ITHACA, N.Y. — Need some spooky stories while you enjoy your Halloween candy? From unexplained murders to reported spirits, Ithaca has its own mysteries and hauntings that are still discussed to this day.
The History Center hosted several haunted history walking tours in Downtown Ithaca to give a glimpse into some darker moments and mysteries of Ithaca’s past. Visit the History Center to learn more about these stories. Here are some of the stories shared on the tour.
Simeon DeWitt’s spirit at the Clinton House (1834-present)
Simeon DeWitt, who has been deemed the “Father of Ithaca,” was the general surveyor of New York State. When he first came to Ithaca in 1794, he instantly fell in love with the city. DeWitt couldn’t spend much time here because his family lived in Albany, but he set aside three months every year to stay in Ithaca. He often stayed at the Clinton House Hotel, at 116 N. Cayuga St., where he always slept in room nine on the third floor.
In 1834, he decided to stay in Ithaca for six months, but during the third month he caught pneumonia and died. Upon his death, DeWitt wanted to be buried on the land he owned on Buffalo Street. The town agreed and his body resided there for 25 years. But after one particularly bad winter storm, DeWitt’s casket rose and his bones were scattered. The bones were soon collected and moved to Albany, as directed by his son Richard Varick DeWitt, where he was buried in a vault beneath the Middle Dutch Church. To this day, people who stay in DeWitt’s room at the Clinton House have reported suspicious activity, such as hearing shuffling late at night or finding objects being moved around; some believe it is Simeon’s spirit finding its way back to Ithaca.
The deaths of lovers Lucy Cridden and Monty Cornell (1861)
In 1861, a carriage with no driver thundered down the hill on University Avenue. Once the carriage reached a stop, police found the body of 16-year-old Lucy Cridden, who had died of a gunshot wound to the chest. At the time she was dating Monty Cornell, who the Cridden family searched for to tell him of the tragic news. In an unexpected turn of events, they found Cornell’s shoes at the top of Ithaca Falls and saw his body lying at the bottom of the lake. To this day, the correlation between their deaths remains a mystery. Cridden’s sister told police that Cornell committed suicide because he didn’t want to live without Lucy. Others speculate that Cridden’s sister killed both Lucy and Cornell out of jealousy, citing the fact that she provided the only known testimony for the deaths, which made some people suspicious of the sister’s credibility.
The case of Elizabeth Heggie (1864)
On June 15, 1864, Charlotte “Lottie” Heggie, 21, fell ill and died. A couple months prior to her unexpected death, Charlotte’s younger sister Mary, 18, passed away after experiencing similar symptoms. Soon afterward their older brother became suspicious and accused their mother, Elizabeth, of poisoning them with arsenic after he found the drug in her possession. The court did an autopsy on Charlotte and found that she had indeed been poisoned with arsenic. The court agreed that Elizabeth had poisoned her daughters, but it was debated whether or not she was mentally stable and should be held criminally responsible for the murders.
In the end, Elizabeth was found guilty and was originally sentenced to death, where she ended her life in Utica Insane Asylum.
“Heathens on the Hill” on Buffalo Street (1879)
On a snowy night in 1879, Charles Taylor and his friends decided to bobsled down Buffalo Street. It was fairly common for students to bobsled down the hill and Charles Taylor wanted to beat his time from the night before. Many locals, including Cornell students and adults, lined up along the street to see who would reach the bottom of the hill first. After the racers took off, people began to see Taylor’s bobsled shake, which resulted in an explosion after he crashed on the next street over. When the smoke cleared, he was lying in a puddle of blood with a large star-shaped fracture to his skull. His friends tried taking him to a doctor, but he died a few hours after the incident. Many at Cornell, which at this time had been formed as a non-denominational school, thought Taylor “got what he deserved.” These pious people believed the devil was responsible for his death, as they commonly referred to people that bobsled on Buffalo Street as “heathens on the hill.”
The disappearance of Hazel Crance (1919)
In 1919, Ithaca teenager Hazel Crance and her boyfriend, Donald Fether, a graduating Cornell student, decided to go boating at Stewart Park. They rented a rowboat at around 10 p.m. from a party that was taking place. About 45 minutes after they went out on the water, people started to hear screams and splashes. Fether returned to shore alone, but was wearing no pants, and was soon arrested for Crance’s disappearance. He said there was a wave that knocked them in, and he desperately tried to save her. Next morning cannons were shot in the lake to raise the water, and fishermen got out with grappling hooks in an attempt to find her body. Eventually, one fisherman found something on his grappling hook, but it wasn’t Crance, it was the pants. Fether was arrested and put on trial but because no one ever found her body, he was set free. Crance’s mother then published a letter in a local newspaper describing how hard it was for her to see Donald’s “smiling face on the cover of the Ithaca Journal as he went on to live his life, while my daughter is still at bottom of the lake.”
The arrest of George Curly Barnes (1931)
In 1931, George Curly Barnes, killed his wife Alice Barnes with an ax. After realizing what he did, George Curly went to the Ithaca City Cemetery, where he hid for 36 hours before wandering into town for food. He was caught instantly and refused to have his picture taken until he could comb his hair. The arresting officer was Levi Spaulding, Ithaca’s first African American police officer, who was a few days away from retirement. As he took him to the station and locked the cuffs on him, Levi reportedly died of a heart attack. In another strange turn, George Curly murdered his wife in a house the Barnes were renting from Spaulding.