Isabella’s Spectral Form Chills Guests at Geneva’s Belhurst Castle

The ghost of an elegant opera singer is said to wander the grounds of this 19th-Century mansion in New York’s Finger Lakes.

Designed by architectural firm Fuller & Wheeler and built between 1885 and 1889 for Mrs. Carrie M. Young Harron Collins, Belhurst Castle is a Romanesque Revival-style mansion on Seneca Lake in Geneva, New York. The property has a long and colorful history, and is rumored to be haunted by several ghosts, including an opera singer named Isabella.

In 1824, an English lawyer named Joseph Fellows acquired rights to the property and built a home called the Hermitage, which he leased to a mysterious man named Henry Hall. “Henry Hall” was actually the assumed name of William Henry Bucke, who fled to the United States from London, where he had been treasurer of Covent Garden Theater. Bucke had embezzled theater funds and married his stepmother, who according to legend was an actress or opera singer named Isabella. Bucke died in 1852 of an untreated injury.

Harrison G. Otis purchased the property and named it ‘Bellehurst,’ or “beautiful forest”. The Otis family lived there until 1878, when it was taken over by the United States Trust Company. Local residents picnicked in “Otis Grove” in the shadow of the abandoned Hermitage, and spun yarns about escape tunnels William Henry Bucke/Henry Hall had built leading to Seneca Lake. The old house, they said, was haunted.

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Secret Passages Invite Mystery at Dark Island’s Singer Castle

This fog-shrouded estate on the St. Lawrence River has long excited visitors’ imaginations.

Orange peaks of a medieval manor rise above the trees on a distant island. A secret panel in the library leads to hidden passages through the walls. Eyes spy from behind a painting. Singer Castle is literally torn from the pages of a children’s storybook, and you can tour it and even spend the night! But don’t expect to encounter any ghosts.

Frederick G. Bourne (1851-1919) was a wealthy industrialist and one-time president of the Singer Manufacturing Company. He owned many properties throughout his life, but his most famous was the hunting lodge he built in the Thousand Islands region in 1905. He called it “The Towers”, but today we call it Singer Castle.

The castle was designed by architect Ernest Flagg and inspired by the historical novel Woodstock (1826) by Sir Walter Scott. The novel revolves around Woodstock Manor House, set just after the English Civil War. Woodstock was allegedly beset by poltergeist activity. Frederick Bourne’s version cost approximately $500,000, rose four stories, and contained 28 rooms and four towers.

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Swan Lake’s Stone Castle

One of five built by Italian-American stone mason Joe Moshini in the 1930s, this tiny stone castle is located at 2669-2673 Briscoe Road in Swan Lake, south of Liberty, New York. It formerly sat in front of the grand Commodore Hotel, which burned in a controlled fire in 1979.

From the 1920s to the 1970s, New York City Jews flocked to Catskill resorts like the Commodore for summer vacations. There were once over 500 resorts and hotels in the area, known as the “Borscht Belt“. The hotel’s garden, and its tiny castle, was reclaimed by nature, but in 2013 a group of volunteers restored it and erected signs relating the history of the site.

Luna at Mount Hope and Warner Castle

Model Luna Mae at Mount Hope Cemetery and Warner Castle in Rochester, New York. I continued to refine my use of a basic 70-300mm lens for this photo shoot.

Luna at Mount Hope

One technique I’m experimenting with uses exposure compensation and my camera’s highlights feature to help produce a brighter exposure. With exposure compensation, you can increase or decrease the brightness of your photos (essentially by adjusting the shutter speed). With the highlights feature, the camera shows you what parts of your photo are “clipped“, or so bright the camera can’t reproduce the image (essentially pure white).

Luna at Mount Hope
Continue reading “Luna at Mount Hope and Warner Castle”

Luna at Warner Castle and Sunken Garden

Model Luna Mae at the Sunken Garden and Warner Castle in Rochester, New York. I continued to refine my use of a basic 70-300mm lens for this photo shoot.

Luna Noir

The higher the focal length, the more it throws the background out of focus, making a zoom lens perfect for separating a subject from the background. But, the trade off is that it’s difficult to steady the lens so motion blur is a problem. I increased the ISO to 800 to counteract that, but I think using a tripod would’ve been more helpful.

Floral Luna

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Leah at The White Lady’s Castle

Leah at The White Lady's Castle

Model Leah Hotte poses at a stone wall, located in Durand-Eastman Park, which was once part of a hotel dining hall that served swimmers in nearby Lake Ontario. According to legend, a woman in white haunts the ruin, searching for her long-lost daughter. The park is located in Irondequoit, New York, north of Rochester.

Leah at The White Lady's Castle

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Hartford Castle’s Once-Majestic Remains

“Hartford Castle” is the colloquial name for a mansion that formerly stood on a tract of land just outside Hartford, Illinois, across the Mississippi River from St. Louis. Its original owner, a French immigrant named Benjamin Biszant, called it Lakeview. He built the imposing home for his bride, an Englishwoman whose name has apparently been lost to history.

Sparing no expense (which was certainly an impressive dollar amount in 1897), Biszant surrounded Lakeview with sprawling gardens, statuary, romantic gazebos, and, finally, a moat to keep out trespassers. According to Louie Haines, a neighbor who recalled helping to dig the moat with his father, the Frenchman stocked it with goldfish that interbred with local crappie, producing what he described as “unusual looking fish.”

Eventually, Biszant’s wife died and, perhaps, the pain was too much for him to remain at Lakeview. He sold the mansion and moved west. Several owners and tenants occupied the mansion until 1923 when a husband and wife from nearby Wood River purchased the property. They lived there until 1964, when the wife became a widow and decided to move to less lonely surroundings.

During that time, according to Bill Matheus of the Lewis & Clark Journal, local residents treated the property as if it were their own. Visitors frequently roamed the grounds and even invited themselves inside the mansion for tours! The mansion deteriorated during the late 1960s, and in 1971 and 1972 vandals ran wild.

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Boldt Castle in Winter

Boldt Castle and St. Lawrence River
Few places in Upstate New York are as romantic as Boldt Castle on the St. Lawrence River. George Boldt, general manager of the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City and manager of the Bellevue-Stratford Hotel in Philadelphia, began construction of the 120-room mansion in 1900, but it was never finished.
Boldt Castle in Winter
It was to be a grand tribute to the love of his life, Louise Kehrer Boldt. Tragically, Louise Boldt died suddenly in January 1904. Heartbroken, George Boldt sent workers at the castle a telegram telling them to cease construction immediately.
Boldt Castle in Winter
For the next 73 years, the partially-completed castle sat empty and abandoned, left to the mercy of vandals and the elements. In 1977, the Thousand Islands Bridge Authority bought Heart Island and agreed to commit all proceeds from tours and events toward its restoration. Today, much of the structural damage has been reversed, and the ground floor is beautifully furnished. It looks particularly romantic, like something from a fairy tale, covered with snow and ice.