While Long Island may not be known as a ufological or cryptozoological hotspot to most, if there's one thing that the island does have plenty of, it's ghosts. The most famous case from Long Island would without a doubt have to be the "Amityville haunting", spawning a series of movies and national interest in the events that took place in "High Hopes" despite the case eventually being exposed as a hoax. Regardless of this fact, reports of hauntings and ghostly experiences have being noted in local newspapers for over a century, serving as a documentation of the island's paranormal history. While there are many cases that could be discussed and analyzed, for now a small catalog of reports taken from that most Fortean of newspapers, the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, shall serve as a quick illustration of the nature of ghost reports near the end of the 19th century:
1) Visits The Earth Again - The Screams of a Murderer's Ghost Heard in Port Jefferson (Aug. 11, 1889)
The residents of Port Jefferson were terrifed in this year by mysterious, ear-piercing screams issuing from a barn on the Emmet Darling property. It was known to the local residents as a place where a double murder had taken place many years prior, ending with the murderer, a Mr. Waters, hanging himself in said barn. The eerie screams are said to have begun soon afterwards, lasting for several decades and always ringing out from the barn roughly around midnight. Conventional explanations, such as a creaky weather vane or the call of a nocturnal bird, were put forth in order to explain the phenomenon, but all were ruled out as not being able to adequately explain the phenomenon. The screams eventually died out, but returned with a vengeance shortly before the article was written, despite that Emmet Darling's aunt, who lived at the property at the time, denied ever hearing the screams (one suspects that she might have been in denial). This article is interesting, not only because it took place in the town next to mine, but because strange, highpitched screams have long been a staple of Fortean phenomena. Indeed, as Loren Coleman writes in his book Mysterious America, "This peculiar sound - also described like that of a baby crying- often spills out of hanuted houses to bathe the locale in eerie vibration. Strangely, the awesome Bigfoot seem to emit this sound, as well as those elusive phantom panthers that prowl the landscape. And, of course, the legendary banshee is famous for its terrible scream. Often, a myriad of "unrelated" unexplained phenomena have the same element in common."
Now, of course, no honest or sensible researcher would try to link haunted houses to phantom panthers, or Bigfoot to the banshee, but it has been increasingly noted by researchers that many other types of phenomena do share many similar aspects. Whether this has any significance towards their meaning, however, still remains a subject of debate. (Note: In a later post, I plan on returning to the characteristic of high pitched screams in anomalous phenomena reports, and how it has been consistently included in reports throughout the decades).
2) A Lively Ghost - Which Is Causing Consternation Near Far Rockaway (Dec. 7th, 1885)
As the heading of the article noted, the specter that was seen regularly by "scores of persons" in the belfry of the Methodist Episcopal Church was indeed a playful character, jumping and dancing throughout the belfry. It also exhibited other curious behaviors, such as "enlarging and decreasing in size according to the angle of observation", or following certain witnesses and hanging around their homes for hours. Some people even claimed to hear the bell of the church ring at odd hours of the night. In fact, one night, as the article notes, "Half the village declares that at precisely ten o'clock the bell was tolled, and the other half is laughing at the superstitution, as they call it. Immediately after the tolling, three hearty amens were heard, and then the specter flattened itself out on the roof. This was interpretated to be an attitude of prayer."
It is noted that, appropriately enough, the ghost supposedly makes its appearance from a graveyard, though there are no reports in the article of any witnesses actually seeing the ghost appear in the adjacent cemetary. Jerome Clark, in his book Unnatural Phenomena, reported a news story from Arkansas in 1894 dealing with the appearance of a ghost in a belfry that was also alleged to have rung a bell, showing that at least some apparitions seem to have a fondness for church belfrys. Interestingly enough, although not related to ghosts and hauntings, Rockaway Beach was experiencing a "wildman scare" during this same period, with many people claiming to have witnessed a strange wildman on the nearby beach, and who was theorized to be an insane shipwrecked sailor (these reports and others from the island will be the subject of an upcoming post).
3) A Firey Tongue - The Latest Long Island Ghost Story (Dec. 18, 1885)
The "firey tongue" noted in the title of this piece belongs to a specter that was seen regularly on the Centerville race course just south of Woodhaven, and just like the stories from Port Jefferson and Far Rockaway noted above, it not only reappeared after a span of five years but was witnesses reguarly by scores of people every night. The ghost was seen to first appear in the vincity of the stables at the old Centerville Hotel and then moving at a quick speed across the race course, stopping at certain intervals and even reportedly saying "Whoa!". Disagreements (perhaps inevitably) arose between the witnesses on certain details such as whether the apparition was wearing a robe of white or a garment more the color of sheep's wool, and whether the specter was the ghost of one of two jockeys murdered on the track, or perhaps the troubled spirit of the murderer responsible for one of the bloody deeds. However, as the article notes, "But on one other point there is no disagreement - the ghost spits fire like a foundry chimney and leaves a sulphurous odor behind it."
The characteristic of fire spitting is something that does not come up in ghost reports very often, making this an unusual case if we stick mainly to looking at reports of ghosts and hauntings. If we broaden our range and look at other Fortean phenomena, however, we will notice that fire spitting is a detail that appeared in some Spring-Heeled Jack reports, to continue the train of thought noted earlier about similarities between anomalous phenomena occurences. While I would not advance the theory that Spring-Heeled Jack was a ghost, and the reports of his spitting fire may have very well been exaggerated, it remains an interesting coincedence none the less.
While these three accounts are but a small sample of the avilable reports from Long Island, and indeed I have some in my files that I have not touched upon yet, they represent the kind of ghostly experiences that Long Islanders have reported over the years and that form part of our paranormal history. In my next post, I plan on discussing the periodic "ghost scares" that have overtaken parts of the island from time to time, and which even led to the creation of ghost hunting expeditions. Stay tuned.