Thursday, January 24, 2013

The Ghost of Asa Chichester

Anyone who knows the historic Peace and Plenty Inn in Huntington is probably aware that the circa 1680 home has supposedly been haunted for years by the ghost of one of the innkeepers, Asa Chichester. It is amazing to note that when doing research about the house, article after article can be found regarding this. Asa may be one of the most famous and written-about ghosts on Long Island. To understand him, it is important to know the history of the wonderful old home he once lived in.  

The Peace and Plenty Inn was owned by the Chichester family, who ran it as an inn for over 200 years. Located on a busy stagecoach route, Peace and Plenty became a prominent meeting place, and had even had the likes of Walt Whitman and President Theodore Roosevelt as guests. It is a 1½-story red shingle-clad building with a clapboard gabled roof. Although there have been numerous additions since its original construction, they were built early on. Today the house is on the National Register of Historic Places, and upon entering it you feel as if you have stepped back in time. Perhaps this is why Asa seems so comfortable here. 

Originally, the inn consisted of two rooms, and a bedroom in the attic crawl space. A winding, narrow boxed staircase led to a trap door that opened into the loft. These interesting features remain in the house today. These rooms, which obviously are the oldest part of the house, have been said to be the most haunted areas, although Asa has been known to roam other rooms in the house, and in the front and back yard. 

A tap room was added sometime before 1700. A unique 17th century removable hinged wall still exists in the house, and was originally used to temporarily enlarge the room when town meetings were held.  

Currently, the sprawling home, with its wide plank floors and beamed ceilings, has five bedrooms, four baths, and four fireplaces with interior chimneys, and sits on 2.3 acres in West Hills.  

Asa was born into the Chichester family on October 18, 1788. Like his forebears, when he was old enough he undertook to run the family business as an inn. In the mid-1800’s, however, business began to decline at Peace and Plenty because Jericho Turnpike was extended into Huntington. It was much easier to travel the new, direct road into Huntington, rather than taking the old stage coach and wagon route. There came a time when Asa had to make the decision to close the inn. This must have been difficult for him to do, since the inn had been part of his family’s history for so long.  

Asa died on May 13, 1841, and was buried in a family cemetery located on the original property. Once the land was divided up, the cemetery became part of someone else’s plot around the corner. The descendants of Asa remained in the house, using it as a private residence, until 1915. For a short time after that it was used as a boarding house, but was eventually turned back into a private residence. 

It is unknown exactly when the hauntings began. According to historical records, all of them mention Asa as the primary ghost. There is some speculation that perhaps his father, Captain Eliphalet Chichester, may also haunt the house. Eliphalet lived at the inn during the American Revolution, and he was known to the British as “one of the worst rebels in Huntington.” He, too, is buried in the old cemetery nearby. 

Most of the stories point to Asa as being the real ghost of the house, however. This is believed because he was the last of the Chichester innkeepers. Some say that the guilt Asa suffered for closing the inn makes him come back, while others think he may just miss the old place. Some believe that perhaps he left something concealed in the walls of the inn, and is coming back to retrieve it. 

Records dating back to 1970, and through the 80’s and 90’s, indicate that mysterious incidents have taken place in the house. The Long Island Press wrote, “Strange things have happened: a lamp and several candles have mysteriously disappeared without a trace. Footsteps have been heard, and footprints have appeared leading from the house. It is hardly likely that anyone would walk backwards to the house, and then leave, occupying the same footprints.” 

Another article from an unknown source states, “His [Asa’s] presence in the house has been detected in several ways. Not just the usual mysterious footsteps, queer sounds in the walls, and swinging doors, which accompany any tale about a ghost, but there is much stronger proof of Asa’s existence at Peace and Plenty. Odd objects such as a lamp and several milk bottles have disappeared without a trace. At times, Asa can almost be considered a poltergeist.”

The house has seen quite a number of owners throughout the years. An owner I interviewed in the early 90’s claimed that many things occurred electrically. Lights would go on and off, and the TV and stereo would go on and off or change channels. Her dog even refused to go up the narrow staircase to the loft bedroom. A passing blue light was once seen on this staircase as well. I spoke to another owner back in 2003 who claimed that Asa hadn't been there since she owned the house, and that she liked living there very much. 

So is the story of Asa just a legend that has been passed along through history, or does his spirit live on at the Peace and Plenty? Perhaps only the spirit of Asa could answer this most mysterious question.      

You can read this story in its entirety in Ghosts of Long Island; Stories of the Paranormal.


Friday, January 4, 2013

The Wickham Murders of 1854

The Wickham family of Cutchogue has an extraordinary farming history here on Long Island, but in 1854 they had a great tragedy befall them. The Wickham murders were one of the most horrifying events to take place on the East End. Like any event of its kind, tales of spirits haunting the place where the murders took place soon followed.  

The Wickham family history can be traced to the southern coast of England. By the middle of the 1600’s the family had fled their homeland for religious reasons and sailed to New England. One of its members, Joseph Wickham, settled on Long Island and operated a tannery in Bridgehampton. In 1698, he moved to Cutchogue and bought the old English house and 160 acres of fertile farmland which ran from the main road south to Peconic Bay. Joseph Wickham farmed the land until his death in 1732, at which time the land was willed to his eldest son, Joseph Jr. Now, 281 years later, the land is still being farmed by descendants of Joseph Wickham, and the old farmhouse where the murders took place still remains.  

James Wickham, who was married to Frances Post of Quogue, had left his grocery firm of Wickman and Corwin in New York City to retire to the family farm in Cutchogue. He farmed the land with a black servant and an Irish farmhand named Nicholas Bain.  

According to written descriptions, “Bain was a huge, black-haired fellow who walked with a long, rolling gait.” He had worked for Wickham for two to three years. Supposedly Bain had a drinking problem, and would often make advances towards the servant girls. One girl in particular, Ellen Holland, he had asked to marry. Upon her rejection, Bain became very angry. James Wickham argued with him, and had had enough of the turmoil Bain was causing on the farm. On Wednesday, May 31, 1854, Wickham terminated Bain’s employment. Bain continued to hang around and torment Ellen. By Friday morning, June 2nd, Bain was forcibly evicted from the farm by James Wickham. 

Nicholas Bain left for the railroad station in Greenport, all the while screaming for revenge on Wickham. He did not board a train; instead he checked his bags in town and began the ten-mile walk back to Cutchogue. By 11:00 that night, he was back at the farm and all was quiet. Searching through the yard, he came across a pole axe, picked it up and headed to the farmhouse.

Minutes later, two servant girls living in the house heard the screams of Mrs. Wickham, and the sounds of someone being beaten. Then Mrs. Wickham cried out, “Nicholas, don’t kill him, don’t kill him!”

The girls, fearing for their own lives, escaped through the windows just as Nicholas was entering their room. They ran to the neighbors, and Joseph Corwin, William Betts and Dr. Carpenter came immediately to the Wickham farm. 

The murderer was most definitely Bain, because he had left his hat behind in the rush to escape. Also, his very large bloody footprints tracked away from the house. Because of Bain’s size, only one person could have made those footprints.  

A manhunt began. The Wickham killings were the first murders the Town of Southold had seen in thirty years. That, coupled with the fact that everyone knew and liked the Wickhams, caused the town’s inhabitants to erupt in fury. Hundreds of men set out with pistols and rifles, looking for the murderer. At this point, Bain was successfully hiding in the woods. Days went by, and the enraged men kept searching the woods, the hills and the valleys. On the morning of the Wickhams’ funeral, the discharge of a pistol created a general alarm, and the teams of men knew that Bain had been caught. He had been captured in a south side swamp, east of Cutchogue. 

Upon their arrival, the men found Bain, greatly fatigued, with a two-inch wound visible on his throat. The New York Herald wrote, “In his pockets was found a single barrel pistol, loaded with small shot, a pocket knife, and a razor case, from which it is supposed he took the razor to kill himself, and after inflicting the wound threw it away. In his pockets was also found bread and cake enough for him to subsist upon for two days. The bottoms of his pantaloons were saturated with blood, apparently from that of his victims.” 

The townspeople wanted to hang him right away, and yelled all sorts of slurs at him. The sheriff stepped in and immediately led him to Riverhead, followed by a band of thousands of men and boys. Within four months Bain was convicted of first degree murder. On December 15, 1854 he was hanged in a courtyard behind the jail in Riverhead. The militia from Sag Harbor was called in to keep order within the angry mob of people who showed up for his execution. It turned out to be the largest crowd of spectators ever to attend a public execution in the county. 

Once dead, Nicholas Bain’s body was taken down, placed in a wooden coffin and brought to the south side of the Peconic River to a place named Egypt. He was buried in an unmarked grave.  

According to the local authorities, it was determined that Frances Wickham had died a few minutes before her husband. The Wickhams had no children, and as their wills were written the farm would have gone to her family, the Posts of Westhampton, had she outlived her husband. It is because she died first that the farm remained in the Wickham family.

You can read this story in its entirety along with an interview from members of the Wickham family in Ghosts of Long Island; Stories of the Paranormal.