Haunted Restaurant Visit Leads to Trip to Forgotten Rhode Island Cemetery
Nothing goes with the paranormal like pizza, but a trip to this haunted Portsmouth, Rhode Island restaurant has me more hungry for the renovation of a long-forgotten burial ground.
We previously told you about the history and the hauntings of the Valley Inn, which was also featured last year on the television program Kindred Spirits. The thumbnail version, however, is that in 1673, Rebecca Cornell was found burned to death in her upstairs bedroom of the original structure on the property.
Although initially believed to have been an accident, Rebecca’s ghost allegedly visited her brother John Briggs in a dream, suggesting she had actually been murdered. After exhuming her body, it was discovered that there was a puncture wound in her stomach, and her son, Thomas Cornell, was sentenced to death for the crime using the “spectral evidence” against him.
Thomas Cornell was hanged and his body was buried on the family farm. Not long after his death, his wife Sarah gave birth to their seventh child and named the girl Innocent in protest of her husband’s conviction.
The original Cornell farmhouse burned down in 1889, and the house was rebuilt six years later using the same plans from the original house. In 1957, the property became the Valley Inn Restaurant.
My friend Amanda Millette and I recently fulfilled a months-long desire to have dinner at the Valley Inn. Amanda is a Lizzie Borden researcher with a massive TikTok and Instagram following who wanted to visit the restaurant not only because of its hauntings, but because of its relation to the Borden story.
See, Innocent Cornell grew up to marry into the Borden family. Her great-great-great-great granddaughter was Lizzie Borden. Like Innocent's father Thomas, Lizzie was also accused of murdering a parent: her father, Andrew, as well as his second wife, Abby. She was later acquitted of all charges.
Our visit to the Valley Inn was on the 130th anniversary of the Borden murders, which took place on August 4, 1892. We were headed to the Lizzie Borden House in Fall River later that evening, but first wanted to dine on some of the amazing pizza at the Valley Inn and perhaps hear some more of its haunted history.
The owner, Joe Occhi, was happy to oblige. He took Amanda and I out to the spot in the driveway where they believe Thomas Cornell is buried; he said ground-penetrating radar allowed them to discover the actual location of the casket, but there’s no way to know which end is the head and which is the feet. Patrons of the Valley Inn drive right over his grave without even realizing it.
Occhi also pointed us in the direction of the old cemetery where it is believed Rebecca Cornell is buried, although there is no way of knowing for sure because most of the graves have no markings. He gave us directions to the cemetery, which now stands in the woods off a condominium development that is on the back end of what was once the 400 acres of the Cornell farm.
After some trial and error, we finally found it.
The entire area was overgrown, with high ferns and pricker bushes obscuring many of the headstones. Many were intact, but others have crumbled.
It appears that at one point, there were metal railings around the cemetery that went through stone pillars, but it looked like only one side of these railings still remained.
Unfortunately, there are too many cemeteries and family plots across New England that have ended up like this. It wouldn’t take more than an afternoon of effort and a couple of weed whacker-packing volunteers to at least make this cemetery mostly clear of obstructions and return it to its proper appearance as a place of reverence. Maybe when the weather is right, we’ll return and do just that.
The key, though, is finding someone to keep up with it after that, and sadly there aren’t too many volunteering for that kind of work these days.
Perhaps a descendant of the Cornells or even the Bordens will read this and step up. I know a great (and haunted) place just up the road to stop for some pizza and a cold beer when you’re done.