Michelle Ann Kratts

Archive for December, 2012|Monthly archive page

Part 3: Who ARE you going to call?

In Ghost Stories, If This House Could Talk on December 31, 2012 at 2:07 pm

You hear something.  A voice.  Footsteps.  At first you reassure yourself that it is only the cat. 

You see something.  Someone?  Moving in the darkness.  Perhaps it was only your imagination.

You feel someone.  The room is icy cold.  You are not alone.

You ARE not alone.  Many other residents of Niagara County have experienced the same sort of things.  Some are embarrassed to admit anything is out of the ordinary.  Some have had things happen around them since they were children.  There are people in Niagara who live in terror.  They are afraid of night and its possibilities.

A few years ago I talked with Amy K., a local medium (and owner of Amy K’s Mystick Corner), about the fact that Niagara County seems overrun with paranormal occurrences.   Why…of all places?  It was then that she told me about the falling water.   Falling water is a natural root cause for paranormal activity.  Strange and supernatural things do happen around falling water.  And we certainly have our share of falling water! 

I meet a great deal of people who believe their houses are haunted.   I have even had teenagers come in anxious to learn if anything gruesome ever happened in their homes.  Often the teenagers are the ones who admit to seeing shadow women in long dresses, men in uniforms, little girl ghosts.  I have learned to make sure I jot down their contact information in order to help them pursue any research, as in the past I have lost some people.  Once anything gets to their parents it is always questionable if we can proceed with any sort of investigation.  A lot of adults just aren’t into this sort of thing.  Especially after we have finished the historical research part of our investigation and we are on to the next phase.

I don’t really know much about the spirit world.  Personally, I have never had any encounters that make me a “true believer.”  Maybe a few dreams, a few what-ifs, but never that solid evidence to prove to me once and for all that there is no death.  When those people who come to me want to take things further, I know just where to send them—right into the expert care of NF Paranormal. 

I met Jimmy Silvaroli a few years ago.  We were having some strange things happen at the Lewiston Public Library and our director had no problem inviting our local ghost hunters in to check out the situation.  It was only the beginning of a great partnership.  It was inevitable that we would need each other.  He needs historical background information in order to gain some understanding of the strange situations he encounters and I need someone to send my people to for their paranormal needs. 

 

So what can you do if you think your house is haunted?  If you come to me, I can take you back in time.  Sometimes it is quite comforting just knowing the people who also called your house their home.  There are a lot of old houses in Niagara County and you might be surprised what sort of things actually happened in your house!  Many houses with paranormal activity are actually not very old, though.  NF Paranormal believes that these types of hauntings may possibly come from contact with items.  Perhaps you have brought some “haunted” items into your home.  And there is always that possibility that long, long ago there were dwellings on your property–long before your search was printed out.  Of course, there were Native American settlements throughout Niagara County, as well.  We are not so sure of their exact locations but most likely people have always made their homes close to fresh water sources.

When you come to meet me at the Lewiston Public Library I am always grateful if you bring along your house’s search.  This lists all the previous owners of your property and even goes back to the time hundreds of years ago when the Holland Land Company was carving out this section of New York.  I am most interested in those people listed in your search.  Once we know the people we can check through files, look them up in books, censuses, directories, vital records.  Ancestry.com (which is available free of charge at the library) is a treasure for researching your house history.  We can also check out maps and look for property lines.  My favorite source of all, however, is old newspapers.  This is where you will find the “juicy” information.  This is where you will find the murders and suicides.  This is where you find weddings and funerals.  This is where you will find pictures.  You can look through old Niagara Gazette newspapers (all the way to 1854 and up until the early 1970’s) on a free website:  www.fultonhistory.com.  You can type names or addresses into the search box and you will be surprised at what you will find.  There really is a great deal of information out there for you to access and so much of it is free.  All you need is a little time and a great deal of passion to fire up your searches.

And if you feel you are ready to take the next step…NF Paranormal is waiting for your call.  Check out their website: http://www.nfparanormal.com/wordpress/ for contact information. 

 

What advice do they give in the meantime?  “First and foremost, remain calm,” Jimmy says.  “Don’t make nothing into something.”   Learn the history of your home—so you know what you may be dealing with (regarding possible tragic events, etc.).  Call NF Paranormal.  They work free of charge and are happy to help people make sense of what is happening.  Depending on your faith, you may feel it necessary to have your clergy bless your home.  We know for a fact that this does quiet things down.  If things are completely out of control, you may choose to have a sage cleansing done of your home.  This is a classic method of dispelling unwanted spirits.  Many people do sage cleansings when first moving into a home.  I bought some white sage smudge sticks while I was in Lily Dale this summer.  I’m sure they are available online, as well. 

When NF Paranormal does an investigation they first interview the residents to find which areas seem to be hot spots and concentrate on those areas.  Their focus is on gathering evidence.  And usually their biggest piece of evidence is EVPs, or Electronic Voice Phenomena.  They set up voice recorders (just regular tape recorders or digital recorders) in various places and try and prod any spirits into making a response.  Actually, we have had numerous EVPs discovered on recordings in the library.  My daughter, Caitlyn, and her friends have spent many hours investigating the library.  They founded their own paranormal research group, InSpirit Paranormal.  Their EVPs have startled me.  There is nothing like hearing a disembodied voice tell you in that ghostly, breathy whisper…”I hate you…!”  And by the way,  yes, that is exactly what I heard from a recording made in the Lewiston Public Library.  I have also heard:  “I am so tired…”

No one is really sure what an EVP actually is.  Are there sounds and voices in the air, do they somehow adhere to the recording devices?  Or are they actually intelligent beings finding a way to communicate with us?  The verdict is not out yet. 

A few nights ago, I had a few friends from NF Paranormal in the library to discuss an investigation.  Before they left I asked these fearless ghost hunters one last question.  What scares YOU the most?  Lisa Silvaroli (Jimmy’s wife) said that she is most afraid of things that can’t be explained.  There have been so many occasions when outrageous things have happened to her yet there is no logical explanation.  Jimmy said that he is most afraid of “things” following him home.  He said it has happened…where an unsettled spirit has attached itself to him.  Being fatigued on an investigation will make this happen, he warned.  Amy Wall, another investigator, said that she is most afraid of the things “you’re not expecting” and the voices that tell her to “get out.”     

And Jimmy has one more little fear that he never fails to mention when we are together:  Ouija boards.   Under no circumstances should anyone play with Ouija boards, he says.  They are a gateway into other worlds in which we are not prepared to enter.  I always smile, when he talks about Ouija boards because I’m not so sure if I agree with him.  Maybe some of us are not so unprepared for confrontations from the other side.  

 

Part 2: The Haunted House on the Old Country Road

In Ghost Stories, If This House Could Talk on December 31, 2012 at 2:06 pm

There are those among us who live in absolute terror.  During the day they go about things as usual but they are always mindful of shadows.  They watch the clock for they know with each passing moment they are closer.  They tell themselves it must be the wind, their imagination, some strange coincidence.  And then the sun sinks into the horizon and the moon rises.  Darkness spreads like a stain across the sky and instantly they are back within a forest of fears.  Once again, like children, they are frightfully aware of the slightest movement of bedroom curtains, they have measured the openings of closet doors.    They wait and they wonder.   What will the night bring?  They never know for sure.

I meet with them sometimes in the library. I am the genealogy librarian for the Jon F. Popkey Genealogy Room at the Lewiston Public Library.   They approach the situation as business-like as possible.  For what is more grown up than finding out the facts?  They tell me they want to know the history of their house.  We usually talk first on the phone or message back and forth through emails.  At once, I can sense the urgency in their voice, in the hurried words.  I always know when there is something more.  I tell them to bring their house search—that great goody-bag of information.   We sit together and I jot down the names that pop out at me.  We look through maps and directories, through the hundreds of files I keep in my cabinet, through family trees and census records, old newspaper clippings.  As names and faces present themselves they become more and more wrapped up in the work of putting the puzzle pieces together.  This is usually when I decide whether or not it’s the right time to ask:  is your house haunted?  This is usually when they look back at me, with a bittersweet sense of relief, and answer:  yes, my house is haunted.

The following is the story of one woman’s experience as a resident of a haunted house and the strange ghostly encounters that may ultimately have originated from the library, itself.  Every part of this story is true.  The names and address have been omitted to protect the homeowner’s privacy.

Enter.  An old farmhouse on an old country road in Lewiston.  It’s just south of the Tuscarora Nation.  There are dark forests along the property lines.  Some say that there may be those who practice black magic in those woods.  Moonlight is spilling over hardwood floors.  There is a woman.  She is troubled.  She is unable to sleep.

It’s inevitable that the whole house will come to life after she goes to bed.  She knows this.  She paces the floor.  She waits.

It was just a few months ago when everything started in earnest.  She had lived in the old house for over 20 years and never really noticed anything out of the ordinary.  Until this summer.

Our lady of the old country road house is an attractive woman.  She seems too young to be retired.  Perhaps caring for the farm has kept her youthful.  In fact it was a blacksmith that had first mentioned the house.  He had been acquainted with the previous owner and thought the house would be a perfect fit.  And it was…for over two decades.  Of course, there were the times she could swear she was being watched.  Or the times she would be looking at herself in the bathroom mirror (through which she could see clear to the dining room) and, out of the corner of her eye, see glimpses of movement—of other entities passing through in a flash.  Certainly, we have all experienced such things.  And it was only this… until the summer rolled around and it all became too much to bear.

She blames herself for much of what goes on.  She has survived several near death experiences.  She has recently joined the Catholic Church.  Could there be evil spirits tempting her?  There are blue lights that often lurk toward the top of the stairwell.  She wondered about the significance of the blue lights and found that they could be attached to the presence of an angel.  Perhaps even Michael, the archangel.  Perhaps he is protecting her from the evil spirits that may have taken over her house.

She feels she is teetering on the edge of two worlds.  At times, she says she is putting the house up for sale.  At times, she wants to fight for her home.

“I was sent to this house,” she said to me, “and it wants me to stay.”

Perhaps the night that sent her running to her priest was the night she heard him for the first time.  She had gone to the kitchen for a drink and there was that uncanny feeling that she was not alone.  She went into the kitchen and there he was, an unseen but definitively masculine entity, shouting crudely from behind her in the area towards the window in the dining room, in a guttural German accent :  JA!  She ran to her room hoping it had been her husband playing a trick on her.  But it was not her husband.  He was sound asleep.   So she left the German lad in the kitchen—telling herself over and over that it was not a dream at all.  She was wide awake.  What remained of the night was a hopeless attempt at sleep.  Her feet were tugged at and when she awakened from a momentary nap she had the distinct feeling that her nose was being touched and poked.

Our lady first came to me in the midst of this wild possession of her home.  After admitting that she did indeed live in a house that may contain ghosts, she told me everything that ever happened.  Her priest thought it was possible that this entity may want her attention.  He told her to speak to it and to say:  in the name of Jesus Christ, you have my attention…  He also mentioned that he did not believe what was happening was attached to any sort of evil spirits.  It was after her visit to her priest, that she decided it was time to find the history of her home.

Following our first encounter, just as she was about to leave, she happened to mention a little incident that bothered her and left her with this undeniable feeling that this whole haunting was somehow rooted in the terrible tragedy of a car wreck.  For one day last year (before any of this had begun) her husband rang her on his cell phone—just after pulling out of the driveway.  He told her not to open the door…that the strangest looking man was walking up their driveway.  He was all in red and odd looking—as if he didn’t fit in our time and place.  Something about the man made him extremely uncomfortable.  Her husband was so worried he actually decided to do a U-turn and head right back home.  She saw no one outside her window.  Upon her husband’s return they both checked every possible site for signs of the young man in red, but to no avail.  Their most unusual visitor had literally vanished into thin air leaving no footprints.  It was as if he never existed.  Could he have been a ghost?  She could swear that the German voice she had heard in her kitchen was that of a young man and her husband felt that this apparition was that of a young man, as well.  He described him as grubby looking with a dark beard.   For some reason, she wondered…could it be possible that this young man had been the spirit of someone killed nearby in a car wreck?

So I began my investigation.  Although the search (which first mentioned a premises in the early 1830’s) contained Christian names such as “John” and “Frederick” and “William” these were old Germans whose names were actually “Johann,” “Friedrich,” and “Wilhelm.”   Ironically one of the first things I found in the old papers, was a reference to the death of a family member by car wreck on that very street.  The forty six year old had been crushed to death under the wheels of an oncoming motor truck.  It was 1922.  He died of internal injuries.  When I told her about him she was immediately moved to find his burial location.  In fact, she found it on her own and even visited it.  She thought maybe things would calm down at the house.  But they didn’t.  In fact, they only got worse.  And one night, while going over the records of the early Niagara Germans who had lived in her house one little name mentioned in an obituary almost made me fall out of my chair.  Dated 1914, it was the notice of the death of an old Civil War veteran.  At one time, he had lived in this house.  He died in North Tonawanda.  He was survived by his daughter, Mrs. Fred Plumsteel.  I knew that Plumsteel name quite well for it was Jon F. Popkey’s mother’s maiden name.  Incredibly, this same house, this farm house on the old country road, was the first home in this country for Jon F. Popkey’s family.  The Jon F. Popkey Genealogy Room is our genealogy department at the Lewiston Public Library.  It was founded in 2007, following the tragic death of Lewiston native, Jon F. Popkey, who happened to perish in a terrible and violent car wreck on Upper Mountain Road.

Still there was one other thing…there was a little Martha, a young child, who had lost her battle with diphtheria back in 1869.  Our lady’s own research revealed that little Martha just may be buried on her property for oddly, she is the only family member without a tombstone at the local cemetery.  Could little Martha be tugging at her feet while she sleeps?

Could this haunting have its roots in the early German ancestors of the founder of our genealogy room?  Regardless of the root of the hauntings, activities seemed to grow to new levels.    One morning she woke up to find that pictures were hanging on the walls on their side.  Not to mention her bed had begun this routine of dancing about and rousing our lady out of sleep especially after her husband would come to bed—as if awaiting his entrance into the bedroom.  Incredibly, she recently took her bed apart and noticed that the violent movements have actually caused the screws to come undone.   There were pokes in her back and this strange new event (which had actually occurred first on and off back in 2010):  unexplained puddles of water.  She began to notice the puddles of water by the dining room table.  There was no leak and no explanation.  She also mentioned that back in 2010, the walls had leaked, or “cried,” leaving interesting trails and stains, some of which remain.  Again…no explanation.  One night after finding her bedroom oddly smelling of “church,” she found her jewelry box overturned onto the floor.  It had fallen from a shelf—again, there was no explanation and no reason a jewelry box should jump off the ledge of a shelf.   And there were varying odors that concerned her.  The smell of pine and that smell of church, or incense.  There was also a photograph that revealed what she believed to be the hind side of a horned creature—that she snapped from her bed– along with many other photographs containing bright large orbs of light—fantastically showing up inside and outside the house at adjacent locations.

We felt it was time to call in the professionals, as my work as researcher was pretty much done. I called upon Niagara Falls Paranormal’s founder and lead investigator, Jimmy Silvaroli.  He has investigated many haunted houses and I inevitably turn my people over to him.  She was hesitant at first, but she had so many questions that I was unable to answer.  An investigation was planned and then called off.  Our lady was most afraid that an investigation might stir up more trouble.  We all met together at the library one evening a few weeks ago in an attempt to formulate a plan of attack.  Investigators  Jimmy Silvaroli, Lisa Civisca, Amy Wall and our lady, sat in the local history room and discussed the situation.   It seems that previous to the paranormal events our lady and her husband had been to some auctions and were in the habit of bringing old items back into their home.    This was when the hauntings began.  The investigators came to the conclusion that it is possible that her haunting is a residual haunting.  In other words, it is not a dangerous haunting.  It is merely a recording of past energy and events.  It can come about from contact with objects—probably the objects that had come from other houses.

Since our last meeting she has had her house blessed and she is “feeling braver.”  The priest also blessed various objects in order to release any sort of attachment that spirits may have made toward them.  She is still taking pictures and noting the orbs, but she has come to an understanding and has learned how to control what is going on.  I have not seen her lately, but the last email message she left me was simply one line:  the bed did not shake last night.

It seems that this story may have a happy ending.  Once upon a time there was a woman who was terrified of her house and she learned about its history, fought those creatures of the night bravely with all the knowledge she could muster up, and in the end she lived happily ever after. The end.  Perhaps….

Part 4: The Island of Lost Souls; a brief and macabre history of Cayuga Island

In Ghost Stories, If This House Could Talk, LaSalle on December 29, 2012 at 8:43 pm

Cayuga Island

Photograph of Cayuga Island, courtesy Tim Baxter

In the beginning there were three sisters and many ghosts…

The sisters were frantic.

Maybe your mother can help us, they said.

My daughter raced over to the unassuming house perched at the edge of the Niagara River, on Cayuga Island,  as soon as she had heard the news.  She texted me some of the story.  The sisters were friends of friends and apparently they had a little ghost problem that was getting out of control.  Their stepfather was away so they could concern themselves with this situation for a few minutes–or at least until he pulled into the driveway.  He wasn’t fond of the ghost talk.

But the girls were willing to tell their tale–hoping that some kind of help would come their way.  They had had enough of the faceless man and the lady with the scraggly hair.

And they were not the only ones to see the scraggly-haired woman.  The neighbors had actually seen her through the windows.  There were many, many specters that seemed to hover outside the windows and oftentimes pushed their ghostly faces against the glass.  There was a man who wore a baseball cap.  They have never seen his face–no matter which way he appears, it is only darkness.  And there are spirits of animals.  They claw their way up and down the stairs at all hours of the day–unseen–resounding through floor and wall.  Their beds rattle and shake while they sleep.  And one night, one of the sisters found herself in a most precarious position as she struggled with all her might to keep one of these ghosts from pinning her down to her bed.

Enough was enough.  These spiritual encounters at the house on Cayuga Island were becoming quite sinister.

I never knew much about the history of Cayuga Island so this was quite an adventure for me, as well.  The house, itself, was not too old.  But I have learned that the age of a house has nothing to do with the probability of it being haunted.  There are so many other factors to consider.  There was always something on the premises–even going back to ancient times–whether a fire pit, a Six Nations camp, a cottage or a final resting place for a murder victim.

And Cayuga Island IS ancient.  Searching through books and histories you will find that the first actual building erected by white men in Niagara was a bark church built on Cayuga Island around 1678-1679 by Father Hennepin, a priest who had accompanied the explorer LaSalle’s party to the New World.   The infamous ghost ship, Le Griffon, was also built somewhere close by on the banks of the Cayuga Creek– under the watchful eyes of the Iroquois.   The church was abandoned soon after the ship was sent off and probably burned by suspicious warriors.  Shortly after, the ship also disappeared into history.

Building-le-griffon

According to Tuscarora historians, even before the explorer LaSalle stepped foot in the area, Cayuga Island was an important location for the Natives.   Dugouts were carved in locations throughout the island  as this was the embarkation point by which they made their trips out to all the other islands.  These islands in the Niagara (Strawberry, Squaw, Buckhorn, Navy and Grand Island) were all inhabited during ancient times.  According to their histories, if one were to excavate the location, ancient fire pits would be found all along the river.

Cayuga Creek was one of the most mystical corridors leading straight through (what is now) the Tuscarora Nation and into the Niagara River.  The Creek flows first from the Tuscarora swamps.  It was at this origination point that the natives would load their canoes with goods for trading and follow the route which would ultimately lead them to Cayuga Island.

peaches

Before the Civil War, Cayuga Island was famous for Mr. John Burdett’s peaches.  Cayuga Island was home to the best peaches the area could offer.  The harvests were so plentiful that Burdett was selling over 500 baskets a day at Rowe and Co’s on Main Street in Buffalo–not to mention the sales to other locations closer to home.  By the 1870’s the passenger trains on the Central and Erie Railroads between Buffalo and LaSalle were bustling and it was not uncommon for visitors to come and visit Burdett’s Orchards on a regular basis.  They were only a four or five minute walk from the LaSalle depot.  In the summertime Cayuga Island was the center of considerable activity as a cottage colony.  A few residents lived there throughout the year, however only a handful stayed over the winter months.  In fact Cayuga Island was almost completely cut off from the rest of LaSalle during that time.  And then there were the baptisms.  It was on Cayuga Island, in the Little Niagara River, that hundreds of people were baptized.

Baptisms

During the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century, Cayuga Island was a summer resort.  A cottage colony, it was the center of considerable activity.  It was so popular a rest spot that in 1897 it was considered a viable location for the Pan American Exposition.   President McKinley checked the place out himself.   In the end, however, Buffalo received the honor of hosting the world famous event, but not without the tragedy of a dead president.

Maybe one of Cayuga Island’s saddest stories was that of Billy the Bear.  Back in 1907 George Luick’s tethered bear became the victim of a public execution.  He had been kept on a chain outside Billy’s house and as the years passed came to resent the patronizing spirit of the passerby and the occasional snapping at by the marauding fat calf.  One afternoon he broke away and chased little Henry Baker down Main Street.  Following this incident it was decided that the bear would be murdered.  But it was a specially planned “killing.”  Even twenty year old Rex, LaSalle’s greatest hunting dog, (and George Luick’s beagle)  would join in on the fun.  The game plan consisted of the following:  Billy’s collar would be slipped off at a given signal, he would run for his life and all the area hunters would have a go for it.  But it did not go as exactly as planned.  When Dr. E. H.P. Griswold, S.P.C.A. agent, heard about this he explained that as an officer of the law he could not permit the hunt to take place.  Mr. Luick was angry.  As the hunters began to arrive with firearms that represented every make of rifle and shotgun from the Civil War to the last sportsman’s show Luick took the law into his own hands.  With Billy double chained to an iron post at the edge of the creek, Luick put an end to the bruin with his Winchester 45.  Poor Billy.  It was said he cried like a baby before he finally died.  A.P. Spitzig, the village butcher, dismembered him while the villagers stood and watched.   In the end, poor Billy ended up in a pot of Christmas stew for he had been a bad bear.   Maybe Billy wasn’t bad at all, though.   Maybe Billy just wanted an end to his miserable existence.

billy

There is a dark history that ripples through Cayuga Island’s past.  One that may account for the ghosts in the house of the three sisters.  These are the stories that most people wish to forget.   Stories not of fruit orchards, religious revivals and rebirth–but stories of destruction and death.      Actually much of the macabre history of Cayuga Island may have been born of the great fire of 1912.    For it was after this date that the headlines often revealed tragedy and mayhem. Many of the most prominent cottages lay in smoldering ruin.  It was believed that the fire was of incendiary origin.  In other words, someone had purposely set it.  Other than the destruction of the adorable cottages, it was learned that but one life was lost in the fire...and that was a black crow.  His charred remains were disclosed near the ruins of one of the cottages…. This one sole sacrifice left to the wind.

fire

Following the fires, it was found that there were quite a few inadequacies concerning structural safety on Cayuga Island.  Improvements were made at this time.  New homes were built and the bridge restructured.  Measures were in put in place to make it easier for the firemen to reach the island.  Things were looking so much better…until the two little girls vanished.  Their names were Ruth Ratcliffe and Bertha Weise.  The mystery of the disappearance of the tiny playmates of Cayuga Island sent Niagarans into a flurry.  It was a Wednesday morning, on March 11, 1925, that two three year old girls, who had been playing outside near their homes on Cayuga Island, vanished from sight.  Continual dragging and the dynamiting of the Little Niagara River yielded no bodies for some time.  But they did show up, eventually.  By March 14, Bertha’s little body was found.  A  red rubber boot, worn by Ruth, was the only evidence of her demise until May 6,  when her body was found in the river at the foot of Sugar Street (Hyde Park Blvd).  I recently found the exact spot where this event occurred and drove past while my own daughter was asleep in the car.  A chill went through me as I noticed children’s toys laying about the property.  I couldn’t help but wonder if those little girl ghosts pick them up here and there and play–for old time’s sake.  Perhaps they are frozen in time–on this island–forever.

ratcliffe and weise

The 1920’s and 1930’s brought on an entirely new era to Cayuga Island.  An era of construction and…an era of destruction.  It was christened Niagara’s beauty spot and referred to as healthful, delightful, restful. In 1927, along with the village of LaSalle, Cayuga Island was annexed into the city of  Niagara Falls.

sumer homes

Enter:  the era of the rumrunners.  Violence by gunfire caught Niagara by surprise.  It was not uncommon for Islanders to awaken to shooting forays upon the Niagara River–for when the sun went down, it was inevitable that the river was run by the runners.  It was reported in the Niagara Falls Gazette, May 14, 1931, that practically every resident of the island and adjacent part of LaSalle section has reported hearing heavy battles on the river… A section of breakwall was found to be riddled with bullets.  Promiscuous shooting on the upper river had become a menace to life along the river front.

And there were cries for help in the night.  Last ditch screams for help from the river.  Residents often called the police station claiming they had heard cries coming from the Niagara but could see nothing.  Cayuga Island watchers often caught sight of flashlights in the river, too.  They would turn on and off, as if beckoning for someone’s assistance.  And then nothing.  It is believed that most of these people were ultimately carried over the falls.

over the falls

Inevitably, Cayuga Island was a perfect spot to leave a murdered cadaver.  It was also a perfect cove in which floaters naturally gravitated.  In 1911, the body of an unidentified woman was found floating in the Niagara River near Cayuga Island, opposite LaSalle…on the index finger were two rings…one plain and one inscribed “M.L. & E.G.”  It was May when she was found by Michael Abbott, an upriver boatman.  It was presumed she had been in the river throughout the winter.  I imagine her hair may have been quite scraggly by that time.

Strange phenomenon is not uncommon on Cayuga Island, either.  In August of 1930, a phenomenon that defied explanation in ordinary terms was witnessed and reported by several persons who were standing on the Cayuga Island banks of the Niagara River.  Summer revelers, they maintained that there was no indication of high winds or a coming storm when suddenly they all became aware of a fury building in a tree some distance away.  The circular motion called to mind a cyclone, however there was no cloud formation in sight and all the rest of the area was clear and calm.  What they saw resembled the commotion when a flock of birds is flushed.  But there were no birds.  The air current passed in a direct line coming from a northwesterly direction and headed due southwest.  The viewers surmised this as they noticed that the waters of the river in its path were also suddenly agitated.   This most unusual occurrence was never fully explained.

witness phenomenon

Through the years, there were more murders and deaths on Cayuga Island.  One striking one occurred during the holiday season, in 1958, when a beautiful young woman from the Town of Tonawanda was found strangled and frozen to death on Cayuga Island.  The autopsy revealed she might have still been alive when she was left on the river bank.  Her name was Judith McCollum and she was murdered by William Liss, who was believed to have been a serial killer, for he had reportedly killed at least one other woman.  Her body was found beside concrete blocks at the foot of 86th St., on Cayuga Island, by two little boys.

woman left

So who can the ghosts be that haunt this particular house on Cayuga Island?  If such a thing is possible, they may be any of the tragic folks who died miserable deaths on Cayuga Island.  The Tuscarora historians insist that all the places around the Cayuga Creek are enchanted.  Perhaps some of these souls are lost on the island forever.

Although we attempted a formal paranormal investigation (with NF Paranormal) of the haunted house on Cayuga Island, the day came and went.  The homeowners ultimately decided that they did not want to follow through with anything of the sort.  The three sisters were a bit disappointed.  Things continued to occur and (I believe) the house was ultimately sold.   The ghosts of Cayuga Island are not their problem anymore.  They are someone else’s.

When a Recipe Tells a Love Story

In Antique Shoppe, Niagara in Love, Recipes, The Armenians of Niagara Falls on December 27, 2012 at 8:00 pm

ration book and recipeIt’s funny how some things fall into your lap and tell a love story.

A few years ago I purchased an old ration book holder from a little antique shop in Lewiston. It was particularly interesting because it had belonged to some local people that my grandmother actually knew–the chiropractor, Dr. Emilio Settimi and his family. But even more fascinating was the secret that was tucked away inside the tattered cover. Carefully typed and folded inside, stained with cookie encrusted hands, was a recipe for “Date and Nut Cookies” and a love story.  Beside the heading was a name in parenthesis: Angela Kevorkian. I’m not sure if this recipe was typed by Angela Kevorkian or how it ended up inside the Settimi’s ration book holder. Regardless, the story of Angela Kevorkian was too sweet to put to sleep.

Kevorkian recipe

It began on May 19, 1912, with a man about to go over Niagara Falls.

As in so many other stories (that Niagarans know so well) a man (named Henry J. Lutz–a candymaker) happened to fall into the Niagara River. As he was being rapidly carried toward the American Falls, a young Armenian laborer (who could not swim) could not help but come to the aid of the drowning man. Without hesitation, Iram Kevorkian, waded out 22 feet into the river at a point which was only 150 feet from the brink of doom. As Lutz drifted past, he caught him with a pikepole. Kevorkian slid two or three times on the slimy rocks in which his feet clung to for dear life. He called for help and suddenly other men joined in to help Mr. Kevorkian save Mr. Lutz from certain death. In the end, both men survived and Kevorkian was awarded the Carnegie Silver medal for heroism.

Strangely, in just about the same spot, two years later, Kevorkian witnessed another individual in peril on June 4, 1914.  He was responsible for rescuing this man, as well. For this act of heroism, he was awarded the Geoge E. McNeill medal.

When asked about his heroic deeds, Kevorkian replied:

Those were the most beautiful experiences in my lifetime. They call it courage. Well, something about courage is that you act quickly without knowing you have it…

And as every hero must have his admirers….Iram Kevorkian’s act of kindness found its way across an ocean and into the coffee parlor of a popular cafe in Vienna where a group of ladies sat discussing a news article.

Now there’s a fine young man to meet…they said to one another.

One of those ladies, Angela Jurasek, came to America shortly after this.   Tragedy came upon her, too, but this time by fire.  She broke her ankle while escaping a terrible conflagration that ravaged her second floor apartment in Flushing, New York, and found herself recovering in a hospital.  It was then that fate began to work out her little scheme.  For Iram Kevorkian had left Niagara Falls for a short time to take a job in that same hospital in Flushing.

And there she was.  His co-workers had raved about the beautiful woman with the broken ankle one too many times.  He convinced a friend to switch duties with him so that he might meet this lovely lady and soon he was carrying dinner trays to Miss Jurasek on a daily basis.  She became his wife one month later.

Of course, it was inevitable that the couple would honeymoon in Niagara Falls.   And it was then, at the brink of Niagara’s thundering beauty, that Mrs. Kevorkian decided that this is where she wanted to make their home.  They lived here for quite some time and operated the Vienna Tailor and Dressmaking Shop at 446 Third Street.

And they lived happily ever after in Niagara Falls, New York, eating wonderful Date and Nut Cookies.

Part 1: Finding My Grandfather’s War

In Arthur E. Barthel, Finding My Grandfather's War, Off to War on December 27, 2012 at 6:17 pm

Image

My grandfather, Arthur E. Barthel

1912-1978

One of the reasons that I have always pursued genealogy was because of my grandfather, Arthur E. Barthel.  I barely knew him, but the little bits and pieces of the stories I have heard about his war service have intrigued me since I was a little girl.

There were whispers about my grandfather.  He was depressed at times.  I can see that sadness in his eyes in the pictures I have of him.  Later I learned that my grandfather suffered emotionally as a result of his service during the war.  In fact there is a card that was issued by the VA with his name and disorder imprinted upon it.   The disability for which treatment is authorized–nervous disorder.  In other words, PTSD–Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  It was more of a secret than anything else back in those days.  Today it is more widely discussed as veterans return from our present wars suffering from the same disorder.  As a nation, we have finally come to a realization that war is a miserable affair.  Men and women inevitably have difficulty accepting the things that they have experienced during war.

 

VA Card 1 Nervous Disorder

 

Thanks to my aunt, who has recently uncovered an amazing treasure trove of information regarding my grandfather’s service, I may be able to find the details of this part of his life.  Researching World War II service is not easy.  It might be said that researching an individual who served during the Civil War is much easier–thanks to the huge fire of 1973 in which the majority of Army and Army Air Force Records were destroyed.

This series of stories will follow my search for my grandfather’s war and will hopefully aid you as you search for your grandfather’s war.

On Tuesday, January 15th, at 6:00, the Lewiston Public Library will be offering a free genealogy class to the public:  Searching our Ancestors Using Military Records.  This class, presented by Jim Lawson,  a FamilySearch Center librarian and expert in military records, will  include an in-depth look into locating and researching various American military records for genealogical purposes.  There will also be a presentation by the Daughters of the American Revolution. This will include details about membership as well as research methods for filling out the application. 

The French Genealogy Blog

In French Genealogy, Genealogy Websites on December 27, 2012 at 3:40 pm

The French Genealogy Blog

For those of you with French ancestry, make sure you subscribe to this excellent blog.  It contains interesting links to French history and research and leads directly to the digitized archives. 

Is there a Santa Claus?

In Christmas on December 24, 2012 at 2:51 pm

Virginia's letterFrancisPharcellusChurchVIRGINIA1-popup155px-Yes,Virginia,ThereIsASantaClausClipping

The original editorial appeared in the New York Sun on September 21, 1897. Laura Virginia O’Hanlon was the daughter of a coroner’s assistant on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. She was only eight years old when she asked her father if Santa really did exist. He sent her query on to The Sun and the rest is history.

It was Francis P. Church, an editor at The Sun, that took on the little girl’s question. He had been a war correspondent during the Civil War and it is said that his work during that bloody conflict left him a bit sentimental. His heartfelt response to young Virginia became the most reprinted editorial of the English language.

Above is the original copy of Virginia’s letter (courtesy PBS). When Virginia’s great granddaughter brought the scrapbook with the letter written in Virginia’s own hand to Antiques Roadshow, it was said that it’s value was in the $20-30,000 range.

One little girl’s quest for the truth and one writer’s imaginative response–telling us all that there IS magic in this world–has become a cornerstone of American history and culture. Because in the end we all want to believe.

This is December 24, 1907, Niagara Falls Gazette.

Virginia

Holiday Recipes; Niagara Falls, 1939

In Recipes on December 22, 2012 at 4:12 pm

Holiday Recipes; Niagara Falls, 1939

My Favorite Place; Lewiston, 1972

In Lewiston Public Library on December 22, 2012 at 3:36 pm

My Favorite Place; Lewiston, 1972

The Associated Daughters of Early American Witches

In Societies, Witchcraft on December 19, 2012 at 6:27 pm

John Norman, my ninth great grandfather, Broad Street Cemetery, Salem

John Norman, my ninth great grandfather, Broad Street Cemetery, Salem

Mary Ropes Norman, my ninth great grandmother,  Broad Street Cemetery, Salem

Mary Ropes Norman, my ninth great grandmother, Broad Street Cemetery, Salem

It just may be the most unusual and fascinating American lineage society that I have ever come upon. Maybe some of you might consider yourselves prospective members.

They are the Associated Daughters of Early American Witches.
http://www.adeaw.us/index.html

According to their website:

The PURPOSE of this Society shall be:
1. To search for and preserve the names of those accused of witchery in that portion of Colonial America now the United States of America.
2. To locate the living female descendants of all witches who were accused in the American colonies prior to published records of same.

Of course, we’re fascinated with witches and the story of one of the darkest events in American history. Are you connected by blood to this great tragedy? Maybe it’s time you find out.

I have my own Salem ancestors. Through my father’s family lines there is one branch of my family tree that reaches back into old Massachusetts. My ninth Great Grandfather, John Norman, and his wife, Mary Ropes, my ninth Great Grandmother, are just two of my direct ancestors linked to this historic period and Salem, itself.

John Norman and his wife, Mary, lived in Salem during the famous Witch Trials. I’m not sure if they were involved in any way. Perhaps, one day when I have time to research a little deeper into their stories I can find some sort of family connections. There is quite a bit of information about their lives. Oddly enough this time period is extremely well documented and records remain to this day. Regardless… they were there. And in some way, because of them, so was I.

John Norman was born in Salem on March 4, 1637, to John Norman and Arabella Baldwin. His father, also John Norman, was a carpenter and shipwright.  He shared in the first grants to Salem settlers and his first home was in the North Field on land granted to him in 1636.  He eventually settled in Manchester where he opened a house of entertainment to sell wine and beer and provide provisions and accommodations for me and horse.  He was also a constable and served on the grand jury at times.  Records say that he was a “combative” sort of man.  He was summoned to court several times for engaging in physical conflicts with neighbors.  Apparently, his wife, my grandmother, Arabella, was not a meek and mild woman, herself.  She also appeared in court for accusations such as “striking the wife of Nicholas Vinson.”  Yet another time she served as a witness against a man who was tried for “profane swearing.”  Her testimony said that the defendant had uttered: “plague take it.”

Mary Ropes was born on November 3, 1644, to George and Mary Ropes. Her father, George, had been “slain in the wars against the Indians.” Interestingly, she and John Norman both died in 1713. It was a very violent time.

There are other interesting Salem Witch related burials at Broad Street Cemetery. George Corwin, High Sheriff of Essex County, is not buried too far from my grandparents. He carried out the arrests of the accused and executions of the condemned. He was buried first in the basement of his home as his family feared any repercussions. Years later his corpse was exhumed and reinterred. Jonathon Corwin, a judge and jurist during the trials, is also buried at Broad Street.

I would love to go to Salem one day and visit with my grandparents and other family members beside their graves. My curiousity forces me to wonder and search for their personal roles in this horror, yet part of me is afraid to know the truth. Perhaps some things are meant to stay buried. Perhaps some things are meant to be found.