Courtesy of The Morning News comes this fascinating essay about the Hudson Valley's reputation as a hotbed of supernatural activity.
The piece mentions one of the most famous ghost legends of all, Rip Van Winkle's Headless Horsemen, but also specters I knew nothing about, such as the wailing maid of Kaaterskill Falls and rumors of a poltergeist in the state Department of Education Building in Albany. But the region also contains its share of living terrors, and author Tobias Seamon focuses on a clan of hermitic basket-makers called the Pondshiners, who lived in the Taconic Hills of Columbia County and avoided most contact with civilization.
Seamon writes, "The Pondshiners’ origins are obscured, to say the least. All that’s known is sometime in the 1700s or early 1800s, a small group of families—mostly named Hotaling, Proper, and Simmons—settled on 'the Hill,' an isolated height above a lake in what’s now Taconic State Park. Why they retreated to the woods is a mystery. One story was that they were Yankee ne’er-do-wells on the run from Connecticut’s puritanical censures. Another tale, likely apocryphal, said they fled Hudson Valley rent collectors during the 1840s anti-rent wars between tenant farmers and the upstate landed gentry. The few times anyone was able to get close enough to ask about their origins, the Pondshiners said they had no clue how they’d come to live on the Hill."
Sadly, the Pondshiners eventually disappeared. Seamon tells of their gradual demise, writing "Forced into society by compulsory schooling, the clans slowly integrated. The art of basket-making disappeared also, at least partly because the younger generations were so upset at being called Pondshiners that they no longer wanted to be associated with the craft. The last true Pondshiner artisan was Elizabeth Proper, who sold baskets to Columbia County shopkeepers well into the 1980s. Lizzy Proper also carried on the tradition of Pondshiner obstinacy, refusing to let anyone observe her weaving methods. One store owner who knew her laughed, 'If she liked you, she liked you, and if she didn’t… you didn’t get baskets.'"
Anyway, the article makes me want to take a night-time drive down the Taconic, look at the stars, and listen to the night-time sounds that no doubt helps lend the area its ghostly renown.