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, October 14, 2009

1879 News Account Provides Additional Basis for Some Facts Underlying Ghost Story of Old Stone House in Pelhamville

With another Halloween approaching, it is time to turn to legends of ghosts and goblins in Historic Pelham.  Today's Blog posting raises a spooky possibility.  There seems to be a hint of truth to at least part of the legend surrounding the ghost of Mrs. Parrish that supposedly inhabits the old Stone House located at 463 First Avenue in the Village of Pelham (photo below).  As I have reported below, according to that legend, a man named Alexander Diack built the home in the early 1850s. On October 15, 1855, a man named James Parrish purchased the home. As the story goes, James Parrish had a business in which he employed a truckman named Adams. Parrish and Adams supposedly began an express business “as a sideline”. The business did well. When James Parrish died, his wdow, Mrs. Mary Parrish, supposedly received dividend payments from the business paid in gold.

Masked men reportedly robbed Mrs. Parrish. She began to hide the gold she received as dividends somewhere on the property. According to Lockwood Barr’s popular history of Pelham:

"it is said that a million dollars in gold is hidden in the house, or buried in the gardens. Search has been made of the house, and grounds excavated, but without result. However, underneath a hearthstone in the basement kitchen, a hundred small coins of early date were found by one of the owners – but no pot of gold."

Some say the ghost of Mrs. Parrish can be seen about the house, even in daylight, dressed in elegant clothes of the period, searching for misplaced gold. There is also a story that a well-known actor who is a descendant of Mrs. Parrish, Edward Everett Horton, once visited the home, heard the ghost stories and said that the descriptions of the apparition resembled a daguerreotype he had seen of one of his great grandmothers. 
To read a little more about the legend, see:
Fri., March 17, 2006:  1854 Advertisement for the Sale of the Old Stone House at 463 First Avenue in Pelham
Bell, Blake A., Pelham's Ghosts, Goblins and Legends.
There is a factual basis to portions of the underlying story.  Alexander Diack did build the home in the early 1850s.  James Parrish did subsequently acquire the home.  Parrish did have a business known as Adams Express.  Parrish died and his widow did continue to live in the Old Stone House.  Additionally . . . . . .
There are a number of news accounts at the time reporting that masked men burst into the widow's home, ransacked it looking for valuables and left Mrs. Parrish tied up after the robbery.  One such account is transcribed below, followed by a citation to its source.
Singular Circumstances of a Masked Burglary - An Old Lady Tied to Her Bed as Was Mrs. Hull - Daring Villain.
N.Y. Herald, 17.
A rather mysterious burglary took place yesterday morning in the village of Pelhamville, which is situated on the New York and New Haven Railroad, in Westchester county.  The circumstances are so peculiar as to puzzle most of the inhabitants of that quiet suburb.  The victim of the crime is Mrs. Mary Parrish, a widow about seventy years of age, who lives entirely alone in a stone house, and is reputed to be the possessor of a considerable sum of ready money.  Quite recently she had $600 in her purse.  Whether this was still in her possession at the time of the burglary cannot be ascertained.  It is known that she had a large amount of Adams' Express stock.  Putting this and that together the residents of Pelhamville infer a good deal in the way of conspiracy and interested motives.
Mrs. Parrish, according to her own statement, awoke at one o'clock yesterday morning, in her bedroom, on the first floor of her house, to hear a sound of prying at her door, which speedily opened, revealing the form of a strange man, who wore a mask.  She was utterly alone, and knew that, although the nearest neighbor was not more than a hundred yards distant, it would be fatal to her to cry out.  The burglar held up a warning hand and said, in a hoarse whisper, 'Now, keep quiet, old lady; don't be afraid; we're not going to hurt you so long as you don't give no alarm.'  Then he stepped into the room and two other men followed him.  She describes them as rather small in stature, but further than that she remembers nothing of their appearance, terror seeming to be the only impression of the affair remaining upon her mind.  All their faces were masked.  She heard them address each other by the numbers 1, 2, and 3.  The others repeated that they did not wish to harm her; they only wanted her money.  Then they commanded her to rise from her bed and proceeded to rip it open.
'You have some bonds,' asked the man who seemed to lead the party; 'where are they?'
Mrs. Parrish strenuously denied that she posssessed any vonds, but without convincing the robbers, who told her to go with them into the dining room.  Meanwhile one of them had seized a satchel which she kept in her room and had torn it open, not even attempting in his eagerness or haste, to unlatch it, although it was not locked.  His manner led her to believe that he knew she was in the habit of using it as a receptacle for some of her valuables.  He was not disappointed, for he found there $100 in money and several documents.  The latter, however, were of no use to any one, excepting herself.  In the dining room the carpet was taken up, the drawers of the buffet and the table were forced upon and the closets were ransacked.  The other rooms in the house were ransacked by them, with herself as an unwilling companion, and they were left in the direst confusion.  She was repeatedly questioned with profane threats in regard to her bonds, but she steadfastly denied that she had any securities of that character.
'Have you a Bible!' they then asked her.
'Yes,' was her response.
'Then get it,' said the leader.
The Bible was produced, and the villains administered to her in the very words of the court form an oath to the effect that, in declaring she had no convertible securities, she told the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.  She could not be shaken in her denial.  The robbers, evidently much disappointed, led her back to the bedroom.  Here they laid her upon the bed and tied her limbs to the bedposts, just as Chastine Cox did those of Mrs. Hull [a then-recent crime that led to the death of the female victim].  They told her to beware of making any noise, and threatened to return immediately if she gave an alarm before they had been gone a sufficient time to render certain their escape.
The time which they spent in the house was about two hours.  They made their exit through the front door, locking it and throwing the key away.  It was found in the morning underneath an evergreen shrub in the yard.
Early in the morning, Mrs. George Pearson, a neighbor, received a message from Mrs. Parrish that she desired to see her.  On going to her house Mr. and Mrs. Pearson were met at the door by Mrs. Clark, wife of the postmaster of the village.  They entered and found Mrs. Parrish in a most excited state.  When asked how she had gotten loose from her bonds after the departure of the burglars.  Mrs. Parrish said she did not know, and nothing at all could be learned from her on this point.  This reply was so inconsistent with her statement that she had been tied by the burglars that it has caused a good deal of wonder among her neighbors.  Many of them, however, seize the occasion to declare that they have for a long time suspected her of being unsound in mind on certain subjects, and that she has of late read and talked a great deal about the murder of Mrs. Hull.  They hint, therefore, that the whole occurrence as related by her may be an illusion, the result of monomania.  Not only does the circumstance of the binding remind one strongly of the Hull tragedy, but a candle, half consumed, which was found in her room and which, according to her, was used by the robbers, forms another singular coincidence.  On the other hand, another burglary which took place on the same night at Pelhamville points to an organized plan of plunder on the part of a band of thieves, who were very well acquainted with the locality.  An hour or so earlier than the robbery of Mrs. Parrish the Episcopal church was entered, and a large and valuable carpet was taken away.  Several dogs belonging to neighbors barked warningly, but did not cause alarm."
Source:  Almost Another Hull Case, Rochester Daily Union and Advertiser, Vol. 54, No. 169, p. 1, col. 3 (July 18, 1879) (reprinted from July 17, 1879 issue of N.Y. Herald).
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