October 7th, 2012 by Magdalena Tabor
Having just received our invitation to Raynham Hall’s Halloween Masquerade Dance, (the theme being the Culper Spy Ring) to be held on Saturday, October 27th, I thought I might fill you in on last year’s event written as follows:
The snow that began earlier in the day was still peltering in horizontal sheets, too wet and slushy to be anything but a hindrance. I almost backed out, relishing the thought of a cozy night indoors with freshly baked banana bread and a bowl of hot soup made from scratch. That, and a scary movie to kick off the Halloween festivities. But Raynham Hall beckoned. Its ghostly garden where I’d sat waiting for Michael a year ago was still fresh on my mind. It spoke to me then as it does now. We would go.
Upon arriving, the house was still. Not a flicker of light glowed from a single window. No doubt the event was cancelled because of the weather. Maybe we should have called first. But the door opened into a dimly lit corridor already filled with waiting people; prospective ghost hunters, thrill seekers, ordinary folk. One small lamp from somewhere cast shadowy expectance into the darkened recessed corners. Some gloomy music added to the atmosphere. The last few stragglers arrived ushering in the wind and wet.
We were ready to begin our annual ghost hunting expedition. Assembled in the main hall before the fireplace, (the vortex, it was said), where souls enter and exit from the spirit world into the the house, we stared in anticipation of its next spectral inhabitant to make its grand entrance. But it remained as it was. A fireplace.
Following in single file through an unlit passageway, we found ourselves in the colonial kitchen, a faint redolence of something spicy still lingering. A local paranormal group offered their expertise on the hows and whats used to track our spiritual counterparts. An ordinary flashlight flicked itself on and off intermittently throughout the session much to everyone’s amusement. We were soberly reminded this was a sure indication that the spirits were present and wished to establish contact.
Afterwards, we were extended free reign of the house, the still darkened rooms roped off but allowing us to peer into its depths. After some adjustment to the lack of light, a movement was detected and with prolonged consideration determined that the would be “ghost” was a person in period guise staged to give us a fright. It might have worked but we wondered how the lady in the dark could possibly read her book as she gently turned the pages.
Upstairs in the nursery, the ghosts of children past played with antique dolls in utter silence. Two were playing patty cake in slow motion as though immersed in a murky sea while chanting in such a low tone as to render the rhyme inaudible. Very creepy. Small black hooded figures sat perfectly still alongside the more distinguishable human (?) forms.
In another bedroom, a woman sat rocking in the dark contemplating her non existence, while a front bedchamber was apparently empty of anyone but for a breath of wind moving the canopy that draped to the floor. I checked but no window was open, yet the motion repeated itself every few seconds like clockwork. Aha! I found the fan I was looking for off to one corner of the room. Nice prop. But later, upon complimenting this act of deception, I was assured they had simply forgotten to turn it off. Very effective nonetheless.
We ended our night with a reading by a kindly gentleman in an exotic version of a Dixie Cup hat embellished with a tassel who saw me as a gardener in his crystal ball. I hate gardening but didn’t have the heart to let on. I do love gardens though, so maybe he was half right. Perhaps next year he’ll see me for the writer I like to believe I am, or at the very least, writing in a garden.
Thanks to everyone at Raynham Hall for another imaginative Halloween event. The black hooded boy was spied by Michael through a crack in the door eating a cookie in a brightly lit back room. It’s comforting to know that even in the netherworld they take time out for a cookie now and again.
So……….whadayathink? Raynham Hall is reputed to be The Most Haunted House On Long Island, beginning with its illustrious connection to the Revolutionary War. With everyone attending this year’s event in period dress, who’s to say who’s real and who is not. Before you answer….May I have this dance?
October 25th, 2011 by Magdalena Tabor
To experience Raynham Hall (located in Oyster Bay, Long Island) is to transport yourself back to the days of the Revolutionary War. Built in 1738, it played a center role in General George Washington’s spy ring. Focus your eyes on the house itself, letting the neighboring buildings blur. Imagine it in its original setting situated in lush fields and meadows, an apple orchard that once lay just beyond its front door. Succumb to the lazy drone of summer. The scent off the bay. Smell the hay drying in the sun. Submit to the changing season for it is now October. Shadows fall. A swish of petticoats is heard on the stairs and fades down the hallway with the lingering scent of roses. It mingles with the wood smoke and an apple pie spiced with cinnamon. The stomp of boots. Men in uniform enter, exit. The air pulsates with excitement for what is overheard is a plot to pay Benedict Arnold to surrender his troops to the British. The Townsend family are Patriots forced to house Loyalist troops. In exchange for their hospitality, they will ferry this information to George Washington who will foil the plan and expose Benedict Arnold for the traitor he is.
Meanwhile romance permeates the air; the pipe smoke wreathing a British soldier and young Sally Townsend in a first ever Valentine he presents to her. She will cherish it into her eighties, he having left her behind in the end. The page is creased in sorrow, the words taint the air. The very coldness of it affecting the temperature in her room. The remains of sweet nothings etched onto windowpanes for the love of Sally Townsend are still visible. Is it she who wanders the upper floors at night, candle in hand? Is it he, Lieutenant Colonel John Simcoe, parading his white horse outside her bedroom window? Or is it Major Andre who was captured and hanged for his involvement with Benedict Arnold?
The house is literally alive with history. Every creak, sigh, and shuffle lays claim to what happened in the Townsend household. The smell of wood smoke when there is no fire burning. Apple pies baking when there’s none to be had. The whisper of secrets in love and war, all telltale signs of an ongoing venture. Time does not stand still here. It moves for all eternity. Don’t believe Raynham Hall is haunted? You don’t have to – the spirits will speak for themselves. But don’t ask the elderly gentleman cascading down the stairway. He’s looking for his lower half. Perhaps in life he was told he was only half the man he should have been !
So……………whadayathink? Is a ghost “nothing more than a piece of undigested beef”, as spoken by Scrooge to Marley? You decide. On Saturday, October 29th a live web-cam will be installed at Raynham Hall after 10 pm until the wee hours of the morning. Remember, the museum will be closed…log on to raynhamhallmuseum.org. Happy Halloween!
August 20th, 2011 by Magdalena Tabor
Some may think it rather strange or morose but I enjoy visiting local graveyards; the family plots that stem back to the time of the Revolution. They speak to me in the language of the day, not in the audible sense but in parting words inscribed on the stones themselves. I always begin by picking out the oldest headstones first, working my way up to the late 1800′s. Unfortunately, many of the oldest ones are so time worn by the elements that the writing has been completely obliterated – not even the identity of the person is revealed. Rather sad but reflective of the passing of time and the certainty that nothing lasts forever – not man, not stone. Some stones are so broken that they have been laid flat on the ground where they will weather even further. I’ve seen gravestones on Cape Cod that have been wrapped in a coil of iron to hold them together upright, a form of ingenuity our forefathers would appreciate. Material such as marble, while beautiful, wears away over the years but the reddish looking ones made of sandstone have stood the test of time, its durability made legible even as far back as the 1700′s. Thus, today’s oldest find dates from 1713 – a Major Thomas Jones from the “Kingdom of Ireland” – “From distant lands to the wild waste he came”. One must ponder how suburban Massapequa must have been in those days. Major Jones lies buried behind the Old Grace Church founded in 1844. Various members of the Floyd-Jones family lay claim to this land as their final place of rest just within sight of the circa 1870 family servants cottage; a small narrow 2 story structure painted an earthy red, its eyes shut tight with thick white boards as if it can’t bear to see what’s happened 141 years later. Sadly, the earlier brick built family home the Major had erected fell into disrepair and was later destroyed by fire. It was situated on the banks of the Massapequa Creek next to an old Indian path known today as Merrick Rd.
But who was Major Thomas Jones? I decided to look him up and found to my amazement that he was none other than the namesake for Jones Beach and responsible for the phrase “Keeping up with the Joneses”. Born in 1665 and descended from a noble Irish family, he served in battle under William III in England and under James II of Ireland. He gained a reputation for privateering under King James II (aka piracy made respectable under royal command) but upon the dethroning of the monarch, the Major was among those asked to leave the country. He set his sights on Jamaica (more piracy and looting) before landing in Rhode Island where he became acquainted with his future father-in-law, Captain Thomas Townsend, a wealthy Long Island landowner. He was introduced to daughter Freelove (sounds like a 1960′s name) who must have put her foot down on the piracy business for there was no more talk of that. They married in 1692 and he in turn kept her busy with 7 children. Freelove was of a prominent Quaker family from Norwich, England having acquired land grants from William the Conqueror. Upon their marriage in the New World, a large tract of land was gifted by the father of the bride – land formerly belonging to the Massapequa Indians making Thomas and Freelove the first recorded non-Indian Massapequa settlers. The amount of land Major Jones amassed upon his marriage must have been considerable judging from his resting place in Massapequa to Jones Beach in Wantagh several miles apart, as that portion of land officially became known as Jones Beach State Park, the nautical vision of Robert Moses in 1929. The Floyd-Jones name alone traces back to the time of King James II, 628 years to date. What a lineage. Are you “keeping up?” To add further interest, Freelove was a Townsend whose family was related to the Townsends of Oyster Bay, which held an important role in George Washington’s spy ring.
So you see, a visit to the local graveyard is a lesson in history, a kind of time travel backwards. I would love to experience the progression of time from 1700 Long Island (or even earlier) and witness its gradual change to present day. What was once a vast “wild waste” has been chiseled away to just an acre or so, its surrounding countryside parceled off and hemmed in by modern day homes. A car crunches on the graveled semi-circular drive. A young woman emerges dressed conspicuously in black leggings and a black tank top bearing deep red flowers for one of the newer gravesites. The Floyd-Joneses forgotten and remembered. The graveyard is a lesson in life – not death. A place where the living can contemplate what life might have been like all those years ago. It’s all part of the journey. Two young girls inspect the stones in present day Massapequa. For them, the journey is just beginning. I walk away conscious of my own breathing, my senses sharpened in the salty air. History beneath the soles of my feet.
So……………whadayathink? Are you as fascinated as I am about early American history? Do you slow down every time you see a family owned graveyard and wonder about its inhabitants?