Posted by Brian Connor
Saratoga Springs is well known as an attraction for racing and ballet enthusiasts. But, according to Haunted History Ghost Walks tour guide Gloria Ottavio, the city plays host to other, less visible crowds.
"Saratoga tends to invite ghosts," Ottavio explained to a group of 30 gathered in the Arts Center. "People think ghosts are the spirits of people who have passed on," Ottavio said. "This is a historical parapsychologist ghost walk."
Ottavio, a retired teacher from Rochester, has led ghost tours through the streets of Saratoga on Monday and Wednesday nights from July through October 31st. The tours are based on the research and writing of parapsychologist Mason Winfield, who has authored several books on hauntings and paranormal activity in the region.
According to Ottavio, Saratoga attracts ghosts for the same reason it first attracted visitors some 300 years ago. "Because of the fault line, Saratoga is geographically conducive to supernatural phenomenon," Ottavio said.
She explained that cultures and peoples all over the world tend to build temples and other religious sites on fault lines because of increased electromagnetic activity.
"Wherever you have buildings that look like churches, it tends to invite paranormal activity," said Ottavio, before leading the crowd out into the cold shadowy streets of Saratoga and through Congress Park.
The first stop was in front of the "Spirit of Life," a statue of Hygieia, the Grecco-Roman goddess of health, commissioned by Katrina Trask and created by Daniel Chester French, the sculptor of the Lincoln Memorial.
Here Ottavio recounted the fateful history of the Trask family, whose estate, Yaddo, is said to be named for the Trask children's attempts to pronounce the word shadow as they watched mysterious shapes glide throughout the estate's supposedly haunted grounds.
Though the Trasks all met a grisly end, Spencer dying in a railway accident and Katrina and the children succumbing to diphtheria, Ottavio assured the crowd that the site is not necessarily haunted.
"Though I've heard [the statue] waves her right hand — I haven't seen it," Ottavio said.
The tour then moved along to the Canfield Casino. Founded in 1870 by bare-knuckled boxer, state senator and congressman John Morrisey, Ottavio described the building as one of the main haunts of Saratoga.
According to Ottavio, Morrisey, nicknamed Old Smoke because of an unfortunate flesh searing sustained during a bout of pugilism, is said to still inhabit the building.
"This is most likely a residual haunting, or a haunting of a place, and an intellectual haunting, in which the apparitions interact with people," Ottavio said.
Ottavio welcomed the crowd to take photographs of the casino in order to capture paranormal activity. "People have taken pictures in the park and found a lot of orb activity, so if you take any pictures and things show up, let me know."
The next stop was the Carousel in Congress Park. "This is not haunted, but I like showing it to people anyway," Ottavio said. She then gave a brief history of the amusing relic before moving on.
Next the tour stopped in front of 75 Spring St., West Hall, a former Skidmore College dormitory. Ottavio recounted the experiences of Kathy and Laury, two students who in 1966 came back from the dining hall to find a woman with dark brown hair standing in their room. The woman vanished shortly thereafter.
The two women then bought a Ouija board, the board game and séance tool being very popular at that time. The Ouija board yielded the words, "I was killed in this room, strangled. He dragged me into a closet and bricked up the wall."
According to Ottavio, in 1969, Laury wrote a paper, the research for which brought her to an unsolved murder case in the police department files. Laury did some more sleuthing and eventually a body was recovered from the walls of the dormitory.
Gloria remarked that the finding of a body is unsubstantiated. She did not say whether or not Laury owned a Great Dane or a VW bus.
The next stop was the Savage House, at 108 Circular St. Built in 1843, the house served as a boarding house, a hotel and, in recent years, a private residence.
Ottavio remarked that the Corinthian columns that adorn the building are reminiscent of sacred architecture, and might thereby contribute to paranormal activity within.
Ottavio also cited recent renovations as a cause for increased paranormal activity. "When there are old homes that are refurbished, it riles spirits up," Ottavio said.
Ottavio then brought the tour to 57 Phila St. Built in 1875, the one-time hotel catered exclusively to Jewish tourists. According to Ottavio the building is now haunted by an apparition whom the inhabitants refer to as Mr. Green.
The tour then stopped at Hattie's on Phila Street and Ottavio recounted numerous stories of the eponymous founder's experimentations with voodoo. According to Ottavio, contractors working in the basement of Hattie's found the bones of large animals strung together by yarn in a fashion typical of voodoo ritual.
The final stop on the tour was the Adelphi Hotel, built in 1877. The second floor of the enormous Victorian building is haunted by an apparition referred to as the lazy ghost, according to Ottavio. "People see impressions of someone's butt on chairs, and then it goes away."
Reactions to the tour ranged from appreciative to critical. "Although I wasn't scared by the ghost tour, I enjoyed the historical aspects a lot because this is a very historically rich place," Erin Pruckno '10 said. "I had a good time."
"People have a fascination with ghosts, because there is a lot of ambiguity about the dead, and what happens to one's soul when they die," Hunter Prichard '12 said. "Ghosts are almost able to cheat death by staying on the physical plane, without being alive."
Prichard, however, remained skeptical. "I personally don't really believe in them, it's just a money-making scheme more than anything. It's just like me having a goblin hunting tour in my house, charging people $20 to go goblin hunting."
The Saratoga Ghost Walk is sponsored by Haunter History Ghost Walks. Walks take place on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday nights through October.
Call (716) 655-6663 for details.