The ghosts of Halloweens past haunt Port Washington

Zareen Johnson and Daniel Devlin, Graphics Editors

You probably do not think of Port Washington as a spooky place.  I did not for most of the year, but it is October and I recently noticed that the iron fence of the cemetery is bent open from the inside, and the howling winds cause doors that I thought were locked to burst open.  Port Washington may not seem like it, but it actually has a couple ghost stories of its own.

During the Second World War, as hundreds of European cities were scorched to ashes, Port Washington’s own Harry Guggenheim created an orphanage to take in British children seeking to escape the terrors of the war.   Under his hospitality, these deprived children were able to live normally after the horrors they witnessed.  For a few years, all was well.  The children were well acclimated to American society, and Guggenheim’s wealth took care of most of their needs.

It was not until a few years later that disaster struck.  The Winter of 1943 was among the harshest New York had ever seen, and the snowstorms that plagued the region came on faster and harder than anything seen before.  Roads looked to be made of sleet, doors froze shut on their hinges, and it seemed as if the lush, vibrant forests were devoid of life entirely.

One night during these storms, Harry was awoken by the sound of screaming.  A column of black smoke rose from the woods.  He rushed from his bed to find a servant who informed him that the orphanage was on fire.  Members of the household attempted to get to it, but the snow was practically impenetrable.  The orphanage burned and burned, and Guggenheim was forced to listen to the bloodcurdling screams as the flames rose higher and higher.  The children were sealed in by nearly seven feet of snow, preventing any attempt at escape.  The smoke billowed and the remnants of the building burned until morning.

The story goes that the last of the children to die was a young girl, about eight or nine, whose spirit still wanders the paths, wearing red ribbons in her hair and a scorched nightgown, searching for anyone who can lay her spirit to rest.

Farther out from Port is the Execution Rocks Lighthouse, which lays out in the Sound between the shores of Sands Point and New Rochelle.  The rocks were out there years before the lighthouse was built in 1847, and it served as a place for executions as the name suggests.

Legend says that in colonial times, the British feared that hanging people would spark rebellion, so instead they chained criminals to the rocks and let them drown as the tide came up.  It is said that the skeletons of previous victims were left there to plague the minds of those who were chained to the rocks next until they drowned as well.  The revenge of the drowned came when a British ship sank at the rocks on their way to pursue Washington’s troops during the Revolutionary War.

This has not been the only terrible misfortune to happen on the island.  In the 1920’s, serial killer Carl Panzram claimed to have used the rocks by the lighthouse to do away with the bodies of 10 sailors he killed in New York before he moved on to kill 11 more people along the East Coast, adding to the souls that died at the little island.  The lighthouse has also had two fires since then—another possible revenge by the executed.

Since the lighthouse was built, there have been multiple claims of spirits floating around the island, though the last Coast Guard employee who worked there denied any such thing.   Today, the little island is available for overnight visitors if you want to try to see the ghosts for yourself.

While you may doubt the paranormal history of Port Washington,  you may find yourself hesitating before you enter Sands Point  again.