Although it’s a quaint street, with its cobbled stone houses, wild roses and daylilies waving to the sun, at night Huguenot Street in New Paltz can become illuminated with ghosts intent on having their presence felt and their stories told. The manicured and uninhabited section of the oldest incorporated street in America was home to indigenous Americans, French and Dutch refugees and colonizers and enslaved Africans.
Through archival and genealogical research, as well as annual anthropological digs conducted in conjunction with professors and students at SUNY New Paltz, the street, to those who know its history, can become very much alive if one takes the time to stop and look and listen closely. To that end, each Friday and Saturday night in July, Historic Huguenot Street (HHS) offers its “Boos and Brews” haunted tours. There are many tales of murder and mayhem, fascinating folklore and accounts of visitations from the other side of the grave that come to life as the tour guide, HHS arts and interpretation manager Megan Stacey, unspools some of the street’s more macabre history.
This past Saturday, Hudson Valley One joined the Boos and Brews tour, where a dozen attendees enjoyed a local hard cider or microbrew and followed Stacey, as she had everyone alternately laughing and gasping with her stories.
She started the tour just outside the Old Fort by the wigwam. “The Lenape, who were here long before the European colonizers, believed that storytelling should only happen in the winter,” she explained to the group as the sun descended. “Winter is a hard, lonely time, and storytelling can be a form of amusement; but during the rest of the year, they felt that the corn and wheat and squash might get distracted by these fanciful tales. True stories, however, can be told all year-round, so I promise that everything I tell you tonight is based in truth.”
Stacey explained that HHS leaves “ghost lights” on in each house – sometimes several. “If any of you are involved in the theater, you’ll know that a ghost light is left onstage to keep the ghosts company or to ward them off.” Since there are many reported ghost sightings at HHS, Stacey was a big enthusiast of leaving ghost lights on, either to keep the nice ghosts’ company or to ward off the malicious ones.
One of the stories involved an older woman, Ms. Annie DuBois, who lived in the Freer House in the early 1900s. According to Stacey, it was rumored that she was madly in love with a “younger man – a much younger man, by about 40 years,” she emphasized. “Early one July, when Annie heard that the young Hugo Freer had died due to a failed appendectomy, she was heartbroken. She walked to this well in a long white gown and threw herself down to her death.” Stacey explained that neighbors, staff and visitors have reported seeing a woman wearing a long white gown sobbing into the well or have felt a sense of intense grief and sadness when walking past the well outside of the Freer House.
One chilling story included that of Howard Grimm, an 82-year-old widower who lived alone in a historic stone house across South Manheim Boulevard from SUNY New Paltz. “He was a well-respected member of the community and even served on the on the board of Historic Huguenot Street,” said Stacey. She recounted how the older gentleman heard noises in the barn out in back of his house. When he went to investigate, he was brutally murdered by an axe-swinging 24-year-old exchange student, Henry Baddoo. This murder happened in 1970. Stacey said that there are reports of Mr. Grimm’s ghost walking along the streets, so they leave a ghost light on to keep him company.
At the Deyo House, which has an original stone house foundation with a Victorian addition built on top, the group peeked inside a window where they could see a large portrait of Gertrude Deyo. “She was born in this house and lived her entire life in this house and was married to Thomas Jessup,” the guide explained. “This portrait was done of her about three months before she was to give birth to her baby girl.”
The portrait reveals a very sickly-looking young woman with an almost-jaundiced hue, red circles under her eyes and sunken cheekbones. “It was very likely that she had tuberculosis,” Stacey explained to the group, who kept taking turns to look at the portrait through the moon-streaked panes of glass. “Back then, it was almost considered chic to have TB and get your portrait painted, because it made the women lose weight and have that pale Victorian look that was apparently fashionable.” Sadly, Gertrude died 17 days after her daughter’s birth, and it was believed that she put a fertility curse on the house after her untimely death. The portrait of the Deyo – the authentic one that hangs inside the home – has been reported by many curatorial staff to move from room to room, be found upside-down or lying face-down.
The tour ended in the graveyard next to the Old French Church, where Stacey enumerated more HHS folklore and haunting historical crimes as the group mingled among the gravestones, sipping on their local spirits, asking questions and delighting in the darker tales and transgressions of the past.
The tour is less than an hour long and is filled with fun facts, creepy stories, Victorian rumors and a desire to include the entire past of Huguenot Street into its narrative, not just the European version. You will not be disappointed and will certainly never look at the wells or cellars the same way.
To learn more about booking the tour, go to www.huguenotstreet.org/calendar-of-events/boos-brews-2021.