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 30, 2015

The Shrieking Ghosts of Execution Rocks: Yet Another Pelham Ghost Story

Pelham youngsters will celebrate yet another Halloween tomorrow.  In honor of the spooky holiday, today the Historic Pelham Blog will recount yet another Pelham ghost story -- one of an incredible number of such tales.  

Pelham is said by some to be among the most haunted places in America.  Indeed, in 2007, the magazine Fate (a U.S. magazine about so-called "paranormal activity") published an article designating the Town of Pelham as the sixth most haunted town in the State of New York out of the 932 towns and 62 cities in the State.  Based on the number of Pelham ghost stories research has revealed during the last sixteen years, I cannot fathom how Pelham did not finish in first place on the Fate list.  (At the end of today's posting is a lengthy list, with links, of articles I previously have posted regarding Pelham ghost stories.)

Today's posting to the Historic Pelham Blog provides an account of one of the most horrifying and frightening Pelham ghost stories:  The "Shrieking Ghosts of Execution Rocks."

In Long Island Sound, nearly midway between the Town of Pelham on the mainland and Sands Point, Long Island on the opposite shore is a lighthouse known as "Execution Rocks Light."  The map detail below shows the location of the Execution Rocks Light (referenced on the map as "Execution Rocks Lighthouse").

Google Maps Detail Showing Location of Execution Rocks
Light in Relation to the Town of Pelham, City Island, Hart
Island, and Pelham Bay Park on the Left, and Sands Point,
Long Island on the Right.  NOTE:  Click Image to Enlarge.

The lighthouse sits atop a rocky outcropping in a busy shipping lane that grows all the more dangerous when the rocks are exposed during low tides.  On March 3, 1847, Congress appropriated $25,000 to build the Execution Rocks Light.  The structure was designed by Alexander Parris, a prominent American architect and engineer who designed a number of lighthouses located along the coastal northeastern United States.

Alexander Parris in an Undated Photograph,
(Born Nov. 24, 1780 in Halifax, MA and Died
Jun. 16, 1852 in Pembroke, MA)  Source:
Alexander Parris, Wikipedia - The Free Encyclopedia
(Visited Sep. 20, 2015).  NOTE:  Click Image To Enlarge.

Construction of the lighthouse was completed in 1849, but the Execution Rocks Light did not begin operations until the following year.  For more than a century, the lightkeeper posting to Execution Rocks Light was considered one of the loneliest posts in the service.  In 1979, however, the lighthouse became fully automated.  

The lighthouse is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is designated an "Historic Civil Engineering Landmark" by the American Society of Engineers.  On May 29, 2007, the United States Department of the Interior designated "Execution Rocks Light Station" as surplus under the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act of 2000.  The island is under the authority of the United States Coast Guard and, for the most part, is off limits to the public (with some notable permitted exceptions).

Execution Rocks Light and Keeper's House on
August 21, 2005.  Photograph by the Author.
NOTE:  Click on Image to Enlarge.

Execution Rocks Light and Keeper's House on
August 21, 2005.  Photograph by the Author.
NOTE:  Click on Image to Enlarge.

When traveling on Long Island Sound, it is said, when nearing Execution Rocks Light, a strange sound sometimes can be heard.  At first, from an extreme distance, the sound pierces the silence somewhat like the distant shrieks of clown-like gulls cartwheeling in the skies above the water as they swarm above schools of seething baitfish.  Something, however, seems a little different about the sound.  It doesn't quite have the high-pitched optimism of the ubiquitous and nettlesome gulls as they feed on fish.  Instead, it evokes more of a primeval chill that makes the hair stand on the back of the neck though one really is not certain why.

As the listener nears Execution Rocks Light, particularly on bright nights when the moon is full, the chilling sound becomes unmistakable.  It seems possibly human, though the sound certainly seems quite inhuman.  At first, it seems almost as though the sounds are echoing from some unknown nearby surface.  Soon, however, an awful realization washes over the listener that those are no echoes -- only the inhuman cries of several simultaneous vocalists.  

As the listener nears the jagged rocks of the desolate and forsaken island, the sounds grow unnatural and nigh impossible to describe.  Each starts in a way that evokes a gutteral groan, then slowly rises in pitch and terror to a crying shriek -- not a scream but a shriek seemingly born not of pain but of sheer terror.  Occasionally, there is mixed among the cries something that sounds almost like the tinkling of metal.  It is difficult to hear over the shrieks, but it is unmistakable.  Instinctively any listener recoils.  Indeed, the sound evokes a visceral impulse to flee; a primeval fear promoting flight, not fight.  

The cacaphony of shrieks bespeaks terror, death, and dying.  It continues unabated for what seems an eternity until suddenly and without warning, the sounds stop.  Indeed, the abruptness of the silence is startling.  Such an abrupt silence seems as chilling as the cacaphony was itself. 

The story behind these sounds is just as chilling.  Though the reason the rocks are named "Execution Rocks" is lost in history, legends long have held that during the Revolutionary War, the British captured American soldiers and rousted rebel civilians from their nearby settlements on the mainland and on Long Island and transported them to the rocky ledge that came to be known as "Execution Rocks."  There the British tortured them and then executed them.  The story is told that the British sought such a desolate location in the middle of the Long Island Sound to reduce the risk that witnesses might reveal their war-time atrocities.  

According to the legend, among the many brutal ways the British tortured and killed their captured enemies was to chain them to the rocks at low tide.  As the tide slowly rose, the chained prisoners began straining at their chains causing horrendous clanking and tinkling sounds as the iron chains banged against the boulders.  Invariably the prisoners began groaning at their fate and shrieking to attract the attention of anyone with an ounce of compassion within the sound of their screams.  Finally, as the moon did its work and the dark tidewaters rose inexorably, the prisoners could no longer keep their contorted faces above water.  The horrific shrieks ended abruptly as the water overtook them, leaving only the startling silence with only the sounds of lapping waves to be heard along Execution Rocks in the midst of a lonely Long Island Sound.  

Thus, the next time you find yourself along the shores of Long Island Sound or boating in its waters and you hear the shrieks of gulls, listen very, very carefully.  Listen for the distant clanking of metal.  Listen for anything that resembles a gutteral groan scattered among the shrieks.  Better yet, stop and assess whether the hair on the back of your neck is standing or, perhaps a little chill has just washed over you.  If so, those shrieks you hear most likely are not those of gulls. . . . 

Undated United States Coast Guard Photograph of
Execution Rocks Light.  Antennae and Smaller
Structure Since Have Been Removed.
NOTE:  Click on Image to Enlarge.

Undated National Oceanic and Atmospheric
Administration Photograph of Execution Rocks Light.
Antennae and Smaller Structure Since Removed.
NOTE:  Click on Image to Enlarge.

This legend of the Shrieking Ghosts of Execution Rocks has been told for so long and has gained such notoriety that it recently was the subject of a television investigation by the "Ghost Adventures" program aired on the Travel Channel.  See "Execution Rocks' Haunted History," Travel Channel Shows:  Ghost Adventures (visited Sep. 20, 2015).  See also Ghost Hunters Investigations "Ghost Adventures - Execution Rocks Lighthouse - Full Episode." (visited Sep. 20, 2015).  The legend also has been mentioned in countless books (too many to list).  Here are a few examples.  Jones, Ray, Haunted Lighthouses:  Phantom Keepers, Ghostly Shipwrecks, and Sinister Calls From the Deep, pp. 196-97 (Rowan & Littlefield, 2010); Wood, Maureen & Kolek, Ron, A Ghost A Day:  365 True Tales of the Spectral, Supernatural, and Just Plain Scary, pp. 91-92 (Avon, MA:  F+W Media, Inc., 2010); "Execution Rocks Lighthouse" in The Ghost Hunter's Guidebook:  Chilling, True Tales of Hauntings Across America,  [Unnumbered Pages] (Adams Media, 2011).

*          *          *           *           *

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).

Thu., Oct. 29, 2015:  The Apparition of Wolfs Lane:  Another Pelham Ghost Story.

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.

Labels: , , , , , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home