Nick’s Nest

This is another found story, and another case of serendipity leading to a treasure.  I was originally supposed to go to a gallery opening in New York with Jackie Barrett, but snow made travel impossible.  The next day I planned to go to the Warrren Museum and spent a while talking to Lorraine on the the phone, but it started to snow again.  Instead, after the snow had stopped, a friend and I headed out to Nick’s to follow up on a report we were told.
Although the restaurant has hit come controversy of late, Nick’s is still around and changing with the times, although it is unclear whether they are still experiencing anything unexplained.

 

Nick’s Nest in Holyoke, Massachusetts, is a landmark built on tradition.  People can sit at the counter and touch the past, and enjoying a hot dog and some homemade baked beans has never felt more like traveling back to a simpler time.  From the basic, original menu to old the neon sign and the antique music box, when you get sit and eat your popcorn you feel someone from another age is sitting next to you, whispering old stories.  The new owners know all about touching history.  They feel the ghost of a past owner walking the halls, checking up on the place.

Although it is now a landmark in the town of Holyoke, Nick’s Nest earned its name in part from its humble beginnings.  Nick Malfas was the very definition of the American dream.  Malfas first started his business as a popcorn pushcart in 1921.  Every morning he would fill up the cart and walk up and down the streets of town selling his goods.  As his popularity grew, he continued to expand his business.  Without money to buy a professional electric cart, he converted an old Ford model T into a makeshift mobile restaurant by building the popper into the truck.

DSCN1199

One set of stairs where people have seen a ghostly figure.

 

In 1927 further expansion forced him to open a store on his favorite corner in Holyoke.  The new highway was being built, and Malfas knew the right food in the right location would be the perfect fit.  The story goes the building was so small his wife called it nothing more than a “nest”, and they just knew the name was right.  In 1948, Malfas decided to move to a new location that included two additional floors for his son Charles.

Charles took over the business and continued to run it like his father.  Every passing year meant more pressure to expand and modernize, but Nick’s Nest stayed much the same as it always did.  The menu remained simple; popcorn, hot dogs, baked beans, soda and soup from time to time.  The people of Holyoke took this consistency to heart, continuing to cherish the restaurant for its delicious, high quality food.  The bean recipe became notorious and the hot dogs were always made from lean fresh meat.  Once, when the meat packers went on strike, hot dogs were taken off the menu until the best meat could be purchased again.   The food was always good, but it was the tradition and nostalgia that truly drew people in and kept them coming back.

Charles son, Charles Malfas Jr., has become as much a part of the modern legend of the place as the food it sells.  Much has been said about him, and all of it falls into the realm of rumor.  Some say he did not like the family business and tolerated working there and running the place after his father passed because it was the only life he knew.  Others say a injury that forced him to install chairs lifts from the restaurant floor to the residence on the second floor prevented him from working the restaurant the same way his father and grandfather had.  Other say he was influenced by a seedy friend who manipulated him to take out a second mortgage to pay debts and ultimately sell the restaurant.

While none of this can be confirmed, Charles Jr. did allow the business to go downhill.  He was said to be rude to customers and employees, many of whom had worked there for years.  Press releases and interview contradict this, but former employees and old customers tell a different story.  Old ways were looked down on, and money stopped getting put in for repairs.  The second floor was not kept up and the third floor was all but abandoned.  It was at this time the rumors of a possible ghost began.  Again, nothing can be confirmed, but Charles Jr. was said to have been pestered by some spirit in the place, and the rumors all stated it was one of the old owners showing their disapproval of the state of the family treasure.

DSCN1214In early summer 2005, the location was bought by Kevin Chateuneuf for a little over six hundred thousand dollars.  The price included the restaurant, the residence and the attached house and the secret recipes and traditions of the name.  Kevin and his brother-in-law Ted went about rebuilding the business and restoring Nick’s Nest to its old glory.  Ted moved into the second floor and has since become familiar with all the sounds and odd winds connected to such an old building.  It was Ted that first started to notice odd things, but he brushed them off at first.

Odd things started to happen to different electric devices in the restaurant.  Several times the radio in the restaurant turned on after Ted had shut it off for the light.  He though he had forgotten in the course of closing up the first time it happened.  “We hadn’t been there that long,” says Ted.  “We were both new on what we were doing closing up.”  He shut the stereo system off, but then heard it on after he had made it upstairs.   The second time he knew he had turned off the radio when hours later, while sleeping upstairs, he heard it on again.  He was too tired to go down and turn it back off, but he started to think something unexplained was happening.

Another time the lights in the basement went off when he knew he had left them on.  The main switch lights the stairs and first section of the basement and then hanging lights all along the rafters light the rest of the area.  He and another employee were moving things out of the basement.  When they went back down, the basement was in total darkness.

Another time Kevin was walking with his wife and decided to go by the store after it had closed.  Ted  had closed up for the night and the building was locked and the lights turned off.  As they made their way down the street, the couple noticed something odd.  “We went past the place and, I don’t know why but we looked up,” says Kevin.  “There was a light on on the third floor.  I knew there was no one there.”  Kevin also saw a figure in the window, but assumed it was a reflection of something on the wall behind the window.

Ted confirms he shut the light off before going to bed, and the switch is located as you leave the stairs.  No one had access to the second or third floor other than Ted himself and there is no way to get to the third floor without going through Ted’s apartment.  As a matter of fact, one of the reasons Kevin has been unable to rent the space is because there is no way to get out in case of a fire.

DSCN1215

The most disturbing incident happened when both when were working late just after they had purchased the property.  “We hadn’t been there that long.  We were both new on what we were doing closing up,” says Kevin.

They were in the office on the third floor when they heard a long creak and then a loud bang from one of the doors on the second floor.  “We were sure we were alone.  We just heard a creak and then, ‘Bam’, it slammed.  It sounded like the loudest door in the world,” says Ted.  The two felt the temperature and began to joke with each other about who would go upstairs to check.  Neither went to check, but they were sure no one else was in the building; they both reported there was no wind that night and the door that was the best candidate for the sound was open when Ted eventually went to sleep.

Orbs seen on the second floor landing, the area where the slamming door was heard.

All of these experiences could be passed off it was not for other disturbing elements to the house.      While the store was open one day, Ted was hit in the back of the head with a package of plates.  The plates were not on a shelf above him and no employees were behind him.  He also reports things falling off the rack that have been placed securely.

Ted, as a resident in the building, as had more exposure to oddities that might exist in the building.  He has heard creaks that sound like footsteps and has experienced cold spots.  Much of the activity seems to center around the second floor residence.  Ted is sure there is something there, although he not quite ready to admit it might be a ghost.  “Sometimes when I’m in there (his room on the second floor) I sense something is with me.  I look over to my right (down a hallway that leads to the room in the front of the building).  I look over and feel something is there.”

DSCN1198

Another spot of activity…ignore the orb…

There are other things about the house that remain unexplained.  The intercom on the second floor is pulled out, almost as if destroyed in anger or frustration.  In the days when Charles lived there, it acted as an intercom to the store, and the microphone to it is still hanging in the store.  He would go up to sleep or take a break during the slow times, and when it was busy, his father would call up to him to come down and help.  Could it be the father still tried to communicate through the line after his death, perhaps giving some sign of his disapproval of the way things were being run?

There are also an abnormal number of thermometers placed throughout the second and third floor.  They are not thermostats, but rather cheap gauges measuring changes in the room.  Almost every room has at least two, including doors near crawl spaces and the kitchen.  Why would it be so important to know the temperature?  If there were spirits in the house, they might have caused dramatic changes Charles was trying to monitor.

In December of 2005, Massachusetts Paranormal Crossroads traveled to Holyoke to interview the owner and his brother and law and take a tour of the place.  During the visit, pictures were taken of most of the rooms and temperature and EMF reading were made.  Several unexplained orbs were sighted in areas mentioned as having activity, although it should be mentioned almost all were in areas that had the potential for dust.  The temperature often dropped ten degrees in small pockets of space, especially in the basement.  In one of the third floor bedrooms a small object, like a plastic bag but with a tip on the top, was seen in both the video and digital pictures taken.  This room is just off the main room on that floor, where the light went on, and had a bed and some personal items left by Charles, the only room to have anything from the former owners.

As the investigators left they took the time to get some pictures of the outside of the building.  The light on the third floor was on, even though the video clearly shows Ted shutting it off and no one has access to it after they had left.

Kevin and Ted are unsure who they ghosts might be.  Both believe it to be Charles Senior, checking up to see what they are doing.  They have recently started renovations to restore much of the original look of the house and store, and Kevin believes Charles likes this.  Before they bought the building, neither was told of any haunting and nothing has been reported by the tenants of the office space attached where Nick and his family lived.  No customers have ever had anything happen, but a few employees, mostly former or older employees have said they hear odd noises, like footsteps and voices, from time to time.

There are rumors Charles Senior reported the place being haunted to a few customers.  This seem like more of a rumor, especially considering his disposition.  It seems unusual he would confide such sensitive information given his personality.  It is worth noting the investigation into Nick’s was sparked by an e-mail from a ChuckyLighthouse who we have been unable to contact since.  If Charles Junior did indeed retire to Maine or Florida as some have said, he may very well have an affection for lighthouses.

It is hard when your future is laid out for you.  Nick Malfas worked hard to pass something on to the next generation and to leave a piece of himself behind.  After generations, sons can lose sight of this.  From your birth you are planned to inherit the mantel, even if you want another path.  Those kinds of emotions can stir up negative feelings, and if last wishes are ignore, there might just be enough there to allow someone to return.  Two generations lived for the small store in Holyoke that was nothing more than a nest, and in death they seem to still feel the emotion of its neglect and the pride in a new family looking to bring back the old days.