Electric Ghosts: The Haunting of Beardslee Manor
by Nancy “Raz” Ziegler
Along the Mohawk Valley of upstate New York near the town of St. Johnsbury, there stands a little eatery with quite a colorful reputation. The Beardslee Castle Restaurant has the unique distinction for both great reviews in culinary magazines as well as Strange Tales of the Supernatural and the Ghostly Gazetteer. The building stands as a relic of a by-gone era when, with lots of money and imagination, a person could build a castle in a corn field.
Prior to its renovation and reopening, the manor sat empty for many years on the side of State Route 5, a great toad of a place, squatting in patch of overgrown weeds and shrubbery. Since the last fire in 1986, the buildings and the surrounding grounds had lain open to vandals and nature, leaving it only a shell of its former glory. But the main building was still a grand spooky affair, even in its disarray, a delightful scare to see. It stood two stories high, the great stone walls smothered in orange flowering vines and the broken windows staring blankly toward the road.
But long before the first manor stone was laid, the seeds of this haunting were sown in a ground already raked in tragedy and soaked with blood. It began with Fort Henry, a small bulwark at the mouth of the East Canada Creek, built by the British and one of a series of fortifications along the Mohawk Valley about the time of the French and Indian War. One night an Indian raiding party made an attempt to blow up the fort with powder from its own magazine. They were discovered and in a brief struggle with solders, the gun powder was ignited and the fort blew up, killing all participants.
In 1792, John Beardslee, after burying his first wife and marrying anew, came to the area from Salisbury, CT, a place not too far from Dudleytown, and purchased the land along the East Canada Creek, the site of the erstwhile Fort Cannatchocari. With his second wife, he built a home, began a family and built a profitable grist mill. Because of his building prowess, he was commissioned by local officials to build several public bridges and buildings, thereby making John Beardslee, by the end of his life, a very wealthy man.
Of the surviving children, his son, Augustus went on to become a lawyer and well known (for his time) state politician and judge. So well known, that in the days prior to the Civil War, Augustus was part of a Northern delegation sent by President Lincoln to negotiate peace with southern leaders in hopes of stemming off the conflict. These Washington connections would serve his son, Guy Roosevelt Beardslee well in later years.
It was on a trip to Europe that Augustus and his wife Lavina fell in love with the splendor of the castles and grand manors of the Old World’s aristocracy. Having enough money to bring his wife’s desires to life, Augustus hired an architect to create a copy of an Irish castle Lavina had taken a fancy to and then brought back not only the blueprints but the Irish stone masons to do the work. In 1862 the structure was complete and the Beardslee Castle stood a majestic three stories high, a marvel of foreign labor and local stone, crammed, as was the fashion of the day, with the objects ‘d art the Beardslee’s had brought home from their European tour.
They had only one child, Guy Roosevelt Beardslee and little is known of his earlier life until he received an appointment to the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York in 1875. That’s when the paper trail surrounding his brief and lackluster stay in the service began, with his academy appointment not from Little Falls, New York , but from Bladden Springs, Alabama.
Bladden Springs (according to the local historian/newspaper editor of the Choctaw Register) had been the site of a internationally known spa and water cure hotel of the 1850’s. Apparently it’s supposed curative powers were so highly sought after, that right up until the start of World War One, water was still being shipped overseas to Europe and beyond.
Favored vacation spot of American well to do, it was obviously visited by the Beardslees and remained tucked away in the mind of young Guy. The appointment from Alabama was apparently a favor pulled from some carpetbagging acquaintance of his father’s Washington days. In 1879, he graduated a spunky yet disappointing 68th out of a class of 68. Guy was sent to Nebraska as part of the 9th Cavalry Unit where he spent most of his time writing his superiors for a leave of absence to go home. A task he accomplished in relatively short order (it’s nice when you’ve got a cousin who’s a Navy admiral) and when home, tendered his resignation. Guy Beardslee’s total stay in the army lasted around thirteen months.
In the years that followed, he met and married Ethel Shriver of the socially and politically powerful Maryland Shrivers and settled down at the manor to work on a project that truly interested him both intellectually and financially : the creation of electrical power. Since two of his friends were currently working on a similar project at the Edison Electric Works only 70 miles to the east in Schenectady, NY, it was an easy matter of Guy to contact them for help in his electrical endeavors. The names of these two friends: Thomas Edison and Nickoli Tesla.
At that time Edison, with the assistance of Tesla, was working on a pet project of his own, a machine to speak to the dead. In the course of their discussions, Beardslee must have became interested in the venture also because soon afterward there were accounts of great blue and green arches of electricity emerging from the manor house. It is also shortly thereafter that the fires and stories of restless dead emerged.
As we all learned from science class, electricity has a way of changing the molecular structure of the atmosphere surrounding it. After a lightening storm, one can smell the ozone and feel the static electricity in the air. Ozone, a condensed, very active form of oxygen with a peculiar pungent odor is also present during times of high spirit activity. Spirits, entities or ghosts need a supply of electrical, chemical or biological energy not only remain on this earthly plain but to maintain some kind of physical form.
Beardslee’s assay into electricity eventually did prove successful, with the creation the East Canada Creek Electrical Company, a miracle of science that brought the modern age to even the most rural towns and villages of midstate New York . The original power plant is still operation and sits about fifty yards from the ruined remains of the Beardslee family crypt. But it also created enough static energy to attract earthbound spirits from miles around and create a large enough portalway in the astral vale to allow others to come through and stay the earthly plane.
The first spirit emerging from these experiments was that of a young woman named Abigail, who depending on who you speak to, was either a maid or a Beardslee niece. In any event, it was on her wedding day, when Abigail choked to death from an epileptic fit as she prepared herself for the ceremony that went from wedding to funeral.
The description given by a former employee from the early days of the restaurant, who witnessed the troubled spirit’s path described it thus: “I was in the cellar one night pulling out a case of wine when I turned and saw this lady dressed in the white gown standing behind me. I knew she had to be Abigail, because her picture hung in the stairway leading up to the second floor banquet room and from descriptions of other employees who saw her before. Anyway, she turns and walks up the stairs to the main room of the restaurant. At the top of the stairs, the lady kind of glided across the floor toward the bathroom. The door opened and then closed again as she passed through, all without a touch to the knob. But when I opened the door just a moment later, the bathroom was empty!”
But in passing years with fire and renovation changing the manor’s interior, the stairs she trod would be taken away. However Abigail didn’t seem to notice as she was seen walking up that nonexistent flight. As the manor changed hands over time, Abigail also changed and appeared to become mean spirited (excuse the pun) toward those who chose to have their wedding receptions there. After setting up for these affairs, restaurant staff would later find tables overturned, glassware broken and a carving knife stuck in the wedding cake. All done without a sound to warn them of what was happening.
Fire, according to the speaker at an arson seminar I once attended, was a statistically rare occurrence. In the life time of any building there might only be only one, if that. Anything over, was arson or bad luck (it wasn’t until later when I spoke with him alone and he loosen up) ghosts. The statistically tremendous number of fires at the main house and the barn started in the early 1900’s and are usually attributed to the spirits of the Indians killed in the explosion of Fort Cannatchocari. It appears they are still trying to drive out of encroachment white settlers by joining with the elemental energies of fire. With this, they are able to either encourage fire in the electrical systems or later, in the minds of individuals.
In the fire of 1900, Guy and his wife Ethel were away on a European vacation and would return to find their home destroyed, priceless art and mementos lost forever. The house was eventually repaired but the third story was so damaged it was cleared off and replaced with a flat roof. In 1912, the barn was partially burned away with tragic loss of live stock and equipment. Disheartened by this and other continuing problems, Guy Beardslee would sell his East Canada Creek Power and Light Company to Schenectady Illuminating in 1919 and move to Miami, Florida, where he would pass away in 1942.
The manor was then bought by a ‘Pop’ Christianson and his wife, Swedish emigrants who must have thought they were living the ‘American Dream’ when they purchased the manor from Ethel Beardslee. The couple converted the rambling old house into a popular local restaurant and all went well for several years until the dream became the ‘Great American Nightmare’. Pop Christianson was diagnosed with cancer. As it progressed, he fell further and further into a state of depression until one day he was found hanging from one of the wooden ceiling beams in the restaurant dining room. Photographs taken in this room since that day have a tendency to always come out hazy or with spheres of energy dancing throughout .
His was not the first hanging at the manor. In the 1880s a school teacher and lay minister was found dangling from a beam in the Beardslee’s cellar. As the story went, ‘Dominie Jake’ as he was known in the area, had either molested or made pregnant a young girl and then had committed suicide in repentance for his terrible deed.
However, an examination of the area he was found suddenly makes it obvious this must have been ‘the worst case of suicide anyone had ever seen’. Considering how low the ceilings are in that cellar, just under six feet, if that, and their height haven’t changed since the place was built, Dominie Jake must have either been one very short man or the school teacher had help in his demise.
The specter of Dominie Jake came not only to haunt the manor but the school house where he’d once taught several miles down the road. Frightened whispers from students of a shadowy figure in a stovepipe hat that emerged from the dim corners of the classroom came to the ears of each new school teacher. Later, when the building was converted to a private residence, the children of the house spoke of waking to see a tall man dressed in black looking menacingly down at them in their beds late at night.
The years went by and the restaurant continued to change owners . Employees and guests would feel and see so many ghostly goings on, that a point was reached where it was such common knowledge that former restaurant employees would be blasé about telling stories to curious strangers passing through town of their experiences at Beardslee. One such story came not from waiter or waitress, but from a vandal. At the time of the incident twenty years earlier, she was sixteen and along with three other teenagers, had gone to drink and fool around up at the Old City cemetery. A local make out spot and the final resting place of Beardslees past. By the time of this incident, most of the headstones had been vandalized or stolen and the Beardslee family vault was no exception. The two large stone crypts holding the family’s remains had been chipped at and scribbled on but nothing outrageous until that night. After a long bout of drinking and apparently on a dare, one of the young men pushed open the slab baring the names of those who rested within and fished out the skull of one of the Beardslee women.
To further complicate the dirty deed, the young man put the skull in the dashboard of his car, a converted hearse and proceeded to drive about town boasting of his new acquisition. A few weeks later however, the young man would take one more ride in a hearse, to the cemetery and his own grave awaiting. Apparently, he’d lost control of his car one night on the way home and was killed instantly. The skull was never returned to the crypt but simply vanished. Of the remaining three, one would die of suicide, the other of unexplained illness and the third left the Little Falls area with no great desire to return. In 1983 in an attempt to get to the bottom of the current rash of phenomena creating havoc in the restaurant , the current owners called in Norm Gauthier of the Society for Psychic Research of New Hampshire.
With all seriousness, Mr. Gauthier set up his equipment and proceed to attempt a seance. But unfortunately, news of the investigation had gotten out and media types of every strip came out to cover the story. The evening was ruined by cheap theatrics from TV crews, tongue in cheek reporting and the general milling about of 30 some news types all trying to get a scoop.
The year 1986 found the old house to have the last (hopefully) of its many fires. Faulty wiring was blamed for an early morning blaze that destroyed the kitchen area and put the Beardslee Manor Restaurant out of business for the next six years.
In 1992 the estate was purchased by a young couple who’d worked at the manor as teenagers only to leave the area and return many years later to find the building destroyed and up for sale. On a whim, they called the realtor and within a short time, with a bank loan and the help of other financial backers, they became the new owners of the renamed Beardslee Castle.
With the massive renovations needed done in record time, the restaurant opened to rave reviews and in the proceeding years, has done well. The food’s delicious and the ambiance is one of comfortable gentility. But of curious note: in the upstairs banquet room, on its white washed walls, hang brilliantly painted reproductions of Greek and Russian Orthodox religious icons, done by a local artist. When asked bout the subject matter, the owner would only mention lightly of supporting local artisans. There are no pictures, however, of a lady in white anywhere to be found.
At this writing, there has been no reports of fires, Dominey Jake or any other forms of ghostly manifestation. The owners prefer to keep mum about the whole thing, knowing if word gets out about Abigail’s knife act, this could be really put a dent in wedding reception bookings. So life and afterlife continues quietly at the Beardslee Castle Restaurant, for now or until the next time when the smell of smoke and heat of flame come rolling out the kitchen door and it won’t be from the Cherries Jubilee.
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