Thursday, October 8, 2015

Schenectady's Haunted Past: Victorian Spectres in the Stockade

This post was written by SCHS's Assistant Curator Kaitlin Morton-Bentley

As Halloween draws near, it is the time of year to think about haunted houses and ghost stories. The Stockade neighborhood is over 350 years old and has seen its share of characters come and go. Our Candlelight Walking Tours held every Friday in October explore these stories, some which have been written down decades ago by folklore enthusiasts and some which were told to us firsthand. 
Undated photograph of Green, Front, and Ferry Street.
Courtesy of the Grems-Doolittle Photograph Collection
New for this year is our Victorian Candlelight Tour. Victorian culture was passionate about death and mourning. The nation experienced an unprecedented loss of young life during the Civil War, leaving families looking for ways to recognize the passing of their loved ones. Elaborate mourning rituals developed, including dressing in black for months or years and withdrawing from society. A woman in mourning might write on stationary edged in black or wear jewelry made from the woven hair of a deceased loved one. Victorians embraced death and mourning, and it is no surprise that some of our best stories come from that time period, including three stories about ghosts near Green Street.

There is a story about a little boy ghost in a Green Street apartment, perhaps the young son of one of the servants who lived in the Ellis brothers’ mansion. The boy may have lived in a small servants quarters building just behind the mansion and would have run back and forth between the two.  He is dressed in brown pants and jacket with a white shirt and is known to be mischievous by throwing candlesticks and other small objects in the present day apartments. The woman who lives in this apartment has reported several encounters with this boy ghost. At night she felt a hand touching a sore spot on her spine, making the pain go away, but when she woke up there was no one there. She once saw a candle wiggle out of its holder by itself and fly across the room to hit the wall. She believes the young ghost wants attention, so if she talks to him, he does not cause as much mischief. When she loses items she asks the ghost to put them back before she starts searching, and they usually return on their own. This little boy ghost is a benevolent spirit and just wants to have a little fun.
The blurred faces give this photo an eerie, otherworldly quality.
Courtesy of the Grems-Doolittle Photograph Collection 
The original burying ground for the Stockade was located about halfway down Green Street. By the 19th century the burial ground was getting crowded, and they decided to build a new and bigger cemetery called Vale Cemetery. All of the people buried in the old cemetery were moved to Vale. Vale was one of the many new Victorian rural cemeteries, built not just to hold graves, but to serve as a place of nature where the living could enjoy picnic lunches and strolls alongside those who had passed on. Vale Cemetery was dedicated in 1857. Just south of Vale Park there used to be a grand mansion, which was known to be haunted. Dishes and trays were snatched from maids’ hands, and forks and spoons were grabbed as guests tried to eat. Dishes rattled in empty rooms, windows mysteriously opened and closed, and doors banged when there was no wind. The mansion was torn down decades ago. Perhaps the ghost was a spirit whose grave had been moved from the Stockade to Vale Cemetery and did not care for its new neighbors?

Ferry at Front Street, 1892. Courtesy of the Grems-Doolittle Photograph Collection
Further down the road, Green Street meets Front Street, another street filled with older houses. In one such house there is a recent story about a young woman who rented an apartment. The landlord told her she probably wouldn’t last long, because the building was haunted. She told the landlord that she did not believe in ghosts. She soon learned why so many tenants had left before. Doors would open and shut by themselves, and at night her blankets were pulled off her by invisible hands. One morning she woke up to all her things strewn about the apartment. There were cold spots in the rooms that wouldn’t warm up no matter how high she turned up the heat. The young woman decided she couldn’t take it anymore and informed the landlord she would be moving out immediately. The last nights she spent there were peaceful. Clearly the spirit who lived there was not in favor of having a roommate.

While there haven't been any reports of hauntings at 26 Front Street (that we know of), this
 photo of residents at 26 Front from the late 19th Century shows an example of Victorian fashion.
 Courtesy of the Grems-Doolittle Photograph Collection
Come see the sites of these stories and hear even more about the haunted past of the Stockade! Candlelight Walking Tours will be held Friday October 9, 16, 23, and 30 at 7:00pm and 7:30pm. Tickets can be purchased online at For further information contact

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