Pelham Was Overrun by Ghosts for a Few Months in the Winter of 1887-1888
During the dark, cold days of deep winter in the 1880s, City Island in the Town of Pelham was desolate at midnight. Many homes on the summer resort island were unoccupied during the dismally-cold months when chilling winds swept the island from Long Island Sound. There were no streetlights to part the inky blackness. Travelers had to wait until their eyes adjusted to the darkness of the night before trying to stumble over vacant lots, open fields, and deserted streets to get home. During the cold nights of those days of yore, City Island could be a very scary place as many discovered during the winter of 1887-1888. For a few months that winter, City Island in the Town of Pelham was virtually overrun by phantoms.
The Little Specter of the Field
Young Alvarette B. Sturgis (known as “Allie”), a rosy-cheeked young woman who worked behind the counter of a bakery on City Island, was the first to see an apparition late one night during the winter of 1887-1888. As she walked adjacent to an open field on City Island in December, 1887 late in the evening, she glanced into the darkness of the adjoining field and saw a “spectral apparition” that she described as “a little one.” As she watched, it “rapidly approached her” across the field, frightening her terribly. For nearly the next three months, the Little Specter of the Field that terrified Allie Sturgis “was much talked about” on City Island.
The Floating White Phantom of City Island
On Wednesday, February 1, 1888, there was an incident that became the new talk of the Town of Pelham. Snow-covered City Island and even the waters between City Island and Hart Island were covered with an icy, frozen sheet. Nevertheless, a festive and jolly crowd had gathered on the only hill on the island behind the local post office for a sledding party. One of the three Darling Triplets, 24-year-old William G. (“Will”) Darling, was exhausted and cold. Late in the evening, he left the hill for his home.
As Will Darling made his way home, he approached Main Street (today’s City Island Avenue). The street was deserted and dark. Will Darling was cold. What he saw next made it worse. It “made his blood run cold.” Floating above Main Street, almost as if it were “rolling along,” was a tall white apparition that never seemed to touch the ground. Will ran for home, never looking back.
Only a short time later the same night, the same apparition appeared to William Applebaugh, a telegraph operator in the Signal Service office on City Island. Applebaugh turned to run. What happened next is not certain. Even Applebaugh told City Islanders that he was not certain what happened because he was so frightened. Either the apparition shoved him or he fell into a snow drift on the side of the road. According to one news report of the incident, “Applebaugh never seemed certain whether he fell from a push or because the creature frightened him.”
The Floating White Phantom of City Island was not finished on that fateful night in 1888. Will Dayton, the son of a hardware merchant in town, was near Leviness’s Hotel when he froze in his tracks. In the street opposite the hotel was a tall “grayish white something” that seemed to float along about three feet above the ground. Dayton could provide no more detailed description of the Floating White Phantom because he turned and “ran after the first glance.”
For the next several nights, the Floating White Phantom frightened a number of other City Islanders who encountered it. On Thursday night, February 2, 1888, Stephen Collins was walking on Prospect Avenue on City Island opposite the Vail property. His house was nearby. He stopped cold when he saw a tall white apparition on Prospect Avenue. He later recounted that “it did not stand upon the ground. It seemed suspended several feet in the air.” Collins could not describe the phantom with any additional particularity because he ran to his home, “quickly got indoors, and did not venture out until morning.” The following night, Friday, February 3rd, City Islander Eugene Hallet was returning home late on a “dismally dark night.” Opposite Flynn’s ice house at the Forks, Hallet “saw the same white apparition.” It was “white and tall.” It seemed to roll over the ground without seeming to touch it. Though Hallet was a good half mile from his home, he turned and ran “at a hundred-yard pace.” As he ran, the Floating White Phantom of City island made “not the slightest sound” but followed him as he ran until he reached his home.
The Faceless Floating Black Phantom of City Island
On the night of Sunday, February 5, 1888, City Islander David (“Dave”) Leviness was frightened to his very core. As he put it he was “never so completely scared” in his entire life. He was about a half mile from his home passing Von Liehn’s Hotel on the bay side by the City Island Bridge. He suddenly noticed something “tall and black and strange on the bathing pavilion.” It was at least six feet tall and seemed to have a woman’s form, It was, however, faceless. He stopped to look at the apparition and it moved toward him. According to Leviness, “It seemed suspended in the air.” Leviness “could see the glint of the water in the dim starlight under the spectre.” Leviness was frozen in fear. As he put it, he was “rooted to the spot in terror for a moment.” As the Faceless Floating Black Phantom of City Island approached him, “he gained strength, and ran as never he ran before.” As he ran, he glanced behind, only to see the phantom following him. “[F]inally, when he reached home he was completely exhausted.”
Regular readers of the Historic Pelham Blog may experience a little chill at this moment. The Faceless Floating Black Phantom of City Island seen on February 5, 1888 seems eerily similar to "The Shadowy Specter of James Street" seen by Bardy Jones and his dog, Sidney, in recent years. See Wed., Oct. 28, 2015: The Shadowy Specter of James Street: A Pelham Manor Ghost Story. The Shadowy Specter of James Street has been described as follows: "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." Those who consider such things may well wonder if The Shadowy Specter of James Street is the same Faceless Floating Black Phantom that haunted nearby City Island more than 125 years before. . . . Those who believe in the paranormal have a name for such dark phantoms as the Shadowy Specter of James Street and the Faceless Floating Black Phantom of City Island. They call them "Shadow People."
Threats To Shoot the Phantoms of City Island
Dave Leviness was furious at the fright he had suffered from the Faceless Floating Black Phantom of City Island. When questioned by a reporter from The Sun published in New York City, he threatened: “I’m going down that way to-night, and I’m going to carry a revolver. If she’s layin’ for me I’ll give her a shot. I don’t want to kill anybody, but that’s a ghost. No live person could travel in the air.” The same report interviewed the local Justice of the Peace, asking what he thought of the phantom sightings. He said “Oh, there’s some ground for it, of course; I suppose some one [sic] is masquerading around here, scaring folks. If it continues, I’m going to get detectives out and sift the thing to the bottom. It won’t do to have women and children scared out of their wits. Everybody in town is talking about the thing, and a good many superstitious people believe it.”
An Effort to Dissuade Pelhamites that There Were Phantoms Stalking City Islanders
By late February of that Leap Year in 1888, nearly everyone in Pelham was talking about the phantoms that were stalking City Islanders. The conversations had taken a more ominous turn. City Islanders had observed a pattern to the appearance of the phantoms. The ghosts, it was said, appeared to be “most troublesome” to young men who lingered beyond the hour of midnight in attendance at the bedsides of ill friends and family.
On Wednesday, February 29, 1888, young women of City Island hosted a “Leap Year Concert” filled with music and drama. The program was replete with beautiful costumes and charmingly-framed tableaus. The “hit of the evening,” however, was a two-part tableau presented by Josie Price and Susie Estes. In that “ingenious” two-part tableau, the pair “cleaned up the mystery of the City Island ghost,” presumably by demonstrating to the audience how such a ghost could be fabricated.
While history does not record what Josie Price and Susie Estes presented to the crowd that evening, it is quite telling that the hit of the evening that night was something on the minds of every City Islander: the ghosts that overran City Island during that frightening winter of 1887-1888.
Below is the text of two newspaper articles that form the basis for today's article. Each is followed by a citation and link to its source.
“CITY ISLAND’S BIG GHOST.
IT MOVES ALONG WITHOUT TOUCHING THE GROUND.
Sometimes White and Sometimes Black – It Looks Like a Woman, But Has No Face – If It Doesn’t Look Out it Will Get Shot.
City Island in winter is a desolate spot. The Sound about it is frozen inches thick and the fishing smacks that make the summer harbor a gay scene are fast and helpless. Cold winds sweep across the flat waste. The snow lies unshovelled [sic] on the sidewalks, and half the houses are empty. About three months ago Miss Allie Sturgis, rosy cheeked and 18 or thereabouts, who serves customers with fresh rolls on the counter of Weber’s bakery, was much frightened by a spectral apparition late at night, which rapidly approached her over an adjoining field. This ghost, although it was described by Miss Sturgis as a little one, was much talked about, but now it has given place to another, a six-footer.
The present ghost did not appear until the bay between the town and Hart Island was a firm and solid sheet of ice. A week ago last Wednesday night it was seen first. A jolly crowd had been sledding on the only hill in town, behind the Post Office. Will Darling was returning late from the sledding party, when he saw a sight that made his blood run cold. It was on Main street, but the street was deserted and dark. What it was he never told, except that it was white and tall, and rolled along above the ground, never seeming to touch it. He ran, and did not see the thing again. But that same night, it was said afterward, it appeared to William Applebaugh, a telegraph operator in the Signal Service office, and either pushed him or frightened him so that he fell in a snow drift on the road side. Applebaugh never seemed certain whether he fell from a push or because the creature frightened him, the town folks say. Still later that same night Will Dayton, the son of a hardware merchant in town, caught sight of a tall, grayish white something in the street opposite Liviness’s [sic] Hotel. It seemed to move along about three feet from the ground; but what its form and appearance was he never told, because he never knew. He says the night was dark, and he ran after the first glance.
On Thursday night Stephen Collins saw a strange sight in Prospect avenue, opposite the Vail property. He could not describe the appearance, except to say that it was white and tall and motionless. His house was near by, and he quickly got indoors, and did not venture out until morning. He told the story next day, and on top of the visions seen by the others it created much talk. Collins told them it did not stand upon the ground. It seemed suspended several feet in the air. That was all he had time to notice. On last Friday again more fuel was added to the popular flame. Eugene Hallet was coming home late at night, and a dismally dark night it was. Right opposite Flynn’s ice house at the Forks he saw the same white apparition. It was a good half mile from home, but Hallett started at a hundred-yard pace. He said next morning that the white being followed him, rolling along over the ground without seeming to touch it, and making not the slightest sound. He told his townfolks that it seemed white and tall, but as for other particulars he had no word to say.
The last time the spectre was seen was on Sunday night. Whether it was the same ghost, though, is a question, for the ghost that Dave Liviness [sic; this is David Leviness] saw was blacker even than the night on which he saw it. He told a SUN reporter that he was never so completely scared in his life. He was passing Von Liehn’s Hotel, more than half a mile from home, and on the bay side by the bridge. He was not thinking of ghosts at all when he suddenly notice something tall and black and strange on the bathing pavilion. It was six feet tall at the very least, and looked like a woman’s form, except that he could see no face. He stopped, and the thing moved toward him. It seemed suspended in the air. He could see the glint of the water in the dim starlight under the spectre. He was rooted to the spot in terror for a moment, but as the thing approached, he said, he gained strength, and ran as never he ran before. He looked around and saw it following, and finally when he reached his home he was completely exhausted.
‘I’m going down that way to-night,’ said he to the reporter, ‘and I’m going to carry a revolver. If she’s layin’ for me I’ll give her a shot. I don’t want to kill anybody, but that’s a ghost. No live person could travel in the air.’
When the reporter asked Justice of the Peace Martin what he thought of the scare, he said:
‘Oh, there’s some ground for it, of course; I suppose some one is masquerading around here, scaring folks. If it continues, I’m going to get detectives out and sift the thing to the bottom. It won’t do to have women and children scared out of their wits. Everybody in town is talking about the thing, and a good many superstitious people believe it.’
Druggist Reynolds expresses the utmost incredulity, but says he notices that the girls don’t go out alone nights any more, and the boys have their hands full escorting them. Mr. George Adams says he don’t believe in ghosts worth a cent, but that those who have been ‘visited’ are undoubtedly serious in their fright. He does not suggest an explanation, but he does not think it entirely a hoax. The man who runs the combination shoe shop and carpenter shop opposite Reynolds’s drug store says that Dayton was undoubtedly very much scared. Other persons to whom the reporter talked varied between incredulity and fright.”
Source: CITY ISLAND’S BIG GHOST -- IT MOVES ALONG WITHOUT TOUCHING THE GROUND -- Sometimes White and Sometimes Black – It Looks Like a Woman, But Has No Face – If It Doesn’t Look Out it Will Get Shot, The Sun [NY, NY], Feb. 12, 1888, p. 10, col. 7.
The leap year concert given at City Island on Wednesday evening of this week was a pronounced success in merit, finance, and it has been whispered matrimonially too. The young ladies presented a most beautiful appearance in their tasty costumes of varied hues and styles, bedecked as they were with flowers and modest charms. The programme throughout was admirably rendered as was attested by the generous applause which greeted every effort. Perhaps the finest tableau of the evening was that entitled ‘leap year subjects,’ which was rendered by all the young ladies grouped together in a most charming manner. It was truly remarked by many of the audience that it was the finest collection of female grace and beauty to be found within any village or hamlet in the county. Many of the young men in the audience, and especially those from New Rochelle, were restrained only by the bounds of propriety from leaving their seats and falling prostrate at the feet of the young ladies. In all probability City Island will soon have several benedicts. Special mention should be made of Miss Josie Price and Miss Susie Estes for having cleaned up the mystery of the City Island ghost in an ingenious tableau of two parts. It was the hit of the evening, and the people should express their obligations to these young ladies by a vote of thanks or at least a leather medal. The young men, especially experienced great relief as it was said the ghost was most troublesome to them if they chanced to be detained beyond the hour of midnight in their attendance upon the sick. The young ladies who have planned and succeeded so nicely are entitled to great credit and to heartiest congratulations.”
Source: CITY ISLAND, The New Rochelle Pioneer, Mar. 3, 1888, p. 3, col. 4.
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The news stories quoted above add a great deal to what we previously knew about the ghost(s) that tortured City Island in the Town of Pelham in late 1887 and early 1888. I have written about the ghost known at the time as "His Spookship." See Mon., Sep. 08, 2014: In 1888, The "Ghost of City Island" Upset the Town of Pelham.
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I have collected ghost stories and legends relating to the Town of Pelham for more than fifteen years. To read more examples that now total in the several 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. 31, 2016: Pelham Was Overrun by Ghosts for a Few Months in the Winter of 1887-1888.
Fri., Oct. 28, 2016: The Old Stone House Has At Least One More Ghost -- The Ghost of Mrs. Parrish is Not Alone.
Thu., Oct. 27, 2016: Did Google Maps Camera Capture the Ghost of the Elegant Lady of the Old Stone House at 463 First Avenue?
Wed., Oct. 26, 2016: The Ghost of the Murdered Traveler Who Wanders the Bartow-Pell Grounds.
Tue., Oct. 25, 2016: The Suicidal Specter of Manger Circle.
Mon., Oct. 24, 2016: The Fiery-Eyed Phantom of Pelham Heights.
Mon., Sep. 19, 2016: The Dark Spirit of the Devil and His Stepping Stones: A Pelham Legend.
Fri., Oct. 30, 2015: The Shrieking Ghosts of Execution Rocks: Yet Another Pelham Ghost Story.
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.
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