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New and traditional ways of exploring the globe, and your own backyard.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Cursed Classrooms...

While researching for my Top 10 blog of haunted Capital District spots, I found there were quite a bit of educational institutions with ghost sightings.

I guess, the classrooms aren’t just scary for the students.

Lansingburgh’s old high school: If this story is true, it is truly scary. There have been reports for years of the ghosts of children playing in one of the rooms. They are allegedly the ghosts of children murdered by a former teacher with an axe in 1936. That teacher is also said to roam around, with the axe.

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute’s West Hall: Dating back to 1868, the large building was once a hospital and now houses the college’s Arts Department. It is said that a woman dressed in an old white nurse’s outfit haunts the building. The story has it that she died in a fire while trying to save children being treated in the hospital. Apparently, she’s a fairly friendly ghost.

Sage College of Albany’s Graphic Design Building: The ghosts of children who died in a fire at a former orphanage at the site have been cursed to hang around in the building.

College of St. Rose campus: There are at least four buildings on the small Albany campus that are reported to be haunted. The ghosts include one of a female fire victim, a priest, a musician, and a gardener.

UAlbany’s dorms: Mahican Hall, on Indian Quad, is haunted by a young female ghost and another dorm on the Alumni Quad is also haunted by the ghost of a woman. Sightings are seen all year, even when school is not in session.

For good measure, I’m also including the state’s Education Building: In a sub-basement section of the large structure, there is a legend that someone fell in wet cement while laying it. Now, that man’s ghost haunts the lower sections of the building, called ‘the dungeon’ by some. There are reports of lights turning on and off, and books mysteriously falling off the shelves.

'Tis the Season to be Scared

I asked readers and friends to suggest some of the most haunted places they’ve heard of in the region. And, considering we have some of the oldest municipalities in the country (including Albany that is the fourth oldest city and Waterford as the oldest incorporated village), there were a lot of stories to choose from.

Here’s my top 10:

10. Frear Park in Troy — I grew up in Troy and just heard this story but I’d say it’s good enough to share. Apparently, there is at least one very large animal that jumps on the tops of cars, mainly at night, while driving through this park in the Sycaway area of the city. Rumor has it that these strange animals have left claw marks on their vehicle victims. Since there’s a golf course in the park, I wonder if this has ever happened to one of those golf carts.

9. The Old Knox Mansion in Johnstown — A lavish mansion built in 1889 that is on the National Register of Historic Places, it now serves as a bed and breakfast where people are just dying to get in and the dead are trying to get out. Those who have visited the mansion say they’ve had weird vibes while walking the halls. There have also been reports of ghosts, sheets pulled off the bed, voices, and hearing ghostly footsteps. They usually have tours around Halloween to experience these for yourself.

8. Veil Cemetery on State Street in Schenectady — Along with being an alleged urban myth site for where the ghost of a bride can be seen trying to hitchhike, there have been multiple sightings of statues that bleed from the eyes and other apparitions.

7. Ten Broeck Mansion in Albany — A paranormal investigation was just conducted here after the volunteers at the more than 200-year-old site kept noticing strange happenings and a possible ghost of an 1812 soldier. This site is also conducting haunted tours this weekend.

6. Forbes Mansion in Rensselaer — Not much is recorded about any ghost tales at this old site off Washington Avenue near the new fire station. But that lack of documentation makes the stories all the more fun. It seems that on the anniversary of the death of one of the former residents, blood spills from a staircase inside. It is now owned by the Franciscans.

5. Snyder’s Lake in Wynantskill — Legend has it that a former night watchman near the lake was murdered at a young age now takes out his anger on youths who camp out at the lake. There is also a ghost of a drowned boy that roams the beaches.

4. Cohoes Music Hall — There are several spirits in the 1874 edifice in the Spindle City’s downtown. There is an actress dressed in 30s and 40s attire who sits in the audience occasionally, and another woman in black in the balcony. A former theatre manager, crushed by a sandbag, is also sometimes seen and heard on stage.

3. New York’s Capitol Building — Ghosts, ghouls, and spooky specters, aside from the elected representatives, really do wander the ornate halls. A stonecutter, who was angry at his boss, cursed the building and marked that by carving a small, intricate devil. A foreman in the late 1800s, who fell from scaffolding and died a few days later, is claimed to be one of the ghosts. Another is the lone victim of a 1911 fire.

2. Oakwood Cemetery in Troy — Famed as being the burial site of Uncle Sam, the hilltop cemetery overlooking Lansingburgh is also renowned as being a possible gateway to Hell. Dating back to the mid-1800s, it’s a popular gathering ground for area youths at night and many of these trespassers have seen ghosts and floating orbs near the gravestones.

1. Forest Park (or Pinewoods) Cemetery in Brunswick— Considering this site is on a national list of haunted cemeteries (and since I’ve seen ominous things here myself), I felt obligated to have this fill the Number 1 spot of this list. The stories here range from crying babies heard while sitting on a stone bench to a bleeding statue of an angel in the rear section of the Victorian age site. There are also rumors that witchcraft is practiced in a nearby perfectly-circular clearing in the woods. To top it all off, some say this is a location of an old Indian burial ground. If that isn’t material for a Stephen King book, I don’t know what is.

Honorable mentions of a haunted dwelling in Loudonville, and a house on Saratoga Street in Cohoes which apparently has three ghosts, one for each floor. Kudos to the owners for having the guts to live there too.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Beware: Overuse of Scary Adjectives Ahead

Friends of mine have been going to the Headless Horseman Hayrides and Haunted Houses, H5 as some call it apparently, for years. But, this weekend was my first eerie experience at the 45-acre Ulster Park location.
Is it worth the $33 admission, the hour drive, and the option of a $25 Scream Pass for bypassing the usually long lines as you go between the seven different spooky sites? Yes. But, unlike my friends, I do not plan to go back annually.
I love to be scared so I went in expecting a lot and I don’t think they quite delivered, honestly.
But, as my boyfriend pointed out, the details are amazing. We definitely aren’t talking about a place that uses spaghetti for fake brains, as some of my neighborhoods’ haunted houses do.
The hayrides’ storyline of the escaped murderous prisoner sets the mysterious mood for the evening with an electrocution and visit from the Headless Horseman along the way. But, I found thy hayride kind of cluttered since it has a prison, a sea yard, a chemically-infected village, a living dead graveyard, and other random stops all along meandering way in the spooky woods. I think they should have stuck with one theme, the prison, and done more with that.
Still, it was memorable, way better than other hayrides I have been on, and definitely scary enough where I would not bring a child along.
I have a feeling we were lucky on the night we went since the lines were not too long. At the next stop, we maybe waited 15 minutes to enter the Lunar Motel. But there were chained-off areas for lines that surely would have taken at least an hour to wait in, which is probably why they estimate the entire visit will take three hours. But we did everything in less than two.
I liked the werewolf creature in the Motel. It, along with other aspects in the Nightshade Greenhouse, Blood Inn and Flesh They Crave haunted houses, could have been used on a movie set.
As we waited in line for the Blood Inn, I found the Original Synners Sideshow with John Shaw and Lady Diabala to be very entertaining with raunchy jokes, whips, and sword swallowing.
The H5 creepy cast did a good job of making things go bump in the night in the Evil Reaping corn maze. I just wish the corn was a bit higher so it’d be that much scarier.
And the eyes of one of the “surgeons” in the Glutton’s Slaughterhouse is still beaming into my soul.
H5 has been named #1 in multiple publications, including #1 Hayride in America by American Airlines Magazine and #1 Haunted Attraction in the country by Haunt World Magazine.
I’m pretty sure H5s operators did everything in their power to scare the bejesus out of every single visitor. I think it may just take more to scare me, but I did enjoy myself. Probably does not help that I grew up watching and reading Stephen King movies and books.
New for this season they have a Dead Memories Photo Experience. I like that they seem to keep things fresh, as it were. So, I have a feeling I’ll be visiting again in a couple of years to see what else they’ve dug up.
I topped off the evening with a devilish dessert. H5 is only 10 miles from Sonic so I got a scary shake, peanut butter fudge – mmmm, my favorite.
Ok, I’ll stop using so many scary adjectives now…
You can have your own haunted Halloween experience by visiting or calling 845-339-2666. They are located at 778 Broadway, Route 9W in Ulster Park. They are open 7 p.m. Thursday through Sunday until the weekend after Halloween.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Losing my Speeding Ticket Virginity

It finally happened. I guess it’s kind of inevitable when you’ve owned a car for several years, had a driver’s license for more than a decade, and driven more than 100,000 miles.
I got my first speeding ticket.
Oh, I have been pulled over plenty — a few times for cell phone usage, and then a few times for speeding. But, since I had a basically clean record, the officer was always nice and never actually gave me a ticket. Usually, it was a warning, or a notification that I would get a ticket if I was pulled over again within six months.
One time a state trooper in East Greenbush gave me a ticket for “improper windshield wipers” and “unauthorized stickers” in lieu of a speeding ticket. To this day, I still have no idea what improper windshield wipers or an unauthorized stickers are.
But, my luck must have run out.
And I was upset at first. I even cried when I picked up my boyfriend right afterward.
Then, I realized that it was finally time. I had been lucky up until now.
I’m never on time anywhere. And that’s not from lack of trying to drive fast while on the road. No, it’s because I’m a procrastinator and tend to wait until the last minute to do anything and that includes driving places. So, I usually am making it up by driving a little over 55 on I-787 or the Northway.
I suppose I had hoped that I would get my first speeding ticket in a more dramatic manner. Maybe in a street car race or while driving 100 mph in the Adirondacks.
When I had crutches for the first time, for example, I at least had a good story to go along with it – I jumped out of a perfectly good airplane and forgot to brake thus spraining my ankle when it hit the ground going about 20 miles per hour.
But no, I got pulled over while driving 60 in a 40 at a locally well-known speed trap near the Grafton Lakes State Park. So well-known, there were two police cars staked out at the spot.
The officer who pulled me over asked the usual questions and I gave the usual answers. How ho-hum.
I’m almost hoping that something more interesting will happen at the court hearing because I am not losing my speeding ticket virginity without a fight.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Remembering Trackside Scenery

It honestly came as a bit of a surprise to me that Amtrak’s ridership numbers announced this week are actually at an all-time high, with the Albany-Rensselaer station still the 10th busiest in the country.
Yes, the figures have been pretty steady over the years and, yes, have climbed in past years too. So, I shouldn’t be surprised – since I have reported on this in the past too – but I was.
Maybe it’s the high cost of the rides, with a round trip from Albany to New York City going for about $100. (Personally, I usually just drive down to Poughkeepsie and take the Metro-North for about $25 round trip.)
Or, maybe I just did not give enough credit to Amtrak, its green goals, and, especially, all of the train lovers out there.
I should have known better.
It was a little more than a year ago that I took a nearly cross-country train trip and enjoyed the trackside scenery of five states and 1,000 miles aboard the Lake Shore Limited from New York City to Chicago, and then an additional three states on the California Zephyr from Chicago to Denver, Colorado.
All of that for a grand total of 79 hours round trip. By the end, I felt like a 5-year-old child on a sugar high – partly because I wanted off the train after that long but also because it was quite the experience.
While my family purchased two sleeper cars for the four of them, I opted for the cheaper route – as I usually do – and used a regular train seat in coach for the entire trip. I figured, I was still young and I had experienced worse while “suitcasing” through Europe on overnight trains, buses, and ships.
Sleeping in a seat has its advantages and disadvantages. Unfortunately, like a plane or any other form of transportation, if you’re stuck on a car with a baby or annoying family, you likely will not get much sleep. I know I didn’t on the way back until a screaming infant finally got off the train in Osceola, Iowa.
But, you can also meet a lot of interesting people. My family and I played cards with a 20-something guy from Ohio until the wee hours on the Lake Shore Limited. He taught us a game called Magic, not to be confused with the collector’s cards.
I remember the delicious meals in the restaurant car, which to this day still has the best chocolate peanut butter cake I have ever eaten.
I remember sitting in the observation deck and admiring the Glenwood Canyon in Colorado. I also remember someone mooning us as we went by in that canyon near a river as well.
I remember the first time I ever saw the Rockies, just coming into sight in the distance. They really do rise from the plains. And they really are amazing, snow-capped wonders. Even in July.
That last experience alone was worth the ticket, because it’s something that Americans and international train lovers have seen for generations; ever since that golden spike was nailed in 1869 north of Salt Lake City to complete the locomotive Manifest Destiny.
I applaud Amtrak for managing this amazing form of mass transportation that is, unfortunately, vastly underutilized in the United States.
I’m glad I was surprised by this increase in ridership and I hope the American consumers, commuters, tourists, and travelers will continue to surprise me in the future.

Monday, October 11, 2010

A Quasi-Leaf Peeping Random Road Trip

It was a lazy Sunday afternoon. The weather was beautiful – a perfect fall day with crisp temperatures but blue, sunny skies. And my boyfriend and I were brainstorming things to do.
The original thought was the traditional date of going apple picking. I don’t know why but unlike many of my friends this has never appealed to me as much as you’d think it would. I love apples. I love apple products. I love eating apples and apple products. But I don’t really have an interest in picking my own.
Not sure why, actually, because I do have fond memories of my parents taking me to local orchards and farms, like Gould. But, actually, my fonder memories are of eating the purchased cookies (my favorite were peanut butter) and drinking the warm or cold apple cider.
It was about 4 p.m., with only a few hours of sunlight left, and we still had not quite decided what we would do. So, my boyfriend make the executive decision of a road trip. We started with the intent of going directly to Vermont, but then I thought that visiting a fire tower in Grafton would be a fun experience this time of year too with the colored leaves.
So, I turned off Hoosick Street and headed toward the Grafton Lakes State Park. Beyond there, on Babcock Lake Road, is a side road called Fire Tower Road. As my boyfriend pointed out: “Hm, I wonder what’s down here.”
We drove past many nice, secluded and rustic homes into an area that I’m not even sure has power lines. On the left, there is another side road that I would not suggest a regular car drive up. On a prior trip, I tried with my old Honda. Um, not the best idea. At least I knew better this time around and parked at the base of the rocky, steep hill.
We walked up and then walked up the fire tower. And it was magnificent. You could see the whole county, and even a little beyond. There’s views of the Taconics, the Green Mountains, the Catskills, the foothills of the Adirondacks, and you can even see the Bennington Monument.
While the fire tower is in good shape, considering I’ve been told it’s from the 1940s, it’s still a little scary. So, we did not linger on top.
Once back to my Nissan, we followed Route 2 up the Petersburgh Pass into Massachusetts where there was an excellent view of the foliage and mountains. Into the Berkshire area we went, passing towns like North Adams and Williamstown.
I’d been as far as North Adams before, so after that we winged it. I saw a sign for Vermont and turned left to follow. Soon, we could see some of the Green Mountains and were driving through its foothills.
My rant in the last blog about Vermont being a must-miss location must have bothered me to the extent where I wanted to go there to remind myself of its awesomeness.
For a complete circle, we took another left eventually to head toward Bennington, where we had dinner at the Madison Brewery. I’m looking forward to eating my leftovers from there tonight.
I guess this trip just reminded me of how much I love this area. Where else can you go through three different states, see at least four different mountain ranges, admire the golden hues of sunset on a myriad of fall trees, and, at the end of the day, enjoy a beer called Sucker Pond Blonde?

Fall Hiking at Berlin Mountain

It’s been a hot summer and, unfortunately, in the meantime I’ve become rather physically lazy. While last year, I was hiking, indoor rock climbing, or swimming as much as I could, this year I’ve been more pressed for cash and time so my free time I’ve tended to do anything except be active.
So, I was kind of excited when my dad invited me on an organized hike that he read about in The Eastwick Press, the community paper for eastern Rensselaer County.
The Rensselaer Land Trust and Mohawk-Hudson Chapter of the Appalachian Mountain Club co-sponsored and co-led the hike which started at the Petersburgh Pass on Route 2. When reading the summary of the hike, I knew too well some of the steep inclines it talked about.
I’d done part of the hike before, but only the beginning of it, and remembered that in the first quarter-mile there was a difficult section with loose sediment, rocks, and very few resting areas. Along with this, the hike, which attracted about 10 people, was the weekend after the heavy rain storms so the leaves were down and they were wet.
But, there is a pro and con to having this steep section in the beginning. At least you get it over with, but then you have to anticipate descending it on the way back. And, as many hikers know, going down can be as hard or harder than going up sometimes.
Still, the rest of the hike was not bad at all. Surrounded by all specimens of trees and plant life – hemlocks, blueberries, wild flowers – we went onwards on the trail that is estimated at around 6 miles round trip.
It follows the Taconic Trail and crosses Berlin Pass, where the Albany Road ran in the 1700s. It is more of a rolling hike since there are small inclines and declines, until you reach the end with a steady hike up to the 2,798 foot summit of Berlin Mountain.
As the tallest point in Rensselaer County, there were nice vistas of the Berkshires and Mt. Greylock, easily detectable due to the towers on its top.
The way back wasn’t too bad, we just had to avoid stepping in the horse poop. My dad and I are still not sure how a horse got up that first steep part, unless they took the trail that leads to Petersburgh.
This was my first organized hike, so it was nice having rest breaks and meeting other people in the area. As it turned out, many of the hikers followed the six degrees of separation with my family since there were a few Sage professors who taught my sister and one who knew a former good friend of my dad’s.
My favorite part, other than the summit, was this nice mossy and grassy spot near the beginning where we rested on the way back. Laying down on that moss in the sun hit the spot.
Those interested in doing future hikes can contact Nike Conrad at 279-1963 or

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Must-Miss Destinations List....?

Peter Greenberg recently released his “Must-Miss Places of the World” and I can’t help but disagree with a majority of his picks mainly due to his reasoning behind the choices, plus I strongly feel that there are very, very few places in the world that should be missed.
Just as an example, “Sweaty New York City” made the top 10. Granted, I agree that New York City is not a pleasant place to visit in the middle of the summer but saying not to go there completely just because of the season is like saying not to go to Niagara Falls in the winter because of the snow – yes, it’s freakin’ cold and that area gets a heck of a lot of snow, but the winter freeze is also quite charming with the frozen falls (not to mention there’s less tourists).
If a traveler has already booked a flight to NYC, and it happens to be in the middle of summer, I surely would not tell them to change their plans. Actually, I would tell them to cool down in the awesome museums, check out the seasonal hot dog vendors, and sample the yummy and colorful flavored ice sold on street corners.
Maybe I’m just more of a see-things-on the-bright-side person (or maybe I do not have editors that said you need to come up with a list of horrible places in the world).
In any case, telling people not to go somewhere just because the temperature might go up top 100-degrees is silly. (Sahara Desert, anyone?) There’s always an oasis amid the uncomfortable heat.
The list also included the state of Vermont. That’s right. The whole state.
Apparently, the fact that there are a high percentage of polluted lakes is a reason to “must-miss” the Green Mountain State. I’m sorry, what?
Vermont always tops the lists of great vistas for the fall foliage, for historic locales, and for quaint weekends of B&Bs and antiquing. So, for me, it’s mind-boggling that some high levels of PCBs might deter leaf-peepers. But, then again, I did grow up along the Hudson River, PCB-capital of the Northeast.
So, instead of saying someone should miss Vermont. I would just say – Swim at your own risk.
My opinion, the list should have been named “Most Dangerous/Uncomfortable” not “Must-Miss.”

Here’s the full “Must-Miss” list:
10. Shishmaref, Alaska – because of the melting sea ice and the town literally disappearing into the sea due to global warming.
9. Jackson, Tenn. – to miss during tornado season
8. New York City – heat in the summer
7. Naples, Italy – a dirty spot (this I will agree with but I still think it’s worth a trip to see the city’s Pompeii exhibit)
6. Western Kentucky – stinky cow poop (not unlike the country’s entire Bread Basket?)
5. Nuclear Power Plants – radioactive, duh
4. Galway, Ireland – poor water quality
3. Vermont – polluted lakes
2. Nevada – high crime rate
1. Canada’s Highway 16 – where there has been 43 unsolved murders in the last three decades