THE EAST SIDE OF THE HUDSON River during October is known for autumnal foliage, miles of orchards and countless historic sites hosting spooky events. But Columbia County also has one other thing in abundance this time of year—ghosts.
Within its centuries-old architecture apparitions have been said to appear, and at least since the establishment of the county in 1786, things here have been reported as going bump in the night. Hans von Behr owned a summer home in Old Chatham known as the Old Chase Place, which inspired his writing of “Ghosts in Residence” in 1986. It contains 17 stories of haunted happenings in Columbia County, according to Kathryn Matthews writing in The New York Times. The accounts of spooky circumstances are plentiful and range from bursts of cold air to hovering silhouettes. The Old Chase Place is now home to descendants of Behr and the ghosts that hide within.
While ghost stories usually take place with the screams of teenagers echoing in a haunted house, this one tale in particular originates on the gravel of Spook Rock Road in Greenport, lying near the Claverack Creek. Today it is a destination to admire the flora and fauna, but once it was the site of a great flood according to local lore. When the Mahican Native American tribe (pronounced as Mohican today) inhabited the region in the 1600s, the daughter of a chief, whose name is unverified, was scheduled to be wed to a warrior from a nearby clan. But the daughter yearned for another man who was not her intended spouse. The couple fled to evade her unwanted matrimony and the wrath of her father, finding themselves south of the Claverack Creek according to trytoscareme.net. At that site the couple sat on a large boulder to rest. This coupling angered the gods due to the breaking of tradition causing the deities to raise the water of the creek and rapidly flood the region, killing the young lovers. Varying accounts have claimed to hear her wails of pain or see the woman wandering the road in search of her lost love.
As lore has a tendency to be spoken and ghost stories are kept alive around fire pits, these stories can have differing details. Paranormal Investigations of Rockland County tells a similar story of Spook Rock that holds a common theme with different motives. Dutch settlers came to the region where one man was said to wrong the Native Americans residing in the area. This settler’s daughter was secretly meeting her lover, a member of the tribe, at Spook Rock each night. During a nightly visit, she was captured and killed to gain revenge on the Dutch for the wrongs committed by her father. It is said her spirit still haunts the area but in different ways; she can be seen hovering over the rock appearing calm or causing mischief on the anniversary of her death.
The terms “Upstate New York” and “haunted” immediately brings to mind Washington Irving’s “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” where the headless horseman rides through town terrifying those who cross his path. A piece of this tale connects to the Kinderhook home of Jesse Merwin, a friend of Irving’s and said to be the inspiration for the character Ichabod Crane. Ms. Kathryn Matthews spoke with the local residents in 2006 who reported seeing apparitions on the porch and unprompted swinging doors.
With the spooky season upon Columbia County, events to exemplify the region’s paranormal past are commonplace. At the Olana State Historic Site, author and storyteller Pamela Shcmebri takes a story walk telling tales about folklore and Halloween traditions on October 26. More information is available at https://columbiacountytourism.org/event/scary-storytelling. Also check The Columbia Paper calendar, Page 13 and our Communities news Pages 20-23 this week for local Halloween events.
Alexandra Whitbeck is an intern with The Columbia Paper.