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.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Ghosts in Pelham! Yet Another of Many Accounts of the Haunted Cedar Knoll

Happy Halloween, Pelham!

When you reach the end of Pelhamdale Avenue where it intersects with Shore Road near the New York Athletic Club, you are facing a long rocky knoll that runs parallel to Long Island Sound.  Near the top of the knoll is a fence.  Have you ever wondered why there is a fence there to keep you out of an area that you could never imagine trying to climb up and into in the first place?  

Consider, for a moment, the possibility that the fence may be meant to protect you by keeping something inside. . . .

The rocky knoll is a storied location.  For more than one hundred and twenty-five years it has been known as the "Haunted Cedar Knoll."  The first reference found, so far, to the haunted cedar knoll was published in 1881 in the second edition of Bolton's History of Westchester County (volume II).  It said:

"a current belief in the neighborhood, that the forms of many headless Indians, might be seen on moonlight nights, in a circle, performing a kind of war dance on its summit, with heads in their hands, and that these apparitions still haunted the cedars and surrounding glens and woods.  It is more than probable that a severe and sanguinary battle had taken place here, in early times between the Matinecocks of 'Sewanhacky' and the Siwanoy's of 'Laaphawachking' which resulted in the defeat of the latter and their subsequent decapitation.  Hence, the headless apparitions of “Cedar Knoll.”

Halloween is the perfect time to consider the Headless Apparitions of the Haunted Cedar Knoll.  Today's posting to the Historic Pelham Blog will not disappoint in this regard.  It transcribes the text of a reputed eyewitness account of the ghosts of headless Native Americans whose shrieks on moonlit nights "made your blood stop running."

View of the Haunted Cedar Knoll from Today's Shore Road.

Detail of Map Prepared in 1853 Showing the Large, Rocky Knoll
Along Shore Road at the End of Pelhamdale Avenue Across from
"Hog Island" (Today's Travers Island).  Source: Dripps, Matthew
& Conner, R.F.O., Southern Part of West-Chester County N. Y.
(1853) (Museum of the City of New York, No. 29.100.2628).

"Passing to a few interesting ghost stories, we may relate the following:

'If you want to see the most awful ghosts you can possibly imagine,' advised an old woman, who had lived all her days in Pelham, 'you must wait until the moon is full and then hide yourself near the 'Haunted Cedar Knoll.' '

'And where is this haunted place?' she was asked.

'You know the Boston Post Road.  I guess it runs clear through to old Boston.  Well, the Pelham Priory is on that road -- it's the finest old house hereabouts.  Just across from the Priory is a knoll covered with rocks and cedar trees.  That's the place.'

'Have you ever seen ghosts there?'

'Sure, certain, I seen them.  I was a young girl then, and that was a long time ago.  It was so frightful that I never dared go back again.  They were Indian ghosts, you see, and their cries and yells just made your blood stop running.

'Yes, there was some wind, but I know what sort of noises the wind can make.  Nothing like those I heard.  There were more than a score of them, and they had no heads, unless you count the heads which they were carrying in their hands, which couldn't have been of much use to them.  They formed in a big ring and began to dance.  First each headless ghost danced by himself.  Then they threw the heads in the centre of the ring and danced around them.  After they got tired they picked up the heads again -- I've always wondered if some of them might have picked up the wrong heads -- and in a minute they were gone.  All that!  I saw, myself!  

'My grandmother told how the Indians came to haunt the cedars, but I can't swear it's the true story.  Once there were two tribes that were very good friends -- the Siwanoys and the Laaphawachkins -- at least that's what the names sounded like.  One of the Si's killed one the Laapshaws in a quarrel.  Then the Laapawachkins robbed some of the Si's graves in return.  So there was a bloody feud.  They fought a deadly battle on the knoll, and the Laapshaws were all dead.  The others cut off their heads and left them there for the squaws to bury -- and that is the whole story.'"  

Source:  Comfort, Randall, ed., History of Bronx Borough City of New York, Compiled for the North Side News, p.53 (NY, NY:  North Side News Press, 1906).  

That makes three days of monsters, witches, and ghosts.  Happy Halloween, Pelham!

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At 9:32 PM, Anonymous Alanna said...

Hello! We are considering moving to the area and I have a few historical questions. I love this site and I wonder if I may ask you? Thanks so much in advance.



At 8:04 AM, Blogger Blake A. Bell said...

Absolutely, Alanna. I'll help if I can. Blake


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