The Fiery Eyed Phantom of Pelham Heights
The phantom had "mammoth eyes like balls of fire." Its frightening eyes and its horrible mouth belched flames. Those ghostly fires seemed part of "a white cloud shaped like a human being."
It was the Fiery Eyed Phantom of Pelham Heights.
The fiery phantom always seemed to come out of nearby woods in Pelham Heights near its border with Mount Vernon. The apparition danced in the roads, particularly on Boulevard. When approached, the frightening specter would "recede, wave its long arms and then disappear again, as if the ground opened to receive it."
For a time in late 1894, the Fiery Eyed Phantom of Pelham Heights haunted the neighborhood where East 3rd Street in Mount Vernon becomes Boulevard at the border with Pelham Heights. The phantom wandered the neighborhood along Boulevard as far as a half mile from the Mount Vernon border. Some say that the frightful phantom wanders there still.
All Hallows' Eve Is Upon Us
Halloween is one week away. It is time to share more Pelham ghost stories for the amusement of young and old.
The area in and around Pelham is among the oldest settlements in the New York City region. Settlers first planted on Manor of Pelham lands in November, 1654, barely five months after Thomas Pell acquired the lands from local Native Americans on June 27, 1654. With such a long and storied history, it should come as no surprise that Pelham has a host of hauntings and ghost stories that have been documented in books, newspapers, and other resources during the last four centuries. There are dozens and dozens of ghost stories involving Pelham and what once were Pelham lands (and waters). Additionally, research constantly reveals new ones. Today we learn about the Fiery-Eyed Phantom of Pelham Heights. Thereafter, through Halloween next Monday, we will learn about other Pelham ghosts each day.
The Fiery Eyed Phantom of Pelham Heights
In 1894, the half-mile stretch along Boulevard from the Mount Vernon border was a quiet neighborhood of widely-separated residential homes in a quiet, relatively undeveloped area. It would be more than twenty years later before construction began on today's Pelham Memorial High School. A trolley line ran along tracks in the roadways from East 3rd Street in Mount Vernon onto a short stretch of Boulevard. The tracks on that short stretch of Boulevard ended when they joined those of the trolley line than ran up and down Wolfs Lane at that point. For a few days in early December, 1894, this neighborhood was haunted by a Fiery-Eyed Phantom that "caused no end of gossip" in Pelham and Mount Vernon.
About the 1st of December that year, a trolley car conductor named Martin was operating a trolley at the Pelham / Mount Vernon border where East 3rd becomes Boulevard. There were passengers in the trolley car with him. Suddenly he saw a phantom ahead in the roadway. As reported in a local news article, he described the specter as follows: "It looked . . . like a white cloud shaped like a human being, with a large head and mammoth eyes like balls of fire, and from its mouth shot flames." The specter never spoke and, soon, disappeared. Significantly, Martin's trolley passengers also saw the ghost.
Martin was so frightened by what he saw that he reported the incident to the President of the trolley company. He reported he had never been so frightened in his life. Indeed, Martin was so upset by the incident that later the same evening, as he operated his trolley car, he accidentally slammed his car into another trolley. Martin was "severely injured" though no passengers were hurt.
Martin convinced himself thereafter that the ghost actually had appeared to him and his passengers to warn them of the danger of the impending trolley car crash. Despite reaching this conclusion regarding the ghost's beneficent motives, Martin remained so frightened that he refused to keep his trolley car waiting in the neighborhood and told others that he no longer wanted to operate a trolley car on the line.
Within days "several citizens" saw the fiery phantom. Mount Vernon police officers began an investigation at the border with Pelham. Police Officer Vollmer investigated, but returned without apprehending the phantom.
Watch Officer Jacob Josephson, however, had an entirely different experience. He went to the area and saw the ghost. According to one account: "To him it looked large and formidable. It would come out of the woods and dance on the road, but when Josephson advanced the ghost would recede, wave its long arms and then disappear again, as if the ground opened to receive it."
A few days later, the Fiery-Eyed Phantom of Pelham Heights either changed shape or a second ghost began haunting the same neighborhood. The ghost appeared to Frank Pebbles of New Rochelle as he walked through Pelham Heights toward New Rochelle on Boulevard about a half mile from Pelham's border with New Rochelle. According to a news report of the encounter:
"Frank Peebles, a resident of New Rochelle, reported to Chief of Police Foley, at Mount Vernon, last evening that he was intercepted a few nights ago by a ghost as he was walking through Pelham Heights, half a mile from where Martin says he saw it. His ghostship was standing in the middle of the road, and as Peebles would try to pass to one side, the ghost would jump in front, all the time keeping well in advance. He had a good chance to see the spook. It was about seven feet in height, large head with horns, probably formed by a painted cap; hanging to its side it had large wings, which, when flapped, spread from one side of the road to the other. It seemed illuminated from within. Peebles says he does not know how he got past the ghost, but he shut his eyes hard and ran, and didn't stop until he fell exhausted at his house door in New Rochelle."
So many reports of the Fiery-Eyed Phantom of Pelham Heights surfaced in such a short time that the Mount Vernon Police Chief decided to investigate the matter himself, wisely choosing to bring a group of fellows with him, apparently for comfort. There is no report suggesting the group found anything.
A young man named Hudson organized a group of armed vigilantes and announced that on the evening of December 6, 1894, he and his posse would arm themselves with guns and "patrol the haunted district."
The announcement, of course, seems laughable to us today. Everyone knows you cannot shoot a ghost with a gun. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
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Below is a news article describing the Fiery-Eyed Phantom of Pelham Heights. It is followed by a citation and link to its source.
"TO LAY MT. VERNON'S GHOST
It Has Wings and Fiery Eyes, and Police Chief Foley and Others Will Seek It To-Night.
CITIZENS HAVE BEEN FRIGHTENED.
Even a Trolley Car Conductor Dreads to Pass the Spot Where the Spook Has Made Its Home.
The terminus of the Fourth avenue branch of the Union Electric Railway is at the bridge (East Third street) which divides the city of Mount Vernon and the village of Pelhamville, a locality occupied as residences by some of the best people of either place -- a quiet neighborhood, where the angel of peace always hovered until quite recently. Within a few days, according to the testimony of several citizens, a phantom has haunted the aforesaid neighborhood. It is difficult to describe the spirit, for such they say it is, because each person who claims to have seen it has a different idea of the supernatural thing. There is no end of gossip in the two towns regarding the alleged ghost, and parties were formed Tuesday evening to lie in wait for it. All say that it walks at 8 P.M.
Electric-car Conductor Martin says he saw the ghost. It looked to him like a white cloud shaped like a human being, with a large head and mammoth eyes like balls of fire, and from its mouth shot flames. He first saw the spirit a week ago. That same night his car ran into another car, and the motorman, who also saw the ghost, was almost killed.
Martin was also severely hurt, but no person on the other car was injured. Martin says the ghost came to warn them of impending danger. He had, he said, seen a ghost before. It was just previous to his sister's death. The last ghost flew close by him and disappeared in the cedar woods.
He is sure he saw the ghost. He told President Maher of the company of it right after, and was never so frightened in his life. Now he never keeps his car waiting in that vicinity for a moment. Martin says passengers in the car also saw the ghost when he did. He doesn't want to run a car on that branch any longer. The ghost did not speak, Martin added.
Police Officer Vollmer has been down to apprehend the ghost, but he did not stay long. He went back on the next car, probably, so he might have been afraid. Martin is an able-bodied young man, but he showed signs of fear when the ghost was mentioned.
Watch Officer Jacob Josephson corroborated Martin. He also saw the ghost. To him it looked large and formidable. It would come out of the woods and dance on the road, but when Josephson advanced the ghost would recede, wave its long arms and then disappear again, as if the ground opened to receive it. Police Officer Vollmer says he has searched for the ghost without success, but admits he did not stay long at a time in the vicinity. Frank Peebles, a resident of New Rochelle, reported to Chief of Police Foley, at Mount Vernon, last evening that he was intercepted a few nights ago by a ghost as he was walking through Pelham Heights, half a mile from where Martin says he saw it. His ghostship was standing in the middle of the road, and as Peebles would try to pass to one side, the ghost would jump in front, all the time keeping well in advance. He had a good chance to see the spook. It was about seven feet in height, large head with horns, probably formed by a painted cap; hanging to its side it had large wings, which, when flapped, spread from one side of the road to the other. It seemed illuminated from within. Peebles says he does not know how he got past the ghost, but he shut his eyes hard and ran, and didn't stop until he fell exhausted at his house door in New Rochelle.
Police Chief Foley says he has heard much of the alleged ghost. Everybody is talking about it. He will go to-night himself, with others, and try to solve the mystery. A young man named Hudson has organized a company of his companions, and armed with guns they will to-night patrol the haunted district.
Capt. Foley says he will be on hand to see that the young fellows do not shoot each other instead of the ghost. Hudson says his namesake discovered the Hudson River, and he ought to be able to discover a ghost."
Source: TO LAY MT. VERNON'S GHOST -- It Has Wings and Fiery Eyes, and Police Chief Foley and Others Will Seek It To-Night -- CITIZENS HAVE BEEN FRIGHTENED -- Even a Trolley Car Conductor Dreads to Pass the Spot Where the Spook Has Made Its Home, The Evening World [NY, NY], Dec. 6, 1894, p. 7, col. 1 (NOTE: Paid subscription required to access via this link).
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I have collected ghost stories and legends relating to the Town of Pelham for more than fifteen years. To read more examples that now total in the several dozens, see:
Bell, Blake A., Pelham's Ghosts, Goblins and Legends, The Pelham Weekly, Oct. 25, 2002, p. 1, col. 1.
Bell, Blake A., More Ghosts, Goblins of Pelham, The Pelham Weekly, Vol. XIII, No. 43, Oct. 29, 2004, p. 12, col. 1.
Bell, Blake A., Archive of HistoricPelham.com Web Site: Pelham's Ghosts, Goblins and Legends (Oct. 2002).
Bell, Blake A., Bibliography of Pelham's Ghost Stories and Legends (Oct. 2002).
Mon., Oct. 24, 2016: The Fiery-Eyed Phantom of Pelham Heights.
Mon., Sep. 19, 2016: The Dark Spirit of the Devil and His Stepping Stones: A Pelham Legend.
Fri., Oct. 30, 2015: The Shrieking Ghosts of Execution Rocks: Yet Another Pelham Ghost Story.
Thu., Oct. 29, 2015: The Apparition of Wolfs Lane: Another Pelham Ghost Story.
Wed., Oct. 28, 2015: The Shadowy Specter of James Street: A Pelham Manor Ghost Story.
Tue., Oct. 27, 2015: The Ghostly Gardener of Bolton Priory: A Pelham Apparition.
Mon., Oct. 26, 2015: The Ghostly Matron of the Manor Club: Even a Ghost Whisperer's Nightmare!
Fri., Oct. 31, 2014: Ghosts in Pelham! Yet Another of Many Accounts of the Haunted Cedar Knoll.
Mon., Sep. 08, 2014: In 1888, The "Ghost of City Island" Upset the Town of Pelham.
Fri., Jan. 17, 2014: The Phantom Bell Ringer of Christ Church in Pelham Manor.
Fri., Jan. 30, 2009: Article Published in 1901 Detailed Ghost Stories and Legends of Pelham.
Mon., Feb. 19, 2007: Another Manor of Pelham Ghost Story: The Whispering Bell.
Fri., Aug. 18, 2006: The Ghost Gunship of Pelham: A Revolutionary War Ghost Story.
Wed., May 03, 2006: Another Pelham, New York Ghost Story.
Thu., Oct. 13, 2005: Two More Pelham Ghost Stories.
Wed., Oct. 14, 2009: 1879 News Account Provides Additional Basis for Some Facts Underlying Ghost Story of Old Stone House in Pelhamville.
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