Spooky tales and shaky details lurk within these Blue Line spots
By Neal Burdick
Most of us are familiar with the story of Phantom Falls, which doesn’t exist but may be a doppelganger for either Buttermilk Falls, on the Raquette River above Long Lake, or Raquette Falls below the lake. It’s one variation or another on this theme: an Indigenous maiden is jilted by her lover – in William H.H. Murray’s telling, the offending suitor is a Catholic priest/missionary. The maiden throws herself into a canoe and flies over the falls and into lore, surfacing from time to time as an apparition so as to scare the bejesus out of latter-day canoe campers.
By Dennis Webster
Arcadia Publishing/The History Press, 2021
Softcover, 160 pages
$21.99 plus tax
In any case, Phantom Falls, whether real or imagined, is not the only supposedly haunted spot in the Adirondacks. Far from it. A new book, “Haunted Adirondacks” by Dennis Webster, purports to document some 42 such sites, spread out from Stratford in the south to Elizabethtown in the northeast and ranging from forts and libraries to inns and pubs to theaters and – no surprise here – cemeteries. Remarkably, Phantom Falls is not among them, presumably because its identity cannot be ascertained.
Webster defines himself as a paranormal investigator, so this book is not so much a retelling of ghost stories as it is a chronicle of his and his colleagues’ attempts to verify the existence of the ghosts and spirits, poltergeists and succubi that star in those tales. According to the publisher’s breathless promo sheet, Webster “has danced with the realm of the dead, crossed the threshold to another dimension, did battle with the Grim Reaper, got intimate with a succubus during a séance and has survived it all.” To write this book, apparently.
And what is a succubus, you may ask? According to the book’s glossary, it’s “a female demon that seduces male humans, many times, while they are asleep.” So evidently Mr. Webster dozed off at said séance.
To see how this book operates, let’s look at one of the selections. At Edward Livingston Trudeau’s former sanitarium in Saranac Lake, a handful of old buildings come under scrutiny. Here’s the formula, which is repeated, with adaptations, throughout: provide some history; explain the methodology; tell some scary stories that pose as evidence; give proof; conclude with lasting impressions. (In the case of the Trudeau “san,” it’s one of sadness.)
The book, while interesting, needed a fact-checker. In her foreword, ghost-spotter Bernadette Peck alludes to “the inner blue line,” but there is only one Blue Line; it does not have inner or outer incarnations, unless perhaps in the supernatural sphere, which is not specified. Whomever wrote the prefatory essay “The Adirondacks” claims the park is larger than Vermont, which it is not (it comes close, though). The aforementioned Trudeau health facility is assigned more than one name, none of which is correct. Dr. Trudeau went to some lengths to make clear he was proposing only treatment for TB, not a cure as the book implies. And the first sentence of the main text announces, “The following haunts are within the blue line of the Adirondack Mountains [sic] and cover all sections.” But we are transported to “outside” locations like Plattsburgh and Potsdam (though most are in the Lake George, Old Forge, and Tri-Lakes areas, where it’s easy to find a non-spooky place to spend the night), and the vast expanse of the park north and west of Tupper Lake is ignored.
It has to be asked whether the creators of this book are susceptible to confirmation bias: If one wants badly enough to see a ghost someplace, one will. On the other hand, who can say they don’t? I recommend approaching the volume with an awareness of its shortcomings and a pack basket full of skepticism. Set those aside and you will find it an entertaining read.