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).

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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.

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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.

"STEAM AND AN OWL
-----
Thus Is the 'Ghost' at Wolfs Lane, Pelham, Explained
-----
NOT UNREAL AT ALL THEY SAY
-----
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.  

"PELHAM'S GHOST.
-----

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.  




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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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Wednesday, October 28, 2015

The Shadowy Specter of James Street: A Pelham Manor Ghost Story


With Halloween only three days away, the Historic Pelham Blog continues the week with newly-uncovered Pelham ghost stories.  The story today is about the "Shadowy Specter of James Street."

A silent, dark specter roams the streets of the Manor in the area of James Street near the Esplanade.  It is a pitch-black specter -- never luminous or shimmery.  It takes the form of a human figure that is solid black from head to toe without exception.  No eyes are visible.  No clothing can be detected.  It is simply the color of darkness from head to toe, entirely the same shade.  It might be said to resemble a shadow in three dimensions.  Indeed, on dark moonless nights, the shadowy specter is nigh impossible to see.  It blends into the blackness of the nighttide.

One who has seen the Shadowy Specter of James Street is Bardy Jones of Pelham Manor.  Bardy will never forget the experience.

Bardy has a pair of dogs.  One is a gentle giant named Sidney.  She is a mixed breed thought to be part Black Labrador Retriever and part Newfoundland.  Those who know Bardy and Sidney know that neither has ever met a stranger.  Friendly to all and happy to stop and chat with friends and strangers alike whenever and wherever an opportunity arises, Bardy often can be seen walking Sidney on a leash in the neighborhood that includes James Street near the Esplanade.  

Sidney loves people.  When passing a friend or stranger during her walks with Bardy, Sidney strains at the leash to approach and say "hello" in her own special way, with tail wagging, tongue panting, and a sparkle in her bright eyes.

While walking Sidney late one dark evening on James Street just south of the Esplanade, Bardy looked ahead into the darkness and noticed something light-colored that seemed suspended in mid-air.  He squinted and looked ahead into the ink-black shadows trying to make out what the odd item before him might be.  Keeping his focus on the strange item that seemed to float in the darkness, he moved a little closer until he could make out what looked like an ordinary white shopping bag.  It was no ordinary bag, however.  Momentarily, at least, it seemed to float motionless before Bardy's eyes.  

As Bardy stared at the shopping bag, he realized that it actually seemed to hang from something.  Then, a chill raced up his spine.  In a flash, Bardy realized that only six feet away there stood in the darkness a shadowy black specter that, as Bardy describes, "was solid black, same shade, head to toe; face, clothes everything."  A shopping bag hung from an arm of the specter.  The specter's featureless face seemed to have a cigarette dangling from where its mouth should have been.  The cigarette did not illuminate either the featureless face or any other part of the figure.

The dark figure stood motionless and silently in the blackness directly beside Bardy.  Its appearance was startling.  Though Bardy stared at the specter, there was utterly no acknowledgement from the apparition of the presence of Bardy or Sidney.  Bardy was struck by the fact that though he and the ever-loyal Sidney passed only six feet from the shadowy figure, Sidney never acknowledged the figure; never tugged at her leash; never attempted to approach the specter with tail wagging, tongue panting or sparkling eyes.  Indeed, like the specter that took no notice of the pair passing it, Sidney took no notice whatsoever of the specter in return as she trotted by with Bardy in tow at the other end of the leash.  The figure remained motionless and silent.  It seemed content merely to wrap itself in the blackness of the night.  Bardy quickened his steps to hurry away from the spot.  He will never forget the experience.


  
If you find yourself walking the streets of the Manor after dark, particularly near James Street where it meets the Esplanade, pay close attention to the shadows.  Even if you hear nothing, even if you notice nothing, and even if you sense nothing, you still may want to make certain that your eyes have adjusted completely to the dark.  You may have to squint as you walk along, searching the shadows diligently.  If you feel that you may have seen something in the corner of your eye, quicken your step.  It is well nigh impossible to see a dark specter enveloped in the shadows on a dark night.  

So far, at least, the Shadowy Specter of James Street remains silent and harmless.  Be careful out there in the dark of the Manor, however.  One never knows. . . .




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A special thanks to Bardy Jones who provided this colorful story and who granted his magnanimous permission to permit me to use the story that forms the basis for this article.  Thank you, Bardy, on behalf of the Town of Pelham.  And please, extend our thanks to Sidney as well.  Good dog!!!

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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).

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.


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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?




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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!

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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.


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Monday, October 26, 2015

The Ghostly Matron of the Manor Club: Even a Ghost Whisperer's Nightmare!


Halloween week is here!  It is a special week among the favorites of young and old in what once was the Manor of Pelham.

The Manor of Pelham has ancient roots.  Its recorded history is more than 360 years old.  Beyond that, archaeological records establish thousands of years of prehistoric human activity in the region.  It thus should come as no surprise that ghostly Pelham spirits abound.

I have written of the many ghostly Pelham spirits repeatedly.  Indeed, I have collected such stories for more than sixteen years.  (At the end of today's article is a bibliography, with links, to the many articles.)

With a history as ancient as that of Pelham, it is easy to imagine spirits as the stuff of musty legends retold for hundreds of years.  Some such Pelham legends have, in fact, been retold for nearly two centuries.  Others, however, are not so ancient.  Indeed, some recount events that have happened in our midst.  They recount happenings that have occurred as we have gone about our ordinary lives, raising our children, improving our town, and learning more about our history.

Today's article is an example of such a Pelham ghost story.  It is a story that is only days, not centuries, old.  

Introduction

The members of the Manor Club in Pelham Manor were excited.  The Club's "Evening Section" hoped to arrange an entertaining program in celebration of Halloween 2015.  It planned to hire an experienced Ghost Whisperer to explore whether there might be any ghostly aspects of the historic clubhouse that is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  Such Ghost Whisperers, made famous by a television supernatural drama of the same name that ran on CBS from 2005 until 2010, are said to be psychic mediums who are "receivers of paranormal communications."  

The Manor Club's Evening Section established a working committee to determine if such an event would be possible.  Members of that committee found a well-known Ghost Whisperer in the region.  The medium made clear, however, that before he could agree to host an investigation of the clubhouse Halloween week, he first would have to visit the building to assess it.  With time running short, members of the committee readily agreed. 

At the appointed time, the medium appeared at the Manor Club and began the investigation.  What happened next promptly became the stuff of legend, adding to the already rich history and lore of the storied Manor Club.  Today's posting to the Historic Pelham Blog tells the story of "The Ghostly Matron of the Manor Club:  Even a Ghost Whisperer's Nightmare!"

Brief History of the Manor Club

The Manor Club, located at 1023 Esplanade in the Village of Pelham Manor, is a cultural, civic, and 501(c)(3) organization.  The Club had its beginnings in the 1870's.  It was not, however, organized formally until January 10, 1882. 

The clubhouse that stands today is not the original clubhouse.  Today's clubhouse opened in 1922.  On May 12, 2014, the Manor Club clubhouse was listed on the National Register of Historic Places (Reference No. 14000207).  The National Park Service Web site page devoted to the Manor Club is located here.  The full file reflecting the listing is located here.

I have written much about the history of the Manor Club on countless occasions. Near the end of today's Historic Pelham Blog Posting I have included an extensive list of articles (with links where available) to prior articles on the topic.

The Beloved Mrs. Secor, President of the Club for 26 Years

For a quarter century, a woman named Joan Elizabeth Klink Secor, was one of the most beloved residents of Pelham Manor.  She also was the driving force behind, and leader of, the Manor Club.  Joan Secor was a social and cultural force in Pelham Manor. She lovingly devoted much of her adult life to the success of the Club.  She nurtured both the Club and its members tenderly and with great attention. 

Mrs. Secor, as she was known to many, became president of the Tuesday Afternoon Club in 1900.  When that Club merged into the Manor Club (which became a women's club) in 1914, she served as president of the newly-merged institution as well.  She stablized the finances of the Manor Club.  She presided over the fund-raising for, and the construction of, the new clubhouse that is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  She grew the Club and oversaw it as it became an important part of the social fabric of the Town, a role that it continues to play to this day.

Mrs. Secor retired from service as president of the Manor Club after 26 years in May 1925 when she departed for California to live with family members. Mrs. Secor died suddenly in her home in San Francisco on Saturday, July 23, 1932.

Mrs. Secor was a loving, intelligent, prim and proper gentlewoman with a patrician air and a philanthropic demeanor.  Beloved by all, she carried herself with dignity.  She was responsible for implementation of the club rule that stood for many years banning alcohol.  Out of her love for the Club, she was a stickler for rules.  Consequently, she managed the Club during her tenure as President with love, care, and -- when necessary -- an iron fist.

A beautiful oil portrait of her, painted by George Brehm, still hangs in the assembly room of the Manor Club.  Via that portrait, Mrs. Secor's ever-watchful eyes take in all that occurs in the Club she loved and oversaw for more than a quarter century.   



Oil Painting Portrait of Mrs. Joan E. Secor,
The Watchful Eyes of Which Have Presided
Over the Manor Club for Decades from Its
Position in the Assembly Room of the Manor Club.

The eyes of Mrs. Secor's portrait have endured many societal changes since 1925.  Members now include women with breath-taking careers outside the home.  No longer do the Club's members don white gloves when they leave the home.  The days of beautiful, formal bonnets and hats are gone, replaced by common sense fashion and even, "gasp" (as Mrs. Secor would say), pants or knee-length skirts worn by members.  The eyes of Mrs. Secor's portrait even seem to cringe a bit when Club members walk in wearing their coats rather than carrying them or, heaven forbid, carrying their umbrellas rather than leaving them where they belong.  Yes, things are different now.  There is even loud and boisterous laughter among members, as well as the occasional interruptions of smart phones (whatever those are, at least in the eyes of Mrs. Secor).  Perhaps worst of all, these days the portrait of Mrs. Secor must suffer even the indignity of presiding over members who beg pardon to go to the bathroom rather than to go "powder the nose."  Yes, things are very different now.  

Back To The First Ghost Whisperer

The Ghost Whisperer walked the quiet hallways of the clubhouse.  "Indeed," he said, "spirits are present."  
He continued, saying "some spirits are supportive of the club's efforts to become more modern.  However, one spirit is upset because there have been so many changes in the club, in the lives of the Club's members, and in the very Village within which the clubhouse stands."  White gloves are gone!  Women are engaged in breath-taking careers outside the home!  The standard rules of etiquette by which society forged its way in the 1920s have evolved into standards of etiquette the spirit no longer seems to understand.  Clothes are different; cars are different; language is different; all is different.  

The Ghost Whisperer said that the spirit was anxious about the changes, was not happy with the Ghost Whisperer walking through the clubhouse, and did not want a Ghost Whisperer there for fear it would bring members' attention to the spirit's presence and its manipulation of events.  "Mrs. Secor's spirit," the Ghost Whisperer declared, "is so upset with the presence of a Ghost Whisperer and modernization of the club as well as the societal changes that affected the Club's members, that it is interfering with my psychic faculties!"

A week after his visit, the Ghost Whisperer called the Manor Club's chair of the planned event.  He said he would not be able to participate.  The committee members wondered if the Evening Section program scheduled for Halloween week would have to be canceled.  

Finding a Talented Ghost Whisperer

Ever industrious and always diligent, the committee members knew that they could not let down the members of the Club.  What is Halloween without such entertainment?  They charged a club member with the task of finding another Ghost Whisperer hoping they could stage the program as originally planned.   

Research quickly uncovered other Ghost Whisperers in the region.  One seemed particularly intriguing and especially talented.  A club member called her to discuss the event.

The call was only a few weeks ago.  During the call, a second Ghost Whisperer was enlisted.  She said she was intrigued, but wanted more background information.  As the conversation continued with a description of the planned event and its proposed date and time, the call disconnected abruptly.  There seemed to be a little noise as the call ended.  Was it static, or a hiss? . . . . 

No problem, of course.  Only a quick call back would be required.  That call, however . . . . failed.  Several more . . . . failed.  In fact, days of efforts to reach the Ghost Whisperer. . . . failed.  It was beginning to seem as if any effort to arrange a Ghost Whisperer was, well, cursed. . . . . 

Persistence, of course, pays off. The club member was nothing if not persistent.  After diligent efforts, she was able to connect with the Ghost Whisperer who was fascinated, intrigued and, most importantly, unintimidated by the spirit of Mrs. Secor, the Ghostly Matron of the Manor Club.  The new Ghost Whisperer agreed to lead a ghostly tour of the clubhouse.

Your Chance to Connect with The Ghostly Matron of the Manor Club

On the evening of Wednesday, October 28, 2015 -- two days from now -- the Evening Section of the Manor Club of Pelham Manor will present "Ghost Whisperer Tours the Manor Club" with Joan Carra, Psychic Medium, at 7:30 p.m.  You can join members of the Manor Club for an evening with psychic medium Joan Carra, a practitioner and teacher at the Wainwright House, Rye, New York.  She will connect to the spirits of The Manor House and the spirits coming through audience members.  Joan has been featured in WAG Magazine and in the Greenwich Times.  To attend, please RSVP as soon as possible by calling the office at 914-738-1528 or by emailing to TheManorClubOfPelham@GMail.com.  Cost of the event is $10 for members of the Manor Club and $20 for non-members.

Based on what already transpired, the evening tour with Ghost Whisperer Joan Carra Wednesday night will most certainly be a memorable one likely to add to the ghost lore of Pelham and its beloved Manor Club.  



Joan Secor in an Undated Photgraph.

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The clubhouse of the Manor Club is an historic building with a storied history.  As noted above, I have had the privilege to write much about that history.  For a few examples, see:  

Bell, Blake A., Early History of the Manor Club, The Pelham Weekly, Vol. XIII, No. 20, May 14, 2004, p. 12, col. 2.

Tue., Dec. 13, 2005:  The Manor Club's First Clubhouse Built in 1887-1888

Wed., Dec. 28, 2005:  The Mystery of the "Manor Club Girl" That Set Pelham Tongues Wagging in 1913

Fri., Aug. 4, 2006:  Early Images of the Original and Current Clubhouse Structures of the Manor Club in the Village of Pelham Manor, New York.

Mon., Feb. 15, 2010:  Early History of the Manor Club in the Village of Pelham Manor.

Thu., Sep. 25, 2014:  The Manor Club's Celebration of its Golden Anniversary in 1932.

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I also 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).

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.

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