According to legend, a sorrowful phantom patrols the shore of Lake Ontario, searching for her daughter’s killer.
Ruins of a majestic mansion and sightings of an ethereal woman dressed in a flowing white gown are ingredients for a classic ghost story, so curious residents of Rochester, New York make furtive nighttime journeys to this park overlooking Lake Ontario, hoping to catch a glimpse of a phantom. Abusive men, however, have reason to fear.
As legend goes, this medieval-looking stone wall was once part of a stately mansion on the hill, occupied by a reclusive woman and her beautiful daughter. The woman forbid her daughter from meeting with male suitors, so when her daughter went for a walk and failed to return home, she feared the worst. She leashed her two hounds and wandered the lake shore, searching for her missing daughter. Eventually, the woman died alone and her house fell into ruin.
The area became a lovers lane, where teenagers would park their cars and fool around. If a young man pushed things too far, or was disrespectful to his date, they said, he risked inciting her wrath. These frightening encounters served as a warning to men to be on their best behavior.
She’s been called the “Lady in White,” “White Lady,” or “Lady of the Lake.” According to Mason Winfield, author of Haunted Rochester: A Supernatural History of the Lower Genesee (2008), some eyewitnesses have seen her ghost emerge from Lake Ontario, “sheeny as the mist that dabs the moonlight.” She searches the nearby swamp with “two wolf-like dogs at her side… wailing and snarling.”
But there are other, older versions of the legend that predate the stone wall and its meandering staircase, which was actually the foundation of a communal dining hall for park visitors. Mike Governale of RochesterSubway.com has researched the White Lady legend and discovered it dates back to the late nineteenth century. In these early versions, a farmer’s wife named Eelissa killed her husband and his lover, and now her ghost seeks other couples on which to exact her revenge. A missing daughter sometimes appears in the story as well.
Patricia Wayne, a local historian from the surrounding town of Irondequoit, told WROC Channel 8 News that there is no evidence the woman described in the stories ever lived there.
Still, strange things continue to happen at Durand Eastman Park. In 2017, interest in the legend was aroused again when a windstorm damaged a large tree. Violent winds exposed an area under its bark resembling a woman wearing a long dress, her face twisted into a snarl, with her arms menacingly in the air. Hundreds of curious residents flocked to the scene to take pictures, swap stories, and speculate on its origin.
Perhaps it was Rochester’s mysterious Lady in White, reminding everyone to remain vigilant.
The “White Lady’s Castle” at Durand Eastman Park is located along Lake Shore Blvd near the intersection with Log Cabin Road at GPS coordinates 43.236041, -77.556784 in Rochester, New York, just north of Durand Lake. There is a small gravel pull-off for parking, and a trail up to the top of the hill. Durand Eastman Park is open daily from 7:00am to 11:00pm.