Given the rich history of Oswego County, tales of ghosts and spirits have been around for centuries in nearly every corner of Oswego County
by Tim Nekritz firstname.lastname@example.org
The city and county of Oswego boast rich histories that are also lucrative in one aspect of local lore: ghost stories. And our area hosts attractions, businesses, events, organizations and more that cater to folks interested in raised spirits.
Given the rich history of Oswego County and its connection with historical highlights such as the Seven Years War and War of 1812, as well as serving as the northern terminus of the Underground Railroad, tales of ghosts and spirits have been around for centuries in nearly every corner of the county.
In 2022, the Hometown Ghost Stories YouTube Channel posted a documentary titled “The Many Hauntings of Oswego County,” that encompassed a number of local tales and declared “Oswego, New York, is one of the most haunted cities in the entire state.” Their show focused on such folklore as Fort Ontario, the Seneca Hill ghosts of a mother and daughter reported along county Route 57 and the hauntings on Gray Road south of Oswego.
It’s not surprising that Fort Ontario comes up over and over, said Caroline Lamie, who is the office manager and ghost hunt and tour coordinator at Fort Ontario State Historic Site as well as vice president and senior board member of the Central New York Ghost Hunters organization.
“Fort Ontario has a long history of ghost sightings, during the day as well as at night,” Lamie said. “Soldiers would see several. Music, whistling, humming and singing are heard almost daily. Sometimes you can walk into a building and hear ‘hello’ or ‘hi.’”
Spectral soldiers such as George Fikes and Basil Dunbar are the most famous ones, but ghost sightings span centuries back, including by one soldier who left his post when spooked, and was almost court-martialed until his friends backed him up, Lamie said.
“We have a lady that says her name is Lizzy, she tends to be weeping, and a boy, David, that is very talkative,” Lamie said. “We even have a picture of a young shadowy boy. All different uniforms have been spotted. Even wide brimmed hats.”
Ghost sightings and folklore are part of the draw for some visitors. “I get called down to admissions to talk to people with an interest,” Lamie said. “People assume we are haunted because we are old and our history.”
But notable ghost stories can be found throughout the county. The Haunted History Trail website also notes the Starr Clark Tin Shop, a stop in Mexico on the Underground Railroad where “witnesses have reported shadows, voices and the feeling of being touched,” and Casey’s Cottage at Mexico Point State Park where visitors report “hearing faint organ music or cries for help, furniture being moved, candles jumping off shelves, missing keys found in bizarre places, the sense of being watched and sightings of a young girl standing near a tree under which she was buried.”
Ghost investigation has scared up cyclical interest in popular culture, regaining notice through such TV shows as “Ghost Adventures,” now on the Discovery Channel, and “Ghost Hunters” on the Travel Channel. Inspired by these shows, two young YouTubers, Sam Golbach and Colby Brock, have brought their passion for paranormal investigation to a whole new generation through their Sam and Colby channel with more than nine million subscribers.
The appeal of stories of ghosts and spirits has been alive in the community for quite a while, especially when the late Rosemary Nesbitt — a city historian and SUNY Oswego professor — would hold the annual Tales from the Haunted Harbor in the Oswego’s Maritime District every fall.
Nesbitt would enthrall audiences with such popular tales as the ghosts of Seneca Hill, the story of the girl in the glass coffin (later turned into an original play by campus colleague Mark Cole), the ill-fated soldier Dunbar and many more. Families would gather on the westside pier near the LT-5 tugboat to hear Nesbitt spin her tales annually until she died in 2009.
SUNY Oswego theater professor Jonel Langenfeld picked up the mantle of that tradition but realized that there was only one Rosemary Nesbitt and other tales to explore. She transitioned it into a similarly family-friendly event that also incorporated SUNY Oswego students, now known as the Ghost and Storytelling Tour at the Oswego Town Cemetery.
This shift came about after connecting with the Oswego Town Historical Association and Town Historian George DeMass.
“George asked if I would do a cemetery storytelling of the people buried in that cemetery and also play Dr. Mary Walker,” the former Oswego Town resident who was also the only woman to win the Congressional Medal of Honor, she said.
“I was honored to be asked, but suggested we do the storytelling with my storytelling class,” Langenfeld said. “Since then the storytelling event has really grown and we are now into our eighth year. The students love researching the local history of Oswego and all the people who once lived here including the indigenous people.”
The work was right up Langenfeld’s alley, as she said spirits have reached out to her to ask her to learn about, and tell, their stories since she was a child. “Others may also identify with this,” Langenfeld said. “My abilities are particularly strong in cemeteries and with those I am close to or have some sort of connection.”
A ghost walk
A new offering in the Port City is Haunted Oswego Tours, 90-minute guided walks of Oswego’s historic westside neighborhoods from Water Street up to the Franklin Park Historic District. They take place every Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday from May through October.
I had the opportunity to take one this spring, and it offered a variety of well-known and lesser-known supernatural stories presented in an entertaining manner. What was additionally fun was that the other people on the tour had their own ghost stories to share with our guide and fellow travelers.
According to the tours’ website, organizers of sibling business Oswego Food Tours would hear a lot of memories and ghost stories about the Port City while doing those tours — leading to this new offering.
Another outlet for tales of local lore, expected to debut early this fall, is the YouTube–social media series titled “Empire Spirits,” which features “a unique cast of local radio personalities, business owners and hosts of multiple internet shows and podcasts,” said one of the hosts and promoters, Sandy Silverstein. “We all also have varying degrees of experience in the paranormal investigation world.”
The show will focus on investigating reportedly haunted bars and restaurants throughout Central New York “to see if they live up to their reputation,” Silverstein said. They plan to have five weekly episodes in season one leading up to Halloween. “One of the really neat things about investigating restaurants is that they have soooo much history. And action. And drama.”
The various personalities of the cast — which includes Bill Vinci, who also hosts and produces “The Empire Plate,” “Empire Unique Eats” and “Chef up and Cook” — are a key part of making it entertaining, Silverstein said.
“We are all very interested and intrigued by the paranormal world and have a unique perspective on ghosts and spirits,” Silverstein noted. “For example, my perspective during an investigation is one of the empath–medium–seasoned investigator, while Bill’s might be trying to face his fears. Viewers can without a doubt expect a combination of mystery, action and fun.”
Pursuing the paranormal
Seeking out the paranormal is also a passionate side quest for some. Central New York Ghost Hunters (CNYGH) is a volunteer organization founded by a police officer who “responded to numerous calls that they couldn’t figure out,” Lamie said. “So in 1997, she and some like-minded friends decided to try and help these families. All of them had a big interest in the science of the paranormal as well as the legends and lore.”
The group eventually became a nonprofit organization and remains active with regular investigations and other activities. At one point, they hosted a series, still viewable on YouTube, titled “CNY Spirits.” They also help organizations such as Fort Ontario, other historical sites, libraries and museums raise funds through special events.
“We are very active,” Lamie said. “At least two times a month we are out investigating or doing presentations to raise funds. CNYGH Inc. is always finding haunted venues to investigate.”
As summer blends into fall, offerings related to ghost stories grow greater in number. Lantern tours of Fort Ontario in August and September, feature tales “based on the real stories that happened at the Fort,” Lamie said. “Stranger-than-life stories. Hollywood-can’t-make-this-stuff-up stories!”
In October, Friends of Fort Ontario and CNY Ghost Hunters will host a popular Ghost Tour and Hunt for the public. “We always sell out!” Lamie said.
The Ghost and Storytelling Tour at the Oswego Town Cemetery, featuring Langenfeld and her students, is planned for Saturday, Oct. 28, once again telling tales of noteworthy figures buried in the cemetery as well as Harriett Tubman, Chief Pontiac, Solomon Northup and others who had an impact on Oswego and the wider world.
In whatever form they take, ghost stories have maintained popularity — whether told around a fire millennia ago or today on a YouTube channel —for many reasons.
“People love ghost stories. These stories frighten and intrigue because they are unknown … no one is alive to speak exactly of what death and the afterlife (depending on what you believe) is really like,” Langenfeld said.
“People also love to hear stories about where they live and relate to similar experiences,” she added. “Hearing local ghost stories and history tales allows us to relate to where we live, who we are and our experiences, our commonalities. They can also validate us in so many ways … especially if we recognize something from a story…be that a place, a vision, a feeling. Humans are very interested in what they cannot explain … even in what they may not believe.”
A new offering in the Port City is Haunted Oswego Tours, 90-minute guided walks of Oswego’s historic westside neighborhoods from Water Street up to the Franklin Park Historic District. They take place every Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday from May through October. For more information visit
TIM NEKRITZ is director of news and media for SUNY Oswego, where he spearheads telling the stories of the campus community.