Phantasmal Melody at Fort Stanwix

Photo by Michael Kleen

Since the rebuilt colonial-era fort opened for tourists, some say sunrise brings a haunting melody of musical instruments from the past.

Fort Stanwix National Monument is a reconstruction of a historic fort occupying approximately 16 acres in downtown Rome, New York. Originally built by the British, it was captured and used by American colonists during the Revolutionary War. Since reconstruction finished in 1978, visitors have reported strange encounters with otherworldly sights and sounds, as though ghosts from the past have returned to reclaim their home.

British General John Stanwix originally ordered construction of the fort in the summer of 1758 to guard a portage connecting the Mohawk River and Wood Creek during the French and Indian War. It finished in 1762. The 1768 Treaty of Fort Stanwix between the British and the Iroquois attempted to solidify the frontier boundary and reduce hostility there. The fort was then abandoned and allowed to fall into ruin.

Colonial troops under the command of Colonel Elias Dayton occupied and repaired the fort in July 1776 and renamed it Fort Schuyler. British forces besieged the fort in August 1777, but were demoralized by a colonial raid on their camp and withdrew. It burned down in 1781. A treaty between the United States and the Iroquois League was signed at the site in 1784.

Over the next century, the City of Rome grew over the site, with small cannon monuments marking the boundaries. It was designated a National Monument in 1935 and plans were laid to buy up the land and reconstruct the fort. Reconstruction was completed between 1974 and 1978, with a new visitor center added in 2005. It’s hard to imagine streets, sidewalks, and houses once stood there.

Since opening for tourists, eyewitnesses report encountering ghostly activity at any time of day or night, from disembodied footsteps to strange sounds and even electrical disturbances. According to Dwayne Claud, author of Haunted Finger Lakes (2009), sunrise brings an unusual melody of fife and drums mingled with the sound of a woman crying for her missing child.

Fort Stanwix National Monument is operated as a living history museum, with volunteers dressed in period clothing explaining various aspects of life at the fort in 1777. Its collection of artifacts includes military arms and accoutrements, clothing, hardware, utensils, furniture, and furnishings from the French and Indian War and the American Revolutionary War periods.

With such commitment to authenticity, it’s easy to see how a glimpse of a reenactor in period costume out of the corner of your eye might be mistaken for a ghost. Or is there really something supernatural afoot? Some visitors report seeing a one-legged man in colonial military uniform in the barracks, and the Utica Paranormal Society allegedly photographed spectral mist and the figure of a man in that vicinity.

In 2010, Fort Stanwix held their first public paranormal investigation event. “Paranormal investigators, psychics, mediums and clairvoyants have identified Fort Stanwix as one of the most haunted places in the Mohawk Valley,” they teased. “Come out and discover if this is true.” Have these spirits always been tied to this spot, or did the fort’s restoration arouse them from their graves? Visit the fort and see for yourself.

Fort Stanwix National Monument is located at 112 East Park Street in Rome, New York. The Willett Visitor Center is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., except for Christmas, Thanksgiving, and New Years Day. Admission to the fort and visitor center is free to the public. The fort grounds are normally closed between late December and early April.

Author: Michael Kleen

Michael Kleen is an author, raconteur, and occasional traveler. He has a M.A. in History and M.S. in Education. He enjoys studying military history, folklore, and philosophy.

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