Inside Washington Square Café in Burlington, employees getting ready for a busy morning of cooking and serving breakfast pause at the sound of footsteps coming from the supposedly empty second floor. Other days the old-timey call bell used to signify when a meal is ready to be served dings on its own, a ringing declaration that someone or something unseen is present.

The Washington Square Café is haunted.

According to lore and many of the staff who’ve worked there, the restaurant remains home to a spirit—perhaps one of the 200-year-old building’s former inhabitants. Past employees have heard a young boy giggling behind them in the kitchen, only to find no one there when they turn around. Bridget Striker, history coordinator of Boone County Public Library, offers an explanation, or perhaps an introduction.

Joseph Graves and his wife, Malinda Watts Graves, built the home in 1814 and just a year later their 5-year-old son died. Could it be him giggling in the kitchen?

Striker and a team of volunteers explore this ghostly tale and other Boone County hauntings in the upcoming Ghost Walks, tours of Burlington and Petersburg rife with historical accounts of mortality, murder and mayhem mingled with the stories of the souls left behind. This year’s tours, sponsored by the Boone County Public Library, will explore Burlington Oct. 14, starting at the gazebo near the old courthouse, and Petersburg Oct. 21. Tours begin at 6:30 p.m. and run every 15 minutes until 7:45 p.m. Tickets can be purchased for $5 each at the Burlington branch of the library.

“I do genealogy work and what would happen is someone would come up and say, ‘This is weird but can you tell me who died in my house?’ We started seeing a pattern and finding information,” says Striker. “House genealogy is like regular genealogy but instead of going back through a family, you can look at a specific location and see who lived there. Once you find out who live in a house, you can find who died in a house.”

A person’s request for information on who’d lived and died in the home was often followed by a hesitant confession of believing the home was haunted and a detailed description of the strange sounds or happenings. Striker was intrigued by the idea and thought others would be also. She dug into Boone County’s property history, starting with Burlington, the county seat. By combining historical data with spooky tales and phantom sightings, Striker developed the Boone County Ghost Walk series.

“We didn’t want just history buffs to come out to the tours. With the ghost walks, they’re getting history but in a way others can enjoy,” Striker says.

A partnership with Paranormal Investigators of Northern Kentucky (PINK) adds another level of credibility to the tours. Using a variety of methods, including infrared cameras, digital audio recordings and environmental measurement devices, PINK works to confirm or debunk hauntings. And people are anxious to believe. Previous Ghost Walks have drawn big crowds, many who already believe and are hoping for proof. According to data from a Gallup poll, more than one-third of Americans say they believe in the spirits of the dead coming back and nearly that many believe in haunted houses.

Julianne Kreimborg is one of the believers. She and her family have attended many of the Boone County Ghost Walks, including Burlington, Petersburg, Rabbit Hash and Big Bone Park.

“We have always enjoyed these types of tours as a family. We love history and the haunted part adds a fun twist. When we travel, we try and do one in the city we are visiting, such as Nashville two summers ago. It’s a great way to see the city at dusk and learn history,” she says. “I love the tours; it’s a fun way to learn history. Rabbit Hash was probably my all-time favorite. It was an eye opener for me when I learned the history about the slaves that had passed trying to cross the river. I highly recommend the tours.”

While the tours don’t come with a guarantee of experiencing spirits first hand, Striker says guests routinely say they got their money’s worth, certain they’ve seen or felt someone no longer of this world.

During a tour of Rabbit Hash, people standing in the foyer of the art gallery portion of a barn saw a ball of light floated over them and then rise into the ceiling. Visitors on the Walton tour have had weird images show up on their phones when they took photos. Some even said they could see the image of a little girl in their photos.

For Kreimborg, her first-hand experience came during a tour of Big Bone Park.

“I was looking over towards the security system board or thermostat, can’t remember which it was, but it hung on the wall by the old water fountain. There was a light on the screen and something passed in front of it so it blacked out. I asked the guide if that light was one that turned on and off on its own and was told no. That’s when the guide said I must have had an experience,” she says.

It is Petersburg, though, that, according to Striker, is “the most haunted town in Boone County.” The town, which was built on an Indian burial ground, has a history filled with murder, suicide, bizarre accidents and people just dropping dead in the street.

In the AB Parker house on the corner of Second and Main, sounds of a child playing marbles comes from a first-floor closet and renters of the property have said the dining room closet will not stay closed, regardless of the kind of latch they use. A ghostly woman dressed in Victorian attire has also made appearances at the home. Could it be Antonia Berkshire Parker, the wife of the original owner?

Striker and her team discuss this story and many more, including the apparent curse on a piece of prime property and a possible serial killer who called Petersburg home. 
Tickets are on sale at the main branch of the Boone County Public Library for $5 each. Benefits of the Burlington ticket sales go to the Daughters of the Revolution while proceeds of the Petersburg tour will be donated to the Boone County Historical Society. Previous tours have included Florence, Walton, Rabbit Hash and Big Bone Park.

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