War, scandal and time-worn buildings create a recipe for a town full of history and haunts.
From the outside, Plattsburgh may appear to be the average city. But, getting to know the history reveals its darker side. A fire with no known cause. An innocent woman’s hanging. And the cries of children ringing through a graveyard. There is mystery in this city.
“Whenever you seem to have that depth of history, you seem to have that ‘other,’” Matt Boire of the Greater Adirondack Ghost and Tour Company says. The “other” Boire mentions is the question of what happens after death.
Boire hosts tours throughout the spring, summer and fall months, taking guests to sites of gruesome deaths where the dead walk among the living.
A Controversial Hanging
On Sept. 5, 1824, Peggy Facto’s maimed and bloodied child was found dead in the woods with a string wrapped around its neck. Facto, who worked as a servant for Benjamin Mooers, a lieutenant in the American Revolution and a major general in the War of 1812, was a suspect. But she was not the only one.
Soon after the murder, Facto’s husband disappeared. And there was another man in the story, too. In the months before dogs found the charred and broken body of the infant, says Boire in a Mountain Lake PBS television special, she had been seen “walking around in the company of another man by the name of Francis Labare.”
Both Facto and Labare were indicted for murder in October of that year.
During the trials, Facto was convicted and sentenced to be hanged. Six months later, Facto had a string around her neck and her body was left swinging in front of the Arsenal Lot where Broad Street Commons now stands.
Facto was generally considered responsible for her child’s death. But some think it was Labare.
School Set Ablaze
The Plattsburgh Normal and Training School, built in 1889, once stood where Plattsburgh State’s Hawkins Hall is now located. “It was intended as a two-year teaching and nursing institution,” author Thea Lewis wrote in her book, “Ghosts and Legends of Lake Champlain.”
One night in 1917, 60-year-old head janitor John Blanchard was on duty. That night, Blanchard committed suicide by inhaling illuminating gas, a mixture of hydrogen and hydrocarbon gases used to dispel the shadows of the night. Soon after the suicide, teachers and students reported seeing his figure roaming the halls or peering over the edge of the roof.
Twelve years later, in January 1929, a mysterious fire broke out in the basement of the Normal School. Floor after floor, the building was engulfed in flames and evacuated. The blaze was reported to be a spontaneous combustion which made sense to Lewis because, she wrote, “ghosts rarely leave evidence.”
In 1932, a new building was built on the site, later to be named Hawkins Hall. Though it is not the same structure in which Blanchard died, it is said his presence can still be felt.
Military Stomping Grounds
Throughout North Country history, troops from a number of wars bunked in Plattsburgh’s Old Air Force Base. Nearly 500 people now lie in the Old Post Cemetery there. Among them are more than 100 unknown soldiers and just as many children.
Ghosts, Boire says, communicate with people through something called EVP, electronic voice phenomena, that are silent, but can be detected by recording devices. Ghost hunters interpret the sounds to bridge the gap between living and dead.
One row of the Old Post Cemetery is full of children. A guest on one of his ghost tours, Boire says, was particularly excited about her EVP evidence found there, “In the background there was the sound of children crying.”
The air force base was shut down in 1995 as a part of the Defense Base Realignment Closure Act which closed unnecessary military bases across the country. But it appears some never got the eviction notice.
“Ghosts don’t necessarily have to make their presence known by appearance,” Boire says. “Plattsburgh has got a lot of interesting stories, and a lot of people don’t realize the stuff lurking in their own backyard.”
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