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Long Island

Historical hauntings capture Long Islanders' imaginations

Over the course of many years, employees and customers have witnessed paranormal experiences at Villa Paul Restaurant in Hampton Bays. Owner Charles Pensa and manager James Patterson give some history and explain some of the stories of this original 19th century farmhouse, converted into a restaurant. Credit: Randee Daddona

Goosebumps are all in a night’s work for Kerriann Flanagan Brosky of Huntington and Joe Giaquinto of West Sayville. The ghost hunting team has encountered plenty of spine-tingling phenomena in more than a decade of Long Island paranormal investigations — although never anything as tricky or icky as the “Amityville Horror” house’s Red Room or fireplace demon.

“It’s not blood dripping down walls,” said Brosky, 50, who published a book, “Historic Haunts of Long Island” (Haunted America, 2015), about her findings at 30 Long Island haunted places. “I try to get people not to be afraid.”  

Brosky and Giaquinto, 61, a freelance web designer and self-described psychic medium, have used digital recording devices to pick up subtler evidence of the supernatural in places as unlikely as a Huntington patisserie, a North Shore lighthouse and a Hamptons Italian restaurant.

“Sometimes we get phenomena, such as knocking on the walls,” Giaquinto said. “We see things, we record voices, people have experiences of someone touching them when no one else is around.”

Unlike in the movie “Ghostbusters,” though, Brosky and Giaquinto don’t bring a ghost trap. “I’m not really a ‘ghostbuster.’ I actually want them [ghosts] to stay where they are,” Brosky said.

Another team of ghost hunters, Diane Hill of West Hempstead and Joseph Flammer of Brookhaven, say the haunted should embrace the hauntings they’ve confirmed in about 100 paranormal investigations.

“It’s been our experience that a haunting is really about love, when a loved one has passed over,” said Hill, 67, a West Hempstead High School registrar who co-authored a book with Flammer called “Ghosts, Ghouls & Monsters of Long Island” (Schiffer Publishing, 2012).

Hill and Flammer, 62, who teaches developmentally disabled adults, do most of their ghost hunting in Long Island graveyards, where they say the spirits are generally willing.

“If a ghost wants to make contact, it will, and there’s no mistaking it,” Flammer said. On one recent investigation at a Yaphank cemetery, they said a mysterious mist followed them to their car.

So while most Long Islanders have heard about such famously haunted places as Raynham Hall in Oyster Bay, Country House Restaurant in Stony Brook, Katie’s Bar in Smithtown and, of course, the “Amityville Horror” house, the following are some of the Island’s lesser-known haunted spaces — where things may go bump, well, just about any time of the day or night.

Execution Rocks Light Station, off Sands Point  

Execution Rocks may be Long Island’s most remote haunted place. And if local lore is true, the lighthouse built in 1849 on a rock pile in the Long Island Sound deserves its morbid name and grisly reputation. According to legend, the British redcoats in the 18th century allegedly shackled Colonial prisoners to the rocks at low tide, letting them die in a slow and agonizing drowning as the murky waters rose. Some say skeletons were left there to torture the newly condemned, others that screams of the dying could be heard a mile away at Sands Point.

Another story is more rooted in horrific fact. A century ago, an American serial killer, Carl Panzram, admitted dumping some of his victim’s bodies in the waters 100 feet off Execution Rocks.

The stories led paranormal investigators from the Travel Channel series “Ghost Adventures” to spend the night on the island a decade ago. They were told tales of sweet flower fragrances lingering over the bare rock and a ghostly male presence pushing down on workers at the lighthouse.

“I haven’t seen any ghosts, but I believe they’re there,” said Craig Morrison, president of Historically Significant Structures Inc., who is raising funds to restore and preserve the Execution Rocks Light Station.

Morrison, who has himself spent many lonely nights on the island, said of the ghosts: “I don’t mind them, so they don’t bother me.”

Brewster House and other Ward Melville sites

It’s rare that evidence practically falls at a ghost hunters’ feet, but Brosky and Giaquinto said that’s what happened when they explored the William Sidney Mount House in Stony Brook. They came with their recorders at the behest of the Ward Melville Heritage Organization.

“We weren’t there five minutes when this two-by-four plank came crashing down in front of me,” Brosky said. “It was William’s way of telling me he was there,” Brosky said, referring to Mount, the American genre painter (1807-1868) who lived in the house and painted in the upstairs attic. Mount was a spiritualist who attended seances at nearby houses, she said.

Brosky and Giaquinto also trained their digital equipment and extrasensory perception abilities on Ward Melville’s Brewster House, a former family home, tavern and general store dating to 1665, and Thompson House, a historic farmhouse.

“They all have a few ghosts,” Brosky said. In fact, she added, “The whole area, Stony Brook, Setauket, Strongs Neck and St. James have a lot of paranormal activity in particular, probably since so much of the history has been preserved.”

The ghost hunters’ findings intrigued Gloria Rocchio, president of the Ward Melville Heritage Organization. “I’m a skeptic,” Rocchio said when asked whether she believes in ghosts. However, she said, “I would be a believer based on what she [Brosky] showed me in the one house.”

The Ketcham Inn, Center Moriches  

For the past three decades, Mary Field, the Moriches Bay historian, and Bertram E. Seides, founder of the Ketcham Inn Foundation, have been working together to preserve the inn along with its traditions — both hallowed and haunted.

On a recent afternoon, the two preservationists talked about their experiences after midnight in the office at the inn, which was built by blacksmith Samuel Terrell in 1693 and was under private ownership for nearly three centuries through 1989.

Open to the public since 2015, Ketcham Inn “is based in American history and the formation of America. Jefferson and Madison stopped here in 1791,” Seides said, referencing the founding fathers and future U.S. presidents, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison.

Descendants of early owners passed down stories of paranormal activity at the inn, Seides said. A scholar who was a 1940s summer resident reported hearing an attic door slam and a latch move by itself. A more recent visitor “felt the presence” of the ghost of an American Indian man in the inn’s 1693 section, and students conducting a dig in the kitchen area suddenly “felt the temperature change,” Seides said.

“The ghosts don’t go away,” Field, 87, said, pointing her finger at a window in a cedar-shingle door behind which she said spirits have been seen lurking. “There are big ones and little ones,” Field said.

“There are times when the hair stands up on the back of my neck,” said Seides, who once saw what he thought was a silhouette of a girl in an upstairs room.

But neither Field nor Seides fear their resident ghosts. “If you see a ghost in there, they’re friends,” Field said, “they won’t hurt you.”

Villa Paul Restaurant, Hampton Bays

Depending on whom you talk to, the ghosts of a woman, a man and a dog haunt Villa Paul, an Italian and seafood restaurant that opened in 1960 in a building that partly dates to 1840.

James Patterson, 57, of Hampton Bays, who has managed the restaurant for 36 years, says he’s seen a middle-aged male ghost wearing a sweater, and, occasionally, dark shadows traveling across walls.

About three years ago, Patterson said, he had his most startling ghost encounter. He says a woman in a pale-blue dress appeared, then disappeared on a stairway as he was walking to the restaurant kitchen.

“I jumped, she jumped, and she ran downstairs,” Patterson said. “Obviously, I scared her as much as she scared me.”

Villa Paul’s most famous ghost, however, is a canine who has been seen scampering about, perhaps chasing a ghost cat.

“Everybody has a story and the most common ones are about the dog,” said owner Charles Pensa, who lives above the restaurant with his wife, Cheryl, but has yet to see any ghosts, canine or human.

Fiorello Dolce Patisserie, Huntington  

The supernatural phenomena troubling Huntington’s haunted bakery began a decade ago, said Gerard Fioravanti, chef-owner of Fiorello Dolce Patisserie, who has indeed seen ghosts. Many times.

“It started when I saw a white shadowy light pass by me in the kitchen in 2008, two years after we opened,” said Fioravanti, 57, of Huntington. Since then, the patisserie has been a ghost hunter’s dream. “If we’re here by ourselves in the morning, sometimes we’ll hear banging, creaking or thudding,” he said. “Timers go off by themselves, the oven door opens by itself.”

Evidence of a haunting has piled up like layers on a cake. A rolling rack moved by itself a distance of about a foot — along a level floor. A bucket flew off a shelf and barely missed hitting a worker on the head. A paring knife detached from a magnetic board and slid two feet across a table. And an iPad turned itself on and began blasting “Blue Monday,” by the 1980s British band New Order, on a black screen.

Brosky and Giaquinto investigated and recommended telling the ghosts “to go away, don’t bother us,” Fioravanti said. He’s also burned sage inside the building, a traditional ghost cleanser, but said, “they still come back.”

Said Fioravanti of his haunted premises: “You wouldn’t want to spend the night here.”

Author appearances

Long Island’s ghost hunters are making Halloween appearances at area libraries to discuss their books and paranormal investigations.

Diane Hill and Joseph Flammer: Oct. 29, 7 p.m., Port Jefferson Free Library, 631-473-0022; Oct. 30, 7 p.m. Copiague Library, 631-691-1111; Oct.31, 2 p.m., Long Beach Public Library, 516-432-7201.

Kerriann Flanagan Brosky and Joe Giaquinto: Oct. 29, 7 p.m., Bayport-Blue Point Public Library, Blue Point, 631-363-6133; Nov. 4, 2 p.m., Sayville Library, 631-589-4440.

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