Fort Drum Specters Preserve the Past

Photo by Michael Kleen

Locals say ghosts refuse to allow the past to remain buried at this military base in Upstate New York.

Click to expand photos.

I was stationed at Fort Drum for over three years. When I wasn’t freezing my rear-end off during field exercises in the training area, I was researching the area’s history and lore. Like Fort Huachuca in southern Arizona, Fort Drum has its share of ghost stories, but because it’s a military base, its haunted sites aren’t readily available to the public. This seclusion lends an air of mystery to these already strange tales.

Fort Drum and its training area sprawls over 14 square miles of Jefferson County, New York, which shares a waterway with Canada. Relations with our neighbor to the north have not always been so friendly, and nearby Sackets Harbor served as a naval shipyard as far back as 1809. The US Army established Fort Pike and the Madison Barracks during the War of 1812 to defend the harbor. Nearly a century later, the Army opened Pine Camp several miles south along the Black River near Watertown, New York.

In 1940 and ’41, Pine Camp rapidly expanded as the Second World War threatened to drag the United States into another international conflict. The expansion displaced 525 families, swallowed five villages, and left over 3,000 buildings abandoned. The estate of James Le Ray, son of Revolutionary War hero Jacques-Donatien Le Ray de Chaumont, was appropriated by the military base. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974.

Built in two stages from 1806 to 1808 and 1821 to 1823 after a fire, Le Ray’s Classical Revival style mansion was the centerpiece of a thriving community of French aristocrats exiled during the French Revolution. Le Ray, who married a New Jersey woman named Grace Cox and became an American citizen in 1788, once owned 350,000 acres of pristine North Country.

Neither Le Ray nor his children spent much time there, but Le Ray’s granddaughter, 15-month-old Clotilde, died in his home and is buried on the property. Some visitors claim her spirit never left. In Haunted Northern New York, Vol 4, author Cheri Farnsworth claims Clotilde haunts the upstairs bedrooms, and guests have heard her crying from beyond the grave.

It’s not just Clotilde’s eerie cries that guests hear echoing through the centuries-old mansion. Clotilde’s mother, Therese, has been spotted wearing a white nightgown (though it’s uncertain where Therese actually died). Eyewitnesses also report seeing the ghosts of Le Ray’s servants, sometimes described as slaves. The State of New York passed a law for gradual abolition in 1799 and all remaining slaves in New York were freed in 1827. James Le Ray died a widower in France in 1840.

Fort Drum’s small POW Cemetery is believed to be haunted as well. During World War 2, Pine Camp trained the 4th and 5th Armored Divisions and the 45th Infantry Division, but it also housed several hundred enemy prisoners of war. Its remote location discouraged escape attempts. A few prisoners, like Christian Huppertz, died in captivity. If their families could not be located, they were buried in a small plot next to Sheepfold Cemetery near Great Bend, Jefferson County, New York.

Today, Pine Camp is known as Fort Drum and is home to the 10th Mountain Division. The small POW cemetery is well maintained. It contains the graves of six German and one Italian prisoners of war. In More Haunted Northern New York, Cheri Farnsworth related the story of a woman who saw a soldier waving for help from the snow-covered cemetery, only to vanish as mysteriously as he appeared.

LeRay Mansion, at 99 Leray Drive, is occasionally open for tours. Contact the Cultural Resources Program Manager at Fort Drum at (315) 772-4165 for upcoming dates and times. Visitors to Fort Drum must obtain a visitor’s pass at the new Fort Drum Welcome Center at Cerjan Gate, off U.S. Route 11 and Interstate 781. POW Cemetery (44.053558, -75.751916) is located next to Sheepfold Cemetery off Great Bend Road. It is open to the public from dawn to dusk.


References

  • Cheri L. Farnsworth, More Haunted Northern New York (Utica: North Country Books, 2003), 54-55.
  • Cheri L. Farnsworth, Haunted Northern New York, Vol. 4 (Utica: North Country Books, 2010), 47-51.

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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