The chilling season

Sullivan County’s ghosts

By ANNEMARIE SCHUETZ
Posted 10/27/21

SULLIVAN COUNTY, NY — George Markert died in 1892 on Jeffersonville’s Stone Arch Bridge, killed three ways in the prescribed manner for dealing with a hexenmeister.

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The chilling season

Sullivan County’s ghosts

Posted

SULLIVAN COUNTY, NY — George Markert died in 1892 on Jeffersonville’s Stone Arch Bridge, killed three ways in the prescribed manner for dealing with a hexenmeister.

There is, of course, no reason to think Markert was actually a hex doctor, someone who in German tradition could curse others and ruin their lives.

Adam Heidt, though, believed he was hexed. His mother-in-law had been killed, his crops failed, he became ill. And critically Markert, who was Heidt’s former brother-in-law, patted him on the back three times, praising him.

They were both German immigrants but Heidt, said Sullivan County Historian John Conway, “is described as a fairly ignorant, superstitious guy.” Heidt harassed Markert repeatedly, accusing him of sorcery. He wrote letters, driving the message home and laying a paper trail that would eventually aid the police.

Finally in January 1892, he met Markert at a local tavern, then escorted him to the bridge. That was no accident—sorcerers famously lose their power when they are over running water according to popular lore. Heidt’s son Joseph emerged from the shadows and shot Markert five times in the head, stabbed him, and hit him over the head with the victim’s own walking stick. Father and son dropped the body in the water.

Ultimately both men were caught and charged with murder; Adam Heidt was declared insane and institutionalized, and Joseph served 15 years, Conway said.

That is, of course, not the end. This is Halloween, season of ghosts, and Markert still walks.

“There’ve been repeated sightings of the ghost, especially in wintertime,” Conway said.

The story is Conway’s most famous one and it loses nothing in the retelling. It’s also a good example of the most common element that leads to ghost sightings: a violent death.

That’s also true of another Conway story, the 1763 massacre at Ten Mile River. At the end of the French and Indian War, Captain Bull of the Lenni Lenape swept up from the Wyoming Valley, determined to avenge his father’s death. He and his men passed through the settlement and slaughtered everyone. “These gruesome deaths,” he said, “22 men, women and children were killed and never accorded a proper burial.”

Conway had written about the event in his “Retrospect” column, and a local paranormal investigation group got interested, he said. “They had instruments to record sound, video, paranormal energy,” he said.

The group started asking questions. And on the recording is a terrified voice shouting, “Run! Run!”

That’s another element leading to hauntings: people horribly murdered and their bodies left unburied. A version revolves around accidents: Are there ghosts around the site of the horrific 1907 train wreck in Hurleyville, when three crewmen were blown to pieces?

But not all hauntings stem from violence.

Burn Brae Mansion in Glen Spey is famous. It draws ghosthunters and the paranormally curious. It’s one of the famous hauntings listed in the Haunted History Trail of New York State. The stories are legion and remarkable for their gentleness.

“My parents bought this house 28 years ago,” said Susan Russ, co-owner.

The plan was to use it as a cycling training center. The main house had been broken up into apartments, and the stables in back had been turned into a motel. “People staying here would say the same thing, ‘I felt a chill, someone touched my foot, I heard babies crying, balls bouncing. I saw a woman in white.’ My husband said, ‘I bet this house is haunted.’”

Paranormal investigators agreed. And, it turned out, plenty of people wanted to stay in a haunted house.

Russ has seen the woman in white, has heard closed doors open and slam shut. There’s a recording to back that up.

“People have heard a cat where there is no cat. A dog bark when there is no dog.” They’ve heard children playing and singing. Smelled cookies baking. Heard classical music.

“Children have died in the house,” Russ said. It’s not unusual for a house that’s over a century old. The music, though, could come from one owner, Mr. Hapij, who would play; his wife baked. “They died in the house.”

There have been so many stories. “Nobody feels threatened,” she said.

The paranormal investigators first arrived 15 years ago, and there have been many since. Guests connect with investigators, plus they can explore the county. They might meet a ghost.

And it just goes to show that it doesn’t take violence to keep people around, even after death. Sometimes it just takes love for a home, or for a family. “This is such a special place,” Russ said.

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