Friday, November 21, 2014

A Historic Ghost Story

Among the treasures Gossips recently inherited is a booklet published in 1987 on the occasion of the sesquicentennial of the Town of Greenport. It was prepared by the Greenport Historical Society, and it is a goldmine of information and lore about the area surrounding Hudson that seceded from the city in 1837. One story, which is particularly appealing, has to do with Hudson Bush Farm. Readers who have visited Hudson Bush Farm, attended a party or fundraiser there, or toured the spectacular gardens on a Garden Conservancy Open Day may never have realized that this splendid early house was once believed to be haunted. Here is the story, as it appeared in Greenport: The Forgotten Town.

Photo: Rural Intelligence
In Greenport there is an old house long suspected of being haunted. Known years ago as "Hudson Bush," it was the home of Henry I. Van Rensselaer, one of the landed gentry of his day. "Young Harry," as he was called, was a colonel in the Revolutionary Army where he served with pride and distinction.
When he returned from the wars, he took up his former aristocratic life, entertaining many people, a custom in those princely homes where there were many servants. Since he retired early, at 9 p.m. he handed each guest a tallow dip which served as a hint that it was bedtime. Later, he would return to his handsome dining room in his dressing gown and pour three glasses of Madeira wine which he would then drink, voicing three solitary toasts: "To my Country!" "To General Washington!" "To Harry Van Rensselaer!"
Years afterward, the house was said to be haunted, and no one would live there. Then a brave man rented it. After staying two nights without incident, he planned to bring his family. The third night as he sat before the fireplace alone, the door at one end of the broad hall began to rattle. When he went to see who was there, the door at the other end took up the clatter. Then the whole parlor and finally the rest of the house shivered ominously. The man was so frightened that he went all the way to Hudson and spent the night.
The next day he complained to the landlord who said, "Oh, that was only old Col. Harry. He wants his nightcap!" He explained about the three glasses of wine, and the tenant agreed to try to appease the ghost. That night, he set out three glasses of claret, but the rattling was repeated, and he ran out, sleeping all night in the barn. Again he contacted the landlord and told him about the claret. "Oh no!" said this host, "He wouldn't want claret. Only Madeira will do." That night, the tenant tried again, using Madeira wine for the toasts, and the rattling was not heard. It seems that the ghost of old Harry was finally satisfied.

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