Historic Pelham

Presenting the rich history of Pelham, NY in Westchester County: current historical research, descriptions of how to research Pelham history online and genealogy discussions of Pelham families.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Another Pelham, New York Ghost Story

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During the course of my near-constant research on the history of Pelham, New York, I occasionally encounter interesting legends, traditions and ghost stories about Pelham and the area surrounding it. I have collected such stories and published them on a number of occasions. See:

Thursday, October 13, 2005: Two More Pelham Ghost Stories

HistoricPelham.com Web Site: Pelham's Ghosts, Goblins and Legends

Pelham's Ghosts, Goblins and Legends, The Pelham Weekly, Oct. 25, 2002, p. 1, col. 1.

More Ghosts, Goblins of Pelham, The Pelham Weekly, Vol. XIII, No. 43, Oct. 29, 2004, p. 12, col. 1.

In 1897, Charles Pryer published a book entitled "Reminiscences of an Old Westchester Homestead". In it he recounted a number of legends and ghost stories tied to Pelham and surrounding areas. Today's Historic Pelham Blog will recount one of the stories told by Charles Pryer in his book.


NOT long ago an old man, the descendant of one of the original Huguenot settlers of the place, was rebuilding my barn. He was one of those genial old men, full of the traditions and folk-lore of the past that had been transmitted to him through many generations of honest and thrifty yeomen, the story of whose lives have gone so far to make the history of our country eventful. In fact, he was the scion of an old race and class, that I regret to say is fast passing from the face of the earth. Born when the Revolution was something more than the written story of the dead years in the minds of the people, he was full fo the quaint old legends and traditions of that epoch. One of the finest mechanics I ever saw handle a tool, he was ardently attached to the old ways and old ideas; and as in these matters we were in perfect accord, many is the talk we have had together of the olden times.

One cold and gray afternoon in December, the conversation chanced to turn upon local historic spots and incidents, and as the clean white shavings curled in graceful circles from his plane, he told in his old-school way of the following incidents: 'Many years ago in my early boyhood, my old Aunt Polly had charge of the inn and gate house on Pelham Bridge, where I used to visit occasionally; you may imagine how young I was when I say that my first recollection of the place, is of being knocked down and badly bruised by a pugnacious old turkey-gobbler who evidently did not fancy small boys. Yes, you may laugh, but the truth is I have had a great respect for turkey-gobblers ever since; but I started to tell a tale of the past and have so far only got into my aunt's poultry yard; so to proceed.

'My aunt had two daughters, much older than I was, who were sent out frequently about sundown to get water from a well at some little distance from the bridge, and near what is known to this day as the 'Skinners' oak,' from the fact that one or more of these gentry were hanged upon the tree during the old war. The oak is still standing, and is a very large and vigorous tree, except that the arm extending over the road, and upon which the victims were hanged, is dead and now fast decomposing, and it has always been said that the limb was withered by the curse of the dead who there perished to ignominiously. Well, be this as it may, -- to proceed with my story.

'One evening quite late in the Autumn, the two girls were sent for the usual pails of water. Although it was by no means late, the season was so far advanced that it was dusk when the girls reached the well, so that they did not observe a dark figure approaching them, and the person, or object, or whatever it might have been, was very close, when one happened to hear a slight rustle in the dead leaves and glanced up. Within ten feet of where they were stooping to fill their pails, walked, or rather glided, what appeared to be a man, dressed in a dark suit, and a military coat with an overcape after the style of the overcoats worn by officers in the army towards the close of the last century. He said not a word, but proceeded directly toward them. At that time of day, and in that unfrequented place, the girls were filled with surprise not entirely unmixed with fear, so suspended their occupation and watched the intruder. What was their consternation when it was within a few feet of them to see this object, which they both saw plainly, gradually vanish into thin air before their eyes. To say they were terrified would be to describe their sensations very feebly; in fact, I am at a loss for words to depict their horror, but not being girls of this generation they managed to control themselves sufficiently to keep from fainting, and were not many minutes, I can assure you, in reaching home. How much water was in their pails when they reached the house I can not tell, but I am inclined to think that there was not enough to impede their progress very greatly, and I will wager much that however little there may have been, they could not be persuaded to return for more that evening.'

What had they seen? Was it simply some farmer's boy a little late in driving home his cows, whom their excited imagination had endowed with all these peculiar appearances? Or was it the spirit of one of the unfortunates who perished upon the oak as they always confidently asserted? I would hardly dare to venture an opinion upon such an occult subject, still we can scarcely see how any condition of the human mind short of positive lunacy, could change an innocent farm boy in his country garb, into a soldier with a military cloak. Again, were they the only ones who saw sights and heard mysterious sounds there, our conclusion might be different, but the place has always borne a bad reputation, and many others a little late in passing the old tree have experienced phenomena just as queer and weird, even down to our own time. I, myself, know two other takes of the same nature, which came from the same reliable authority, and which may be of some interest, and, at all events, they go to show in what awe the vicinity was held by the inhabitants. One of these stories is told of an old gentleman very highly respected by the community and well known to ourselves; -- but for the stories."

Source: Pryer, Charles, Reminiscences of an Old Westchester Homestead, pp. 104-09 (NY, NY and London: G. P. Putnam's Sons - The Knickerbocker Press 1897).

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