In 1893, a strange, acrobatic ghost dressed all in white appeared in a forest in Woodside, Queens.
The entity that was seen in the 19th century didn’t seem to communicate verbally, though he made strange, chilling sounds. He was able to move on all fours as quickly as an ordinary person could run, and had a penchant for acrobatic stunts like handsprings. It is unclear what happened to this entity, but more than 100 years later, other stories about ghosts in the Woodside seem to be centered in the same area. . . .
• A UFO sighting
• Ghost hoaxes in Victorian Australia
• A creepy ghost of a 19th century child
Episode Script for An Acrobatic Ghost in Woodside (Haunted Queens)
DISCLAIMER: I’m providing this version of the script for accessibility purposes. It hasn’t been proofread, so please excuse typos. There are also some things that may differ between the final episode and this draft script. Please treat the episode audio as the final product.
- Wilkes-Barre Times Leader, The Evening News (Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania) · Fri, Jul 28, 1893 · Page 4
- This story harkens back to an early episode of this podcast, which was about people dressing up and pretending to be ghosts in Australia, and then ppl chasing after them and trying to shoot them.
- The headline of the article is “Hunting for a Ghost: Long Island Villagers Turn Out with Shotguns: A Gaunt Sheeted Specter Seen: This Particular Goblin Haunted an Old Spring, Where It Scared Children–If the Ghost is Caught he Will Get a Coat of Tar and Feathers”
- It sounds like a group of people who lived in Woodside, which is a neighborhood near Astoria that I used to live in, set off to look for a ghost who had been hanging out around the old town spring and scaring children and chasing women and girls. Very similar to the stories of ppl “playing the ghost” in late 19th century Australia.
- The location of the spring was in some woods near Betts Avenue and Greenpoint Avenue, which according to Forgotten NY, are now 58th Street and Roosevelt Avenue. (However there is still a Greenpoint Avenue near Calvary Cemetery.)
- To read from the article:
- “This old spring dates back beyond the recollection of the oldest inhabitants, and it is said that it never runs dry. It is the center of a network of paths that lead in from the avenues. The brush around it is taller than a man’s head. During the recent drought more than half the village of Woodside has obtained water from this spring. All day long until late at night groups of children, girls, and women could be seen in all directions with pails in their hands, going to and fro from the spring.”
- So it’s a very old spring, but also very much in use.
- A few days before the article was written, a group of kids were scared away from the spring; it happened a few times the next day, and the children were so frightened that they didn’t even want to go back to the spring to get their pails. A group of women were also scared away from the spring.
- Here’s what apparently happened to everyone:
- “While bending over drawing water they were stealthily approached from behind by a tall, gaunt individual, dressed entirely in white, who suddenly sprang upon them. The children say he got down on all fours and crawled after them like a ravenous animal. He chased 14-year-old Annie Robinson, whose father keeps a grocery store in Greenpoint avenue, more than a mile before she escaped.”
- The article goes on to list a bunch of different people who saw this entity. One man saw him and chased after him, but, according to the article,
- “he was not fleetfooted enough and in the dense woods he lost the trail. A search was made by some of the men that night. They discovered a sort of bed and shelter constructed deep in the woods, which was thought to be the rendezvous of the person they were hunting. A watch was left at the place, but no one came.”
- One man from the neighborhood was walking home around midnight and “saw a figure sheeted like a ghost float out of a clump of brush and cut fantastic capers in the road, moving about as silently as a shadow. [The man’s] heart came up in his throat. He says he didn’t make any outcry, but every now and then the ghostly dancer would give utterance to an unearthly shriek that caused his hair to stand on end and made the cold sweat trickle down his back. Then the dogs began to bark, and persons disturbed by the shrieks came to their doors, and the phantom turned a few handsprings and disappeared as suddenly as he came.”
- The article then says that the residents of Woodside were determined to hunt down this person or entity, because the wouldn’t feel safe otherwise. The idea was that they were going to shoot him, or coat him with tar and feathers and beat him.
- There’s also an article headlined “This Ghost is an Acrobat” in The evening world (New York, N.Y.), July 28, 1893, (LAST EDITION) about the Woodside ghost, which calls it “the ghost of the spring.” It quotes people from the neighborhood as saying:
- “Our ghost turns handsprings and cart-wheels, and it is very long and slender and white, and it makes no noise among the brittle sticks in the woods, except that it screeches with a blood-chilling, unearthly, piercing yell that makes our knees shake and our hair to stand up.”
- It also talks about the girl who the ghost chased on all fours, and the article says that the entity was almost as fast on all fours as a 14-year-old girl was running, which is odd.
- It also mentions the man who chased him, and it says that when the ghost screeched while it was running away, the sound momentarily paralyzed the man’s legs so he couldn’t chase it, and then it disappeared into the woods. Maybe that was just out of fear, but is it possible that something else was going on there, something paranormal?
- I didn’t find other articles about the story, though I’m saying this with the caveat that I guess within the last day or two, my NYPL library card expired, which means I couldn’t access the different newspaper databases I usually search. So I searched the LOC newspaper archives, which aren’t as extensive, but they’ll have to do till I can go to Manhattan next to renew my card in person.
- So, a couple things for this story. First, it’s possible that this is the story of an unhomed person who took up residence in the woods. That’s probably the most likely explanation, especially bc they found where this person was apparently living. But there’s some weird stuff in here too, and some aspects of the story that make me think that it’s fairly possible that it could have been something supernatural.
- For example, why would a random unhomed person be dressed all in white? It doesn’t seem like the most practical color for a person who lives in the woods to be wearing, especially if he’s crawling around and doing handsprings, and if this person was wearing white but covered in mud, I kinda feel like the article may have mentioned that the man’s clothes was filthy, or something similar.
- Also, why on earth would this person be doing handsprings? That’s a difficult move for anyone but a gymnast to be doing. Like I do a lot of yoga and stuff and can’t even do a cartwheel. Could this person be someone who once worked at the circus? Or was the person who wrote the article just exaggerating, and did this person not do any feat of acrobatics.
- It’s maybe a long stretch to try to claim that this person was actually some sort of supernatural entity, but there were a few interesting things about this story that kinda light some lightbulbs in my mind that I thought might be interesting to talk about.
- One interesting thing is that, like I mentioned, this wood was near present day 58th street and Roosevelt Avenue. There’s a church called Saint Sebastian Roman Catholic Church at Roosevelt Avenue and 58th Street, and the church’s rectory is a block or so away from there. This is just some rando on the internet, but a commentor at ghostsofamerica.com recounts a story about something that happened there, which I wanted to read:
Does anybody know any history background on the field that is near the Saint Sebastian Rectory on 57th Street? There used to be a house, but now it’s just an open field. Many years my sister and I were passing by and we saw a girl standing there. She had a blank stare on her face; she was really pale with long black hair, and her dress looked like it was from the 1800s.
She was there for a second and the she disappeared.
- There wasn’t anyone saying anything about the history of the spot, but one commenter said:
Say what you will but I live on 58th and I have a ghost. This ghost has an obsession with ornaments. Every time I come home from work I find ornaments rearranged. It’s like this ghost just wants me to know he or she is there.
I have been trying to figure out if the ghost is trying to tell me something. Is there a way to communicate with this entity. Is there a way I can do this on my own or should I get a hold of an expert. Are there any ghost experts in this area.
I’ll be checking this site for a reply. Thanks.
- Again, these are random people on the internet. But there weren’t other accounts of hauntings in Woodside on the site, though there was a link to UFOsentinel.com which has a one story from Woodside, which was an October 2014 UFO sighting. The entry reads:
I have lived here in Woodside on 61st Street since 2000 and have never witnessed anything like I did in October last year. I was with a brother and our dog Jenny. As we were near a church Jenny stopped frozen for about almost a minute.
Then she started to run around my brother like crazy. Then she stopped and stared at these 4 balls of lights. They were flashing yellow and blue and were flying or actually hovering on top of the empty field right by the church.
They were looping around the field for almost 5 minutes. My brother and I (and Jenny) were in shock. We didn’t know what to do. We didn’t have our phone with us, otherwise we would have taken some pictures to prove that theses lights were there for real.
- This story leaves a lot of questions hanging: one, while the person lives on 61st street, what street was the empty field on? Could it have been the field by Saint Sebastian’s Rectory? Could the person have mistaken the rectory for a church? (If this is a young person especially, they may not know the difference between a rectory and a church.)
- I couldn’t remember churches near fields in Woodside, since there aren’t many empty fields in Woodside, but I did a google maps search of churches in Woodside, and was’t seeing other church buildings near empty fields, so it seems likely to me that it was the rectory of ST. Sebastian’s church.
- I did look up St. Sebastian to see if he has any relevant associations, and the answer is not really. He’s a pretty famous saint who’s often depicted as being tied to a tree and shot full of arrows. One interesting thing I saw online was a Hartford Currant article from 1997 that told the story of the Sicilian population of Middletown, Ct, who come from a town in Sicily with a real devotion to St. Sebastian, and who have a custom tied to wearing white when honoring St. Sebastian:
- “Hundreds of men and women dressed in white, called “e nuri” or “the nude” for their bare or sock- covered feet, run through downtown Middletown before the Sunday Mass to thank and honor St. Sebastian for answering their prayers.”
- I only mention that detail because I try to point out coincidences, and I thought the parallel between the white clothes of entity seen in 1893, near the site of today’s ST. Sebastian’s Church, and the present-day devotees of St. Sebastian wearing white and walking around barefoot, was interesting. The barefoot aspect especially interests me, because that’s a very back-to-nature type of thing to do, and we’re talking about a person or entity who lived in the woods. All that being said, there’s likely no connection between the two, aside from the idea that some people wear all white for religious reasons, so that feels like one possibility for why a person might run off to the woods and live alone and dress all in white–could it be a religious thing?
- Oh, also, in case you’re wondering: St. Sebastian’s church was founded in 1894, the year after this article, though it’s only been in its current building since 1952 (the current building apparently used to be the Loew’s Woodside theater, which I wouldn’t have guessed from looking at it.)
- So that’s some paranormal stories about Woodside centering around St. Sebastian Church. I’ll pick up next week to talk about some of my more outlandish theories about this Woodside ghost story.
Sources consulted RE: An Acrobatic Ghost in Woodside
Books consulted RE: An Acrobatic Ghost in Woodside
- Where the Footprints End: High Strangeness and the Bigfoot Phenomenon, Volumes I and II by Joshua Cutchin and Timothy Renner
Articles RE: An Acrobatic Ghost in Woodside
- Wilkes-Barre Times Leader, The Evening News (Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania) · Fri, Jul 28, 1893 · Page 4
- Image 6 of The evening world (New York, N.Y.), July 28, 1893, (LAST EDITION)
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