Our Catskills are among the oldest mountains in the world, with maybe more hauntings and scary stories per acre than anywhere in America. A full Blue Moon, only seen every 19 years on Halloween, will cap this infamous year.
Respect and beware the Catskills Witch, an ancient trickster that makes our weather so unpredictable.
Avoid the gnomes, too. Henry Hudson and his crew on the Halve Maen (“Half Moon”) encountered strange lights while exploring the Hudson River in 1609. Soon the sound of music filled their ears, drawing them ashore to inexplicably encounter a group of “pygmies” or gnomes dancing and singing in the hills. So they partied together, imbibing the locals’ dark liquor until Hudson became concerned — Several of his crewmen had transformed, their heads swelling, eyes and height shrinking, soon resembling their odd hosts. Only sleep and time could reverse the effects of the mysterious swill, returning Hudson’s crew back to their boat and normal. Sailing off, this bizarre story from Hudson’s exploits, as well as other run-ins with the Catskills gnomes to today, warn all to maybe not follow music into the hills, and certainly not to accept drinks from strangers.
To our west, Walton, New York, has a mystery that also continues to today: What happened to schoolmaster Tanner? In 1805, the new schoolteacher in Walton was over-eager to join the local Freemasons. Hearing his ongoing requests, a few locals decided to have a little fun with Tanner: They gave him a fake initiation into the sacred order that they called “Croppy Lodge” including secret handshakes and mystical rites. Feeling empowered, a new member of the Freemasons (or so he thought), schoolmaster Tanner was enraged when locals referred to him as ‘brother Croppy.” So Tanner demanded satisfaction via a duel. A skirmish followed, with Tanner running home, fetching his belongings and, according to Jay Gould’s 1846 History of Delaware County: “…hastened across the river and took to the woods and mountains. It is certain that no one has ever heard of [Tanner] since… Doubtless he has long ago been cut down in the duel with time, whose weapons are unerring, and from whose aim there is no escape.”
A club and rope were other weapons utilized in another dreadful episode in Delaware County. There were whispers that James Graham was a thief, so as he and Hugh Cameron and Alexander McGillivray returned from a barn-raising on July 24, 1813, the two men chided Graham about his supposed misdeeds. Graham had obviously heard enough — Grabbing an ironwood handspike, Graham beat Cameron and McGillivray to death near Crocker Tavern, hiding their bodies in a swamp. When the families of the two missing men reported concern the next day, Graham was located at his home, along with a set of bloody clothes. The murdered men were soon found, along with the weapon, yet Graham wasn’t quite yet done: Escaping the local jail by climbing up and out the chimney, Graham was again captured and 40-pound leg irons fashioned by a local blacksmith were fastened to keep him in custody. On June 15, 1814, the first hanging in Delaware County occurred, with Graham executed in present-day Woodland Cemetery in Delhi. His victims weren’t forgotten, though, with a beautiful sandstone monument remembering Hugh Cameron and Alexander McGillivray (and their heinous murder) placed near the site of their demise by Graham. This monument and Crocker Tavern still stand on Huska Road and Route 2, between Delancey and Andes.
In Delhi, a visit to the Frisbee House is always recommended around Halloween. A haunted doll, doors wide enough for a casket, and multiple presences are just a few of the scares at Judge Gideon Frisbee’s exquisite 1797 home, operated by the Delaware County Historical Association. For tours and more information, please visit www.dcha-ny.org/news.html.
Just over our other hill is Hamden, New York, which boasts a beautiful covered bridge, the oldest baseball field in America (all apologies to Cooperstown but Hamden’s national pastime story pre-dates Cooperstown by over 10 years), as well as multiple spectral sites. Though in private hands, several of Hamden’s historic homes have similar tales of aggrieved wives or husbands hanging themselves, with the “Octagon Farm” maybe having the greatest claim to this sad story. But, when we asked the owners if they’d ever seen any ghosts in their unique home, they replied, “Nope. We don’t believe in that stuff…”
Believe it or not, our western Catskills can be quite scary.
Oh and there are plenty of contemporary sightings of a giant primate with big feet wandering these Catskills and the reservoirs. So if you believe Bigfoot, well, we’ve got a membership in Croppy Lodge for you.