Things that go Bump in the night
Posted 13 October 2004 - 06:12 AM
Associated Press Writer
ALBANY, N.Y. -- Bureaucrats working the graveyard shift in New York's Capitol say not much escapes the bespectacled glare of night watchman Samuel Abbott as he patrols the darkened top-floor hallways.
They regularly report hearing his keys jangle as he walks from door to door in the cavernous halls, twisting the ornate knobs of the empty rooms, giving them a pull to make sure they're locked.
The only problem is, Abbott died 93 years ago.
The 78-year-old Civil War veteran was said to be growing feeble, but needed the job that required he be locked inside what was then the State Library to guard the valuable holdings. In the 25 minutes it took firemen to arrive at a 2 a.m. fire on March 29, 1911, no one heard a sound from inside the room.
"There have been apparitions seen and every once in a while maintenance people report their equipment is moved when no one was around to move it," said Stuart Lehman. As one of the state's education coordinators leading Halloween tours of one of the state's grandest buildings, he knows what evil lurks in the halls of power _ or at least what mischief lurks there.
Throughout the nation, tales abound at many state capitols, showing that the dead not only can be counted on to vote in some close elections, but they sometimes keep punching the clock.
Ghost researcher and authority Troy Taylor has written of a long-standing feud between the architect of the Capitol in Nashville and a politically appointed supervisor of the project. They were later buried near each other with full honors in the Capitol. Twice, police were called there for disturbances, the sound of loud arguing in the vacant Capitol.
In North Carolina's Capitol in Raleigh, paranormal researchers last year reported seeing a specter in Reconstruction-era clothing sitting in the third chair in the third row of the old House chambers. The Ghost Research Foundation also photographed floating orbs of energy and recorded a disembodied whisper.
In Denver, "ghost walks" have been offered on Capitol Hill that recount the history and even sex scandals of lawmakers whose terms have long expired, according to the Web site of Phil Goodstein, a Denver instructor of local lore.
The echo of footfalls, swaying chandeliers and a tapping from inside the Capitol dome in Topeka, Kansas, are attributed by some to a long-standing workers pay grievance. Around 1890, when the Capitol was being built, a laborer fell to his death while fastening plates to the dome. Paid monthly, the grisly death at the end of the pay period meant the laborer lost weeks of wages, and is still trying to collect.
An author tracked down a ghost story at the Capitol for her research and was told of dozens more, said Bobbie Athon of the Kansas State Historical Society.
"These are popular folk tales people just enjoy," Athon said.
"I've come to accept a lot of the stories I've heard from state capitols," said Dale Kaczmarek, an Oak Lawn, Ill., author of books on ghost sightings and head of the national Ghost Research Society.
"Ghosts usually are seen because of untimely or dramatic deaths," Kaczmarek said. "State capitols are usually older buildings that go back quite a bit of years, so it doesn't surprise me a bit."
He said President Lincoln's ghost is often reported in and around the Springfield, Ill., statehouse, the former state lawmaker's old haunt.
In New York, stories of the spired Capitol guarded by gargoyles and griffins have become a teaching opportunity, said Lehman. This month, he's one of two guides who don the garb of a 19th century journalist or stone carver to use dashes of the paranormal to teach history.
Among the spirits said to haunt the Capitol is artist William Morris Hunt of Boston. His dramatic murals of angels, maidens and stallions were commissioned for the grand Assembly chamber, perhaps the ornate building's most spectacular site. The artist painted frantically against deadline on scaffolding 40 feet above the floor, reveling in the avocation he said was better than being governor, according to C.R. Roseberry's "Capitol Story."
But Hunt became despondent when he wasn't asked to return to paint more and may have taken his own life, Lehman said. Years after Hunt's death, his murals were covered in a renovation, lost to the public.
Today, Lehman said cold spots in the chamber, a breeze despite closed windows, and odd noises late at night are sometimes attributed to the frustrated artist.
Capitols "tend to be filled with colorful characters, so people really identify with the buildings," said New York Assemblyman John McEneny, a lifelong Albany resident and historian whose ancestor, Cormac McWilliams, died while laboring on the Assembly ceiling. McEneny, too, has been told of mop buckets that move without anyone nearby and cluttered desks being mysteriously tidied up on the dead watchman's floor.
"Those who believe in spirits lingering will find ghosts tend to hang around a place that means something to them," McEneny said. "The Capitol looks like a castle to begin with. It could be a movie set for any number of ghost stories."
Posted 13 October 2004 - 12:59 PM
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