Milly’s Inn in Wilson has an air of mystery - The Buffalo News

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Milly’s Inn in Wilson has an air of mystery

WILSON – Visitors to Milly’s Inn on O’Connell Island can enjoy the serene views of Wilson Harbor, the attention to detail in the beautifully appointed rooms and the solitude of the 18-acre site.

And, they might not be enjoying it alone.

After dreaming of doing it for a decade, owner Diane Johnson recently turned her home into an inn – long the site of unexplained phenomena. It seemed only natural to add “Milly’s Haunted Harbor Walks,” too.

“There is a lot of history here, a lot of stories about things that don’t add up,” she said. “People have seen things, heard things, experienced things on the island that can’t be explained. Do you just ignore these things? If you continue to hear these stories from people, you’d be foolish to ignore them.”

Johnson stresses that she has spent a great deal of time researching the site to make the script for her harbor walks “historically accurate.”

“The history goes back to the Native Americans camping here, the British burning Wilson during the War of 1812, the ship-building industry here, Wilson being a resort area, the rum-runners from the Canadian side in the 1920s – there’s been a lot of tragedy here,” she said.

The history of her own home is a bit mysterious, too, she said.

“There was a wooden structure – it’s not listed as a house – on the Holland Land Company documents, and we believe it was moved here from a different spot on the island,” Johnson said. “In the mid-1800s, John Cooke was a ship captain here, and it’s speculated that the wooden structure was his home because his boat, the ‘Milly Cooke,’ burned in Milly Cooke’s Cove. That’s been recorded, and we think it was at-dock next to their home.”

The wooden structure was built on what was later known as Beccue Island, when William A. Beccue owned it and built a marina in the 1940s. Johnson said Beccue added a culvert pipe large enough for boats to pass through and a driveway overhead to accommodate the large equipment he brought in to clear the land for his business. The government later filled in the culvert, effectively turning O’Connell Island into a peninsula. It now houses the inn, Sunset Bar and Grill and Sunset Bay Marina and is reached from Route 18 via Park Street.

Johnson’s late husband, Dean, bought Beccue Island in 1980 and they operated the marina until they sold it in 2007. He added on to what became known as the Sinclair home (a 600-square-foot structure) in 1980. The couple, who had been together 25 years before his death two years ago, added on to it again in 2007.

Johnson worked with local contractor Ed Hastings to turn her home into the inn and now lives in the addition and rents out four rooms. She’s working on two more rooms for the future.

There’s the Stable room with its king-sized bed and private balcony overlooking the harbor; and the Cooke’s Quarters and Empty Pockets rooms, which each have two single beds, private bath (as they all have), and private entrance, wet bar and flat-screen television. There’s also Milly’s Room, which is handicapped-accessible, with a separate entrance. There’s a recreation room with pool table and workout equipment, a large common area with a spacious kitchen. Rooms may be rented by the day or week.

And, there’s also the haunted harbor walks, which are open to the public, not just for those renting rooms.

The 1.25-mile guided walking tour will operate from 8:30 to 10 p.m. Fridays and Saturday (weather permitting) until Aug. 30. The cost is $15 per person or $5 for those 12 and under. Participants are encouraged to bring cameras and recorders.

Johnson tells a couple of chilling tales of mysterious happenings on the island – some even from her own home. There’s the closet light that would come on without provocation – repeatedly – even after an electrician went through the house and fine-tuned the old wiring. There was the time when Johnson was sound asleep and her bathroom faucet came on full bore – a little event that happened again later to a couple staying in her home.

And there is the story a few years ago of the marina worker who closed up for the night and was so vexed he vowed never to return – although the owner found everything wide open and turned on the next morning. “I still see that (ex-)worker in town and he still won’t talk about it,” Johnson said. “He just smiles and says, ‘Not good.’ ”

Johnson is philosophical.

“My husband never believed in this stuff, but he came to a point where he admitted to seeing apparitions several times,” Johnson said. “He’d call it a ‘loss of senses.’ But he said he had seen an older era woman and man and we assume they are somehow related to the Cookes. I’ve never seen an apparition, but I’ve had things happen and thought, ‘There’s something else going on here.’

“I always had an open mind,” she said. “There’s no way we can know if there are ghosts or spirits or whatever. So if I don’t know, why close my mind? I do believe in it now – there’s no way I can’t.

“I thank God every day,” she added. “I feel very blessed. I am doing what I love to do and it’s like it’s all meant to be. It’s all coming together.”

For more information on the inn or tours, visit Johnson’s Facebook page at or call 946-8357.

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