I vacillate in my belief in an afterlife. I pray there IS
one. I want to see a lot of people again who have gone before me. Especially my
dogs. Logically it’s hard to wrap my head around it. Does heaven exist? I am
not so sure. But I want to believe. That said, I have enormous respect for the
soul. I think that the life force inside each one of us, good or bad, is something
powerful to be reckoned with. I think anger lingers. I think happiness shines.
So I sat there with several friends, in a home on Long
Island, and shared a wonderful meal. We ate and drank, and then we sipped some
more. Our wine, of course. And we chatted. And somehow, the subject of ghosts
came up. Maybe I brought it, I don’t remember. Candles were lit. A gorgeous
home near the beach. Friendly banter. Beautiful people (them, not me). But
somehow, the fingers of our Hudson Valley farmhouse tapped me on my shoulder,
and I was suddenly reminded.
You see, while I love scary stories, especially Poe,
Wharton, King, and others, I remain skeptical of the idea of ghosts and poltergeists
especially. That was, until we moved into the house at the vineyard.
The old farmhouse at Hudson-Chatham dates back to 1790. The
joists that run underneath the floorboards are trees, many with the bark still
on them, and are only hewn at the ends so that they fit snuggly into the dry
stacked stone walls. There are crevices everywhere, and the basements,
especially in spring and summer, are a massive sheet of interconnecting
cobwebs. A broom must be kept at the bottom of the stairs to sweep a bath to
the various parts of that basement – the rusty old oil tank, the water heaters,
and at the far end, the electrical panel. The whole thing is lit by one dim
bulb that hangs in the center, encased in cobwebs.
The old house, built in two stages, has been many things
over the years. It’s been a family farm, a judge’s home, a vacation home, and a
poor farm and boarding house. The house has not one straight line. Some walls
slant in three directions, and bulge in places. The floors rise and fall like a
walk in the country. Some closets open but are filled with pipes that carry the
plumbing and heating. The ceilings are low, and the farm doors are original planks,
with little latches from the 1700s. To open the door, you need to depress a
lever with your thumb to lift the latch high enough to rise above the lip of
the catch. They are all wrought iron.
When we first bought the house, looming large and roomy, we
always walked in it during the day. Tons of little nooks and crannies, more
than 17 rooms in all. The house echoed with good cheer as we celebrated our new
farm. A weekend home meant to be an oasis. Many friends, couples, families,
would come to know its rooms. At the time it was a new start. Our home in the
When we first bought the place, we hired a small army of carpenters,
painters, electricians, and handy men to help put a fresh look on the old
house. We didn’t have enough money to gut the place and redo it, but we certainly
had enough to update it in a number of ways. We painted bright colors, chosen
form Polo and Martha Stewart. We loaded the place up with a combination of new,
traditional furniture, antiques, and used pieces we bought at tag sales and antique
stores. The living room, den, and dining room had lots of framed Currier &
Ives prints of the Hudson Valley, augmented by paintings of horses and dogs.
The whole place looked like an old New England inn, which was our goal.
But no matter how hard we tried, certain things kept
happening. The lights would flicker, only at night. A light would go off, and
come back on, then brown out, and then pop back on. Or the light might go out
completely, and not comeback on for days. We hired two electricians to try and
put an end to this, but to no avail.
The master bedroom was upstairs in the front of the house. From
our bedroom window, you could look down on a giant, bristling hedge of lilacs,
which bloomed a gorgeous lavender in late spring. It was the largest room
farthest away from everything else, with a large walk in closet the size of two
mini vans. And at the back of the closet was a door that opened up to a
staircase which ascended to the attic. That stairway too was festooned with
One night, we were asleep. My side and night table were
closest to the closet door. Snuggled underneath the covers, beating back the
crisp nights of the Hudson Valley spring season, I suddenly, and without
warning, awoke. Not such an odd thing, except for the fact that it was 3 a.m.
in the morning. I remember looking at the alarm clock which was positioned not
far from my head. Its bright red LED numbers blared at me. Why was I suddenly
I was lying on my left side, facing the night stand, and
wondering why I had suddenly awoken. Then there was a noise. Something from
behind the headboard, inside the closet. And then there was a distinct click.
The latch to the closet suddenly popped up with a snap. And with that the door
slowly swung open, with a groan. I laid in bed not moving a muscle. I did not
wake my wife. I stayed perfectly, perfectly still. I was petrified.
It lingered there for what seemed like an hour, and I was
wide awake. Nothing happened. There was complete stillness and absolute
silence. The suddenly after about five minutes, the door slowly closed. And
then the latch popped again, and the door slowly clicked back into place.
I remember feeling very chilly for a long time and only fell
asleep as the first feint rays of light began to penetrate the night sky. The
next day told my wife of the event, and she laughed at me, telling me it must
have been a dream. I shrugged and tried to write it off.
Not long after, I met Ralph Cooley, the grandson and third
man of the same name. His grandfather had owned and run the farm for decades. Ralph
the grandson lived in the old caretaker’s house at the top of what some people of
a certain generation know as Cooley’s Hill. I asked Ralph when he was last in
the house, and he told me it had been at least two decades. Two different
families before us had occupied the house over the last 20 years. I invited him
in to tour the place should he like to.
He told us one story after another, and then when we got
upstairs, we came to our bedroom.
“Who’s bedroom is this?” he asked.
“Ours,” I replied.
“Why would you choose this room?” he asked with real
“I don’t know. Why not?’
“Well. When we lived here, we used to put a dresser in front
of that door,” he said, pointing to the closet door. “We used to call that
Casper’s closet. Wouldn’t stay closed.” He looked at us, shook his head, and
I hadn’t told him a thing about my dream.
Then one night several weeks later, I met Ralph’s brother,
Bill, at a Ghent Town Hall meeting where our plans for the winery were being
approved. Again, to be nice, I offered Bill, like his brother, a tour of the
“Hell no!” Bill shouted in front of the town’s entire assembled
population. “That whole place is haunted.” I was thrilled to have to go back to
the house alone and sleep by myself there that night. It being a school night, my
family was still down in New Jersey. The heating system groaned and clanged,
and creaked, as the warmth followed from the boiler through the veins of the
I later met Bill, and their sister Holly, who both confirmed
the swinging door and its eerie habit of opening and closing without any
prompting from me. They told me of an aunt who had died in the house, and it
was assumed that someone else had died there as well. It later came to light
that one of the intervening, subsequent owners of the house, who also came back
to visit, were so put off by the happenstance when they lived there, that they
refused to sleep upstairs at all in that part of the house. All these
confirmations happened without me ever confirming my own version of said events.
Still I doubted my own version of events, and as the summer
and then the fall rolled along, the moment slowly started to fade from my mind,
and I thought, maybe, perhaps, it was a dream after all.
Then as Christmas approached, we decided we would celebrate
the holiday in the country. The living room had not yet been finished, and so I
decided to stay up at the old house and paint the walls a lovely cranberry red,
with white trim.
I was excited because the Giants were playing the Dallas
Cowboys. And as anyone who knows me, knows, I am a violent Giants fan, and I
loathe the Dallas Cowboys. I had decided to listen to the game on the radio
while I painted. The radio was an old fashioned boom box with an on/off power switch
that flipped up and down.
Around the middle of the third quarter, as I was painting
the walls and as the game was getting good, the radio suddenly clicked off.
This had never happened before. I stared at the radio a second and then the
I grumbled, got down off the ladder, and walked across the
room to where the radio was. I flipped the switch back on. The game roared to
life again. I quickly resumed my position on the ladder and began to apply the
paint once again.
The Giants were driving. And I was listening intently. After
five minutes, the radio clicked off again. I got down, turned the radio back
“Leave it on,” I grumbled to no one in particular.
Ascending the ladder, I listened intently as the Giants
drove the ball deep into Dallas territory. As they were positioning themselves
for another score, the radio went off again. I climbed down the ladder, I
turned it back on.
The Giants scored and then the Cowboys started marching down
the field. But now the radio clicked off again. I turned it back on. And then
again. Each time I got off the ladder and turned the radio back on.
Now it was getting to the end of the game. And the switch flipped
up again and the radio went off. I was pissed. I lost it.
“That is F&*%ing it! You turn the damn radio on right now,
or I bring in a Priest and have him exorcise your damn ass out of this damn
house!” I screamed out loud at the top of my lungs. There was a moment, and
then the radio actually flipped on. And the lights did not dim again, and the
radio never went off again. And the Giants lost the game.
Since then we moved in full time, and we’ve not had any of these
issues. But every once in a while, there will be a loud bang in our closet. The
door to the attic? I don’t know. I won’t be going back to check it out.
My dinner companions asked me if I believe in ghosts, now?
I don’t know. But that’s my story.