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.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

The Apparition of Wolfs Lane: Another Pelham Ghost Story

Only two days until yet another Halloween is upon us.  In honor of the spooky holiday that will be celebrated by Pelham youngsters on Saturday, the Historic Pelham Blog today recounts yet another Pelham ghost story.  Today's story is about the "Apparition of Wolfs Lane," a particularly fascinating tale.  

In 1905, the area once known as Pelhamville had become the recently-incorporated Village of North Pelham.  The area was still rural with pastures in North Pelham and across the border in Mount Vernon.

There were few lamps to pierce the darkness of the night at the time.  Portions of the area were so deserted that, on a moonless night, one could stumble about in the darkness distant from any residence and far from any light.  When clouds hung low on a moonless night, it could be difficult to see one's hand in front of one's face in some of the more rural stretches of North Pelham.  

One such isolated place was the area around the old pumping station near Wolfs Lane.  The area was lonely and desolate without any of the residences that arose there many decades later.  On clear moonless nights, the Milky Way and stars were the only lights by which to see.  On cloudy moonless nights, it was nigh impossible to see one's hand in front of one's face there.

On Monday, August 14, 1905, day had died.  Darkness overwhelmed the landscape.  A Mount Vernon resident named John Kenny was walking in the area near the pumping station.  Two women were nearby.  As John Kenny walked in the darkness, a loud hiss roared from the darkness and startled the bejesus out of him!  As his eyes desperately searched the darkness for the threat he had heard, a terrifying screech next resounded, echoing in the darkness and convincing him that the end was near.

Mr. Kenny fled for his life, looking over his shoulder in abject terror.  Only then did he observe a white apparition in the form of a "human figure" chasing him.  At one point, the apparition seemed to gain on him and was only "five or six feet away."   As Kenny fled, he realized for the first time that he was running behind the two women who had been nearby, likewise fleeing for their lives.  The white apparition seemed to chase Mr. Kenny and the women all the way to the roadway of Wolfs Lane.  

The trio escaped with their lives to tell their stories of what they perceived to be their near-death experiences.  As always, however, cynics and disbelievers were quick to debunk the tale.  

Cynics said the "apparition" was no ghost but, instead, "a white horse in pasture somewhere on Vernon Heights."  No one, however, had seen such a horse and no one could say where it might be after the spooky events of that evening had ended.  Nor, as one published account noted, could anyone explain how it could be that "Kenny could not tell the difference between a horse and a human figure five or six feet away."  Others advanced the theory that Kenny had heard a hiss of steam from the pumping station near Wolfs Lane, had seen the wispy steam rise from the station, and had heard the scream of a screech owl startled by the hiss of the steam.  No one, however, could explain claims that in the week following Kenny's encounter, the ghost was "seen elsewhere in Pelham."

John Kenny, for one, knew what he and the two women had seen.  They had seen the Apparition of Wolfs Lane. . . . 

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Below is an account of John Kenny's "ghost" sighting at Wolfs Lane published a week after his encounter, followed by a citation to its source.  Thereafter is the text of an article explaining the entire incident.

Thus Is the 'Ghost' at Wolfs Lane, Pelham, Explained
Some Say It is a White Horse -- Others Remain Skeptical.

Numerous theories have been advanced regarding the mysterious Pelham 'ghost' which frightened a Mount Vernon man near the pumping station at Wolfe's [sic] Lane, a week ago, and has since been seen elsewhere in Pelham.  As is always the case in such stories, those of more courage are seeking to explain away by ordinary sight and sounds the hallucinations, real or fancied, of which others have in their opinions been the victims.

According to the watchman at the pumping station, the Pelham 'ghost' is nothing more than the steam from the exhaust pipe of the engine room which runs from the station a short distance from the road.  This steam in the dark shows a gleamy white, and whenever it appears, declares the watchman, a screech owl which haunts that vicinity calls through the trees near the bridge.

It was only the steam of this pipe says he and the screech owl's loud-voiced response to the hiss of the vapor that alarmed John Kenny of this city last Monday night.  The watchman does not vouchsafe, however, to explain how the steam was able to pursue Kenny to the road and to frighten two women who were walking in front of him, as he says it did.  Then too, if there is an owl that is hooting of nights around the pumping station, the board of health should look into the matter, for here is an open and nightly violation of its newly-passed ordinance.  There seems to be no doubt but that the owl tends to disturb the passersby if not the watchman himself.

It is also claimed that the 'ghost' is a white horse in pasture somewhere on Vernon Heights, no one seems to know exactly where, although the theorists who side with this story doubtless do not mean to say that Kenny could not tell the difference between a horse and a human figure five or six feet away."

Source:  STEAM AND AN OWL -- Thus Is the "Ghost" at Wolfs Lane, Pelham, Explained, Daily Argus [Mount Vernon, NY], Aug. 21, 1905, p. 1, col. 3.  

"Pelham Ghost a Screech Owl.

Reports have been circulated for weeks that there are ghosts in the neighborhood of the New York and Westchester Company's pumping station in Pelham, and women and children have been afraid to venture out after dark in Wolf's Lane.  In days gone by several persons took their lives in this vicinity, and this added much strength to the ghost story.

Finally a posse was organized Monday to run down the ghost.  For hours the party secluded themselves on the property of James D. Connor, Secretary of the Martinez Cigar Co. and waited for the apparition.  It was two o'clock in the morning when the ghost finally made its first 'chirrup.'  It was a weird noise and sounded like the groans of a dying person.  At first several members of the posse were frightened, but, regaining their nerve, decided to run down the ghost.

It was then discovered that a screech owl with a cracked voice was the ghost.  The bird was in a tree directly over the pumping station, and when the engineer let the exhaust steam escape it frightened the bird, which emitted unearthly howls.  The posse caught the bird and wrung its neck."

Source:  Pelham Ghost a Screech Owl, The New Rochelle Pioneer, Aug. 26, 1905, p. 7, col. 4.  


HAS Pelham a ghost?  The stories that have emanated from that town for the last week or so incline to the belief that many residents are sufficiently impressed with the idea to give it credence.  The apparition has been seen, several solemnly declare, and they resent any imputation that their vision is impaired or that they are the victims of an illusion.  Yesterday the mystery was explained.  Or at least one was attempted.  But it is not believed, it seems.

Pelham insists that there is a ghost, and so a ghost it will have to be with some.  The majority, however, will accept the explanation of the mystery as clearing the matter, and forget it.  The rest will talk it over and see it in the talk if nowhere else.

But ghosts do not live in Pelham, for Pelham is too lively and enterprising.  Pelham is far from being a dead place."

Source:  PELHAM'S GHOST, The Daily Argus [Mount Vernon, NY], Aug. 22, 1905, p. 2, cols. 1-2.  

*          *          *           *           *

I have collected ghost legends relating to the Town of Pelham for more than fifteen years.  To read more about examples that now total in the 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).

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.

Archive of the Historic Pelham Web Site.

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