Oct 25, 2011 Russ Tarby Uncategorized
“Real ghosts aren’t like the ghosts you see in cartoons,” says Mark Falso of Liverpool, chief investigator for Upstate NY Truth Hunters, as he strolls down South Salina Street conducting an ethereal tour of downtown Syracuse.
No, people who have died don’t dance around in white bed sheets like Casper the Friendly Ghost.
Instead, Falso maintains, they manifest in three primary forms: apparitions, shadows and mists. Sometimes, they reveal themselves in sounds.
Falso should know. He lives in a house on Glendale Avenue in Galeville that’s haunted by the ghost of his wife’s first husband who died 11 years ago, five years before Falso wed the widow.
“We started hearing the sounds of cards shuffling and casino machines and the noise seemed to come from the closet in his daughter’s room,” Falso said. “He liked playing cards and gambling when he was alive.”
At least a half-dozen hauntings have been repeatedly detected in Syracuse.
Of course everyone knows about Clarissa, the Landmark Theatre’s resident phantasm who first surfaced around 1977, when the 1928 movie house at 372 S. Salina St. was being refurbished.
“Ghosts don’t like change,” says photographer Cathryn Lahm. “The backstage renovation that’s going on right now is pretty sure to stir them up.”
“Ghosts often seem to show up if people change things,” he says. “And downstairs in the Landmark the electromagnetism just goes crazy when things are changed. Nobody knows why.” He says the theater’s Salina Street ticket booth is also haunted.
Lahm claims to have snapped an image of Clarissa on the theater’s balcony staircase on May 3, 2008, and she later learned of two more spirits who strut across the stage. “There are also two men,” Lahm said. “One of them is quite mean.”
Clarissa (a.k.a. Claire), on the other hand, seems agreeable enough. At least she’s willing to show herself every now and then.
Sheila was scared
“On a couple of occasions when I was working late,” remembers former Landmark Director Frank Malfitano, “I definitely heard her on the stairs that led to the balcony just outside my office on the mezzanine. Never saw her though.
“Actress Sheila McCrae said she saw her when we were up in the balcony looking over the projection booth, when we inducted Gordon McRae for the first Syracuse Walk of Stars back in 1991. It scared the heck out of her.”
Lahm’s slightly defocused color image of Clarissa isn’t at all scary. It shows a golden-brown-haired 30-something lady in white standing behind a similarly-attired woman who was posing for Lahm on the stairs. As documented in her recent book of photos, “Clarissa’s Ghostly Debut: Out of the Shadows and Into the Light,” Lahm also captured images of green “orbs” in both the main auditorium and the balcony.
In fact, Lahm’s Landmark experience adds three more forms to Falso’s four.
While the top Truth Hunter has detected mists, shadows, sounds and apparitions (recognizable individuals such as Clarissa), Lahm reports that she sensed a presence — “I felt like somebody was watching me” — when she shot a green orb hovering in the glass of a center-aisle door. Later, she distinctly smelled lilacs, a flower often linked to Clarissa.
So, a phantom might also manifest as an unseen presence, an orb or an aroma.
Nineteenth-century children playing on the sidewalks outside the Erie Canal Museum are among the other oft-sighted specters in Syracuse.
“People have seen various apparitions around here,” says Dan Ward, curator of the museum at 318 Erie Blvd. East, Downtown. “A number of people have seen children playing in front of the museum and there’s also the ghost of woman who fell off a canal boat and drowned as the vessel entered the weigh chamber.”
Museum associate J.P. Body (BOW-dee), who has worked there for six years, feels “cold spots” indicating a paranormal presence near the scales. Canal boats were weighed there in the Weighlock Building, built circa 1850, when the Erie was a major player in U.S. commerce.
After he became curator in 2009, Ward himself was welcomed to the building by an apparition.
“I saw something the first week I worked here,” he remembers. “I was on my computer and a man walked up and stood in my doorway of office. I asked him if I could help him, and then I noticed he was translucent. He turned around and walked away and, yeah, he maintained his translucent form, which is something I don’t understand. I wasn’t scared or anything because I don’t believe in that stuff, but I went over and asked Steve Caraccilo, the museum’s operations manager who has been here the longest, and he said other people have seen things like that.”
‘The kids’ in calico
Many have seen “the kids.”
“That’s what this local lawyer called them,” says Body, who often mans the museum’s gift shop. “I met him about two weeks after I started working here, and the first thing he said to me was “Have you seen the kids?’ I said, sure, this is a museum that appeals to kids, I see lots of kids here. He said, ‘No. I mean the kids.’ And I still didn’t know what he meant. “‘Don’t worry,’ he said. ‘You will.’”
Body thought little of the attorney’s unexplained remarks, but two weeks later he found himself working at the souvenir shop on a Sunday morning.
“And you know on Sundays it’s really, really deserted Downtown,” Body says. Suddenly, he heard the sound of children talking loudly and laughing and he anticipated museum visitors. Instead, as he glanced out the window at the alley between the Weighlock Building and its archive warehouse, he saw “fleeting images of at least two or three kids going around the corner of the archive building.” The sight so startled the museum employee that he ran outside to see more.
“But I could only make out partial images,” Body says. The children weren’t quite all there, he said. They seemed partially transparent.
“I did see like calico clothing,” Body says, “and a fleeting image of a checkered shirt, a straw hat and a bonnet.” All of which were common attire for lower-class 19th century youngsters.
In her book, “Ghosts Along the Erie,” Port Byron author Mary Ann Johnson recounts a tale of a poltergeist named Mr. Buchanan who knocked books from the shelves and knick knacks from tables.
“Witnesses abound,” Johnson writes. “Some saw the classic vaporous, ghostlike image; all swore that they had seen the figure in good moonlight inside the library. All seem to agree the ghost was that of Buchanan, who once owned a fleet of canal boats…it was discovered many years earlier a man had been murdered near the spot where the ghost first appeared — the canal-weighing scales.”
Ward confirms that the museum library is named after the site’s first director, Frank Buchanan Thomson, but cannot confirm the name nor the existence of that particular
Body, the gift shop clerk who saw “the kids,” is not so sure.
“Whenever you’re in the library,” he says, “you do feel like you’re not alone.”
Falso, the Truth Hunter, points out several other city structures affected by revenants.
The defunct Hotel Syracuse, he says, is literally chilled by the presence of a young man who was killed in a fall down an elevator shaft during New Year’s Eve revelries in the mid-1980s. So the presence of “cold spots,” as also sensed at the Erie Canal Museum, is an eighth way to experience the great beyond.
Another elevator, the perennially “out-of-order” City Hall lift, is said to be frequented by the spirits of two boys who died there while horsing around on the elevator overnight.
The old brick building which houses the Bob Cecile Community Center at 176 W. Seneca Turnpike previously served as the Valley Fire Station. Many years ago a dedicated young firefighter died an untimely death, and so his presence remains wandering the second floor of the workplace he so loved.
Falso also reports spooks seen in the Syracuse University area.
“There’s a boy who hung himself in Oakwood Cemetery,” he says, “and students who live in Thomas Hall at SU are always hearing noises from a bathroom, a ghost flushing a toilet, which often overflows.”
On July 2, 1918, an explosion of nearly two tons of dynamite at a TNT factory at Split Rock Quarry in the town of Onondaga leveled the structure and led to the death of at least 50 men. After sightings of an orange, and later a green, apparition of men, ghost-hunting was banned there.
While most afterlife experts agree that untimely death is more likely to encourage a presence to linger, some see such stereotyping as simply theoretical.
“There are spirits everywhere,” said Rhonda Revette, co-chairwoman of the Syracuse Ghost Tracking Society. “That’s a standard belief about ghosts who suffered violent deaths, but it’s all theory. And even in all the scientific investigations going on, all the equipment they use, it’s all based on theory.”