Posts Tagged ‘Haunted’

I’ve been on hiatus since Christmas while attending to my wedding and my honeymoon. Having just returned from our celebratory Cruise, I can get back to regular posting…

The Great Blizzard of 1888 – Nyack’s A-drift

This year’s “Winter That Never Was” is the – pardon the pun – polar opposite of 1888, which brought the worst winter snow disaster the United States had ever seen.  Beginning on March 11 and stretching through March 14, this monster storm would dump 50 inches of snow on Connecticut and Massachusetts and 40 inches on New York and New Jersey, with sustained winds of 45 miles an hour. Entire homes were literally drifted over; a drift in Gravesend, Brooklyn was measured at 52 feet high.  Railroad lines were blocked taking days to clear; telegraph and telephony lines snapped or exploded isolating the metropolises of Montreal, Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Washington DC for days. Electrical lines dropped all over New York City adding electrocution deaths to deaths from exposure and building collapse.  Over 400 people would lose their lives on land – more than 200 in New York City alone – and 100 more lives would be lost at sea in coastal vessels sunk from wave battering or by the enormous weight of ice that formed on superstructures.  This storm would prompt New York City to bury its electrical lines and its train stations and push harder for a subway.

In Nyack, snow accumulations were less than in Brooklyn though well into the two foot range,  while drifts engulfed entire houses and blocked streets and docks.  Nyack was isolated from the rest of the Metropolitan Area  with both ferry service stopped and trains unable to get through the drift.  Daily commuters who had left Nyack on the train that morning were unable to return for days (Fancy that, train service right from Nyack… hey Albany!! ).

The archives of the Erie Railroad show a report from Harry Lewis Sarvent engineman from Nyack and at that time foreman of the Nyack Engine Yard.  (Sarvent is a descendent of Phillip Sarvent, mentioned in several of my blog posts as a hero of the British Attack on Nyack and is a possible candidate for the identity of the legendary ghost in the Old Palmer cemetery – see October 2010 posts). Harry Sarvent reports to his superiors that: “On March 12th, 1888, the time of the blizzard, I was called to ‘fire’ locomotive engine 327 for engineer Benjamin Scribner at 4:30 a.m., Monday, and left Nyack about 7:30 a.m. We got back to Nyack the following Thursday afternoon.”  This for what was normally a one-hour or less return trip.

Many Nyackers and other Rockland Residents were trapped at various workplaces – several Macy’s Saleswomen from Nyack were permitted to sleep in the store for the duration, in – where else – the mattress department.  Nyack’s pioneering woman physician Dr. Virginia Davies (yep, Dr. Davies Farm on 9W in Congers was hers) was in March of 1888 in the middle of her four-year stint as Head of the New York Infant Asylum and had arrived in the city quite early that day.  Like so many others she became trapped at her workplace, fortunately for the infants and children there, for after over two full days of her snowy imprisonment she led a party who TUNNELED through 18 foots drifts to get milk since there had been no supplies that entire time. This act of heroism was braver than you might first think – the majority of deaths from the blizzard were those who had attempted to bludgeon their way or tunnel their way through enormous drifts – and women pedestrians had a significantly higher rate of mortality because their heavy petticoats dragged them down, and frequently prevented their desperate attempts to extricate themselves from their snowy entombment.  An odd quirk of history shows that as a direct result, petticoats became far less massive and calf-length skirts made their first appearance in modern fashion.

Nyackers and City Folks had all adapted to “modern conveniences” such as electricity, gas stoves, telephones and easy access to fresh milk, groceries, heating fuel, transportation and newspapers. The papers published at least two additions a day back then, and people read them as avidly as we watch the news twice or more times a day in 2012.  At first, just as would be likely today, people griped about not having anything to read, or being able to go to the theater, or not having their lights or telephone work. That was “at first”. As the isolation stretched to days and no supplies could get anywhere on the East Coast, lack of food and heat switched from frustrating to fatal.  Urbanite and Villager alike were used to picking up fresh food daily (home refrigeration not being widespread) and having the coal man deliver regularly. Trapped in their homes and offices and shops and tenements and hotels, millions in the New York metro area were threatened with death from exposure or from hunger.

Many were forced to improvise, and that improvisation would result in one of the Nyack areas longest lived legends.  On the border of Blauvelt and Nyack, near Buttermilk Falls a family on Greenbush Road living in one of the old Dutch Sandstone Colonials was literally trapped in their home by drifts as high as the roofline.  The quickly ran out of firewood and could not get out their doors to get more – so they began to burn anything in the house that they could – newspapers, artwork, beds, tables, chairs, and finally only one thing was left.  The family patriarch had passed away at an advanced age just prior to the blizzard and his coffin was in the parlour waiting for a now postponed funeral. With no other options, the family was forced to do the unthinkable — burn the old man’s coffin, and keep granddad’s body in deep freeze just outside the door.  Apparently, the old man (or his shade) was not amused. By all accounts, no one has ever been able to satisfactorily heat that parlour since; and it remains chill even in the hottest dog days of August.

photo: Henry Insley, Nyack Library Historical Collection


photo: Nyack Library Historical Collection

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“…having reported the ghosts’ presence in both a national publication… and the local press… defendant is estopped to deny their existence and, as a matter of law, the house is haunted.”  New York State Supreme Court Ruling, July 18, 1991*

The house was a lovely Hudson River Victorian on LaVeta Place in Nyack.  For years, one of the owners had recounted tales of a benign haunting in her home to everyone – it was part of the Nyack Ghost Tour, it was on TV, it was in Reader’s Digest – around Nyack, we all knew about the ghosts (or supposed ghosts) in “that house by the river”.  We all knew it, but in 1989 when the house was put up for sale, buyers from New York City did not. They went into contract on the lovely home unaware that they might just have some permanent house guests they didn’t invite. Then they heard the story… from, well, everybody in Nyack. “Oh, you bought the ‘Ghost House!'” Thus began one of the oddest cases in New York Jurisprudence since we were New Netherland.

See, as a Realtor it is our duty to disclose any known defects of a home that might affect its’ purchase price, or its’ value thereafter.  But is a haunting an adverse condition? Could it be argued that no such thing exists? Could it be argued in Court that it DOES? The Buyers, the Sellers, the Realtors and the Justices of the State of New York would find themselves “through the looking-glass” trying to determine precedent on the unprecedented.

After first deciding that though it was obvious that the common perceived notion in the area was that the house was referred to as “haunted” and that perception could certainly affect the perceived value of the house, the Trial Court held that such a condition should fall under caveat emptor or “let the buyer beware” and no wrongdoing occurred.  An Appeals Court overturned that decision on the grounds that ghosts in a house are not exactly something that can be discovered in the average property inspection, nor is it likely to be an issue a buyer might ever think to ask about.  Therefore, the court noted that whether the house was truly haunted or not, the fact that the house had been widely reported as being haunted greatly affected its value – and that as a known perceived condition, it should have been disclosed.  They wrote: “Where, as here, the seller not only takes unfair advantage of the buyer’s ignorance but has created and perpetuated a condition about which he is unlikely to even inquire, enforcement of the contract (in whole or in part) is offensive to the court’s sense of equity. Application of the remedy of rescission, within the bounds of the narrow exception to the doctrine of caveat emptor set forth herein, is entirely appropriate to relieve the unwitting purchaser from the consequences of a most unnatural bargain.” * The Buyers had their deposit returned.

The house was purchased by a corporation who quickly sold it again (not due to any poltergeist activities that I can ascertain) and the next buyers were brought to the closing table by my compatriot and friend here at Nyack Rand Realty, Diane Smith.  The purchasers were an author, and her husband, an A-list Hollywood screenwriter.  (Other interested purchasers included “The Amazing Kreskin” who once told me the reason he had any interest was BECAUSE it was reputed to be haunted and he wanted proof, one way or the other).  Diane’s buyers weren’t fazed by the allegations of a haunting – but thought their kids might have an issue, and decided the kids needed to go there first, hang out a bit, and see if it scared them.  Diane was afraid the kids might be spooked and the deal wouldn’t have a ghost of a chance, but lo and behold, the kids loved the place and the whole family found the “vibe” of the house warm and inviting.  They still live there 15 or so years on, and I’m told that there have been no negative experiences… which doesn’t necessarily mean there have been no experiences, now does it? 

So, the next time you are purchasing property, maybe you might want to ask me – or some other realtor – “has anything ‘unusual’ ever happened in this house?”  After all, Home Inspectors can’t be expected to find EVERYTHING… 

* 169 A.D.2d 254, 572 N.Y.S.2d 672, 60 USLW 2070. New York Supreme Court, Appellate Division, First Department

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In keeping with the “spirit” of October, All Hallows Eve or Samhain (take your pick) I’ll continue with two of our local cemeteries reputed to come with a “little something extra”. For each, I’ll give the alleged haunting first with history second.


HAUNTING:  Since I was a kid, I’ve heard stories of people who SWORE they saw someone pass them as they were reading the stones, only to look up as they passed and find no one within hundreds of yards of their location.  A former resident of the caretaker’s house reports playing hide-and-seek type games when he was very little with children he only later realized could NOT have been there (no wonder they were so hard to catch!).  The caretaker’s home itself has had a certain number of reports of footsteps, doors opening and other haunting type phenomenon all around the structure – not a surprise perhaps as two different former caretakers suicided there.  One extensive reporting of “Phantom Walkers” regards a young woman in jeans who walks vacantly past in broad daylight.  This apparition began shortly after the burial of a young lady who’d been killed in a car accident, and her boyfriend told me the outfit that witness claimed the spectre was wearing sounded exactly like her favorite.

HISTORYFounded June 27, 1848 this large, beautiful, hillside cemetery winds up the side of the mountain ridge affording spectacular views of the Hudson from the upper sections.  A walk through this spectacular graveyard (still expanding, which cause a bit of controversy a few weeks back!) reveals elaborate tombstones, monuments, pillars, obelisks, weeping angels, and a large number of elegant mausoleums.  Most touching, perhaps, is the “Children’s Area” an area very close to the top of the ridge that for a time was limited to the graves of the very young. Recognizable permanent residents of Oak Hill include actress Helen Hayes and her playwright husband Charles MacArthur as well as his writing partner, Ben Hecht the screenwriter of “Gone With the Wind” and many other film classics; Americas’ greatest realist painter and Nyack native, artist Edward Hopper; Author Carson McCullers of “Member of the Wedding Fame”; Filmmaker and artist, Joseph Cornell; Nyack’s homegrown Civil War heroes Col. Edward Pye who commanded the New York 95th regiment at Gettysburg, Grant’s Overland Campaign and was mortally wounded at Cold Harbor in 1864 AND Brigadier General Daniel Ullman who was commanding general of the first black troops raised by the Union.  Also scattered among the well-tended rows are many other famous artists, designers, musicians, and several congressmen.  A free walking tour of Oak Hill is coming up on Sunday, October 24 from 2 to 4 pm sponsored by the Friends of the Nyacks – for info: http://friendsofthenyacks.org/2010/10/17/oak-hill-cemetery-tour-sundays-200-p-m-may-2-and-october-17/


HAUNTINGThe legend has remained the same for a long, long, LONG time.  I can find references to it in Nyack histories going back as far as the late 1800s.  A Revolutionary War era soldier sits his lonely sentry post atop one of the stones, musket forlornly held across his lap, awaiting a relief guard who will never come. I always thought it far more tragic than scary, and as a teenager we used to walk by on autumn evenings hoping to catch a glimpse of him… but we were perhaps too noisy, too intrusive, and perhaps too much WANTING to see something that a whole gaggle of us might have simply been too much, if indeed it is even possible that a solitary disincarnate guard WAS still protecting Nyack from the Redcoats.  I will say that it is a mournful, melancholy place at night – less frightening, more sorrowful. It was not until many years later when I was 40, riding by on my bicycle at dusk on my way from Marydell that something odd occurred. Braking hard to keep control on my way down Old Mountain Road, I noticed somebody leaning on one of the stones downhill from me in the old cemetery, looking like he was smoking or something.  Immediately I thought the police were going to be annoyed that someone was in there after dark, but wasn’t going to bother him.  That’s when I saw the sign – I had not seen the new historical marker they had erected and skidded to a halt to read it.  And noticed I was alone. No one was in the Burial Ground, nor was there a deer or a bush or anything that might have fooled me. Either I had been mistaken in the gloom of twilight and my subconscious mind chose the shape from my teenage love of the legend of the cemetery, or… well… or I finally saw him. The soldier. If he’d waited, I’d have relieved him for a while… it’s the least I could do for one of our original veterans.  You can check out the investigation of the Old Palmer Burial Ground by NPI –  Nyack’s own Father/Son team of Paranormal Investigators – that was performed in 2009 by linking over to their site (on another tab, of course!) at: http://64nywf65.20m.com/uncem/uncem.htm.

HISTORYThe Burial Ground began operation in the 1730s, on the land of Corneilius Kuyper who was the original settler of this area of Upper Nyack in 1686.  Kuyper himself was the first burial in 1731 and his wife Aeltje followed him 4 years later.  There are 66 graves, including 3 Revolutionary War soldiers. I do not know if “our” soldier is BURIED there, or was supposedly KILLED there… (which is entirely possible, if you read my “Today in Nyack History” post that will appear tomorrow, October 15). If he is buried there, then he is likely to be Corporal Philip Sarvent as neither a Captain nor a Major would have been on sentry duty along the only road from Rockland Lake to the Hudson during the Revolution.  The Old Palmer Burial Ground is on the north side of Old Mountain Road in Upper Nyack between Midland and Broadway.  It is easily accessible from the road, but remember that cemeteries are generally off-limits at night (I stood at the gate to take my pics) and somewhat dangerous – not from spooks mind you, but from uneven ground, sinkholes, knocked over tombstones, exposed roots and sadly, deer ticks.  The Burial Ground is administered by the Town of Clarkstown so get permission if you want to do any kind of research there.  The nifty historical marker was a gift from another Nyack realtor, Russ Wooley.

All photos, J.P. Schutz

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I’ve gotten great response to the last posting regarding Camboan, so here are some more pictures of the areas mentioned in the post.  Camboan’s Vall and Camboan’s Falls are located on private property – fortunately, the owners are friends of mine and allowed me to photograph – you’ll see just how inaccessible it is!  Please remember, never try to access any sites on private property without asking the owners first!


The Pond; photo: J.P.Schutz

 Hmmm, no “orb” in this one, or the shot that immediately followed, but there is in the shot I added to the main post. Odd. 


Camboan's Falls; photo: J.P.Schutz

 Admit it, how many didn’t know Nyack and Upper Nyack had some (albeit small) waterfalls? 

Camboan's Vall; photo: J.P.Schutz

No wonder it took so long to find him. 

The Way Down...

The route down was treacherous, and I had stairs a good portion of the way… I wonder if he simply slipped?  


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Welcome to October, when Nyack pulls out the stops for a ghoulishly good time in our happily haunted hamlet (I know, I know, it’s a village, not a hamlet – but village wasn’t alliterative!) There’s lot to write about when it comes to the eerie, macabre, or simply peculiar when it comes to the Nyack area. 400 years of recorded history, with much native lore prior, means there’s been plenty of time for legends, yarns and even legally verifiable oddities to build up. Many of my October posts will have a supernatural bent, even the regular features, such as “Why is it named that”?  Whether true or just legends, nothing says “Autumn” more than a few good spooky stories, so stir up some tea in your cauldron and have a read: 

“CAMBOAN” – a number of names in the area have to do with this member of the Lenni Lenape tribe. An adult man by 1671, Camboan was a member of the Tappan sub-tribe of the Lenni Lenapes who remained alone when the rest of his sub-tribe moved further away from the Dutch residents of what would become Nyack and Upper Nyack. He was very fluent in Dutch and an excellent diplomat frequently helping the Dutch settlers with both internal issues and those related to survival and prosperity in hunting and agriculture along the river’s banks.  His miraculous location of two children lost for 5 days in the woods led to recognition by the regional government and the Dutch Reformed Church offered him Baptism into the faith (if he so chose) as a reward. Camboan seemed to disappear one winter but for years, then decades afterwards, people claimed to see moccasin footprints near the spring where he hunted and smell cook smoke coming from his glen-side home when there was obviously no one there. Eventually it became apparent that Camboan must by then be deceased, and could not still be living in the area, though some part of him might be “lingering”. 

Camboan Road:  Leading off Old Mountain Road in Upper Nyack just east of 9W, this cul-de-sac leads to a secluded lily pad covered pond – this pond would be the spring by which Camboan often hunted and trapped.  The residents of this tucked-away street enjoy a sylvan solitude that belies its’ location in today’s now bustling Rockland County, and its’ closeness to Route 9W.  Walking along the pond makes one feel a hundred miles from anyone. Perhaps Camboan felt the same sense of peace and security there and did not feel as “hemmed in” by the new Dutch folks as did his fellow tibesmembers. 

Spook Hollow Road: One street closer to the Hudson, and also running north off Old Mountain Road, this road, and the entire area along the stream (or “Kill” as the Dutch call a stream or brook) was known as “Spook Hollow” because it was here that so many of the sightings of mysterious Camboan-related hauntings took place.  “Spook” is the Dutch word for “Ghost” and is used by Americans especially in the old Dutch areas like ours, and is one of our subtle lingering relics of the Dutch colony. 

Glenbrook Road: Bordering the other side of the stream in the Spook Hollow area of Upper Nyack, it runs parallel to Old Mountain Road along the other side of Camboan’s Glen.  The street runs  east-west from 9W to that peculiar intersection of Midland, Old Mountain, and Glenbrook. 

Camboan’s Vale:  The glen that encloses the stream running along Old Mountain Road that creates the Spook Hollow area, it becomes a deep cut or ravine below Midland Avenue. The point where it reaches the Hudson east of Broadway was the location of the village that Camboan’s tribemates abandoned. The construction of Tompkins Court a couple of years ago probably obliterated what little was left of the site archiologically, but we know the location.  As a kid in the sixties, I still heard a few old Nyackers refer to the area as “Camboan’s Vale” or “Camboan’s Valley”.  Camboan’s own lodge was located by Camboan’s falls, where the ravine breaks out into the open, vaguely across the street from the Old Palmer Burial Ground (more on THAT in a later post!). Eventually most of the facts of Camboan’s life were forgotten other than a trifle more than what you see here, and though the area was called Spook Hollow and considered haunted, not everyone remembered why.  Finally, according to historian George H. Budke, when houses were being built along the stream and the area was being cleared of brush, the bones of a man were found exposed to the elements in a hard to reach area just up the ravine from the outlet of Camboan’s Vale.  Camboan’s “mysterious” disappearance was solved centuries too late.  One can only hope that someone secretly burned some sage or something for him in accordance with his customs.  I suspect it might have been the Nuns at Marydell, who always allowed any remaining members of the tribe to perform the rites of autumn at their sacred oak behind the office there until the last practicing member of the tribe passed some time around 1930.  That last true Nyack native would be immortalized in Maxwell Anderson’s “HIGH TOR”  – a play in which I recently performed on its’ actual location at Rockland’s High Tor State Park (Anderson moved the Indian from Hook Mountain to High Tor for dramatic purposes) and yes, I played a ghost!  



Camboan's Pond photo: J.P.Schutz


So the next time you are in the Spook Hollow area remember who it is named for and say a little “thank-you” to Camboan, the man who started Nyack’s reputation for racial tolerance over 330 years ago.

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