The Legend of Bonapartes Cave

Missing jewels, exiled European royalty, old bones, and a lakeside cave make this unassuming spot one of Upstate New York’s most enduring mysteries.

Joseph Bonaparte (1768-1844), older brother of French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte, saw his fortunes rise and fall with his more famous brother. He once reigned as monarch over two kingdoms, amassing a small fortune before Napoleon’s downfall. How did a lake in northern New York come to be named after him?

In 1794, Joseph, a French lawyer and diplomat, married Marie-Julie Clary, and in 1806 Napoleon crowned him King of Naples. During the ill-fated French occupation of Spain, he reigned as King of Spain and the Indies. After Napoleon’s defeat and exile in 1814, Joseph fled to Switzerland with a trove of diamonds and jewels, but made plans to leave Europe. Napoleon’s defeat at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 sealed his fate, and Joseph landed in America in August 1815 under the assumed name “Count de Survilliers”.

James Le Ray de Chaumont, son of a prominent French supporter of American independence, had purchased large tracts of land in northern New York and the Delaware Valley, where many French aristocrats had fled after the French Revolution. Using his stolen wealth, Joseph purchased land along the Black River in Upstate New York from James Le Ray. He named the lake at the heart of his Black River property Diana, but it would come to be known as Lake Bonaparte.

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Time Takes Us All

Monument to Bernhard (1820-1884) and Caroline (1829-1913) Schickel and their children in Forest Lawn Cemetery, 1411 Delaware Avenue in Buffalo, New York. Bernhard and Caroline had two children who died at a young age, and one adopted daughter. From what I can find online, Bernhard was a Free Mason and owned a beer hall in Buffalo. This granite monument, with its three statues, is remarkably well maintained for its age.

Bernhard Schickel (1820-1884)

Oriskany's Spectral Battlefield

Some visitors insist the sights, sounds, and smells of this bloody Revolutionary War ambush still linger after dark.

The Battle of Oriskany was fought on August 6, 1777 in Oneida County, New York during the siege of Fort Stanwix. It was an attempt by Tories and British Iroquois allies to ambush a Patriot relief column headed for the fort. Heavy rain and dogged defense by the colonists and their Oneida allies saved them from destruction. While Fort Stanwix is widely believed to be haunted, the Oriskany battlefield has its own reputation for the macabre.

As British forces lay siege to Fort Stanwix, 800 Tryon County militia and Oneida warriors under General Nicholas Herkimer rushed to its defense. The British were alerted to their approach and a force of approximately 1,200 British troops and Iroquois braves under Sir. John Johnson and Joseph Brant planned an ambush. Just six miles from their objective, in a marshy ravine, Seneca warriors waited for the column of Colonial militia.

Impatient, the Seneca warriors opened fire before completely entrapping the Colonial militia. General Herkimer was shot in the leg, but refused to be carried from the field. “I will face the enemy,” he said. The battle raged over several hundred yards. A thunderstorm interrupted the fighting, giving the colonists time to establish a last line of defense on a hill while British reinforcements left their camps outside Fort Stanwix to join the battle.

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The Battle of Mamaroneck, Oct. 1776

A surprise attack on Rogers’ Rangers ends in defeat for American forces in this little-known Revolutionary War skirmish.

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The Battle of Mamaroneck (also known as the Skirmish of Heathcote Hill) was fought on October 22, 1776 between American patriot troops commanded by Col. John Haslet and British loyalist forces commanded by Maj. Robert Rogers in Westchester County, New York during the American Revolutionary War. The battle ended in British victory when Rogers’ men rallied and drove off their attackers.

Maj. Robert Rogers was the celebrated commander of an irregular force called Rogers’ Rangers during the French and Indian War. He stayed loyal to the British during the Revolution and formed the Queen’s Rangers. When George Washington retreated to White Plains, New York after a series of disastrous defeats, the Continental Army found Rogers’ 400-man regiment encamped at Mamaroneck, separated from the main British army.

The task fell on Col. John Haslet and his 750-man regiment, the “Delaware Blues”, to isolate and destroy Rogers’ force. They approached in total darkness, where they stumbled upon a well-placed advanced guard of 60 men. Though the Patriots overwhelmed them and captured 30 men, the struggle alerted Rogers to their attack.

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Legend of Sleepy Hollow

Washington Irving (1783-1859) was an author and attorney who for all intents and purposes invented American literature. His short stories “Rip Van Winkle” (1819) and “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” (1820) are still taught to this day. He also wrote nonfiction, including a five-volume biography of George Washington. He served in the New York State militia during the War of 1812 and spent 17 years in Europe, where he was awarded an honorary doctorate of civil law from Oxford in 1831. He came home to live in Tarrytown, New York in 1835, where he died. He was buried in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, 540 North Broadway in Sleepy Hollow, Westchester County, New York. The Village of North Tarrytown changed its name to Sleepy Hollow in 1996.

Fort William Henry Offers Haunted History After Dark

A steady-stream of curiosity seekers visit this reconstructed French and Indian War-era fort after dark, hoping to catch a glimpse of the unknown.

Not to be confused with the other haunted Fort William Henry in Maine, Fort William Henry Museum and Restoration in Lake George, New York is a must-see for any history buff or paranormal enthusiast. Since being featured on an episode of SyFy’s Ghost Hunters in 2009, thousands have explored this reconstructed French and Indian War-era fort on nighttime ghost tours, hoping to snap an anomalous photo or experience something extraordinary.

British official Sir William Johnson ordered the fort’s construction in 1755 in preparation for a British attack on Crown Point on Lake Champlain. The French and their Indian allies, however, destroyed it less than two years later. French forces besieged the fort in 1757, and the siege only lasted a few days, with French artillery inflicting most of the damage.

To end the siege, French General Louis-Joseph de Montcalm arranged for the British forces to leave, but American Indians under his command were angry at being denied war spoils and massacred several hundred retreating British. Montcalm’s army tried to stop deprivations inflicted by their allies on paroled British captives, but events spiraled out of their control. These events formed the backdrop for James Fenimore Cooper’s novel The Last of the Mohicans (1826).

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White Lady's Castle at Durand Eastman Park

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.

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From Sorrow to Serenity

Monument to Mead Belden (1833-1876) and his first and second wives, Sarah Elizabeth Hubbell (1834-1855) and Amelia Gertrude Woolson (1844-1864) and their family in Oakwood Cemetery, 940 Comstock Avenue in Syracuse, Onondaga County, New York. Mead was a Freemason, a clothing merchant, and senior partner of Belden & Van Buskirk. Later, he was involved in construction and helped build canals and reservoirs.

Mead Belden (1833-1876) I

According to legend, either a ghostly bride or bride and groom have been seen descending the stairs to the bottom of the hill. The following eyewitness account appears on a sign for the Oakwood Ghost Trail: “Me & my friends spent the night in Oakwood one night. Over by the stairs graves in the west of the cemetery, I looked to my right and saw the bride and groom. They were beautiful, but they were bloody and they vanished before our eyes.” It’s unclear how this story is related (if at all) to the Belden family.