Monday, October 31, 2011

Haunted Halloween

As I wrote in last year's Halloween blog post - A Handful of Hauntings - I've always been frustrated by the lack of good local ghost stories. Surely Albany - with over four centuries of recorded history - should have better tales than oft-repeated urban legends like the Graceland Cemetery hitch-hiker.

And the ghost stories I do encounter are vague at best. Some downtown buildings like 100 State Street and the former DeWitt-Clinton Hotel are reportedly haunted, but details are maddeningly scarce.

Still, there are a few worth sharing this Halloween.

Saint Mary's Church, Albany's oldest Catholic Church, is a familiar site downtown...thanks especially to its wonderful angel weather-vane. Founded in 1797, the church is said to be haunted by a headless ghost with rattling chains. Tradition says the church was built on the site of a Dutch barn where Saint Isaac Jogues, a 17th-century Jesuit missionary, escaped from his Mohawk captors. Because Jogues was later killed and beheaded by the Mohawks, some believe this decapitated spirit is Father Jogues. I don't doubt there is a ghost, but I do have doubts about its identity.

The Red Lantern Ghost is said to haunt the intersection of New Scotland Avenue and McCormack Road. The story goes that people living in this area in an era before cars and traffic lights would see a mysterious red light moving along the road on certain nights. It was supposedly the phantom lantern of a man who would frequently travel this route at night until drowning in the Normanskill just a few blocks south. Who this man was and why he made nocturnal trips isn't explained.

The spirit of John Whipple, murdered at Cherry Hill and still haunting the historic house, is one of the better known local ghost stories. Less well known is the story of his murderer's ghost. Jesse Strang was hanged for the 1827 killing and his execution drew thousands of spectators to Gallows Hill. The site of this last public hanging was near Hudson Avenue and Eagle Street, an area now covered by the Empire State Plaza. It's said that for decades after his death, Jesse Strang's ghost haunted Gallows Hill. Workers building the Plaza were supposedly the last to see Jesse Strang. Clad in a shroud, he stared in confusion at the sprawling marble and glass complex being built over Gallows Hill.

Another execution site reportedly haunted by a hanged man is Lafayette Park at Hawk and Elk Streets. Years ago, Saint Agnes School stood near here and its halls were haunted by a man who swore he was innocent and vowed to haunt the site of his death until his name was cleared. Who he was and what he was condemned for is unknown, but this area is said to have been the site of a gallows. Saint Agnes School is long gone, but the ghost supposedly remains.

Just south of Albany, along River Road, is the estate of a family named Prentiss (or, as I've also seen it listed, Prentice). The family had its own private vault on the grounds (the existence of this vault is confirmed in a memoir of late 19th-century life in Albany) and there are stories of ghostly figures in burial clothes seen moving about at night and even conversing with each other.

The Albany Rural Cemetery is also haunted. I've yet to see the ghostly couple that supposedly drifts along its roads, clad in old-fashioned nightclothes. And the only dogs I've encountered are real canines being walked by their owners...never the mysterious black dog mentioned on various ghost sites. Still, I've had my share of paranormal encounters there...but that's a tale for another time!

Happy Halloween!

 And still more Albany ghost stores.


  1. I don't go in for such things, but the one spirit tale that always delighted me, and which I passed on to my daughters, was that the ghost of the owner's dog kept watch on the step that led into Arthur's in Schenectady's Stockade. You were always supposed to skip over the step so as not to disturb the pooch.

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  3. My grandmother told me stories of spending Halloween in the attic of the Prentiss house, it was a ballroom where they hosted annual parties, the kids put on little plays, etc. My grandmother was Allison Bennett, former Bethlehem Historian.