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.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

The Ghostly Gardener of Bolton Priory: A Pelham Apparition

Another year has passed and another Halloween will be upon us this Saturday.  Given the Town of Pelham's rich tradition of ghostly legends and the many stories of ghosts and goblins that prowl our region, the Historic Pelham Blog will publish five new Pelham ghost articles this week.  The second, which appears below, involves the "Ghostly Gardener of Bolton Priory."

Bolton Priory, also known as the Priory and Pelham Priory, is a historic home built in 1838 in Pelham Manor by the Reverend Robert Bolton and his family.  It still stands and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  Robert Bolton designed the home in the Romantic idiom, making it appear as if it had been constructed over a lengthy period of time.  Stone was used in one section and brick in another.   The main section of the home is a two-story block intersected by a gabled two-story wing with a crenellated four-story octagonal tower at the northern angle of that junction and a crenellated three-story square brick tower at the southwestern end of the main block.  The home evokes a Gothic Revival style and resembles an ancient residence deep in the English countryside.  Each evening, as the sun sets, the towers of the home appear almost defensive; the silhouette of the structure seems spooky.  

The Priory in 1948.  Image Courtesy of
The Office of The Historian of the Town of Pelham.
NOTE:  Click Image to Enlarge.

For many decades, Jules Martin served as the caretaker and gardener of the Priory and its grounds.  Martin was a surprisingly patrician, white-haired man with a hearty laugh and a twinkle in his eye.  He was French and spoke perfect English with a strong French accent.  

Growing up in Pelham Manor in the early 1960s, a young Pelham resident named Peter Tonks got to know Jules Martin, a friend of his mother.  "Mister Martin," as young Peter knew him, had been the caretaker and gardener of the Priory for more than thirty years (at least since the Priory was owned by Frederick Hobbes Allen and Adele Livingston Stevens Allen in the 1930s).  

Mister Martin often regaled young Peter with entertaining stories of the Priory and its occupants.  Jules Martin was the Priory caretaker who telephoned the fire alarm to the Pelham Manor Fire Department when the Priory burned in 1932.  See Fire Rages Through Upper Story Of Historic Bolton Priory; Loss May Total $100,000; Will Be Rebuilt, The Pelham Sun, Jul. 22, 1932, Vol. 23, No. 18, p. 1, cols. 3-5 & p. 8, cols. 6-7.  He confronted a prowler on the estate on one occasion and had a knife pulled on him before he led police to the man who was jailed for the incident.  See Negro Prowler At Bolton Priory Gets 15-Day Jail Term, The Pelham Sun, May 3, 1935, Vol. 26, No. 4, p. 1, col. 3.  Jules Martin also led tours of the estate and answered questions about its history during events hosted at the Priory.  See Christ's Church Guild Holds Charming Tea at Bolton Priory, The Pelham Sun, Jun. 5, 1931, p. 5, cols. 5-7.  

As a youngster, Peter Tonks was inspired by the Priory.  It was massive, ancient-looking, and labyrinthine.  He enjoyed accompanying his mother to the castle-like chateau to visit Mr. Martin.  Mr. Martin was a strong man, though white-haired and elderly at the time.  Young Peter particularly enjoyed Mr. Martin's hearty welcomes and the overstuffed sofas in his tiny servant's apartment in one wing of the mansion.  

To this day Peter Tonks cherishes warm memories of those days in his youth when he would ride his bicycle to Four Corners to buy a newspaper for Mr. Martin and then pedal nearly to the end of Pelhamdale Avenue to deliver the paper to his friend in his apartment at the Priory.  Jules Martin was always happy to see young Peter and to receive a Sunday paper.  Young Peter enjoyed delivering a paper to Jules Martin not only because he was so fond of the old fellow, but also because he enjoyed visiting Bolton Priory.  Once Mr. Martin gave young Peter a Swiss Army Knife.  More than fifty years later, Peter Tonks still has that knife, a special reminder of Jules Martin and the pleasant days Peter spent visiting the Priory.

During the spring of 1963, however, Jules Martin suffered a heart attack and died.  Young Peter was saddened by the loss of his mentor.  His mother, saddened by the loss of her friend, drove to the funeral service for Jules Martin held in the Village of North Pelham.  Not to be denied the opportunity to say his own goodbye to Mr. Martin, young Peter Tonks walked all the way to North Pelham and attended the funeral, an open casket service.  

At the service, young Peter peered into the casket to say his goodbyes to Mr. Martin.  He stepped back quickly.  He thought, for a moment, that he had seen Jules Martin wink at him from the confines of the casket.  Then, only a few days later, Peter's mother was sitting up late when she heard the distinctive voice of Jules Martin call her name.

Young Peter, of course, grew into an adult.  His life took him to Denver, Colorado where he settled.  He never forgot Jules Martin, the Priory, or those pleasant days of his youth in Pelham when he rode his bicycle to visit Mr. Martin in his apartment at the Priory to bring him a Sunday newspaper.  He also never forgot the wink he had seen, nor the story his mother told of Jules Martin calling her name after his death. . . .  

In late 1979, Peter Tonks traveled to New York City and to Pelham from his home in Denver.  He was invited to a New Years Eve party hosted by Columbia Records at Bolton Priory in Pelham.  Peter had not been there since Jules Martin died sixteen years before.

A host of the party led a handful of party-goers including Peter Tonks on a tour of the mansion.  The host opened a door and led the group inside a room.  Peter was surprised.  He recognized the room as a familiar space.  It was the old apartment in which the gardener and caretaker of the estate, Jules Martin, once had lived.  Peter recognized the apartment immediately.  The comfortable overstuffed sofas were gone, but waves of fond memories of Jules Martin instantly washed over Peter.

Late in the evening, as revelers celebrated the New Year in the Priory, Peter took a break from the celebrations.  He wandered down a dimly lit hallway searching for one of the exceptionally large bathrooms he had seen on the earlier tour of the Priory.  As he walked down the hall, he froze in his tracks.  Shimmering near the end of the hallway in front of him was a luminous apparition of a man looking directly at him.  The glimmering specter did not linger long, but there was no doubt in Peter's mind that a ghostly spirit was present.  Indeed, Peter was so struck with a sense of awe and felt such a profound sense of comfort when he saw the apparition that he advanced toward the specter as it vanished in front of him.  It was then that Peter realized that the entrance to the apartment in which Jules Martin once had lived was only a step or so beyond where the apparition vanished before his very eyes.  

One might wonder now, even if it causes a little chill to run up the spine:  did the shimmering apparition at the end of that long, dim hallway on that celebratory night seem to wink before it vanished?

*          *          *          *          *

A special thanks to Peter Tonks of Denver, Colorado who provided this colorful story to me by email and who granted his magnanimous permission to permit me to craft today's article from the story he conveyed to me via email.  Thank you, Peter, on behalf of the Town of Pelham, your former home!

*          *          *           *           *

I have collected ghost legends relating to the Town of Pelham for more than fifteen years.  To read more 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).

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.

Order a Copy of "Thomas Pell and the Legend of the Pell Treaty Oak."  

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