Literary bed and breakfast celebrates 30-year anniversary

MYSTIC, Conn. (AP) — What do a group of New York City police officers, teachers and librarians looking to immerse themselves in literary history, and a motorcycle crew have in common?

They have all stayed at The Old Mystic Inn. They have slept in the canopy beds, stepped across the braided rugs and sat in the Hitchcock chairs. They have walked past the model ships, grandfather clocks, dolls and teddy bears.

Mary Knight, former co-owner of The Old Mystic Inn, said of the police officer group, “One of the gentlemen that got out of the car actually rolled in the grass, because they don’t see grass in the city.”

The Old Mystic Inn, an eight-bedroom bed-and-breakfast on Main Street, celebrated its 30th anniversary on June 25. The rise of Airbnb and growth of hotels in the region have posed challenges for owner Michael Cardillo, but he has persevered in his mission to give guests a relaxing stay and good food.

The land was first developed in 1784, when John Denison built a structure that would serve as a hatter’s shop, dwelling house and single-family home until 1959.

That’s when Charles Vincent bought the property and opened the Old Mystic Book Shop, which operated until Preston Jump bought the property in 1986 to convert it into a bed-and-breakfast.

Stephen Jones wrote in the Feb. 22, 1987, edition of Northeast Magazine, “Certainly in an era in which the shelf life of a book is less than that of a cereal with preservatives, who else but a Charlie Vincent keeps alive what publishers used to call the ‘backlist’ books? In any case, many of his books struck me as that right blend of what was in my experience and what was yet exotic.”

In honor of the literary history, each room in the house is named for an author, such as Henry David Thoreau, Emily Dickinson and Robert Frost, and guests are greeted with a book by the room’s respective author, laid on the pillows.

The bed-and-breakfast opened on June 25, 1987, and the carriage house was added in 1988. This doubled the number of rooms and provided second-floor innkeeper accommodations.

From 1991 to 1999, the innkeepers were Mary and Peter Knight.

Mary Knight was 49 when she and her husband, who died in 2009, began operating the inn. When she found out the man looking to buy the property in 1999 was only 29, she said to herself, “This isn’t going to fly.”

But she now thinks of Michael Cardillo like a son and feels that she and her husband were blessed when he came to the door. Peter Knight’s health was deteriorating, and the couple felt it was time to sell the place.

Cardillo, who is originally from Redding, graduated from J.M. Wright Technical High School in Stamford and The Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y.

After working at a restaurant in Redding, at a catering company and as a private chef for a family in Greenwich, Cardillo decided he wanted to run an inn and went to an innkeeper seminar in Savannah, Ga.

He first looked at The Old Mystic Inn in October 1999 and closed on the property in December. Cardillo serves as the owner, innkeeper and executive chef.

But he tells people that the manager is Lucy, his fluffy white Bichon Frise dog.

Cardillo brings his culinary talents to the Wadsworth Dining Room every morning, serving guests sweet items like strawberry-stuffed French toast and savory ones like eggs Benedict.

Knight and Cardillo assert there is a ghost on the property, noting that guests said they have seen people behind them, and the shades inexplicably change length, and the latches on the doors jiggle.

Paranormal investigators Courtney McInvale Reardon, Ed Bird and John Zaffis have visited the inn.

Cardillo said that investigators have recorded paranormal activity. Reardon told Damned Connecticut — a website telling stories of the weird and unexplained — in 2014 that “a lot of psychic mediums have been able to come in there and pick up on a lot of the energy.”

Visitors can play a game of chess with pirate and colonial settler pieces, and in the winter can sit by the fireplace.

“It’s a gem. It’s a great asset to the village and I think to the community,” Knight said. “The grounds have been enhanced by Michael, but it’s always been the same in terms of the atmosphere, the decor.”

“You become friends but then you also become family with some of our guests,” Cardillo said. “They come back every year and we’re at a point where we go out to dinner together or grab a glass of wine.”

One such couple is Nancy Olson and Bill Kruppenbacher, who are in their late 60s and have been coming to The Old Mystic Inn for more than 20 years.

They kept going back largely because of the Knights but found Cardillo to be “equally as gracious,” Olson said. She has joked to Cardillo that if she and Kruppenbacher ever see a for-sale sign on the inn, they’ll burn the sign down.

They also keep returning for the “wonderful breakfasts” and the tranquil atmosphere.

Living in Fairfield is “fast-paced, everything is rush-rush-rush, go-go-go, and Old Mystic, Mystic itself, it’s just so laid-back,” Olson said. “It’s quiet and it’s like pulling a shade down.”

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