Forget choreographed spooks and people dressed up as ghosts and vampires. From former battlefields and cemeteries to mansions and inns, the Hudson Valley is home to a number of reportedly haunted places, many of which are open to visitors.
Linda Zimmermann, a Chester resident who grew up in Pearl River, is considered an expert on paranormal activity in the region. The author of "Hudson Valley Haunts: Historic Driving Tours," plus more than a dozen other books on the paranormal, she's been investigating local haunted spots for about 15 years. She also gives lectures and ghost tours throughout the region, including recent gigs at Boscobel in Garrison and at Patchett House in Montgomery.
"I think the Hudson Valley is so haunted because it has been inhabited for so long," she said, noting that centuries of history on local soil includes Revolutionary War and Native American battles.
Here are Zimmermann's picks for 13 of the most haunted places in the region that are open to the public. Read about their haunted history and then experience them for yourself... if you dare.
Fort Montgomery State Historic Site
Perched along the Hudson River, Fort Montgomery was the site of a Revolutionary War battle in 1777. Today, visitors have been known to see figures dressed as soldiers on the 14 acres of empty fields open to exploring.
"People today see them, and they think they're re-enactors, like guys in costumes, but they're not," Zimmermann said. "People would come into the Visitor's Center and say, 'that was a great re-enactor you hired.' And they would respond, 'we didn't, we didn't hire anybody.' And they go out, and the person's gone."
Info: 1041 Route 9W, Fort Montgomery; 845-446-2134; nysparks.com/historic-sites/28/details.aspx
The Old '76 House in Tappan
As one of America's oldest taverns, the '76 House was also where Major Andre, the co-conspirator in the Benedict Arnold treason case, was imprisoned before he was hanged. So perhaps it's not surprising that according to Zimmermann, visitors to the restaurant have claimed to see a man with a red British officer's uniform. They also hear "lots of footsteps" and even see objects move. "I was witness to something moving on a table nearby," Zimmermann added.
She recommended asking for Table No. 2, because "that's where this particular candle holder moves, and things drop off the table."
Info: 110 Main St., Tappan; 845-359-5476; 76house.com
Huguenot Street Historic District in New Paltz
Preserved since the late 19th century, the Huguenot historic district features homes that retain the furnishings and heirloom artifacts of its era. It seems to have retained the spirits of past residents, too.
"People have seen everything from a headless woman in a brown dress" to "an old colonial guy with an ax over his shoulder," Zimmermann said.
Historic Huguenot Street will host a haunted scavenger hunt for children and families at 2 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 27 .
Info: 81 Huguenot St., New Paltz; 845-255-1660; www.huguenotstreet.org
Boscobel House and Gardens in Garrison
Zimmermann, who gave sold-out ghost lectures at the Boscobel estate on Oct. 18 and 19, said that visitors have claimed to see the ghost of the former owner, Elizabeth Dyckman. "They see her standing at an arched window at the back of the house," she said, noting that Dyckman's ghost is reportedly wearing a blue gown and looking out into the distance.
"I actually went there with a psychic who didn't know anything about the place, and she said, 'Oh I see a woman standing at that window,' and she described the dress and everything. And she said she's standing at the window because she's very confused because this isn't the view that she remembers. And sure enough, the house was moved from where it had originally been built. It was moved like 15 miles and it had been dismantled and reassembled in Garrison."
Info: 1601 Route 9D, Garrison; 845-265-3638; www.boscobel.org
Patchett House in Montgomery
The Patchett House, an inn built in the 19th century, became a private residence for the Patchett family in the late 1890s. At some point in its history, it was transformed into a funeral home. Today, it houses The Wallkill River School.
"It's a very photogenic place, but it's really haunted," said Zimmermann, who recently gave ghost tours at the venue.
The benevolent spirit of Emma Patchett has been spotted in the building, but a less friendly presence has also been felt there, Zimmermann said. She also noted that people have experienced moving objects and lights going on by themselves, and added that she herself had an unnerving visit when on site as a ghost investigator -- she felt an "icy cold sensation," heard terrifying loud noises and smelled burned gunpowder.
The spookiest place in the Patchett House is the basement, where Zimmermann said visitors can see embalming sinks, a relic from the building's incarnation as a funeral home.
When visitors are brought to this area, there've "been a few people screaming over the years."
Info: 232 Ward St., Montgomery; 845-457-2787; www.wallkillriverschool.com
Smalley's Inn in Carmel
Built in the 19th century, Smalley's Inn has at various times in its history served as a morgue, a saloon and a hotel. "[It's] one of the most haunted places in the area," Zimmermann said.
Visitors claim to "see a little girl that they describe wearing a 'Little House on the Prairie' dress. And actually, the original owners' daughter died when she was only 7 years old. They actually had her tombstone in the basement of this place," Zimmermann said.
Civil War-era soldiers have also been spotted at Smalley's Inn -- there was a temporary morgue in the inn's basement during that era. Other spooky occurrences include ringing phones, lights going on and off, cold spots, and people getting tugged. Zimmermann said that she even had her own experience with the latter during a visit.
"When I tried to step forward, I jerked to a halt because somebody had grabbed hold of my coat. And I was actually there with a reporter and I turned around and was about to say, 'you big baby, let go of me!' and she had her hands up, 'it's not me, it's not me!' She saw my coat being tugged."
In addition to the year-round ghostly occurrences, the venue really does it up for Halloween with decorations and the like.
Info: 57 Gleneida Ave., Carmel; 845-225-9874
Lindenwald in Kinderhook
Once owned by former president Martin Van Buren, Kinderhook estate Lindenwald is reportedly home to an unusual ghost Zimmermann refers to as the "demon Aunt Jemima."
"There was a servant named Aunt Sarah who ruled the kitchen with an iron fist and everyone was terrified of her," she said. "Even after she died, people claim to see her in the kitchen. And one guy said she chased him out of the kitchen."
"I spoke to some of the people who ran the house and they claimed that several times when they go to open up in the morning, they would smell fresh, buttery pancakes cooking."
"When I first heard it, I had to laugh. I said, 'c'mon, ghosts make pancakes?' It was the site director who told me that, and [he] named all these other people who've experienced it."
Info: 1013 Old Post Rd., Kinderhook; 518-758-9689; www.nps.gov/mava/index.htm
The Gomez Mill House in Marlboro
The Gomez Mill House, which was originally built in 1714, was an Indian trading post before it became a private home, and today, a museum. Zimmermann recalled the spooky circumstances surrounding a house fire at the venue several years ago.
"Three firemen went in and they came running out so terrified that they actually went to a priest to get themselves blessed. And they won't talk about what happened, but one of the men refuses to step back in the house, and he's a local politician."
Other reported ghost sightings include spotting two children.
"One of the women who was there cleaning up heard a door slamming under the staircase. And she went to close the door, and there on the staircase peering between the balusters was a little boy with a Dutch boy haircut, just kind of grinning at her like he was playing a joke on her. She basically screamed and ran."
"Another time, somebody else was cleaning upstairs and heard a little girl laughing. And there's an old rocking horse in the hallway that was rocking back and forth as if someone was sitting on it." The rocking horse can be traced to a little girl, Emily Armstrong, who lived on the property until she was 5 years old. At that point she fell in the nearby mill stream and died after hitting her head, Zimmermann said.
The Gomez Mill House is closed for renovations and will reopen in April 2013.
Info: 11 Mill House Rd., Marlboro; 845-236-3126; gomez.org
Shanley Hotel in Napanoch
"There are ghosts in just about every single room," said Zimmermann of The Shanley Hotel, which has been operating since the late 19th century. "Inch for inch, it might be one of the most haunted places in the Hudson Valley."
Zimmermann even recounted her personal -- and terrifying -- experience at the venue.
"There's a secret little room that was used for bootlegging under a coat closet. And I was down there checking it out, and as I was climbing up this ladder to get out, I actually felt somebody grab my legs. I can't begin to tell you how terrifying that was. I jumped out of there as fast as I could. My legs were tingling for like an hour after that."
Zimmermann said that during Prohibition there was a room at the Shanley Hotel where people would get into physical fights. She also said that there were murders and other deaths on the property throughout its history, which people can sense.
"You can spend the night there," she added. "If you're brave enough."
Info: 56 Main St., Napanoch; 845-210-4267; shanleyhotel.com
Wilderstein Historic Site in Rhinebeck
The grand Wilderstein estate was once home to Daisy Suckley, the cousin and rumored paramour of former president Franklin D. Roosevelt. Zimmermann said that "people have smelled the scent of a woman's perfume -- like old-time perfume. They have heard footsteps and sensed somebody right there with them."
Another ghost spotted at Wilderstein is a "crooked figure."
"There was a servant who was horseback riding and fell off and broke every bone in her body and died," Zimmermann said. "So people speculate that she's one of the ones haunting the place."
Info: 330 Morton Rd., Rhinebeck; 845-876-4818; www.wilderstein.org
Cold Spring Depot
This popular Cold Spring restaurant and former train depot was the site of one of Hudson Valley's most famous murders.
"A woman was being abused by her husband, and she ran to the train station and was going to go to her brother's for safety, and she wanted to catch the 10:15 p.m. [train]," Zimmermann said. "At 10:13 p.m., her husband came in and stabbed her to death on the waiting bench in the waiting room. So she missed living by two minutes, and people claim that at 10:13 p.m., they see and feel and hear this woman on the spot where she was killed."
Info: 1 Depot Square, Cold Spring; 845-265-5000; www.coldspringdepot.com
Sleepy Hollow Cemetery
Zimmermann said that she recently had someone tell her about ghostly figures of "men, women and children drifting through the cemetery. And not just at night either, but during the day as well."
"The Sleepy Hollow Cemetery seems to be particularly haunted," she said.
Sleepy Hollow Cemetery tours are available at various dates and times through Nov. 24.
Info: 540 N. Broadway, Sleepy Hollow; 914-631-0081; sleepyhollowcemetery.org
Bannerman's Castle on Pollepol Island
The century-old Bannerman's Castle, on Pollepol Island in the waters between Beacon and Cold Spring, is thought to be one of the earliest haunted places in the region.
"The castle and surrounding land were even considered haunted by the Indians. They would never go there," Zimmermann said. "In fact, when the Dutch arrived in the 1600s, if they felt threatened by the Indians, they would go to the island, because they knew the Indians wouldn't follow them there. But then the Dutch came to think it was haunted and then they didn't want to go there either."
In terms of the ghostly sights and sounds, visitors have "heard the cries of people" from a nearby shipwreck "screaming for help." They've also reportedly heard horses galloping across the island even though there are no horses there.
Tours to Bannerman's Castle by tour boat or kayak generally take place between May and late October.
Info: 845-831-6346; www.bannermancastle.org