Sunday, August 12, 2018

I Do Believe In Spooks!

     Most of you will recall the title of this post as the utterance of the Cowardly Lion in the movie, The Wizard Of Oz.  It could also have been the notion running through my mind a few nights ago as I participated in my first "ghost walk" in Palmyra, New York.  After the passing of my husband last year I cast about for something to occupy the time I now had in plentiful supply, settling on joining a group called Historic Palmyra.  Chosen not only because it was nearby and history is something I enjoy, but also because the building which houses one of the museums they operate was once a hotel/bar owned by the husband of my distant cousin Catherine Ryan Riffenburg, daughter of Thomas Ryan and Mary Power.  Furthermore, Catherine's first cousin, my great-grandmother Maggie Power, was shown working there as a teenage domestic in the 1900 census.

     Catherine and Maggie are far from the only ancestors of mine who once called Palmyra home.  Cornelius Ryan, (a different family of Ryans than Catherine), lived there after arriving from Tipperary and the Hogans, Sheehans, and Slatterys all were there for a time in the mid to late nineteenth century.  As easily imagined given the state of medical science at that time, there were more than a few tragedies associated with those families. Cornelius died at age 33 leaving a wife and young son Oliver; his widow Anna Hennessey died just six months later.  Anna's sister Ellen Hennessey, who with her husband Edward Welch became Oliver's guardians, died a year after that, causing the grief-stricken Edward Welch to commit suicide on her grave.

     Ten years earlier, Cornelius' sister Sarah Ryan had died in Palmyra at age 26 not long after her marriage to William Slattery, quite possibly in childbirth like her sister Ellen Ryan Maher who had passed a month before Cornelius in 1877.  Though Ellen's demise was in Ohio, she was buried in Palmyra.  William Slattery's wife before Sarah Ryan had been Catherine Hogan, a sister of  Bridget Hogan who was married to Sarah, Ellen, and Cornelius' brother Andrew Ryan.  Catherine is another likely candidate for death in childbirth.  It's quite involved I know.  But the point is, I felt like I had lots of material to work with here, vis a vis possible spirit activity.

     First stop on the walk was the oldest cemetery in the village where a woman wielding two dowsing rods asked questions of several of the "residents".  Which they appeared to answer!  Then on to a marvelously preserved general store dating back to canal times, and lastly to the old hotel.  Would Grandma Maggie stop by?  I can't say I'm positive ghosts really do exist though I definitely lean that way.  Over the years I've experienced what I consider unusual events, like the time I set out alone to find Aurelius, NY, first home in America of my great-great-grandfather James O'Hora from County Carlow.  Though my map said I was still miles away, at least the way I read the map, suddenly I somehow knew I was already in his town. (I was in fact, one road over from the farm he had lived on.) And the time I first saw French Cemetery in Victory, NY and was able to walk with no hesitation directly to the grave of my 4th great-grandmother.

     I did my best to remain open and approachable as we sat in the darkened former hotel listening for footsteps or knocks. Sad to say none were forthcoming.  Disappointing, but given the large size of the crowd, due to a pirate festival being held the same night on Main Street, it didn't seem to me especially conducive to ghostly appearances.  Were I them, I would have taken a walk until the intruders left my home.

     Still, the idea of communicating with family members who have gone to their rewards is an intriguing one.  So many questions could be answered!  The night really wasn't a loss, it was great fun to suspend disbelief while wandering the darkened old buildings, and to wonder, "what if"... and I even met a pirate.


  1. Sounds like great fun, Ellie, and I'm with you, sometimes I definitely believe someone from the other side must be aiding my research. By the way, I thought of you last Sunday when we visited the annual Tinahely summer show, passing through your country - Baltinglass, Rathvilly and Hacketstown - on route.

    1. Yes, it was fun. I hope someday before long I will get to see those places you passed through, and you!

  2. What sad and hard times for your Palmyra ancestors, Ellie. In the back of their minds must always have been the knowledge of possibility of death or illness.

    It sounds like a very fun time though, I agree, not the time for ghosts to visit. Like Dara, I think I have help from the other side as I work on family history (except my Doyle ancestors, particularly William and his parents, Andrew and Elizabeth, who have not been much help lately!).

    1. Apparently some spirits are more helpful than others ;) It seems early deaths were so prevalent back then everyone must have been a bit nervous. I seem to have quite a few childbirth related deaths in my tree, but I'm sure that's not unique.