The haunted Hamptons in many ways gave birth to haunted Long Island … with an unhealthy dose of folk horror born from witch trials, ghosts washed up from the sea, and almost four hundred years worth of history.
It’s said that the longer a place has been occupied, the more relics from the past, the more the likelihood of ghosts. The Atlantic shore, and eastern end of Long Island is rich with both.
In the beginning, Long Island was home to native Americans, who had an advanced culture here. Different tribes lived somewhat amicably together on the narrow island. They farmed, they hunted and they fished. When the Dutch came, the natives thought there was room for everyone. But the white men kept coming, and eventually many of the native people abandoned the area. There was some resistance, easily put down. Those that chose to stay were felled by an invisible enemy … smallpox, which the Europeans brought and the natives had no immunity to.
While the Dutch were building a foothold on Manhattan, the English were landing on the eastern tip of Long Island. In 1640, an Englishman, Lion Gardiner, late of Connecticut moved to the island which still bears his name, nestled between the north and south fork of Long Island. His influence was soon being felt by the settlements that began to spring up on Long Island itself.
Change came a bit slower to the eastern end of Long Island. For the uninitiated, haunted Long Island shoots out from Manhattan into the Atlantic, long and thin like a shark. On the eastern tip, like tail fins of the shark, it breaks into the two forks.
Between the tips of the forks lies Gardiner’s Island.
Today, the island is still owned by Gardiners, albeit sometimes jointly in an uneasy family truce. Speaking on his family, the 16th Lord of the Manor, Robert Gardiner explained “we have always married into wealth. We’ve covered all our bets. We were on both sides of the Revolution, and both sides of the Civil War. The Gardiner family always came out on top.”
As any fan of gothic horror can tell you, this is a recipe for a family curse, as well as family ghosts.
Settlements on Gardiner’s Island were followed by British settlements at Southold on Long Island proper in 1640, then Southampton, Hempstead, Huntington, Brookhaven, Smithtown and East Hampton, all within fifteen years, moving east to west.
By 1664, all of Long Island, as well as the Dutch colony of New Netherlands was in English hands.
As Captain Kidd made his way back to the U.S. mainland in 1699 after his spree, he stopped at Gardiner’s Island, and buried a chest and a box of gold, as well as two boxes of silver. He did so with the blessing of the owner of the Island, who received a piece of gold cloth and a bag of sugar for his cooperation. It’s also said he laid a death threat on Gardiner, not to dig it up or divulge its location, which he did when Kidd was being tried by the courts in Boston. He produced the treasure, but kept one diamond, which he gave to his daughter, Mary.
Gardiner’s second daughter, Elizabeth was dead by this point, having died in 1658, of a sudden affliction. The day before her death, she fingered another East Hampton resident as the cause of that affliction, the witch Elizabeth Garlick.
So within twenty years of the British landing on Long Island, the supernatural was alive and well.
With the English comes witchcraft to eastern Long Island
The village greens on haunted Long Island are time capsules. Focus straight ahead and it’s the 1600s. Adjust your field of vision a slight amount and it’s the nineteenth century. By standing in the middle and turning in a circle, widdershins of course, you can see four hundred years of history flash by.
On the village green in Setauket, and again in East Hampton, you can make out voices from the past, speaking of witches charged, arrested and awaiting trial. Standing there, seeing the relics of the past surrounded by modern beauty, it’s easy to hear accusations like that and wonder how people can be so stupid?
But if you stay quiet, and it’s a cool fall day, after the leaves have changed, you might find a dark spell coming over you, and as you slip back in time, suddenly it doesn’t seem as tame and convenient as you thought. To the west lies the forest, native Americans, and beyond them, the Dutch. Your enemy. To the east, the Atlantic Ocean. You’re surrounded by death.
And in your midst, a witch.
The people who founded Long Island were well versed in the stories detailing the ways of witches. Whether it was the fear of the unknown, or just fear of those different from you, it didn’t matter. A steadfast belief in the dangers and presence of witches was a reality. You didn’t have the luxury of deciding if you believed in witchcraft, ghosts or even demons. People more educated than you were certain they did. So you worried more about how to protect yourself from them.
A modern example? Today we turn to our leaders for guidance, and those who consider themselves educated and intelligent listen to the people believed to be experts. And follow their advice. So we get a vaccine- myself included, while those who choose to make up their own mind, based on beliefs rather than expert testimony often don’t.
With this same logic, if you got a Covid vaccine this past year, you’d likely vote in an examination to send a suspected witch to trial. And if found guilty, demand her life. Because most of the leaders – political, religious and social all believed firmly in the existence and dangers of witchcraft.
Today we call it superstition. Back then it was called self preservation
I always assumed the south fork of Long Island was a different story. Everyone knows about the Hamptons, and even out at the tip, you have Jimmy Buffet, Dick Cavett and Woody Allen. I never had any reason to go out there.
And then I had a wedding to attend in Montauk. So one afternoon I plotted my course and headed east.
I started coming into villages with the surname of Hampton … Westhampton, Southampton, Bridgehampton, East Hampton … and I found myself stunned. You can tell the well-heeled live here. It’s clean and uncluttered. But also full of history. By the time I hit Easthampton, I’m agog. There are windmills. Fucking windmills. I briefly consider blowing off the wedding. But I’m also the photographer, so I soldier on.
A few weeks later I get a call from Linda Mackey. She’s writing Haunted Long Island II, and wonders if I’d do some photography for it. I’m up for that. She sends me a shot list, and I see I’ll be going to the Hamptons.
A chilling tale of the ghosts of drowned sailors buried at Lakeview Cemetery in Patchogue
There are four sailors buried in the Lakeview Cemetery in Patchogue, New York from the schooner The Louis V. Place, lost off Fire Island in February 1895. The voyage was plagued by the weather, which caused the ship to ice up, becoming what was described as “a floating iceberg.” When it ran aground off a sand bar on February 8, the sailors were suffering from hypothermia and too frostbitten to aid rescuers, who were forced to turn back and return the next day.
That night in an attempt to fight off the icy waters crashing over the decks, the doomed sailors climbed the rigging, one last time. Out of eight crew members, six froze in the rigging, two were rescued still alive, but only one survived. The captain fell into the sea, and going against the current, his body floated 30 miles to within yards from his home in Hampton Bays.
It’s said that moans and wailing can be heard coming from the graves, and a mist forms which rises into the trees, like sailors climbing into the rigging.
Is the Fire Island Lighthouse a beacon for ghosts on Haunted Long Island?
Fire Island was originally popular with whalers, back in the 17th century, and saw a fair bit of piracy. In 1826 a lighthouse was built, as it was a dangerous stretch of coastline. By the 19th century, the whales were pretty much all gone, but by then there was other ocean traffic in the area.
In the 1850s, the merchant ship The Elizabeth ran into problems. Smallpox spread through the ship, killing the captain, leaving an untrained crew which ran the ship aground off Fire Island during a storm. They thought the lighthouse there was in New Jersey.
Sarah Margaret Fuller, a scholar, literary critic and author was drowned in the wreck, and it’s said you can still see her walking along the beach. She was different than the usual shipwreck victim of the time, a person perceived to be of importance. So the old lighthouse came down and a larger, more modern one was built.
On Fire Island itself, the lighthouse is said to be haunted by a ghost of a former keeper of the light.
The keeper and his family stayed on while the new lighthouse was under construction. Come winter, building halted for a bit, and during this time his daughter took sick. The bay was frozen so the doctor couldn’t get there, and the girl died. The mother left and never came back, and the keeper is said to have lost his mind from grief, and hung himself when the new lighthouse was completed, from the trap door at the top.
His ghost haunts the gift shop at the bottom, as well as the sound of his footsteps climbing the stairs, followed by crazy laughter coming from the top, just before you hear him tie off the rope and jump, followed by a gut-wrenching crack.
At the Ketcham Inn, one of haunted Long Island’s oldest ghost stories, and archaeology shows fear of the supernatural goes much further back
Benjamin Havens, who owned the inn in during the Revolution was believed to be part of George Washington’s spy ring, and presidents Thomas Jefferson and James Madison both stayed here. Old time music has been heard coming from the inn when no body was inside, heavy door latches are heard opening and closing, and at times the door itself then swings open, revealing no one there.
The ghost is believed to be a young lady who lived here early on here, and who died in a fire. There’s evidence of that ghost story dating to the first half of the nineteenth century, but it was certainly well known by 1930.
While restoring the house, items were found hidden in the floors, such as shoes, which was believed to be done in the colonial era for protection from ghosts, witchcraft and other things that go bump in the night.
One wonders why they were put there? What caused the fear that led to that? There were no witches on Long Island convicted of the crime. But the belief lived on, all the same.
Does a seventeenth century ghost haunt the Halsey House in Southampton?
Thomas Halsey was one of the founders of Southampton, one of the earliest English settlers back in 1640. His son Thomas, who accompanied him built the house which has stood to this day. In 1648, Elizabeth Halsey, wife of Thomas was killed and scalped when she was attacked by native Americans from the Pequot tribe, down from New England. It’s often said this happened here, which would account for strange occurrences.
It has a reputation for being haunted, as any house this old would, with reports of cold spots, and the feeling you’re not alone.
Is it Elizabeth which haunts the Halsey House, or one of the many others who lived here over the centuries?
Upscale ghosts haunt the upscale Harpoon House in Southampton
Dating back to 1684, today the Harpoon House is an upscale guesthouse, with an adjoining full service restaurant – BluMar Hamptons, and AM Nightclub. Both equally upscale.
The Harpoon House was the former Post House, the second oldest building in Southampton.
The New York Times reported a witness stating that he saw two ghosts dancing here “like whirling dervishes” back in 2008. Other apparitions have been sighted, the sounds of wild parties are sometimes heard, and one former captain of the restaurant reported of hearing several voices, like people at a table talking, and seeing on the wall the shadows of a group of people walking by.
Little Beatrice and the haunted windmill of Southampton College
Before we get too far from Southampton we have to swing by Mill Hill Windmill, which originally stood in the village of Southampton, and is now located in the Shinnecock Hills outside of town.
Built in 1712, standing at the shore it was a landmark for sailors, till it was moved to its present location in 1890, when to prevent it being torn down, a wealthy lady of the area purchased it.
It was later sold to the Claflin family, who built a 30 room summer cottage on the estate. Their daughter Beatrice is believed to have fallen down the stairs to her death in the windmill.
When it became a part of Southampton College, and used for classes, students sometimes reported a feeling of being watched, that someone else was in the windmill with them. A little girl’s face and shoulders have been seen looking out the windows, and students passing by at night have spoken of a quiet, child’s voice, calling out to them.
On to Sag Harbor, and ghosts from the whaling era on haunted Long Island
It’s a short trip from Southampton to Sag Harbor. Sag Harbor sits right in the crotch of the two forks of eastern Long Island. Though its history only dates to the early 1700s, the past bubbles up more frequently here than in some places to the west which are even older.
Out here people weren’t so quick to pave over things. It’s the Hamptons, there’s a lot of money pouring in. And people with money love a good view. They’re here for the quaint towns, the picturesque old houses, and for the prestige of being in the Hamptons. They’re willing to buy houses just to tear down for an unobstructed view of the sea.
And they’re willing to pay to keep things that way.
So as you move east you see more old houses remaining, the nicer ones, many with historical markers in front, or small signs on the house itself. There might not be ghost stories to go with them, but it’s an almost visceral feeling, that there’s something happening out here.
Once in Sag Harbor, in the center of town, the past opens up to you, several eras living side by side.
In fact, in 1895, The New York Times reported that young men were seeing a six foot tall ghost, with a musket and long hat, and the young women of the town were remaining indoors.
The John Jermain Memorial Library in Sag Harbor, haunted by children and a grumpy old man
The John Jermain Memorial Library was a gift to the town from Mrs. Russell Sage, who also donated the park, the high school and after her death, the house across the street which is now the Whaler’s Museum.
She wanted something nice to look at from her front porch, so she had it designed in a Greek Revival style, complete with dome. She did herself proud.
The ghosts of little children are believed to haunt the children’s section. But according to ghost hunters, the little ghosts don’t like going to the upper floors because of the grumpy old man, whom they are all afraid of. He’s been noted before, a malicious presence, and known to occasionally roll chairs across the floor.
Whaling era ghosts still walk around haunted Long Island’s Sag Harbor
The building with the most stories attached seems to be the Whaler’s Church. It’s a formidable Egyptian Revival structure, and once boasted a 168 foot steeple. But that came down in the hurricane of 1938, crashing into the Old Burying Ground.
The choir loft appears to be the most haunted part. An organist, practicing alone one evening saw two melting faces on either side of her when she looked into the organ’s mirrors. And a maintenance worker found himself mysteriously shut in a crawl space, when the door slammed closed and locked itself .
And a faithful member of the church made an appearance in the choir loft the night he died, recognizable by his long beard.
Why is the jewel of the haunted Hamptons, East Hampton, one of the least haunted places on the south shore?
As soon as you make the turn into East Hampton the village pond lies to your right. Then there’s a windmill, towering over the burial ground of the people of early East Hampton.
Lion Gardener lies here, who died in 1663, one of the original settlers, and a larger than life figure. That was his windmill we passed back there. The family decided the original grave markers weren’t good enough, and dug him up and erected a more suitable crypt, with him carved in stone as a medieval knight.
One of his daughter’s was afflicted with a mysterious illness, and she fingered Goody Garlick as a witch and the culprit. That should have been enough to have the unfortunate woman hanged in that era, but she managed to defy the odds and lived to a ripe old age after being found innocent.
None of these parties appear to haunt the cemetery. That honor is reserved for a daughter of the miller who worked at the Gardiner Windmill nearby.
Walking around East Hampton in the cold, with snow on the ground, I was amazed at how I could be transported back in time. It’s said that they put the cemetery in the middle of town because in Britain, they were situated on the edge of town. And they wanted to be as different from the home country as they could be.
With that, and the historic buildings that remained and have been preserved, and of course the windmills, it’s easy to slip back into the colonial era. Then turn and look across the road and it’s a hodgepodge of all the eras that have come since, with a strong focus throughout on the nineteenth century.
You can’t help but wonder, where are all the ghosts? There are a few ghost stories from East Hampton. One 13 bedroom house at 52 Middle Lane is haunted by Barton Kaplan, who drowned in the pool after an evening of fun and libation. A former owner also shows up at the Mill House Inn. And the Grey Gardens, at 3 West End Road can boast U.S. Senator Barry Goldwater as a witness to the multiple hauntings in that home.
There are a few more, but for the most part, it’s eerily quiet. But this is the Hamptons after all, some of the most expensive real estate in the country. Ghosts could lower the property value, and even apart from that, there’s a New England quality to the people. Some things, especially skeletons, are best kept in the closet.
Drivers Beware! Ghosts haunt the highway from the Hamptons to Montauk
You leave East Hampton on Old Montauk Highway, and once you’re past yet another windmill, you soon find yourself in the Pine Barrens. The area is aptly named, as the trees are twisted by the wind here, stunted, with little else but brush growing. The closer you get to Montauk, as the land narrows and the ocean closes in, the wilder it feels.
Just past Amagansett there’s a stretch of highway which is believed by many who have seen her to be haunted by a little girl.
It’s not just the highway, as she’s also been seen walking down the beach. Sometimes she’s seen walking on or across the highway with her mother. According to one particularly chilling tale, “I could remember what she was wearing clear as day. She was in a dark red dress with white trim and a white bib style front to the dress. Her hair was brown and was up in a ponytail.”
She turned to look at me, but before our eyes could lock I slammed both feet on my brakes. My car slid at least 15 feet until I heard and felt two distinct bumps in my steering wheel. I became frozen by the idea of running a child over since I have 6 nieces myself.”
When he got out to check, there was no one there.
Native American ghosts haunt side by side with specters of the upper classes
Sitting high above the village of Montauk, on Signal Hill is Montauk Manor. The tony atmosphere of East Hampton tones down in Montauk, but not by much.
Montauk is the Hampton’s surfer brother.
It wasn’t always this way. In the early part of the twentieth century, Carl Fisher who had drained a swamp and built Miami Beach, and later The Indianapolis Motor Speedway built a 178 room Tudor Hotel atop Signal Hill. He even dug a harbor for his new resort, and for a while it was a world class tourist mecca.
Then came the depression, and it never really got back on its feet. At the building’s lowest point, it lay empty for twenty years, a target for vandals and ripe for the birth of ghost stories.
Then came a new lease on life, and as the building sprung back to life, the ghost stories finally started getting around.
It’s possible Montauk Manor was cursed from the beginning. Next to Signal Hill is Fort Hill, where the native Americans once had a formidable fortress. Unfortunately, when the Narragansetts attacked the Montauketts in 1654, the Montauketts chose to leave their safe confines and fight in what became known as Massacre Valley.
You can tell by the name the outcome of the battle.
It’s said that the Montauks buried their dead atop Signal Hill, which would make Montauk Manor an incredibly, expensive, and likely cursed desecration of sacred ground. And it would explain why there are so many sightings of native American ghosts here.
But the more recent dead haunt the place as well, remnants from it’s glory days early in the twentieth century.
They’re not confined to the hotel. Montauk is believed to be alive with the spirits of the dead, and the ghosts of native Americans have been seen crossing Old Montauk Highway numerous times.
Stranger Things abound in Montauk
Netflix’s Stranger Things was inspired by the legends and rumors associated with Camp Hero, out past Montauk, near the very tip. Associated with the fabled Montauk Project, it’s impossible to say what did and didn’t happen here, or what was and wasn’t studied, discovered or unleashed on the area which is believed to still haunt the park to this day.
But that doesn’t stop people from speculating.
Camp Hero State Park does have a cloak of mystery about it. But then again, you’re out at the tip of haunted Long Island, surrounded on three sides by water.
That something was going on here isn’t the question. It was a military installation, and they did build a faux village to hide the coming and goings. The Germans did land a short distance from here, at Amagansett, during World War II as part of an espionage mission which went horribly wrong. All but two of those who landed on this beach ended up with a noose around their neck.
If you walk the beach between Camp Hero and the lighthouse, you can’t miss the remnants of that war, concrete bunkers to defend against an invasion that never came.
At the very tip, Abigail of Montauk Lighthouse haunts the tip of haunted Long Island
The British used the high ground here for watch fires during the Revolution. George Washington remembered its strategic location and commissioned a lighthouse during his term in office.
The lighthouse was necessary as this is a treacherous stretch of ocean, with many ships, and many lives lost. One of those was a young lady by the name of Abigail. History has forgotten, or never knew her last name.
When the ship that carried her went down in a winter storm, she made her way to the beach below the lighthouse. It’s said she was carried up the cliff by rescuers, but she died within.
Her voice and soft cries are said to ricochet off the thick walls. She’s been seen climbing the steps, strolling the grounds and beach. She tugged on a worker’s shirt repeatedly, and other staff in the gift shop speak of furniture moving in the middle of the night, pictures swinging on the walls and strange noises.
The Haunting of Long Island
I’ve often wondered why Long Island is so haunted? The easy answer is there is almost 400 years of history here, which is plenty of time to accrue ghosts.
But it’s more than that. Standing here atop the bluff, looking dead east, the nearest mainland is Portugal. The beach below, the furthest point east, more or less of Long Island has its own ghost. The haunting of Long Island starts right here. The first European settlement on Long Island started on the north fork, far to the east as well at Southold. And it has its ghosts too.
The further west you go, it seems the younger the ghosts are. Out here on the forks, the eastern most part of Long Island history hasn’t had so many layers covering the originals. It’s easier to bubble up to the surface.
From the eastern most tip, to the jagged western edge awash in the glow from Manhattan, the supernatural populates haunted Long Island as surely as the living. From the riches of the north shore, to history of the southern coast, and Fire Island out in the Atlantic, the belief in ghosts, witches and other children of the night have haunted Long Island from the beginning.
And continues to this day.