The following are various tales of spirits that I've encountered in books, articles, and elsewhere while researching local history. Some of these originally appeared in posts on my blogs.
Let me begin by saying that I certainly believe it ghosts (and I can understand why many people do not). It's not just because I've always enjoyed reading good ghost stories, but because I've had enough personal experiences that cannot be explained away.
And one thing that I've often found frustrating is the lack of good ghost stories here in Albany, New York. By that I mean ghost stories specific to their site or stories that, while supernatural in nature, can be tied in some way to a true event, place, or person.
But so many of the spooky tales I hear every year are the same old stories told in cities across the country.
The pretty young hitch-hiker who asks for a ride to be dropped off at an address near a cemetery and then turns out to be long deceased is a good example. I've heard that story quite a few times and it seems most cities have their own version. Here in Albany, it usually involves a girl picked up at night on Lark Street after a prom and dropped off by Graceland Cemetery on Delaware Avenue, but there are scores of variations, including Albany Rural Cemetery. This particular story appears in many books. Wikiepedia has an excellent entry on the "vanishing hitchhiker" and its many versions.
And then there's the abandoned Forest Park Cemetery just across the Hudson River. Do I believe it's haunted? Absolutely! But I also don't believe 99% of the ghastly tales told about it. Again, most read like variations on the same old stories told about old cemeteries all over world.
But, given Albany's size and history (it is one of the country's oldest cities and oldest continuously settled regions), it just seems as if there should be more tales of historic hauntings than oft-repeated and generic urban legends.
Some might say it's because so much of Albany's past has vanished as old historic buildings are replaced with newer structures. But, as two of the stories below show, ghosts can apparently linger at a site long after new buildings take the place of those they knew in life. Still, there are some ghost stories around here worth telling. Some are well-known, some are hardly mentioned.
The House On Ten Broeck Street - Among the
many handsome old houses on Arbor Hill's Ten Broeck Avenue, there is one tall
brownstone that is the site of a very unusual haunting. The ghost that walks it
uppermost floors seems to have no connection to the building itself. The house,
with a door flanked by white columns, was built in 1859 by a gentleman named
George Dawson. In the mid-20th century, though, children who lived in the house
reported seeing a strange man whenever they ventured to the top floor. The
mysterious and solemn figure, who often appeared in otherwise empty hallways,
gave no hints as to his identity or why he haunted this once-elegant house. But
he wore the clothing of a 17th-century Dutch soldier, complete with a metal
helmet similar to those currently on display in the New York State Museum.
Perhaps this man met his end or was buried on the steep hill where the house
stands in the 1600s (at the time, the only permanent Dutch settlement nearby was
Fort Orange nearly a mile and a half to the south) and continued to haunt the
site itself, even after the brownstone was built centuries later.
blog post on 49 Ten Broeck Hauntings
The New York State Capitol - Probably Albany's best known haunted site, the State Capitol has at least three ghosts within its imposing walls. The first is William Morris Hunt, a Boston artist commissioned to paint murals in the Senate Chamber. The murals' beauty was short-lived, however. There were structural problems with the Chamber's ceiling and, when the ceiling was replaced, the murals were lost within a tiny crawl-space. Hunt was greatly distressed over the loss of this work and disappointed at the lack of further commissions from the State. It's believed this loss contributed to the depression which led him to drown himself in New Hampshire in 1879. There are stories of a disembodied voice in the Senate Chamber which, on at least one occasion, has said "William Hunt is behind the door." Perhaps a reference to the door leading to the crawl-space where his murals have long since deteriorated. The second is a man named Samuel Abboot. A veteran of the Civil War, he was the night-watchman on duty - and the only fatality - when the Capitol was damaged by a massive fire on the night of March 29, 1911. His body was found in badly burned hallway near where the fire had started. Since then, employees and visitors have seen an older man in a watchman's uniform making his rounds in the upper halls, even checking on one young woman working too late one night. The third spectre is that of a distraught man who jumped to his death from one of the majestic sandstone staircases. I've personally experienced all three of these spirits, having heard a slurred male voice say the name "William" in the Senate Chamber, smelled a heavy and very strong odor of smoke and wet ash while standing in the exact spot with Abbott's body was found, and felt a sudden cold current of air inside my coat sleeves near the spot of the suicide.
The Lincoln Park Gully - What could be one of Lincoln Park's most scenic spots, the gully is a dirty and desolate place. Once the site of the Beaver Creek and Buttermilk Falls, its mossy shale cliffs are hidden by dense trees and littered with trash. The ravine's still air is fouled by the smell rising from a grate. Below the grate is a ghost of sorts...the last remnants of the creek and falls rush through an old stone and brick culvert. The stream once provided water-power to mills and breweries, but became so contaminated with waste that it was buried and integrated into the city's sewer system in the 1800s. But this smelly, neglected place is haunted by ghosts of a paranormal nature, too. In the 1620s, a party of Dutch soldiers and Mahican warriors en route to attack the Mohawks were instead ambushed and massacred by the Mohawks at Buttermilk Falls. One of the Dutchmen was burned alive and his leg and arm carried back to the Mohawks as proof of their victory. The others - at least four from the Dutch party and an unknown number of Mahicans - were hastily buried alongside the creek. Even now, in what may be one of the city's oldest hauntings, dark shadowy figures have been seen moving through the ravine in broad daylight and an eerie sense of being watched by something unseen is often reported by those who brave the smell and trash to venture into the gully. I have personally seen two such figures. Blog post - The Battle In Lincoln Park
The Legs Diamond House - The story of Prohibition-era gangster Legs Diamond is well known in Albany, due in no small part to William Kennedy's novel "Legs." The notorious bootlegger was shot to death in the small upstairs room of a rooming house on Dove Street. Later occupants of the house have reported the sound of late night footsteps and voices on the stairs leading to the room where Diamond was gunned down on December 18, 1931.
President Lincoln in Loudonville - On the night of his assassination, Lincoln was join at Ford's Theatre by a young couple with Albany connections, Henry Rathbone and his fiancee, Clara Harris. Rathbone, who was slashed in the arm by John Wilkes Booth, and Clara, who was the daughter of Senator Ira Harris, were troubled by the Lincoln assassination for the rest of their lives. And Ira Harris' country home - now part of a quiet lane in Loudonville - is said to have been visited by the slain President's ghost many times by Clara Harris and numerous later occupants at guests at the cottage.
SUNY Plaza - Like the Ten Broeck Street brownstone, the stunning structure on Broadway is also haunted by a ghost that seems to predate the structure itself. A woman in clothing which predates the former Delaware & Hudson Railroad Company building by at least a decade has been seen walking its halls. She might have some connection to the hotel which previously stood on this land.
The Old State Education Building
- The grim story associated with the massive
columned building on Washington Avenue is another one of Albany's better known
hauntings. It tells of an Italian laborer who vanished while the building's
foundation was being laid. His lunch and other personal effects were found where
he'd last put them and it was believed that he'd somehow fallen into the
excavations and his fate literally sealed when concrete was poured in over him.
Whether or not the foreman realized the missing man would be entombed in the
foundations varies, but most stories say he knew and didn't want to delay the
work. Since then, employees venturing into certain areas of the basement have
told of object being mysteriously moved, of unexplained chills, and a shadowy
man just barely glimpsed out of the corner of one's eye. Some discount this
haunting as an urban legend, but I grew up hearing the story that there was a
body sealed in the foundation from family members. My great-grandfather worked
as a laborer on the construction of the Alfred E. Smith Building across the
corner from the Old State Education Building. He heard the story from coworkers,
old-timers who had previously worked to build the State Education Building and
passed the sad tale of their lost member on to young laborers.
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 might be a ghost, but I do have doubts about its identity!
The Red Lantern Ghost – He 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.
Lark Street - There is a story of a young female figure appearing in the street at the intersection of Lark and Hamilton Streets. In some versions, she emerges from a house opposite the intersection and vanishes when she reaches the middle of the intersection. This story might not be related to the "vanishing hitchhiker" urban legend as it has been told separately and by individuals who were not familiar with the hitchhiker tale.
Historic Cherry Hill - The spirit of John Whipple, murdered at Cherry Hill and still haunting the house, is one of the better known local ghost stories (and there are also tales of a child ghost in the old house). 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 would supposedly see Jesse Strang. Clad in a shroud, he stared in confusion at the sprawling marble and glass complex being built over Gallows Hill. This may be the same ghost that has appeared as a shadowy figure in the present Vietnam Memorial Courtyard which was close to the approach to Gallows Hill (now the base of The Egg).
Lafayette Park - 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.
The Prentice Vault - 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 long-empty vault was rediscovered by teens in the 1940s. The treasure rumored to be there was not found.
St. Mary's Park –
Located behind Albany High School, this little park was once part of an old
Catholic Cemetery which was removed to Saint Agnes Cemetery in Menands. In the
1920s, neighborhood children reported a frightening figure in a long black coat
haunting the area around the abandoned receiving vault, but this was most likely
just Mary Conroy, the widow who lived in the
caretaker's cottage by the vault.
Albany Rural Cemetery – This vast cemetery 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. There are also stories of a phantom horse galloping the grounds. Still, I've had my share of paranormal encounters there...but that's a tale for another time! Blog post on the Cemetery's hauntings.
NYS Armory – The former armory on New Scotland Avenue has many stories of gray or shadowy figures. This was part of the old Alms House grounds and, in recent decades, numerous graves were uncovered here during construction. The remains were reburied at the Albany Rural Cemetery.
My own house, which was built in the 1840s and has been in my family for six generations, is also haunted. Incidents have included locked doors opening, heavy furniture being moved, unexplained voices, and the apparition of an older man in the front parlor (based on property records, this was likely the individual who owned the house ca. 1900).
Other haunted sites around Albany include the Russell Sage campus on New Scotland Avenue (some of the older buildings were part of the Albany Orphanage and it's said that at least several children remain as ghosts), several houses that are now part of the College of Saint Rose (including a little girl who died in a fire), the Schuyler and Ten Broeck Mansions, the former Academy of the Holy Names building at Madison Avenue at Robin Street, the former DeWitt-Clinton Hotel, Eagle Hill Cemetery, 100 State Street, and the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. There are also numerous stories of strange things happening in the old Becker House now on the G.E. Plastics property, though the tale of a jealous husband murdering his wife over her affair with a slave there long ago is unverified. The Empire State Plaza is said to be haunted by a ghost resembling Governor Nelson Rockefeller. The since-demolished Fat Cat nightclub on Central at Quail was also reportedly haunted. Of course, there are numerous private houses with their own stories of ghosts.