I own a ‘haunted’ Airbnb in Salem. From what guests tell us, the ghosts are friendly.
This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Phil Marchand, the 43-year-old owner of the Henry Derby House Airbnb in Salem, Massachusetts. It has been edited for length and clarity.
The house I rent on Airbnb was built in 1838 in Salem, Massachusetts. Henry Derby, who worked as a tailor in town, was the first owner and the person the house is named after. A lot of guests who have stayed at the house say it’s haunted.
My wife and I lived there for three years and did three full seasons as a traditional bed and breakfast. After we had our first child, it all just became too much to live at the house with a baby. That’s when we first turned it into a full-time Airbnb in 2015.
Operating an Airbnb is so much easier than running a bed and breakfast. Right now, we rent the whole house as a single unit rather than renting out individual rooms.
I definitely think the fact that the house is known to be haunted helps with business
I usually book a year in advance for October. I open my dates on October 1 for the following year, and they’ll usually be 100% booked by the end of the month. I just opened the dates for next year, and I increased the rates. I’m now asking for $1,295 per night. My rates are significantly lower during our slow season, which is in the winter between January and March.
There are certain people who are looking to stay in a haunted house. We’ve had some paranormal investigators come through with all their equipment and actually do a full-blown investigation at the house. They have this really cool “Ghostbusters”-looking equipment that they bring. They always leave telling me that they picked up on some sort of activity.
We’ve seen other people who come in October and are just looking for a spooky place to stay. For the most part, though, I try not to push the “haunted” aspect too much because I want it to be a family home that’s a welcoming place for people.
I know all the names of the people who previously lived in the house
The only thing that I don’t know is the name of the servants, because there were servants’ quarters on the third floor. We kind of have a guess who it might be if there is a ghost in the house. We’re always like, “It might have been this person or that person.” There isn’t really any obvious answer, though.
From everything I’ve heard, whatever spirits are living there are pretty friendly. I don’t want to scare people who are afraid of being tormented by ghosts, but I do have to acknowledge the fact that it’s there just because there are so many stories about a ghost being in the house. There’s literally a ghost tour that comes to the front of the house and tells stories, and I don’t want people to be surprised.
We’ve never had anybody who was really scared. I think people are more surprised. Guests will say, “I woke up, and one of my belongings was on the other side of the room, and I was like, What’s going on?” Or they’ll say that they woke up and it felt like something was sitting at the end of their bed. I’ve never heard of anyone being horrified to the point where they had to leave, but a lot of people who have never even had any sort of ghost experience will ask if the house is haunted.
When I lived in the house, there was definitely an eerie feeling to it
For me personally, I always felt like if there was anything spooky happening, it was on the third floor. I always had a feeling that there was some sort of spirit living up there. When I was in other parts of the house, I would always hear footsteps coming from the third floor, whether people were home or not.
Through all of middle school and high school, my bedroom was on the second floor, and I used to always hear things. The noises would keep me up, and now, even to this day, I need to sleep with a fan directly next to my head for the white noise. One of my close friends that stayed with me at the house for a while swears that he saw a ghost on the third floor. He thought it was my sister, and I was like, “Um, she’s not home.” His face turned white and he described what he saw, which was like a younger girl with long hair. That’s what a lot of people have said the ghost looks like.
Personally, I never saw anything, but even when I moved back there as an adult and lived on the third floor, I still had the wildest dreams and woke up feeling like I’d been confronted by spirits.
Over the years, we’ve heard so many stories from people who stayed there
The most convincing case was a girl in her early 20s who was visiting from Canada. She didn’t really speak much English, but she came with her brother, who interpreted for us, and she claimed to be able to see ghosts wherever she goes. We asked her about the ghosts in the house, and she said, “Oh yeah, I see her. She’s right over there on the stairs.” She pretty much described exactly what we had heard other guests describe the ghost.
A lot of the time, when people leave me their reviews on Airbnb, they won’t put it in the review, but they’ll tell me about things that happened in the house during their stay in the private-message section.
I think I’m going to keep it as an Airbnb for as long as I can. There’s definitely a chance that I might want to move back when my kids are older, because I do love Salem. It’s a fun place to live, and it’s right downtown.