(ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 2004)
On my way to the Story Inn, my cell phone quits working. Its only message: "Lost service."
True, this is not unusual in a place like this, tucked into a beautiful valley in Brown County, Indiana, far from any phone tower's reach. But add that I'm driving on a curving, dipping two-lane road, blacktop shiny from the misty day, past a cemetery, and places with names like Gnaw Bone and Earle Hollow. Gnarled, bare trees are scattered among the rust-and-mustard-colored ones that still hold their leaves. I'll admit, the drive is picturesque, as the throngs of visitors drawn to this south-central Indiana County, known for scenics and artists, would attest. But today, there's an eeriness made stronger by the mist, the stark trees and the lack of instantly available communication with the outside world. Perhaps it's just me, my nerves a little edgy because I've heard that the Story Inn is haunted, and in a matter of minutes I'll be settled into the Blue Lady Room, named for the inn's reputed ghost.
I pull into the tiny town of Story, which consists of the Story Inn. That's right--every single one of the town's buildings is part of the inn. Founded in 1851, Story once bustled as the largest settlement in the area. After the Great Depression hit, people abandoned Story and the rest of Brown County in search of jobs. This exodus eventually worked in the town's favor. Not only did the community remain architecturally intact, the deserted land around it became the Hoosier National Forest and Brown County State Park, two pretty expanses of rolling, tree-covered hills. Today, on 23 acres nestled between those two forested entities, Story is a beautifully preserved cluster of structures, from the town founder's homestead to the old sawmill. All are now the 14 rooms and cottages that make up Story Inn lodging.
The Blue Lady is one of four rooms on the second floor of the old general store, the outside of which hasn't changed much since it was built about 100 years ago. The rusty tin exterior hides an upscale main-floor restaurant, where cloth napkins and fine wines refine charmingly creaky hardwood floors and the original pressed-tin ceiling. The restaurant is a destination in its own right, drawing diners from hours away for its blend of European and southern Indiana cooking. Below it is a tavern, whose courtyard is popular with horseback riders fresh off the state park trail that ends in Story, and motorcyclists on scenic drives. I had some time to check out my room--white walls, antique furniture including quilt-covered bed, no phone or TV.