Illustration by Anna Godeassi
As a Gen-Xer—a demographic that often has trouble leaving our teenage angst and cynicism back with the oversized flannels and ripped jeans of the late 20th century—I generally maintain a rolling-my-eyes attitude toward ghost stories. But that doesn’t mean I don’t get spooked from time to time.
One memorable scare happened the night I spent alone at the old Prescott House in Saranac Lake. I’d booked a room there during the village’s last Winter Carnival before the world shut down for COVID (fittingly, 2020’s “Myths and Legends” theme was capped off by a truly epic snowstorm that saw folks skiing down Broadway).
The property, which now offers rental rooms through Airbnb, is a stately Colonial-Revival number built by Mary Prescott in 1905. Prescott was a tuberculosis patient who, upon recovering, funded its construction to provide a haven for patients too ill to be treated at Dr. E. L. Trudeau’s Adirondack Cottage Sanitarium. Though it was called the Reception Hospital, its guests’ arrival often constituted a farewell.
After showing me to my berth and explaining the dorm-style bathroom setup, my host treated me to a bit of a history lesson, explaining how the rooms had doors that once opened to the porch, allowing patients to be wheeled out to “take the cure.” The basement of the hospital, which today houses a laundry room and small kitchen, was once a very busy morgue, with a set of doors providing access to a stone staircase that led to the train—the gateway to that final destination was large enough to fit a coffin through.
I eventually settled in for the night with a book, though I spent most of the time contemplating the former occupants of my room and becoming increasingly uneasy in my solitary state. I had no desire to wander down into the basement, but I knew that my daughters, who are both suckers for a good ghost story, would be wildly disappointed if I let the opportunity pass me by. After some internal dithering over the matter, I tiptoed out into the hall and down the dimly lit stairs to the basement.
I found myself at the end of a long, darkened hallway, the only illumination from a small lamp perched on a pedestal table on the far side. I’m not sure whether it was an unfortunate coincidence or the result of someone’s macabre sense of humor, but the lamp’s shade was crimson, giving what little light it emitted an ominous glow. It would be hard to imagine a better setting for a horror movie. But the only sound was the gentle hum of a load of wash, with its solid assurance that my fellow occupants were very much alive. So, with a heavy sigh and a bit of a pep talk, I started down the hall.
I was about halfway to that little red lamp when the unseen washer suddenly—and very loudly—switched cycles. I suppose it’s possible that I could jump even higher than I did that night, but I’d hate to see the fright that would cause it.
Saranac Lake, with its heavy history and wealth of old buildings, is a solid contender for the Adirondack Park’s Most-Likely-Haunted list. But it’s not the only place burdened by traumatic events that may have caused some residents to stick around past their expiration dates. I set out last fall to collect some terrifying tales from three potential havens of horror around the region, from phantom hoofbeats at Crown Point and angry poltergeists at Fort William Henry to—oddly enough—flying chocolate bars in North Creek.
When Deb and Jim Morris converted a 19th-century North Creek home into a chocolate factory, strange things started to happen—and it wasn’t the colorful Willy Wonka kind of strange. Instead of an infestation of Oompa-Loompas menacing naughty boys and girls, the Morrises and their employees started hearing footsteps, bangs and muffled voices, their thermostat decided to crank itself up without human help, and chocolate began flying off shelves (and not just because of good sales). So the couple started looking into the history of the home.
What they uncovered was a tragic family tale that involved a young boy’s untimely death and the mysterious disappearance of a once-beloved wife. You’ll hear the whole story on one of Barkeater’s haunted tours, and afterwards you’ll be able to play with the owners’ electromagnetic field gauge, dowsing rods and other ghost-hunting tools. But that’s not the sweetest part. The scary tales are topped off with treats: chocolate ghosts—made by you—to haunt your daydreams.
Barkeater Chocolates, at 3235 Route 28, in North Creek, holds Haunted Factory Chocolate Sessions by reservation only; a list of available dates can be found at www.barkeaterchocolates.com. To request a private tour, call (518) 251-4438.
Crown Point, a strategic tongue of land that significantly narrows the breadth of Lake Champlain, once hosted the soldiers of three nations—French, British and American—and though the landscape never saw battle, it was the scene of a devastating smallpox outbreak in 1776. Today, the peninsula cradles the remains of Fort St. Frederic, leveled by the retreating French in 1759, and its successor, His Majesty’s Fort of Crown Point, which was walloped by an accidental magazine explosion in 1773.
The property might also house its share of unsettled spirits. For a taste, tag along on one of the historical site’s spooky sunset tours through the ruins. Wandering around the crumbling remnants of the British fort in the fading evening—its recesses flickering in the light of the luminaria lining the windows—is unsettling enough, even without the tales of a bound and dripping Highlander who may have met his end through keelhauling (a rather unforgiving form of military punishment), or apparitions and hoofbeats that have startled reenactors as they camped on the very grounds you’re strolling.
Crown Point State Historic Site, at 21 Grandview Drive, offers Haunted Histories at the Forts on October 21 and 29. Call (518) 587-3666 or visit parks.ny.gov/historic-sites for details.
Fort William Henry
The construction of Lake Champlain’s Fort Carillon (renamed Fort Ticonderoga after it swapped its French flag for a Union Jack in 1759) triggered a bit of one-upmanship by the British, who started their own bastion on Lake George, Fort William Henry, at the dawn of the French and Indian War. Thanks to James Fenimore Cooper and Daniel Day-Lewis—and for some of us who grew up in New York, our fourth-grade teachers—most people have a general idea of what happened next: the vastly outnumbered British contingent was besieged by the French and their Indian allies, and, upon surrendering, around 200 soldiers and camp followers were killed or wounded as the place was plundered and survivors were evacuated to Fort Edward. The fort itself was burned.
Today’s Fort William Henry Museum isn’t made up of the same buildings that hosted Lieutenant Colonel Monro’s ill-fated troops (the stronghold was recreated within its original footprint in the 1950s), but the land still might harbor some spine-chilling secrets. During archaeological excavations, more than a dozen skeletons were found both inside and outside the boundaries of the fort, including one who had lost his head. But there were more ancient finds. According to the late David Starbuck, author of Archeology in the Adirondacks, the parcel—and particularly its parade grounds—contained “some of the richest Native American features and artifacts ever found in the Adirondacks.” (If you need more insight into the potential perils of disturbing ancient artifacts, check out any number of spooky movies from the 1970s or ’80s.)
The ghost tours at Fort William Henry include a visit to the military crypt where several bodies were found, though the skeletons you’ll see are recreations—some remains have been re-interred, others are on loan to university research labs. Spirit seekers will also visit an original well that may have trapped the spirit of a little girl in its dark depths, and the casement, where a very angry soul referred to as “him” by tour guides is said to have scratched, pushed and otherwise harassed impolite visitors. I would suggest you mind your manners while you’re there.
The Fort William Henry Museum, at 48 Canada Street, in Lake George, runs Haunted History Tours from May through October. Call (518) 668-5471 or visit www.fwhmuseum.com for details.