More than 150 community members discovered that phantom noises, playful poltergeists and things that go bump in the night are part of the legend surrounding the LeRay Historic District during the Haunted History Tour at Fort Drum’s LeRay Mansion on Oct. 25. (Photo by Mike Strasser, Fort Drum Garrison Public Affairs)
Fort Drum community members explore haunted history at LeRay Mansion
Fort Drum Garrison Public Affairs
FORT DRUM, N.Y. (Oct. 30, 2019) – “A tour as scary as your imagination.”
That was the invitation extended to community members when the Fort Drum Cultural Resources and Natural Resources staff presented the 2nd Annual Haunted History Tour at LeRay Mansion on Oct. 25.
More than 150 attendees discovered that phantom noises, playful poltergeists and things that go bump in the night are part of the legend surrounding the LeRay Historic District. It’s a side of history that many visitors are interested in, according to Heather Wagner, Cultural Resources education and outreach coordinator.
“This is totally different than what we are used to doing with our history tours,” she said. “But people are very curious about it, and we are asked about these stories all the time. The fun part for me, as a historian, was looking through newspaper clippings and oral histories for the inspiration behind a lot of our ghost stories.”
Wagner said that her favorite story is about the monster of Pine Plains, which dates back to a 1908 newspaper article. Tom Fuller, a farmer, claimed he had seen a fearsome beast with red eyes and long, shaggy hair. Its presence was considered folklore for about a century, with stories spreading about a catlike monster heard growling and bellowing across the fort. Fuller said he became a true believer, having escaped the monster’s grasp when he a young man.
“We found this story in the editorial section of a newspaper,” Wagner said. “When I was a kid in Deferiet, which is just across the Black River from Fort Drum, we would have our own Pine Plains monster we would constantly look for, and that would drive our parents nuts. It was a story that was part of the oral tradition when I was growing up in Deferiet. Then, to find it in an 1800s newspaper, I was like, ‘Well, that’s where it came from – my uncle didn’t make it up!”
Another tale, as told by a Frenchman who lived in Deferiet, involved mysterious lights whose source could never be found. He rode toward the bobbing light, thinking it to be a person carrying a lantern, but no matter how fast he rode, he couldn’t get closer to the light.
The chase continued until he was thrown off his horse, which stopped abruptly at the edge of a stone cliff above the Black River.
“I don’t know if this was a folktale to keep kids from playing in the Black River, but we found this in a historic newspaper, warning people not to follow the lights,” Wagner said.
Wagner said that anyone who spends enough time at LeRay Mansion has a good chance of experiencing something supernatural.
“Actually, I was by myself and writing these ghost stories for the tour pamphlet when all the power went out,” she said. “I said, ‘Knock it off,’ and the lights came back on. I don’t know if it was a spirit or a short in the wiring, but that was awful timing for me.”
“In fact, our electrician won’t go into the basement without us, because he has had his own ghost experience,” she added.
That was also the case for Sheila Baez, who brought her two daughters on their first tour of LeRay Mansion.
“It’s hard to explain, but I felt something when I went inside the mansion,” Baez said. “It wasn’t scary, but I just didn’t expect that was going to happen.”
One of her daughters also had a similar encounter – not in the pit of her stomach, like her mom – but as if something had tugged at her clothing, though no one else was around.
They still left with smiles on their faces and a story to tell their family and friends.
“We had a really good time,” Baez said. “We moved here about a year ago, and I didn’t even know there was a mansion on post.”
The tour was a family-friendly event, and many visitors wore their Halloween costumes. That made for an interesting evening as princesses and superheroes, dinosaurs and animals explored the national heritage site. There was even more to see this year, with the opening of the Farm Manager’s Cottage – now occupied by the Natural Resources branch – and the Servants Quarters.
“People are always curious to see what the insides of our buildings look like, so this was a good chance for some of them to do so for the first time,” she said.
The expansion brought Jennifer Herring back to the tour for a second time.
“I really love history and the paranormal, so this was just exciting for me,” she said. “Looking at historical architecture and the history behind the buildings and grounds – I find it all fascinating.”
Herring said that she wasn’t aware that LeRay Mansion was open to the public throughout the week, so she said that she’ll be making plans to visit again soon.
To learn more about visiting LeRay Mansion, call (315) 774-3848 or go to www.facebook.com/FortDrumCulturalResources.