The Twisted Vine Restaurant

Posted by US Ghost Adventures Contributor in US Ghost Adventures

Connected in history, the Twisted Vine Restaurant, Seymour Union Cemetery, and Oak Hill Cemetery in Connecticut all have spooky stories to tell. The story behind their connections is, at best, an oddity.  But mostly it’s just plain creepy.

History of the Twisted Vine building

The 1892 historical building in Derby, Connecticut, now the Twisted Vine restaurant, was initially the Old Birmingham National Bank.  Although the building was built in 1892, the bank was chartered in 1848 as the Manufacturers Bank of Birmingham.   It became a national bank in 1865. Edward N. Shelton was the bank’s first president and took great pride in his investment in the building (which he helped design) and the bank’s operations.  It makes perfect sense that Shelton would stick around in the afterlife to oversee the goings-on in the building.

The Twisted Vine Restaurant most haunted restaurant in Connecticut
Photo: Dan- Historic Buildings of Connecticut

The building was built as a monument featuring a sumptuously detailed exterior with terra cotta molding in the Sullivanesque, Neo-Grec and Richardsonian Romanesque Revival styles.

The original vault from the bank is still maintained in the building.  Its elaborate and intricate detail is astounding, as well as the thick oak molding and stained-glass windows that once surrounded “Valentino-crazed tellers and portly pinstriped bankers.”

In 1970 the building was turned into a restaurant and has remained as various restaurants to this day.

A brief history of Edward Shelton

Edward Shelton was born in 1812 in Huntington, a section of Shelton, Connecticut. He attended local schools, the academy of Derby, a year at Partridge’s Scientific and Military Academy, and a winter attending scientific lectures at Yale. An astute businessman and visionary, he had much influence in the growth of Shelton and Derby, Connecticut.

When Shelton married Mary Jane DeForest in 1840, he built his famous Greystone Mansion in Derby to raise their family.  The couple had six children together.

His prize venture was his involvement in the architectural designing and building of the Birmingham National Bank in 1892.  He became the bank’s first President and held the position very seriously.  So much so, in the afterlife, he continues to oversee the bank’s operations to this day.

The town of Shelton was named after this great man whose involvement in building the cities of Shelton and Derby will forever be remembered in the history behind them.

Edward Shelton passed away in 1894, just two short years after the new bank building was opened.  He is buried in Oak Cliff Cemetery, another strange connection to the building.

Forgery and Suicide

Samual H. Lessey was the head cashier at Birmingham National Bank in 1913.  Like Shelton, he took his position seriously and with great pride. However, a man presented a $10 and a $15 check forged into $2500 combined during his watch, and the bank honored it.

Lessey was devastated when the check passed through the system and returned as a forgery.  Unable to handle the shame for allowing the transaction to happen, Lessey chose to end his life rather than live with the guilt.

On November 18, Lessey went to an open, public vault in Oak Cliff Cemetery, laid out on a coffin, and shot himself in the head. 

Lessey returned to the building after he died and will let you know he’s there through lights. Just don’t ask him about the check cashing incident!

A sad misfortune that explains in a sense why hauntings happen.

The Flood of 55

In 1955, Connecticut suffered one of the most devastating natural disasters in its history.  Two back-to-back hurricanes (Connie and Diane) slammed the East Coast, Diane dropping 13-20 inches of rain in two days on Connecticut.  The ground was already saturated from 4 inches of rain by Connie the previous week. Smaller rivers and brooks didn’t have flood control measures like the larger Connecticut River. The waters started to overflow their banks, moving up to 50 miles per hour.  Towns were entirely submerged in floodwaters.

People became stranded on the rooftops of their homes, in trees, and on top of buildings.  In minutes, houses washed away, and cars and bridges were swallowed up and disappeared.  Buildings collapsed, streets ripped up, and massive sinkholes formed. Surrounding rivers were 15-25 feet above their water banks.

Ninety people died, and an estimated 200 million dollars in damage resulted from the “Flood of 55.”

Seymour Union Cemetery

Perhaps the most disturbing part of the flood of 1955 is destroying the nearby historical Union Cemetery in Seymour.  Not only was its destruction, but it was also disruption.  More specifically, disruption of the dead.

Over fifty uprooted caskets took a ride down the Naugatuck River during the flooding.  Bodies were dumped into the treacherous floodwaters, and many bodies were never recovered. However, many were.

And this is where the Old Birmingham Bank building comes into the picture. 

Apparently, several caskets and bodies landed at the spot of the restaurant.  One of the surviving buildings in the area (perhaps due to the impressive architecture by Edward Shelton), the basement level, was then used to store the debris and bodies from the cemetery.  So, basically, it acted as a morgue.

Every paranormal enthusiast knows what happens when a grave is disrupted. It opens the portal to the unknown phenomena of hauntings.

There aren’t any specific reports of the cemetery itself being haunted.  Although there’s no cemetery, that isn’t haunted. But that’s different for the building of the Old Burmingham Bank.  It seems the building holds not only the ghosts of Shelton and Lessey, as many others still hang around.

The ghosts of the Twisted Vine Restaurant

Any paranormal aficionado will bite the bait when the most haunted restaurant in the state holds a dinner and ghost tour.  We spoke to some local ghost hunters who took the ghost tour in the haunted building to hear their take on the paranormal activity.

Carrie and her husband, Brian, participated in the dinner and ghost tour last summer.  Although Carrie is more of the paranormal buff than her husband, both felt the extreme energy embracing the building.  Carrie stated, “when you walk into the building, there is a definite presence in the air.  Not a negative presence, more like the presence of tremendous energy.  You can just feel it.  It’s not like, if walls could talk, it’s more like these walls do talk!” 

Haunted Dining room of the Twisted Vine Restaurant
Photo: Carrie (patron)

The couple says that there is an ever-present feeling that someone is watching you.  Especially from the upper balcony in the main dining room, they later find out where Edward Shelton’s ghost is seen.  Carrie says, “My back was to the balcony, and I kept feeling the need to turn around and look.  I don’t know what I was expecting to see, but I definitely felt eyes on me.”  As the couple sat through dinner, they snapped random pictures of the fixtures, windows, and the balcony itself.  Strange orbs appeared in several of the photos.  In a photo burst of the balcony, two green orbs showed up in one picture, but not any of the other images.

The dining room is the hotspot for the ghost of the man employees call “Sam.”  On many occasions, he has been seen descending the staircase towards what used to be the bank’s lobby.  They believe music coming from the bar (basement) brings him to the dining room.

The basement in the Twisted Vine Restaurant

The basement of the building is where the majority of the paranormal activity is found.  This is also where Sam Lessey hangs out.  Although it is Edward Shelton’s ghost seen near the dance floor. For paranormal teams who have investigated the bank,  electronic devices go haywire, including jukeboxes.  When a band plays, paranormal tracking equipment has picked up anomalies surrounding the area.  Employee and bartender Stacy has sugar containers and glasses thrown at her.  Considering all the dead bodies from the cemetery that were housed after the flood, it’s no wonder the spirits wreak havoc in there!

The 2nd floor of the Twisted Vine Restaurant

The 2nd floor of the building wasn’t in existence when the bank was built.  The original building had vaulted ceilings with oak trim and geometric-shaped windows.  A floor was put in to separate it into a second story. Now it serves as a storage area for restaurant supplies and, apparently, ghosts.  Employees have witnessed shadowy figures lurking in the back of the storage area.  Some employees have been so spooked they refuse to go into the room.

We asked Carrie about her impression of the second-floor hauntings.  She said, “the second floor didn’t feel as heavy as the dining room.  But still, there was definitely a presence felt.  I walked away from the paranormal for a few minutes because I was more enamored with the beautiful ceiling.   How sad it is they covered it up, and it’s used for a storage area.  One guest did capture some orbs on video.  She also said she saw someone in a backroom area, but we didn’t see anything.  She said she lives in a haunted house and attracts spirits.  I’m not one to doubt anyone about these claims, but I did have to wonder if the spirits in her glass at dinner had anything to do with her sightings upstairs (laughs).”

The attic in the Twisted Vine Restaurant

The attic has the spirit of an unknown little girl.  It’s believed she may have been a victim of the flood or disrupted cemetery.  Employees leave gifts for the little girl to keep her company and occupied.  There have been several sightings throughout the restaurant. However, the attic seems to be her preferred hangout spot.

Toys left in the Twisted Vine restaurant attic for the little girl ghost
Photo: Carrie (patron)

Carrie said the attic was the primary paranormal hotspot for her and her husband, “My camera mysteriously malfunctioned in this room and this room only.  I couldn’t take any video, and my pictures were all blurry. My husband’s camera worked fine!  He got a video of orbs like none other I have ever seen. People like to debunk orbs as dust particles and the like, but the difference with orbs, I believe, is they seem to have personalities of their own.  Some saunter while others dart here and there.  All in the midst of each other.  In my husband’s video, one orb comes down from the ceiling, shoots in an entirely different direction, and heads back to the ceiling. If they are mere dust particles, then they are definitely driven by spirits!”

Conclusion

Several paranormal teams have investigated the Twisted Vine restaurant. Their paranormal experiences were different, but paranormal experiences all the same. The owner Michael Picone believes in the hauntings and experiences them himself.  He does say they aren’t hostile ghosts and are no cause for alarm.  So, if you’re eating dinner at the Twisted Vine, the most haunted restaurant in the state of Connecticut, don’t forget to take a glance up at the balcony.  You just may see Sam Lessey or Edward Shelton looking down at you while you eat!

You can read more of our everything paranormal blogs at our US Ghost Adventures haunted stories site.

US Ghost Adventures offers historic ghost tours in cities all over the country.  If you live in Massachusetts or are visiting the area, check out our haunted Lizzie Borden House, home of the infamous murders of Andrew and Abby Borden in 1892.  If you don’t know the story, you can learn about it here!

The house is owned by US Ghosts Adventures founder Lance Zaal. It’s nowadays a museum with tours and accommodations that includes breakfast.

We can’t guarantee you’ll see any of the ghosts at the Lizzie Borden House, but we do guarantee a hauntingly good time!

Sources:

Picture gallery of the historic Birmingham National Bank in Derby, CT, now Twisted Vine Restaurant.

Los Angeles Herald 18 November 1913 — California Digital Newspaper Collection

1955 Connecticut floods – Wikipedia

https://www.nhregister.com/news/article/Travel-Channel-ghost-series-spotlights-1955-Derby-15016253.php

http://electronicvalley.org/derby/quiz/pages/quiz13.htm

http://naugatuckvalley.blogspot.com/2012/08/memories-of-55-flood-come-flooding-back.html

Birmingham National Bank (1892) – Historic Buildings of Connecticut