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Ghosts in the gardens and across the state

Ghosts in the gardens and across the state

Haunted History Trail has about 85 locations, many right here in the Capital Region
Ghosts in the gardens and across the state
Yaddo Gardens and, inset from top, Canfield Casino, Glens Sanders Mansion and Batcheller Mansion.
Photographer: amityphotos.com

The Capital Region is more haunted than one might think.

At least, according to Kelly Rapone, the driving force behind the Haunted History Trail of New York State.

“We have over 85 locations this year,” Rapone said. The trail covers over 400 miles and over 30 counties across New York State, connecting haunted or paranormally active inns, mansions, museums, casinos, and other spots. It even includes “creepy locations,” like Spook Hill in Yates County. There’s no literal trail that connects the locations, but there is a digital landing place for all things ghostly on hauntedhistorytrail.com. The website brings all the haunted locations together, as well as events, information about what visitors can expect, tours, and the best times to visit throughout the year. 

“It puts forth a new travel experience,” Rapone said. For people who want to visit more towns across New York State but are looking for unique things to do, the trail offers a reason to go and explore. 

Since it started in 2013, it’s grown exponentially, with more locations added every year and well over 100 haunted events held year round. Rapone, who is the tourism marketing director of Genesee County, began the trail as a way to draw people to places they might not have been to before across the county as well as the state. It’s run by the Rapone and other tourism agencies that join. They’ve also gotten state grants in previous years. 

“The state was very supportive, which helped grow our program,” Rapone said.

According to a survey conducted in 2016, the trail is inspiring people to travel across the state year-round, not only during typical Halloween season.  

The trail has also drawn thousands of people to spots around the state they wouldn’t have known about or thought to visit otherwise.

“We’ve had many locations say that [they’re] seeing new visitors because of the trail,” Rapone said. 

One such location is Yaddo. The garden statues, shadowy woods, and founding story of Yaddo naturally bring the supernatural to mind, so tour guides like Lesley Leduc, have plenty of tales to tell on the Ghosts in the Yaddo Gardens tours. If anything, there’s never enough time to tell all the stories during their twilight tours. 

The mansion at Yaddo, which has been an artist community since 1926, was built in 1893 by the Trask family. Spencer and Katrina Trask bought the property in 1881 because Katrina “felt a spiritual connection to it,” according to Leduc.  

However, tragedy seemed to follow the family. The estate was first built in the 1880s, one of the Trask children, Christina, is said to have named the property.

At that time, the family had already lost their oldest son, Alanson. Just a few years after the estate was built, they also lost the middle children, Christina and Spencer. 

“The two middle children died from diphtheria, which they caught from their mother. Katrina was very sick, she suffered from a heart condition most of her life and the doctor thought she might not make it but didn’t think she was contagious. So the children came in to say goodbye to her and the two children died,” Leduc said. 

About a year after that, the youngest Trask child, Katrina, died days after her birth. Then in 1891, just a few years later, the entire estate burned to the ground. They rebuilt, but the tragedies took a toll on the family. 

Katrina, who was a writer, later wrote a book at Yaddo inspired by her grief over losing her children. She is buried on the grounds and visitors have said time and time again that they’ve felt her presence around the property. 

Leduc, who currently volunteers at Yaddo and worked there for over 20 years, said that many artists who completed the residency program claimed to have seen or felt her. In one instance, the artists all got together one evening to sing and play the instruments that some had brought. They created an impromptu band and called themselves The Trask Children. That night, they claimed that the windows were slamming and it sounded like she was unhappy with them. 

“Katrina [was] shaking her finger, saying no, no, no,” Leduc said. 

People who volunteer in the gardens have said several times that they’ve felt her presence, whether it’s in a sudden breeze or an unexplainable sound.

Some artists have also said that Katrina guides them with their creative works through their dreams, said Leduc. 

While Katrina was the co-founder of Yaddo, she’s only one of the ghosts included on the tour. 

Well before Yaddo was built, there were Native Americans on the land who have been known to make an appearance, along with a Revolutionary War soldier. 

Another famous author and poet is said to have left a piece of himself there. It’s believed that Edgar Allan Poe may have penned “The Raven” while sitting at a tavern on the property well before Yaddo was even thought of. 

“It was first settled by Jacobus Barhyte,” Leduc said. He was a Revolutionary War veteran who operated a tavern and a gristmill. Many famous thinkers and authors stopped by the tavern, including Edgar Allen Poe.  

One other ghost that is said to haunt the grounds is Allena Pardee, who worked for and was very close to Katrina. According to Leduc, she’s usually in the gardens where she was happiest. 

While the ghost tours are reserved for the gardens and grounds, they cover about 10 acres along the way, weaving in the rose garden and the fountains. 
“We’ve had dowsers in [the garden] too,” Leduc said. Each dowser seemed to be drawn to the four statues, which represent the four seasons and play a key role in the ghost tours.  

To Leduc’s knowledge, there haven’t been any ghost hunters or investigations in the mansion. But not for lack of trying. When she was working there, Yaddo received many calls from paranormal investigators, which they turned away. 

They started offering the garden ghost tours several years ago as part of the Haunted History Trail and they’re finding that it brings in people who have never even heard of Yaddo. 

The volunteer docent-led tours start at 5 p.m. on Fridays and Sundays and usually run for an hour at $10 a person. Tours run every week until Oct. 31. For more information call 518-584-0746. 

Looking for other hauntings? Here’s a glimpse at some of the other spooky spots around the Capital Region:

Glen Sanders Mansion, Scotia 

While there are no tours offered, the Glens Sanders Mansion has plenty to haunt about. The original mansion, built in 1658,was lost due to flooding, but Glen rebuilt his home a few years later. Today's kitchen is part of that structure, and the mansion remained a family home until 1961, when it was reconstructed as tan Inn. It is thought that paranormal activity has occurred in the kitchen over the years. 
To explore or see more, overnight lodging is available. 

Haunted Saratoga Ghost Tours, Saratoga

Run by the Saratoga Haunted History Tour Company on Fridays and Saturday evenings, people come to learn all about the spirits and ghosts that roam Spa City. The 90-minute walking tour goes through the city and attendees learn about Old Smoke, who haunts the old Canfield Casino, along with Hattie, the Witch of Saratoga, who has been known to make appearances in her restaurant. Tours run from 7 to 9 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays through November. For more information called 518-832-3796. 

New York State Capitol, Albany

Along this tour, visitors will be taken to the spot where a night watchman died in a fire and they’ll explore the legend of the “Secret Demon” near the Great Western Staircase. They’ll also get a chance to hear about former Presidents who visited the Capitol after they died and about the tormented artist who created the hidden murals in the Assembly Chamber.  
These tours are only available weekdays in October, from 12:30 to 5:30 p.m. For more information call 518-474-2418.  

Saratoga Springs History Museum/Historic Canfield Casino, Saratoga

Prompted by several reports of unexplained disturbances, Ghost Hunters investigated the 140-year-old Canfield Casino eight years ago. 
According to Jamie Parillo, the executive director of the Saratoga Springs History Museum, the disturbances or unexplained events, happened more frequently after an exhibition of antique clothing once owned and worn by members of some of Saratoga Springs’ most prominent families went up. 
The tour highlights some of the figures that have made Saratoga what it is today and haven’t left, even in death. For tour information call 518-584-6920.

The Knox Mansion, Johnstown

Built in 1889, the 42-room mansion seems ideal for ghosts. 
There is a solid lava ash fireplace which was imported from a castle in Italy, a grand staircase and an elevator. Over the years, there have been many instances of flickering lights, footsteps coming from seemingly empty rooms, lamps falling, voices heard and ghosts sighted. The piano has also been known to play of its own accord. Guided tours are offered by appointment. Call 518-752-8231 for more information. 

The Batcheller Mansion, Saratoga Springs 

While the mansion is well known for its Victorian architecture, it’s also known for its undead guests. It’s been used as a location for the film “The Skeptic,” and some wonder if George Batcheller or his family and friends still roam the halls of the home. The Albany Paranormal Research Society has also investigated the mansion twice. Investigations can be scheduled by appointment. Call 518-584-7012 for more information.

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