The Haunted Union Oyster House

dine at this historic and haunted establishment

The site of ghostly colonial-era apparitions and strange sightings, Boston, Massachusetts' Union Oyster House has it all, with a side of creamy clam chowder. Known for being the oldest restaurant in the United States, it's no surprise that recounting this landmark's past history often involves weaving in the paranormal. From the specters of finely dressed Victorian ladies to the presence of a deceased ex-employee, the ghosts of this establishment are as diverse as the characters that once strolled the Cradle of Liberty's streets.

Did you know?

  • Union Oyster House is the oldest continuously operating restaurant in the United States, established in 1826.
  • Before opening its doors as a restaurant, the building served as a dry goods store, Continental Army Paymaster headquarters, and French tutoring house, a peculiar history that has invited in some interesting ghosts.
  • 35th United States President, John F. Kennedy was a Union Oyster House regular. His spirit is believed to still linger in the dining area and haunt his favorite booth.
  • The wooden toothpick, an innovative invention at the time, was first used at the Union Oyster House.

Is John F. Kennedy haunting the Union Oyster House?

The most notable spirit said to haunt the dining area is - none other than - the late J.F.K, 35th president of the United States. It is a well-known fact that Kennedy was a regular at the eatery, long before he was elected president.

His favorite booth, now baptized "The Kennedy Booth," was located in the upstairs dining room, preferred by the politician because of its privacy. But J.F.K haunting the place seems to be nothing but an urban legend. As much as we would like to think that his ghost is living in one of his favorite restaurants, employees confirm this is not the case.

The Residents of the Union Oyster House

So who is really haunting the Union Oyster House? Let's just say, this 250-year-old restaurant is home to the ghosts of Massachusetts Bay Colony residents from diverse backgrounds and classes.

Ebenezer Hancock

In 1771, the second floor witnessed the printing of The Massachusetts Spy, the first newspaper in the United States, and one of the earliest mediums to solidify the rumors of the American Revolution. Five years later, the same building became further immersed in the Revolutionary movement, serving as the headquarters for Ebenezer Hancock, Deputy Paymaster for the Continental Army. What is now the dining room area, was once an official pay station, where generals (such as George Washington) were paid their earned military commissions.

Caitlin Fisher, writer for The Daily Free Now interviewed several restaurant employees to gain some insight about the ghosts that haunt the place. In her blog post, FreeP Unsolved: Even the Oysters are Haunted, Fisher narrates how several delivery crews have witnessed the specter of a man dressed in colonial attire, hunched over a desk. The manager, a woman named Sue, determined this was Ebenezer Hancock, doing his job as paymaster, even in the afterlife.

A Fashionable Woman Haunts the Restaurant

Among the other entities said to haunt the centuries-old restaurant, is a young woman dressed in expensive 19th-century clothing, believed to be one of Louis Philipe's French students.

After his involvement in treasonable activities, Louis Philipe I (who later became King of France) was forced to live in exile for two decades, a journey that eventually led him to Boston in 1796. While in Massachusetts, he lived on the second floor of the building and earned money teaching French to Boston's high society women.

He taught in what is now called the "Heritage Room," where the specter of an impeccably dressed woman is often seen staring out the window. Could this be one of Philipe's tutees or just a well-dressed lady waiting for her long-lost seafaring husband? After all, this used to be the city's waterfront.

The Ghost of Chef Henry

The Union Oyster House has witnessed its fair share of misfortune, from the Boston Massacre to the Boston Tea Party, standing calmly throughout the years, even when faced with crippling adversity. Within its historically-rich walls, it not only harbors the ghosts of centuries passed but also contemporary ghosts like Henry.

During her interview with Fisher, Sue - the Union Oyster House manager - stated the restaurant is haunted by her former coworker.

When Sue first began serving at the establishment, she worked with a chef named Henry, who switched positions a few years later. The night he passed away, his ghost was witnessed by the current Oyster House chef while he was wrapping up his shift. The chef let Sue know what he had seen, and she immediately understood that her old friend had died. To this day, when lights mysteriously flicker and electronics malfunction, the explanation is - of course - Henry.

Union Oyster House History

Before It Was a Restaurant

In the 18th century, before housing the famous seafood restaurant, the brick four-story house operated as a dry goods shop. Scientist and Boston official, Hopestill Capen, was the shopkeeper and artisan responsible for making the fancy garments. Interestingly, during this time, the Boston waterfront came up to the back door of the establishment, allowing Capen to conveniently receive fabrics and other dressmaking materials right to his door.

Oyster Bars: The Parisian Cafes of Boston

The long-operating Capen dry goods business came to an end in 1826, making way for the Atwood & Bacon establishment, supplying the demand for oysters that swept 19th-century Boston. The restaurant, owned by oysterman Hawes Atwood, incorporated a curved oyster bar, which served as a meeting point for some of the city's most notable men, much like cafes in Paris. It was here where the prominent lawyer and future U.S. Secretary of State, Daniel Webster, gulped-down dozens of oysters and drank watered-down brandy.

Pioneering the Toothpick

The oldest continuously operating restaurant in the United States, Union Oyster House, was the first to debut the usage of the essential, after-meal luxury, the toothpick.

After Charles Forster journeyed to Brazil, he noticed the impeccably white teeth Brazilians had, something he attributed to their makeshift wooden toothpicks. At the time, Americans were using goose quills to pick their teeth, but these would often break in the mouth.

Forster began manufacturing wooden picks and paying young men to go to different restaurants and ask for them. When the restaurant realized they didn't have the item, Forster would conveniently walk in with a box of toothpicks to sell to the business.

Visit Ye Olde Union Oyster House to experience the thrill of standing in the country's oldest restaurant, while in the company of spirits (and good food)!

Visitor Information

The Union Oyster House is a full-service restaurant, currently open to the public.

Restaurant Hours:

Sunday-Thursday: 11:00 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday: 11:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. *Union Bar is open until midnight

Location

41 Union Street Boston, MA 02108

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