Thursday, October 16, 2014

Exploring the Haunted Past of Schenectady's Stockade

This ghoulish group of skeletons was unearthed in the backyard of a home on Front Street in Schenectady's Stockade neighborhood in 1902. The skeletons were thought at the time to be remains of some of the people killed in the 1690 Schenectady Massacre. Photograph from Grems-Doolittle Library Photograph Collection. 

This blog entry is written by SCHS's Assistant Curator Kaitlin Morton-Bentley.

The Stockade Historic District is full of stories, some of them documented and some passed down over time. As the Halloween season is upon us, we’ve been researching stories of a haunted nature for our Candlelight Walking Tours. Here are some stories of ghosts from the past.

Late at night at 4 South Church Street, some say the sound of pacing footsteps can be heard. The number of paces is always the same – 22. In the 1870s Henry Horstmyer owned this house and every night around midnight, he would hear someone pacing back and forth in the living room. He counted 22 paces, but when he examined the room, found that it was only 18 paces wide. He hired carpenters to find an explanation but they could find none. Older inhabitants were able to provide the answer. During the Civil War a sixteen year old boy was hoping to enlist. He was afraid he would be rejected because of his small size, and so on the night before he was to report for duty he spent the night awake, pacing the floor back and forth. He was accepted into the army and later died at Gettysburg, but it is said that his spirit returned to the house to pace his small 22 paces for eternity.

Image of 4 South Church Street, where Henry Horstmyer heard mysterious pacing footsteps. Image from Grems-Doolittle Library Photograph Collection. 

In the 1700s Riverside Park was lined with small fishing docks and natives would routinely sell fish to settlers. One of these natives was an old Mohawk who was well-known in the area for his fishing and hunting knowledge. One day he visited the Stockade and gave a large present of fish to one of the townspeople without asking for any money in return. "The Great Spirit calls me," was his response when asked why. He returned to the river in his canoe. Boys swimming in the river reported that though his canoe was traveling against the current, they could not figure out how, for the Indian sat erect with his arms folded, not touching the paddles. His canoe was found floating in the river without him, and no body was ever found. A Dutchman traveling down the river thought he saw his friend on the shore, but as soon as his boat touched the bank, the Mohawk turned his head and disappeared. For some time after the Mohawk was seen sitting near the river, his knees pulled up to his chin, but whenever someone spoke to him, he disappeared.

A spooky moonlit image of the Mohawk River near Riverside park. Image from Grems-Doolittle Library Photograph Collection. 

Some ghosts are uneasy, some mysterious, and some, apparently, are rather generous. A poor shoemaker and his wife lived in an old house where the Erie Canal used to run. One evening as the shoemaker sat out on his porch as the sun was setting, an old man dressed in a gray coat passed by and motioned for the man to follow. The shoemaker was afraid and stayed on the porch, and then the man disappeared. The shoemaker told his wife the story, and she determined they would sit on the porch the next night and this time, they would follow the man if he appeared. The next evening they sat together as the sun went down, and again the man in the gray coat appeared. He beckoned to them, and this time the shoemaker and his wife followed. He led them through a garden gate to the back yard by an apple tree, then pointed to the ground and disappeared. The shoemaker’s wife marked the spot and the shoemaker found a shovel and started to dig. To their astonishment they dug up a pot of gold coins, buried long ago. It was the lost treasure of one of the victims of the 1690 Schenectady Massacre, and now the ghost could rest in peace knowing his lost gold was now found.

Interested hearing more tales of the supernatural and spooky in the Stockade? Register for one of our Candlelight Walking Tours on Friday, October 17 and Friday, October 24. Tours are held at 7:00 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. (a 7:15 p.m. tour will be added to both dates if demand requires). Cost is $10.00 per person, which includes refreshments after the tour. Pre-registration is required and spots for the tour are filling up fast! To register, purchase your ticket online, email our Assistant Curator, Kaitlin Morton-Bentley, or call 518-374-0263, option 4. Proceeds from the Candlelight Walking Tours benefit the Schenectady Heritage Foundation and the Schenectady County Historical Society.


  1. This was a fun and informative walking tour. Highly recommended!

  2. We're very glad that you enjoyed it! :) Thanks for your comment.

  3. Henry (Heinrick) Horstmyer was my maternal great grandfather. I remember my Grandmother's sister (Nelle Horstmyer) telling me the story just as related here. When Heinrick was trying to the sell the house he got quite upset with Nelle, who never failed to tell everyone that the house was haunted.

    1. Haha, that might be a selling point for some people. Thanks for sharing!

  4. It does not surprise me that the Stockade would be riddled with accounts of the paranormal. The 1690 Schenectady Massacre, as devastating as that was, still holds into the quantum constructs of the environment. All of that negative energy let loose from hunters and hunted imprinted into the environment and most likely remains there to this day. These are not ghosts as we think of (intelligent), these are in fact residual impressions left behind that replay in moist air conditions, or high electrical surges (rain, thunderstorms, lightning).
    This is a type of haunting that is called "place memory" or "residual haunting". These apparitions and/or sounds cannot interact, nor be disrupted since they are like playbacks on a tape. The home of Heinrick Horstmeyer is haunted by place memory. Hearing footsteps but seeing no apparition is very common for place memory type haunting.
    There is a house on S. Church St. I will be helping an event with and the historian told me that by the fireplace there was a cubby that the residents of the house would hide in while the massacre was happening. I am sure that home has some residual psychic impressions.
    History and the paranormal work well together. to understand the paranormal claims of an area you must understand its history.