by Michelle Kratts
Don’t let anyone tell you the library is a dull place. Even a little library, like the Lewiston Public Library, has its stories. Lots of stories. Especially about things that go bump in the night. As the genealogist at the Lewiston Public Library, people come to me for more than just help with finding grandma’s birth certificate. A great deal of my work involves researching the local houses and establishments in Niagara. And most of the requests, probably 90%, are for one reason only: the inhabitants really and truly believe that they are sharing their living space with honest-to-goodness ghosts. Some are terrified and live in constant fear of nightfall. Some are amused.
Over the next few weeks, I will introduce you to some of the “real” haunted houses in the Niagara area. I have left out the exact addresses and the names of the owners to protect their privacy. No matter if you are a believer or not, the undeniable truth remains that some people really and truly believe that they have encountered spirits. Here are their stories…not one of them is make-believe.
One of the first house histories I worked on was for a man who lived on Upper Mountain Road, in the Town of Lewiston, just west of the Tuscarora Nation. A construction worker by trade, he was so anxious to make some sense of what was going on that he came directly to the library still in his work clothes and covered in dirt. Clutching his search (containing that critical documentation needed to find any answers) he took a seat beside me in the local history room and we began the task of unearthing one of the most unusual Lewiston stories I had ever heard.
First of all, he reassured me, he was not a person who normally “believed,” but he just did not know what to make of what was happening around him. He lived in an old farmhouse that had been built around 1824. His haunting began in the typical fashion with lights and electrical appliances going on and off at whim, strange disembodied voices, and finally actual apparitions. However, what made him finally take things seriously was something his little grandson said. He had come to his grandfather and described in great detail a strange event that he insisted had occurred in front of the house. He pointed and said…”grandpa…don’t you see the lady’s car?…it’s in the ditch…and the man…he is running through the snow to help her…but there’s another car… and the man is hit hard and he’s dead…”
Our house history researcher, of course, didn’t see anything at all and just thought maybe the boy had a wild imagination until….one day he happened to talk with a neighbor. The neighbor told him the story of a particular car accident, many years before, on a cold winter’s day. A woman’s car had slid off the road and had gone into a ditch (which had since been filled…however, the grandson described the ditch in detail). The man who lived in the house (at the time) and his son came running outside to assist the woman. They attempted to use a trailer to tow the car out of the snow bank. But the event turned tragic that December night in 1959, as yet another car came careening out of control and plowed into the kindly man and his son. The man died on the operating table at MemorialHospital that same night. The son survived.
So it became quite apparent that the story that the little boy revealed was actually a real event that occurred many years before. We have the newspaper accounts to prove every last detail. How could he have known? The entire event had literally played itself out about fifty years later. He told me that he was sure there was no other explanation except that these were indeed ghosts reliving a tragic moment.
He seemed content to know that the scene his grandson saw revealed the benevolent last deed of a former home owner. How could there be anything sinister about a ghost like that? But there was something more unsettling that he could feel inside the house. Something that made the hairs on his neck stand out at times. He was certain there was something else.
And there was something else…It all occurred about 130 years ago. A little news article happened to find its way to me that told an especially gruesome tale of a man who kept the dead bodies of his wife and son packed away in a room in his house for years and years. Upon breaking down the lists of property owners, checking censuses, directories and old newspapers, it was apparent that this horrific ordeal actually occurred in a family owned dwelling upon the same lot. When the bodies were found (in a very bad state of decomposition) they were taken out and quickly buried. It was said that Mr. X. “had no reason for such conduct” and strangely judgment wasn’t passed. It was not even implied that he had murdered them. Actually no one knew for sure how they had died and the Niagara Gazette didn’t really seem too concerned about it back in January of 1880. Could the spirits of the mother, the son and the estranged husband still wander around the property? Who knows?
There is still one more peculiarity that I really should mention about the house on Upper Mountain Road. The same Niagara Gazette article that told of the decomposed bodies also mentioned that the former homeowner built his house around a large elm tree which grew directly through the center of the dwelling. It must have been quite a sight for the article went on to say that “….it is seldom that a queerer looking thing is seen than a big tree apparently having its roots in a large brick building.”
As far as I know, there is no remnant of the house with the old elm tree growing through the center. I wish there was a picture of it. We do know that it was somewhere on the same lot as the house on Upper Mountain Road. I haven’t heard back from the gentleman with the most interesting house history. We enjoyed sharing ghost stories. I think about him once in awhile and hope that things have settled down…or, at least, that he has found a way to live with the others.