throughout the home’s pedigree, the deeds reflect that the Randock’s sold the house in 1940 to Bertha and Hubert Van Note…and then in 1942 to Sally & Neil Francis. (Thus Sally’s 3rd marriage to Neil Francis). She never really left the house – always keeping it somewhere in her family. Sally finally ran it as a summer guesthouse as ‘The Francis House’.
It is rumored that an executive with Colgate Palmolive Company kept his mistress here during the summers. She would wait by the phone two hours each day to see if he would be coming to visit her at the Shore! But I’m sure there are many similar vignettes.
Sally’s bedroom was on the second floor facing the front of the house where she could see the pond. Her daughter Janet said she wore not only floral perfume but corsages of fresh flowers every day. It’s become clear to me that it is Sally descending the stairs every now and then, keeping her eyes on things…and enchanting our guests with her spirit! I love having her here with us~
Guests tell me that they sense a good aura when they come into the house. And that the scent is a ‘residual haunting’.
As time went on, subsequent owners changed the name and color to The Shamrock Lodge (yes, everything WAS green when I purchased it). They attempted to contact Sally for information, but alas, she didn’t respond. When she saw all of the shamrocks adorning the building, she kept on going and didn’t look back.
But to me, her love of flowers is all I needed to know~