Being close to Halloween, I went looking for a ghost story to fill this week's column. The only story in my past involved the Lake Placid Club and the ghost of Annie Godfrey Dewey as she roamed the vast reaches of the old club.
Many a night watchman (a much more accurate title than the one used today, security) had "witnessed" Annie standing in the library, walking the endless hallways or sitting in the chapel.
When things were going downhill at the club, I filled in for a no-show in security one night. Let me tell you, when you are the only one in that dark, empty hotel, it was a creepy place. The floors creaked, the windows rattled, and if the heat came up one would think that the night train express was coming through the lobby.
This shows the interior of Knollwood cottage number six owned by the Sulzberger family. The cottage layouts were all identical but obviously all decorated differently.
(Photograph #82.34 courtesy of the Adirondack Room of the Saranac Lake Free Library)
This particular night I was sure that Annie was around. There are huge double doors that lead from a small lobby upstairs adjacent to the library to a long hallway that ran parallel to the library. Minutes after I left that hallway, about 3 a.m., on my second round of the various wings, I heard a door slam shut.
That noise sent chills up my spine that I can still feel today. On my last tour that night I avoided that area not wanting to disturb Mrs. Dewey again.
Later I learned from the old club hands that doors with metal pneumatic closers would shut the door within a couple of inches and then ever s-o-o-o-o slowly shut them tight, causing the long delay between my leaving the hallway and hearing the door slam shut.
A Knollwood ghost
I was not at all surprised that when I went to talk to Michele Tucker, my favorite curator at the Adirondack Room of the Saranac Lake Free Library, that she would find me a ghost story. What I was surprised at - many homeowners in the village go to the Adirondack Room looking for stories about their houses because they think they are haunted. Of course, she wouldn't name names.
However, Michele tells me, there is a another sort-of ghost story about the Knollwood Club. She walks to a file drawer and whips out a document written by William Edward Rice recalling events when he was a bellboy there in the summers of 1920 and 1921.
There are probably not many people around now, outside of the Knollwood families, who know as much about that club as Michele Tucker knows. She worked there for Madeleine Gimbel for 22 summers as cook, gardener and all-around handywoman.
I am going to get into the interesting history of the Knollwood Club next week. But now, for the purpose of this story, Mr. Rice explains that there was a bell call box at their station in the Casino connected to all the six cottages, and the bell boys had to respond to whatever cottage called.
The Knollwood ghost made two families leave the club for New York City, the night watchman quit the next day, and despite an investigation, the incident was never explained. So here it is in Mr. Rice's own words:
"One evening, close to 9 p.m., a bell rang indicating someone should go to cottage six. I was the bell boy on duty. I proceeded over to investigate. The cottage remained closed all summer because I believe the Cook family was in Europe.
"The walk over was easy, the walk being well lighted. I went on the front porch and noticed a living room window was open. So far, I was feeling brave (Rice was age 16).
"I put a leg in over the window sill to begin an investigation; when I did so, chains were rattled over the upper floor! It didn't take me long to get away from there.
"I went back to the Casino, told the night watchman who was visiting one of the guides. The three of us returned to cottage six, went in through the window and went through the entire house and couldn't find anyone. However, the chains from a hammockswing were on the bedroom floor."
Then young Rice explains about the watchman and the families leaving, "apparently fearful that someone might be after them."
But the bell boy adds this caveat: "I always believed it was meant to be a joke on whoever had to investigate the bell call."
(Next week we will cover the history of the founding families of Knollwood and the behind-the-scenes daily events as told by Mr. Rice.)