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The Fire Island National Seashore is protected by the Fire Island Lighthouse, which has for almost 200 years protected those in peril on the seas. Explore the history and the spirits of this maritime treasure from the Gothic Curiosity Cabinet. Go to A Gothic Cabinet of Curiosities and Mysteries to read the article

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One of the most prolific folk tale and urban legends of Long Island is that of Hatchet Mary or Mary’s Grave. What many people don’t realize is that Hatchet Mary was a historical figure, and that the tale of Mary’s Grave is quite likely much older than many people believe. While it’s impossible to know for sure the truth behind the tale, there’s a lot more there than one might have known. Go to A Gothic Cabinet of Curiosities and Mysteries to read the article

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To view large or order fine art prints and posters of this image, click here 

 

Mary of Sweet Hollow Road, outside Melville, New York is perhaps Long Island’s most famous ghost. And with Hallow’een coming up, she finds herself more popular than ever.  

Last week I was on a video shoot, this time for http://www.forgottenli.com, and the producers wanted a clip of Mary darting out in front of a car on Sweet Hollow Road, standing by the side of the road, outside of the graveyard – all the usual Mary as the Lady In White stories. Between takes I started telling the young lady playing Mary, Amber D’Amato, some of the other Mary stories. Mary was the daughter of the school teacher who either killed all his students with an axe, or in another version, locked his students in the schoolhouse and set it ablaze. Finding out what her father had done, she hangs herself out of shame. There’s the Mary who is committed to the asylum on Mount Misery and sets fire to it, burning alive the patients and workers alike. There’s also Mary’s grave – you find the grave, shine your flashlight on her name, say it three times and if her face appears it means your imminent death. 

There are several others, including Mary Hatchet in which she kills her family with a hatchet. Or Mary is buried in the graveyard near the overpass of Northern Parkway, and can sometimes be seen standing next to her tombstone. Mary is buried across the road from the graveyard, a suicide victim, not eligible to be buried in hallowed ground, and can sometimes be seen standing just inside the forest, watching. Mary can be seen sometimes, walking along the side of the road in her white dress. Mary sometimes flags you down and asks for a ride home. When you reach the graveyard she tells you to stop, and says this is where she lives. When you look again to the passenger seat she is gone.

But my favorite is much simpler. Mary is seen wandering the woods along Sweet Hollow Road. No reason why, no horror or gore, just a ghost moving through the trees.

As I spoke, Amber’s face began to show fear and more than that, sadness. “You mean she wasn’t a victim” she asked? And I thought about it, and yes, except for the Mary Hatchet stories, she was a victim? Even as the arsonist burning the inmates alive, her sickness is the evil, not Mary herself.

The first question to ask to get to the truth of the legend is why Mary? All these events didn’t happen here, and certainly not by women named Mary But most legends have some grain of truth about them, and at some point there was a probably was a Mary, and something happened so memorable and so horrifying, that she’s become a magnet for what seems like every other folk tale or legend in the area. 

I’ve talked to people who were teenagers in the sixties and Mary stories were around then. That some of the tales are much older is a strong possibility as well. Legends about the Lady in White are almost certainly false. They involve a young couple arguing while driving down Sweet Hollow Road, he pushes her out of the moving car and she’s killed by another car following behind, and she haunts the road now dressed in white. You find variations of this story all over the country.

That some tales date from the colonial era, or the 19th century is quite possible. Whether or not there was ever an asylum on Mount Misery is hotly debated, though probably unlikely, so it can’t be said if there was any real chance she was ever an inmate there, let alone set the fire. 

Curiously enough, there was a fire in the schoolhouse in the area, in the 1880s, but certainly not with all the students inside. And according to legend, the bloody schoolhouse sat on the corner of Sweet Hollow and Mount Misery roads, a short distance from where this schoolhouse still stands. Perhaps that’s the grain of truth to that legend. It’s possible that there was a school on Mount Misery prior, it wouldn’t have been unheard of in the colonial era even. But again, no evidence exists.

Which is why I like the simplest story the best. Why does Mary still wander the woods of Mount Misery and Sweet Hollow? Because she is called to. She’s summoned by countless fear seekers, ghost hunters and curious teenagers each year, and no doubt will be this Halloween as well. I have no doubt that from time to time, when someone calls, she’s there. There is something about us that needs the supernatural. And as long as we need Mary, she will come.

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The location for this photo is a spot on Mount Misery where two paths meet. I found there a fire ring, as well as crosses painted in red on the surrounding trees. Mary played by Amber D’Amato

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Glen Cove, New York
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KIng’s Park Psychiatric Hospital, Long Island, New York

Buried in this field are hundred of patients of Kings Park Psychiatric Center. These are those with no relatives or loved ones, no one who cared and were buried in the field, unmarked and mostly forgotten. Stories have it that you can still hear the cries of these lost souls in the night, though one must wonder as the subdivisions now butt right against the field. The road which leads to this hill is strewn with debris from the hospital, the place where all the waste is unceremoniously dumped. We can only hope that these unfortunate souls received a bit more dignity when they were lain to rest

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Beacon Towers Gates, Sands Point, New York

As I walked down the steps I saw that the evening was not quite over. Fifty feet from the door a dozen headlights illuminated a bizarre and tumultuous scene. In the ditch beside the road, right side up, but violently shorn of one wheel, rested a new coupe which had left Gatsby’s drive not two minutes before. The sharp jut of a wall accounted for the detachment of the wheel, which was now getting considerable attention from half a dozen curious chauffeurs. However, as they had left their cars blocking the road, a harsh, discordant din from those in the rear had been audible for some time, and added to the already violent confusion of the scene.

A man in a long duster had dismounted from the wreck and now stood in the middle of the road, looking from the car to the tire and from the tire to the observers in a pleasant, puzzled way.

“Did you run into the wall?” “Don’t ask me,” said Owl Eyes, washing his hands of the whole matter. “I know very little about driving—next to nothing. It happened, and that’s all I know.”

“Well, if you’re a poor driver you oughtn’t to try driving at night.”

“But I wasn’t even trying,” he explained indignantly, “I wasn’t even trying.”

“You don’t understand,” explained the criminal. “I wasn’t driving. There’s another man in the car.”

The shock that followed this declaration found voice in a sustained “Ah-h-h!” as the door of the coupe swung slowly open. The crowd—it was now a crowd—stepped back involuntarily, and when the door had opened wide there was a ghostly pause. Then, very gradually, part by part, a pale, dangling individual stepped out of the wreck, pawing tentatively at the ground with a large uncertain dancing shoe.

Blinded by the glare of the headlights and confused by the incessant groaning of the horns, the apparition stood swaying for a moment before he perceived the man in the duster.

“Wha’s matter?” he inquired calmly. “Did we run outa gas?”

“Look!”

Half a dozen fingers pointed at the amputated wheel—he stared at it for a moment, and then looked upward as though he suspected that it had dropped from the sky.

“It came off,” some one explained.

A pause. Then, taking a long breath and straightening his shoulders, he remarked in a determined voice:

“Wonder’ff tell me where there’s a gas’line station?”

At least a dozen men, some of them little better off than he was, explained to him that wheel and car were no longer joined by any physical bond.

“Back out,” he suggested after a moment. “Put her in reverse.”

“But the WHEEL’S off!”

“No harm in trying,” he said.

The caterwauling horns had reached a crescendo and I turned away and cut across the lawn toward home.

From The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

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Beacon Towers Gate House

Sands Point, New York

The house on my right was a colossal affair by any standard—it was a factual imitation of some Hotel de Ville in Normandy, with a tower on one side, spanking new under a thin beard of raw ivy, and a marble swimming pool, and more than forty acres of lawn and garden. it was Gatsby’s mansion. Or, rather, as I didn’t know Mr. Gatsby, it was a mansion inhabited by a gentleman of that name. My own house was an eyesore, but it was a small eyesore, and it had been overlooked, so I had a view of the water, a partial view of my neighbor’s lawn, and the consoling proximity of millionaires—all for eighty dollars a month … There was music from my neighbor’s house through the summer nights. In his blue gardens men and girls came and went like moths among the whisperings and the champagne and the stars.

From The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Beacon Towers, which sat on the tip of Sands Point is presumed to have been the inspiration for Gatsby’s mansion. It’s known that Fitzgerald attended many parties at Beacon Towers, and there are really no other candidates which match his description.  Some of the greatest scenes in American literature took place on the other side of this wall, in the imagination of F. Scott Fitzgerald.

 

 

The house was build by Alva Smith Vanderbilt Belmont, a character who if possible was even more fascinating that Gatsby. She was born wealthy, and later married into the Vanderbilt family as they were coming into their money. Wanting to buy a season’s pass to the opera, she found herself shunned, coming from new money. Undeterred, she founded her own company and theatre, The Metropolitan Opera in New York City. She shocked society by divorcing her husband for adultery. She then married Oliver Hazard Perry Belmont, and after his death threw herself into the women’s suffrage movement.

 

Beacon Towers was only a summer home to her, and eventually she sold it to William Randolph Hearst, who also used it for a summer home, already owning a castle of his own in California. He sold it in 1942, and in 1945 it was pulled down, leaving only this gate house. The wall surrounding the house in essence blocks off the entire tip of the peninsula. When the locals complained that the wall blocked access to the beach, Mrs. Belmont bought the beach and lighthouse as well. 

 

The 140 room house rose vertically from the beach on Long Island Sound, and from a distance appeared to rise straight up from the water itself. It was part Norman fortress, part Loire Valley Manor House, and stood five stories tall. Battlements and balconies thrust out from the white stucco walls. When Hearst moved in, he painted over the murals of Joan of Arc, opened the windows to let in more light, and removed many of the medieval furnishings, replacing them with oak and marble.

From where Beacon Towers stood, you can imagine Fitzgerald drunk on the beach, looking across the bay at Land’s End, the fictional home of Daisy and Tom Buchanan, the sound of the party coming from behind him and the story of Gatsby coming together in his mind. Today the best you can do is stand outside the gates, wishing to be let in. Gatsby’s hospitality has been replaced north shore snobbery – no trespassing signs abound, and there are no parties, and you are certainly not wanted. The land might belong to the owners, but the memories belong to us all.

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