Read Part One here.
Read Part Two here.
Read Part Three here.
Read Part Four here.
Read Part Five here.
Here we are at Bannerman Island, after an interesting night at Wing’s Castle!
The three of us (Dawn, myself, and my dad) got on a tiny boat with a few of the garden volunteers. A short 1,000 feet away from the mainland, we were at the castle before we knew it! (Watch short video here.) What a magnificent structure, especially being right next to it on the water.
Neil Caplan, executive director of Bannerman Castle Trust, the official New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation’s (NYSOPRHP’s) “Friends” organization, was kind enough to give us a history (and some of the hauntings!) of the island as we walked around the ruins.
The island, technically named “Pollepel,” has hauntings and history that go back to before the Revolutionary War! Native American tribes would use it as a refuge from other tribes who considered the island haunted. The Dutch believed there to be goblins and evil spirits on the island. They would leave young soldiers on the island to appease the goblin so they could travel safely up the river and pick them up on the way back.
The island was used during the American Revolution in an attempt to deter British ships and there were plans (signed by General George Washington) to build a military prison on the island. The island had two owners (William Van Wyck and Mary Taft) before it was purchased by its most “famous” owner, Francis Bannerman.
Bannerman, a military surplus dealer, bought the island in 1900, when he ran out of room to keep his wares in New York City. He set to building Scottish-style castles (he was Scottish and it IS on the Hudson Highlands …)—one as a warehouse for his munitions/weapons/equipment, and a smaller one to be used as a summer residence. Bannerman passed away in 1918 and in 1920, 200 tons of shells and powder exploded, causing significant damage to the castle. In 1969, a fire destroyed much of what was left, leaving it in ruins. Since 2009, the ruins have seen even more damage from the elements. The wall bearing his advertisement and company name, Bannerman Arsenal, is now long gone and reinforcements for two sides have recently been installed.
Back to the hauntings!
In addition to hearing/seeing a ghost horse come across the (now ruined) drawbridge and a whistling around the island, many have heard the generator (that hasn’t worked for years) start. One of the superintendent’s sons said his bed would levitate.
Bannerman used to sink old boats and tugboats to create a “breakwater” to protect the island. A tugboat captain named Crawford came to Bannerman and asked him not to sink his vessel in front of him. For whatever reason, Bannerman sunk it as Crawford watched. Crawford cursed Bannerman, saying he hadn’t heard the last of it and would haunt him. Many people have heard a bell ringing twice, a nautical sign for reverse. It’s thought to be Crawford trying to save his vessel from Bannerman.
One hot August day, Mrs. Bannerman was sitting outside in a hammock, when she suddenly had the feeling that she should go inside and get some iced tea. As soon as she did, there was a huge explosion and a chunk of concrete landed right where she was sitting!
I was dying to see the inside of the house (it’s slowly being restored) but we didn’t have enough time. The gardens are absolutely stunning, though. Mrs. Bannerman created them and Bannerman Castle Trust has recreated them based on her list of plants and flowers and added some to make it more dense and visible from land.
We motored back to the mainland, thanked everyone for their help, and then brought Dawn back to her car so we could follow her to Miss Fanny’s Victorian Party House—our next stop!
Unfortunately, we got lost and arrived an hour after our planned time, but it was worth the wait!
The house is very unassuming on the outside, just a white house with black shutters. You’d never know what’s inside.
Julia Drahos, who has lived in the house for 12 years, greeted us at the front door. We entered and sat in the LIVING room (more on that soon) as she told us the history of the house, why it’s called Miss Fanny’s, her medium gift, and the hauntings of the house.
Listed on the National Historic Register, the original house was built by Stephen Van Wyck before 1860, but a fire destroyed it and had to be rebuilt. The interior is unaltered, with “double doors, ceiling medallions, steam radiators, black marble mantles with round, arched openings, and wide-board pine floors.” (Miss Fanny’s website.)
The last of the Van Wyck family to live here was Fanny Boos (you have to give a chuckle at that last name! BOO!). Julia decided to name the “haunted house” after her.
Walking into the living room is like walking into a funeral parlor almost, so I wasn’t surprised when Julia said she grew up in Sleepy Hollow, her father and grandfather worked in a cemetery, and she used to work in a funeral home! She said she has always been around death; it’s always been a part of her life. Julia considers herself a medium and one has to wonder if her history with death played a role in that.
So the living room. Or, what Julia told us, used to be called a waking room, because that’s where people would hold funeral wakes. In keeping with that, Julia has a coffin (with a bear skin over it) in hers. She later told us it came over from Australia when a disfigured body was shipped over and it was deemed unusable from the condition the body was in. Again, not surprising, is that she has a white, almost retro-looking embalming table/machine in the living room, that is used as you would an end table. (She said they had a goldfish in the liquid container part for a while.)
Some might think after reading this, “who is this woman?!” Well. She’s a super cool, single mother, who is also a medium and has one of the best haunted houses you’ll ever see. Julia has opened her house to the public (on occasion) because she wants people to be able to experience what she’s experienced.
Six months after moving into the house, Julia started hearing heavy footsteps and a man’s voice saying, “my house.” She’s heard a child saying “mommy,” and her three girls and she hear their names being called in each other’s voices, when none of them are actually speaking! (That one really freaked me out.)
Doors slam open and closed, she’s heard banging on her headboard, has felt a dog getting comfy at the end of her bed, and her DVDs have been thrown across the room.
There was a little girl in 1902 who got her head caught in milling equipment on the property and her scalp got ripped off. Julia thinks she may be the child she hears and also believes that Stephen Van Wyck, who built the house, is also still there.
She let us walk around the first floor before we went up to the third floor (the most active—surprise!). The dining room looks like one you would see in a haunted house on Halloween. Tons of Halloween decorations, placed everywhere in the room. A scary butler stands in one corner. It’s October all year at Julia’s house!
The second floor is her bedroom and her children’s bedrooms. She let us peek in at hers, because she does get a lot of activity there. Then, it was up to the third floor, where we were greeted by another coffin. This time, it looked like wicker. Julia told us it was used to transport the body from the home to the funeral parlor. (It also used to be called a body basket. These are actually coming back, a quick Internet search found. I guess some people want to be eco-friendly to the end.)
The third floor is a spare room and a bathroom, which Julia uses for guests. Although I can’t say I would use the bathroom. Or I’d need a buddy. There is another creepy, life-size girl from “The Ring” lookalike holding the hand towel and there is a huge devil at the head of the tub. Julia has heard people walking around up here and has felt someone blowing in her ear.
What an incredibly unique experience. You could spend hours just looking at her collection of antiques, let alone investigating! Check her website for events.
Next — and the last stop on my haunted road trips! — Clermont State Historic Site.