David J. Pitkin has never tried the food at the Glen Sanders Mansion.
But he has sampled the spirits. The celebrated ghost hunter and author believes that something ethereal roams the classy Scotia restaurant and banquet hall.
“Spiritual energies” and a roving ghost are on the menu — and something might be hiding under the stairs. It’s a perfect scenario for both challengers of the unknown and casual believers who prefer to peek around dark corners.
“For years, I’ve been hearing stories of the ghostly activity at the Glen Sanders Mansion,” said Pitkin, who lives in Chestertown. “So with a psychic and my good friend Bill Getz, we came down to investigate last year and found quite a bit of energy here. Most of the activity and energy is in the old part of the building, not the new additions. Then again, ghosts are living in their own time.”
Featured in new book
The Glen Sanders ghost story is part of Pitkin’s new book about the other side. “New York State Ghosts, Volume Two,” is now available in both national and local book stores. The 380-page work offers spooky tales about inns, schools, jails, historic sites, private homes and other places ghosts supposedly have visited. Or supposedly have decided to stick around.
Pitkin, who has written three other books about hauntings in the Northeast, never has to search hard for his material.
“There are stories from all over the state,” he said. “Lesson No. 1 would be ghost phenomena are everywhere. I once made a wager with somebody that you could go into East Podunk, go into the corner store, go into a convenience store, walk in and introduce yourself and say, ‘I’m David Pitkin, I collect ghost stories and I’m here to get the story on the ghost house here in town. But I can’t remember what it’s called.’ And dollars to doughnuts, they say to you, ‘You mean the Smith house or the Brown house?’ I’ll say, you better give me directions to both.”
Pitkin and his party visited the Glen Sanders last November. Pitkin described one team member, “Geri,” as an “intuitive.” Schoharie resident Getz is a longtime Pitkin friend and water dowser. The trio found readings in a basement wine cellar, situated under the restaurant’s hostess station.
“Geri glanced nervously down a back stairway, then looked again — I knew she was onto something,” Pitkin writes in the book. “There’s people down there, and boy are they scared!” she said. “At the midstair landing, she announced that there was a long-gone group of three black people at that spot, scared out of their wits at being discovered.”
Pitkin recently began travels with dowsers, whom he believes pick up energy left behind by the departed. He and Getz returned to the Glen Sanders earlier this month for a second visit to the cellar and its original, dark brown wooden beams.
Yes or no?
Getz used two brass “L-rods” and claimed there was “some sort of energy” under the stairs. “The rods are not the powerful things,” he said. “It’s the individual making the connection.”
Getz said he could direct “yes” or “no” questions to the Glen Sanders “presence.” If a question was asked and the rods crossed, that meant “yes.” If they did not move, that was “no.”
“Are there any ghosts in the Glen Sanders mansion?” Getz asked. The rods crossed, as if pulled by magnetic force. “That’s ‘yes.’ ”
“Is there more than one?” Getz asked. The rods crossed again. “I’m getting only one of them is an active spirit at the present time.”
Spooky business is part of the Mansion’s history. In the late 1600s, one old story says, Iroquois Indians asked Alexander Glen to lock up a Jesuit priest in his cellar overnight. They planned to torture and kill the man at daylight.
As a trader, Glen was on good terms with the Iroquois. But he wasn’t going along with murder. He told the braves that priests were magical, and might vanish into the night. The Jesuit vanished, all right; Glen hid him in a large barrel and shipped him to Albany with a load of salt.
Another story has one of the female residents of the house running from an Oneida Indian. The marauder threw his hatchet, and struck a stairway bannister; the notches are still there today.
Angelo Mazzone, owner of the Mansion and head of the Mazzone Management Group, knows the tales from history. He’s not sure about perpetual phantoms in the basement.
“My comment is, ‘I’ve never seen it,’ ” he said. “I’ve always been a fan of kind of staying away from it.”
People who work in the restaurant have reported odd comings and goings over the years.
“We had an employee years ago that said she always felt different things,” said Catherine Gatta, director of marketing and communications for Mazzone Management. And Mazzone said some workers have reported Mansion lights flickering on and off. “It’s a 300-year-old house,” he said. “It could be electrical problems.”
Pitkin knows about abnormal wires and lights.
“Electricity and water faucets tend to be ways they signal,” he said. “They can ring doorbells, they can turn on house lights, make lights dim. Someone explained it to me that essentially a spirit is energy, and what they can do is run through an electrical current and disrupt it briefly.”
Pitkin also knows about skeptics. He understands that both scientists and soccer moms are not going to buy his beliefs about spiritual energy residues, or his tales about active ghosts.
“I go back to seventh-grade science,” Pitkin said. “Energy is a form of matter. Matter cannot be created or destroyed. It can be transformed.” That transformed matter, he believes, is the energy under the basement stairs at the Glen Sanders.
But even if people doubt the existence of ghosts, they still like to read stories about haunted houses and places.
“Most people want to believe there is more than just bank bailouts, taxes and lousy weather,” Pitkin said. “Life gets wary, and [people want to believe in] the fact that there might be some other place or some other dimension. And also the option that our loved ones, even if they die, some part of their energy, their consciousness, remains.
“There are so many stories I have in this book that are loving. The ones that are seen, experienced, seem to be loving and caring.”
That’s Getz’s experience. He is happy to offer his family ghost story.
“My mom had heart surgery when she was 61 or 62,” he said. “Nobody thought she was going to live. My dad retired, and no one thought she would outlive him. My dad died in 1988.”
Retirement checks stopped coming. Getz said his mother had only $600 a month from Social Security.
“My mother sat in the living room and was worried she wasn’t going to have enough money to survive,” Getz said. “And my father appeared before her in the living room and said, ‘Evelyn, go into my bedroom and get the cash box under the rocking chair.’ It was one of these upholstered rockers that had a skirt around it. Inside was a little cash box. She said, ‘It’s locked, what am I supposed to do now?’ He said, ‘Turn it over, the key’s on the bottom.’ So she turned it over, there’s masking tape with a key. She opens it up and there’s $30,000 worth of mature savings bonds inside.”
It was no dream, Getz said.
“She turned around to thank him and he disappeared,” he said.
Pitkin’s Glen Sanders ghost story also includes exploration of other parts of the house. He believes the mansion represents a place people can check out for themselves, and perhaps experience spiritual vibrations on their own.
“This is almost the oldest house in the area, and it’s a nice old historic place and it’s accessible,” Pitkin said. “One thing people say to me is, ‘Where can I go and maybe run into something?’ When you have a place that’s accessible, a church or a restaurant, those are places people can go.”
An eye on New England
Pitkin is on the trail of other spirits in other areas, and is planning to investigate New England ghosts for 2010.
“I’ve got stacks of leads,” he said of his spiritual vocation. “It’s frustrating, because sometimes I can’t act on them for a year or two.”