Haunted Catskills

Haunted Catskills

by Lisa LaMonica


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Washington Irving called the Catskill Mountains in upstate New York a spellbound region," and the ghosts that linger from more than four hundred years of history provide proof of Irving's intuition. In Hudson, Maggie Houghtaling's ghost haunts the "Register-Star" building, where she was hanged in 1817 for murdering her child—a crime for which she was later cleared. The ghost of a young Native American girl haunts Claverack Creek, where she threw herself into the water when her father forbade her to be with the man she loved. In Greenport, Peter Hallenbeck was murdered by his nephews in his home, where his spirit still lingers. Discover these and other eerie tales of hauntings in the Catskill Mountains."

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781626190115
Publisher: The History Press
Publication date: 06/30/2013
Series: Haunted America
Pages: 112
Sales rank: 1,184,193
Product dimensions: 6.02(w) x 8.95(h) x 0.29(d)

About the Author

Lisa LaMonica is an author and illustrator living in upstate New York, who has won awards for some of her artwork. She is a member of the Hudson Business Coalition. This is her fourth book.

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The Register-Star Building

The Register-Star building in Hudson, New York, was originally the town's jail. The first woman to be executed in New York was hanged here, and her ghost is known to haunt the location.

On October 17, 1817, Margaret "Maggie" Houghtaling (aka Houghthling) was hanged in Hudson, Columbia County's county seat, for murder.

One website states that Houghtaling was convicted of killing her baby but that after the execution, a neighbor confessed to the crime. Women were often executed for the murder of their illegitimate children; it was a great stigma to have a baby outside of marriage, and this was why some of them decided to risk killing these unwanted children. Concealing the birth of a child was also a capital crime at one time, and five women in U.S. history were hanged for the crime. It did not need to be proven that the baby was murdered; the woman could be convicted even if the baby had actually been stillborn or had died of natural causes in the first hours of its life. The website does not explain the basis for that assertion, but the information may have come from an 1887 pamphlet mentioned on two other sites. The publication's title reads, in part, "MAGGIE HOUGHTALING. AN INNOCENT WOMAN HANGED. THE TRUTH REVEALED AT LAST. A STARTLING CONFESSION."

And then there's this story, taken from the UFO-Free Paranormal website (www.ufofreeparanormal.com), about the same building:

Hudson is a small city about 30 miles south of Albany on the Hudson River. It began as a whaling and trading town and as such developed a certain element. For a time, it was, in fact, the red light district for upstate New York.

It was in this context that a young "lady of negotiable affection" was arrested for the murder of one of her clients. She was tried and convicted and spent the last few months of her life in the town jail awaiting execution. After the sentence was carried out, it was discovered that her boyfriend had actually committed the deed. Ever since, the ghost of the woman has haunted the building.

The jail has long since been moved, and the site was occupied by the offices of the local paper, the Register-Star for quite some time. The ghost, however, remains. It takes the form of a small woman with long black hair. She can even be mistaken for a living woman but disappears if approached for a closer look.

Employees at the Register-Star can sometimes hear someone walking around at night in parts of the building after their co-workers have gone home, and over the years, townspeople have claimed to see images of hanging people from inside the windows at night while walking down Warren Street.


The Hallenbeck House

Peter Hallenbeck was murdered by his nephews on Christmas Eve 1901. Now uninhabitable, the Hallenbeck home has been the site of unexplained disturbances over the years. In those days, the home was located in what was a hamlet of Greendale within Greenport. Following are excerpts from local newspapers at the time of the murder:

HUDSON, Dec. 27 — The coroner's inquest in the case of Peter A. Hellenbeck [sic] of Greenport, who was murdered at his home last Tuesday, was continued today by Coroner Lisk. The four young men under arrest on suspicion of being implicated in the murder are Willis, Burton and Frederick Van Wormer and Harvey Bruce. Hellenbeck [sic] was shot down in the doorway of his house, about eighteen miles from Kinderhook, where the prisoners reside.

At the inquest this afternoon, Mrs. Van Wormer, stepmother of the Van Wormers; Pearl Louise Van Buren, sweetheart of Willis Van Wormer; George H. Brown, a liveryman; and Mrs. Maria Conner and two daughters testified on behalf of the prisoners, swearing to their being in Kinderhook, eighteen miles from the scene of the murder, between one and two hours after the crime was committed. They were positive in their statements, which were not taken under examination.

Demond Vernon, a notion dealer in Kinderhook, swore that on Monday, two of the prisoners purchased two masks in his store. The masks represented devils' faces. They wore their coats turned inside out. On Tuesday evening, he testified, the other prisoners bought two more. The murderers wore masks when Hellenbeck [sic] was killed.

— Columbia County at the End of the Century

Tell-Tale Wagon Wheel Tracks

The wheels of a wagon which the prisoners hired on the day of the murder are said to correspond exactly with the tracks leading from the scene of the crime. The horse driven to the wagon had a peculiar shoe and an impression identical with this peculiarity was also, it is stated, found in the soft earth in the vicinity of the Hallenbeck home. The shoes worn by the prisoners on the day of their capture are said to correspond with the shoe prints left in the snow. Interest in the case is intense. The prosecuting officers declare they are confident the right men have been arrested. So far, however, the evidence is entirely circumstantial, and the defense declare they can establish an alibi.

— Post Standard, Syracuse, New York, December 28, 1901

HUDSON, N.Y., Dec. 30. — The confession of Harvey Bruce, one of the four young men under arrest for the murder of Peter Hallenbeck at Greenport on Christmas Eve, caused an enormous crowd to assemble when the coroner's inquest was resumed to-day. The courtroom became densely packed, and the coroner announced that owing to the illness of the widow and advanced age of the mother of the murdered man, court would adjourn to the private office of the District Attorney for their testimony. The confession of Bruce has not been made public, being kept secret by the officials.

The testimony of Mrs. Margaret L. Hallenbeck, wife of the murdered man, to-day showed that four men took a hand in the killing, offsetting the previous belief that one held a horse near the barn while three others went to the house. Mrs. Hallenbeck declared she and her mother-in-law were the only persons present in the house with her husband at the time of the murder. Her husband had called her attention to a wagon passing on the highway and two men walking behind. A short time afterward, four men came walking back wearing coats inside out. They passed down the road toward the church. The murdered man, herself and mother-in-law all saw them from the window. Her husband said they must be chicken thieves and watched them 'til out of sight. Shortly afterward, there was a knock at the kitchen door. Her husband went to open it, and she went to the door with him.

Four Pistols Thrust in His Face

As he opened the door, four pistols were thrust in his face and fired. Her husband jumped back and gave his wife a push out of the way. The four men jumped into the room after him, and all fired again. Mrs. Hallenbeck said her husband turned toward the stairway for his gun, when his assailants fired again. The men were masked and had coats turned inside out. One was tall, two medium size and one short. "I begged them not to kill my husband," she continued. "Seeing I could not do anything, I ran to the next room and upstairs. The men kept shooting. I met my mother-in-law on the stairs and pushed her back. I could not recognize any of the men. They ran through the house and departed."

The evidence of Mrs. Aletnina Hallenbeck, mother of the murdered man who is 80 years old, bore out the testimony of her daughter-in-law concerning the happenings of the evening of the tragedy. She confirmed the statement that four men entered the room and that all of them fired.

Sheriff Harry J. Best testified to having visited the Hallenbeck house on the night of the tragedy. He examined the various footprints and wagon tracks in the snow, their location and the directions of the footsteps to and from the house. He told how he and his assistants went to Kinderhook on Christmas Day and arrested the three Van Wormer brothers and Harvey Bruce. The officers searched the house, finding three revolvers, a fourth one being found next day. Three of the weapons were of 32-caliber and one of 36. The prisoners all wore shoes when arrested. These shoes Sheriff Best took down to Hallenbeck's house on Christmas Day and in the presence of other witnesses fitted them in the prints in the snow near the Hallenbeck house. The four pair of shoes fitted all perfectly, the tracks leading about the kitchen door and from there toward the highway and in the vicinity of the barn. One of the footprints had a peculiar impression as though the shoe had a heel-plate, while the other prints indicated shoes of "bulldog."

— The Associated Press, 1902

A family feud had existed between the Hallenbecks and Van Wormers for years. Peter Hallenbeck had prospered, but John Van Wormer, his brother-in-law, eked out a precarious living as a river boatman. Before his death, however, Van Wormer managed to buy a cottage across the road from the handsome home of his brother-inlaw. It was mortgaged, however, to Hallenbeck. Although the latter frequently aided the Van Wormers, he finally, after John Van Wormer's death, gradually withdrew all assistance and pressed the family for the interest and principal. The mortgage was finally foreclosed in September last, and the Van Wormers were turned out. They removed to Kinderhook, 16 miles away. This increased the hatred of the brothers for the uncle, and this was the alleged motive for the crime. It is expected that the defense will try to prove an alibi, and the trial promises to prove one of great interest.

— Trenton Times, Trenton, New Jersey, March 31, 1902


Funeral Will Be Private — Interment in Kinderhook Cemetery Hudson, N.Y., Oct. 3. — The bodies of Frederick, Willis and Burton Van Wormer, who were electrocuted on Thursday at Dannemora Prison, arrived at their old home in Kinderhook. Undertaker Birchmyer removed the bodies to the rooms of Estella Van Wormer, their step-mother.

The funeral will be held this afternoon and will be private. The coffins will not be opened. The burial will be in the Kinderhook cemetery, where the body of Martin Van Buren rests. The feeling in Kinderhook is strong against the cemetery commission in selling Mrs. Van Wormer a lot for interment there.

— Altoona Mirror, Altoona, Pennsylvania, October 3, 1903

At least one thousand people from around the county viewed the bodies in the Kinderhook home's parlor. Apparently, after the brothers had been executed and laid out in the autopsy room, a guard saw one of them, Frederick Van Wormer, move a hand and then an eye. The prison doctor was called for. A stethoscope held to the presumed dead man's heart discovered that it was still beating. Frederick's heart was bigger than that of anyone executed up to that date, so two full charges of current had failed to kill him. The convict was carried back to the chair and kept there until he was dead beyond the shadow of a doubt. The New York Times, in an October 2, 1902 article, stated that the brothers decided who would be executed first, with all taking fifteen minutes and being carried out in a most humane way. Peter Hallenbeck's wife and mother passed away shortly after him, and a brother was left "broken in health and nerve by the awful tragedy."

To see some old photos of Peter Hallenbeck and newspaper articles, visit the Facebook page of Ghost Walk Hudson.


608 Columbia Street and the Sanford Gifford House

What is now the DMV parking lot on Columbia Street in Hudson was once a majestic family home. Across the street were the "three sisters" — three adjoining houses built for three daughters. In one of these houses, I lived for a period of time and experienced some interesting phenomena.

A few years after a boyfriend had passed away, I sold my house and began staying at one of my brother's houses on Columbia Street. I lived in the house for three years, and I loved the staircase in the entryway, the downstairs kitchen and scullery area and the overall Victorian feel of the place. But I had experiences there that I know to be otherworldly.

On Halloween day in 2007, some workmen refinishing a house next door were leaving the job. The contractor called and asked if I would move my car, as a dumpster would soon be arriving. On the sidewalk in front of the house, while we were standing next to each other, I felt like I had to keep looking over my shoulder. I felt this sort of breeze — it felt strange, like nothing I had ever experienced before or since. It was like something swirling around, almost watching me. After the roofer left, I went inside to take a nap, but out of the corner of my eye, I saw something amiss. A pumpkin, which had previously been sitting on a wide windowsill, was now on the floor several feet away in front of the fireplace. Next to it was my ChapStick, which had been on the table in the adjoining room. There was just no way these two items could have gotten there. I lived alone, and I was outside for only about ten minutes. It felt like a very long time of me standing there, looking at these items and trying to make sense of everything. The significance of the pumpkin was obvious to me, as Halloween had been my first date with Rob. But the ChapStick didn't make sense until much later in the day, when I recalled the details of that first date, in that dark movie theater in Hudson. I remembered that after our first kiss, he leaned back, licked his lips and asked me if I was wearing ChapStick — the same kind that was now on the floor near the pumpkin. The experience gave me chills, but it also made me smile.

I never told the roofer. I still miss Rob, and I know there is a spirit world.

The other experience I had in the Columbia Street house was also surprising. At that time in my life, I was hostessing at a very nice restaurant in Chatham and would come home on cold nights to take bubble baths in the old clawfoot tub. Two nights in a row, right above me as I was in the tub, I heard what sounded like a child running around in circles. My mother was downstairs in the den, and on the second night of hearing this, I mentioned it to her after I had eventually wandered downstairs. I had commented on how the tenant upstairs must have been letting her children stay up late and run around. My mother laughed and told me that the tenant had moved out a few weeks ago but would return at some point in the daytime to retrieve a few boxes that she left behind. Baffled, I said, "That's impossible — there's someone up there. I've been hearing a child running around for the past two nights while I was taking a bath." "You couldn't have," my mother said. "There's no one up there now, and no one has come into the house tonight except you ... the tenant moved out a while ago." It gave me chills. I knew what I had heard.

A year later, I had moved on and into my own house but had bumped into my brother's new tenant at a local coffee shop. She had a very unsettled look on her face and asked if I had ever heard noises while living in my brother's house. She went on to say that a male tenant who had lived above her had moved out weeks ago but that she kept hearing someone walk around above her whenever she was home at night. She knew that she was alone in the house, yet she was hearing this often. This surprised me, and I told her about my experiences in the house. It was clear to me that she was not happy about living there by herself.


The Weintraub House

I've actually seen a ghost walk through our bedroom. I can't pin down the exact year ...sometime between 1990 and 1992. It was on a weekend during the middle of the night. He looked at me and went out a back door (which didn't exist until the 1900s), which leads me to think it was one of Herb Weintraub's family ...we bought the building from him in 1990. His family had owned it since 1900, when a back door was added on the second floor. Everyone's take on this "event" that I've talked to is that it was a good thing. Whoever he was, we think he was just making sure the building was being cared for. I'd put his "look" circa 1920–30. He was whitish-translucent, in his sixties and had a moustache ...taking all of about five to ten seconds at best to pass by the bed and through the door. Then I hid under the covers!

Such was the experience of the current owner of the home and gallery now located at the former Adams town house and gardens in Hudson, New York.

Mr. Adams was a Scottish architect, having done most of his work in England about the time of the American Revolution, and this Warren Street home is the only remaining Adams-type house in the Hudson Valley, according to the New York State Historical Society. The house was the first Bank of Hudson in 1809, after which it was converted to a private residence in 1819. The first residents of the house were the Hogeboom family, principals in the bank. After being converted to a residence, the doorway, which was originally located at the center of the building, was moved to the side. So when I heard this experience from the current owner, it made sense to me — it was some sort of entity following the old layout of the house.

In the 1920s and '30s, when Diamond Street was about to be renamed Columbia Street, Hudson had a reputation for vice. A 1994 New York Times article written by Harold Faber quotes Bruce Edward Hall from his book Diamond Street:

Gambling, bootlegging and prostitution flourished in Hudson because generations of local police officers and public officials either averted their eyes or were corrupt. These houses were neatly managed and protected by the mayor and the police department. It was sort of like Andy Hardy visits Sodom and Gomorrah.


Excerpted from "Haunted Catskills"
by .
Copyright © 2013 Lisa LaMonica.
Excerpted by permission of The History Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgements 5

Introduction 7

Theories 11

1 The Register-Star Building 13

2 The Hallenbeck House 17

3 608 Columbia Street and the Sanford Gilford House 21

4 The Weintraub House 25

5 Spook Rock Road 29

6 Dragged to Death; Condemned to the Noose 39

7 The Sutherland Burial Plot: The Vision in the Vault 49

8 Historic Huguenot Street and New Paltz 53

9 The Ghost of Delaware County and Other Tales 57

10 The Van Schaack House and Kmderhook 65

11 The Underground Railroad, Upstate New York and Ghost Stories 69

12 Point Lookout, Windam Mountain 73

13 Hank, the One-Armed Brakeman of Tannersville 81

14 The Dietz House 87

15 The Catskill Witch 91

16 Harper 99

17 The Vanderbilt 103

Bibliography 109

About the Author 111

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