It’s the time of year when thoughts turn toward ghoulishly carved pumpkins, gruesome get-ups and, if you’re a believer, ghosts. According to area authors and historians, the Catskill region is rife with otherworldly activity.
Staten Island native Lynda Lee Macken, 66, recently published her 30th book, “Catskill Ghosts,” chronicling libraries, homes, battle sites, inns and taverns throughout the region said to have a whiff of the supernatural.
“I’ve spent a lot of time in the Adirondacks and going through the Catskills,” Macken said, “and it’s a region I always had an interest in. Washington Irving penned the first spooky tales about the region, but it has more history than I ever imagined and … a long history of hauntings. Mountains and forests can be spooky places, and every place has haunted places, but I focused on the physical buildings and public places so that people could go visit them.”
In the opening of her “Catskill Ghosts,” Macken quotes Irving: “The whole neighborhood abounds with local tales, haunted spots and twilight superstitions; stars shoot and meteors glare oftener across the valley.”
In Oneonta, Macken said, the Huntington Memorial Library and Greater Oneonta Historical Society building are spirited spots.
“It’s an interesting place,” Macken said, describing the former. “The day (retired director) Marie Bruni went to the library for her interview, she saw Harriet Huntington, and it was her home. Her son donated the property when Harriet passed, but she stays in residence … making sure they’re good caretakers of the property.”
Harriet Huntington’s hauntings, Macken said, have included moving things, appearing as a translucent figure to patrons and summoning a live blackbird to the director’s office, a former servant’s room. According to “Catskill Ghosts,” Huntington’s activity increases during times of change or refurbishment within the 62 Chestnut St. building.
The activity at the Oneonta History Center at 183 Main St., Macken said, is more macabre.
“In the basement is the spirit of a teenage boy who was crushed in the elevator,” she said. “He doesn’t move on, because he’s confused: He was alive one minute as a young man, then gone.”
“When someone dies suddenly, the soul can be confused and not accept the fact that they are dead,” Macken writes. “With unexpected death arises ‘unfinished business’ and the spirit can get stuck between our earthly dimension and the spirit world. These earthbound beings have yet to properly pass over and remain behind, accounting for many ghost sightings and haunted places.”
In Delaware County, Macken said, Delhi’s Frisbee House at 46549 State Highway 10 has a long and sorrowful history, manifesting in “unexplainable and unsettling events in the celebrated home.”
“(In 1804), the first Mrs. Frisbee died in the house, leaving her husband and six children,” she said. “So she stays behind in the rocking chair, caring for the children, and people see the rocking chair moving and feel like somebody’s watching.” Macken’s book notes that Gideon Frisbee and his second wife lost their infant son George in the 1797 house.
Though at times the Frisbee family residence, a community gathering site and an inn, the Frisbee House is now the headquarters of the Delaware County Historical Association. Such is the home’s reputation that, according to a media release, DCHA director’s assistant Samantha Misa developed an annual Twilight Lantern Tour to highlight its “more eerie elements.” This year’s second round of tours will take place at 5 p.m., 5:45 and 6:30 Saturday, Oct. 26. Admission for adults is $5 and children under 12 will be admitted free.
“I’ve been doing the tours for the past four or five years and I started them because I kept hearing all these stories of people having weird experiences in the house,” Misa said. “I thought it would be a good fundraiser to invite people to come after hours and explore the house in the dark.”
Each tour, she said, is limited to about 10 people because of the house’s tight quarters. Most tours fill up.
Though the DCHA media release touts the home’s “coffin door,” “break-neck” stairway and family cemetery, Misa said, the nursery is considered the spookiest spot.
“We have this one room that’s part of an addition from the mid-1800s and the whole addition is about 10 degrees cooler than the rest of the house,” she said. “A lot of people, without prompting, will say, ‘Why is that back room so cold?’ or, ‘I got a weird feeling in that back room,’ or, since it’s decorated like a nursery, ‘I get the feeling that a child died there,’ and one did. (George) is buried out in the family cemetery and people say they’ve seen a rocking chair in the nursery move on its own or they get a spine-tingly feeling.”
“Ghosts can become stuck when they feel responsible for someone on earth, particularly a baby or child,” Macken writes. “Often a departed mother will be unable to leave her children, the maternal instinct will supersede death and the mother’s spirit will stay to watch over her family until she is convinced of their safety. Mothers can still influence, comfort and protect as a spirit on the other side.”
Additional activity, Misa said, has included a visitor feeling “like something grabbed her throat” inside one of the home’s bathrooms and all the upstairs stanchions that section off exhibits moving.
For more information on Saturday’s tour, call 607-746-3849.
Middleburgh is home to one of the area’s most active haunts, Macken said.
“The Dr. Best House & Medical Museum is an extremely interesting place and spooky in and of itself, because of all the antique medical gadgets, skeletons and old-timey remedies,” she said, “but it’s very haunted. Because all the (pieces exhibited) were personal possessions, there’s an energy. And not only did the doctor’s (first) wife die there, but so did the doctor and his (7-year-old) son.”
According to Macken’s book, Dr. Christopher Best and his surviving son Duncan practiced community medicine from the roughly 4,500-square-foot 1884 Italianate home at 1568 Clauverwie Road for a combined 107 years. The younger Best died in 1991, bequeathing the property and its contents to the Middleburgh Library.
Today, Macken said, the home operates as a museum of curiosities, attracting paranormal investigators, everyday ghost hunters and medical history buffs.
Macken and museum director Trish Bergan said paranormal disturbances run the gamut.
“Tri-City Paranormal Investigators trains its investigators at the museum because it is a fairly active place,” Bergan said. “And we’ve had people in the house, volunteers and the public, that have seen ceilings fall, a gentleman in a tweed blazer, bottles move across the shelf in the pharmacy and an apparition in the kitchen. Our former director once suddenly heard children laughing … and saw an old Victrola in the center parlor move up and down. And people have heard piano music, though the piano isn’t in the house anymore.
“We’ve had people that have been touched or just feel very cold all of a sudden,” she said, “and people see shadow figures upstairs. People were born in that house and died in that house, so it’s perfectly reasonable to think that there’s residual energy, and there’s definitely a lot. It’s nothing malevolent, just weird happenings.” Unexplained figures, Bergan said, also show up in photos.
“It’s a great place to visit,” Macken said, “and a lot of people don’t know about it.” Bergan estimated that the museum attracts 600 to 800 visitors annually.
The Dr. Best House & Medical Museum is open Saturdays from Memorial Day through Labor Day, Bergan said, and recently hosted its annual paranormal event on Oct. 19. The site is also open year-round, by appointment. For more information or to set up a tour, visit drbesthouse.com.
Wherever hauntings happen, Macken said, the attraction to the afterlife is uniquely human.
“I think we all want to know what happens when we die,” she said. “That’s the appeal of ghosts — it makes us think and it’s the unknown. We can ponder why ghosts stay behind and come up with a reason, but nobody knows how it happens. It’s amazing, endlessly fascinating and it’s real stuff.”