Since this is the time of year for stories about ghosts and haunted places, I figured that I would tell a little ghost tale today. Ghosts have more commonly been associated with historic events including wars, disasters, and of course murder cases. So it is only natural that ghost stories have emerged about the Gillette case.
For years after the famous murder of Grace Brown at Big Moose Lake in 1906 and the trial and execution of Chester Gillette in 1908, ghost stories have emerged about the case in locations that related to the case, including the courthouse and the 1834 Jail in Herkimer as well as Big Moose Lake itself.
The Gillette-related ghost stories started as early as 1909 and it also tied in with the sudden disappearance of the boat where the murder took place. It had been sitting in the courthouse since the trial ended and suddenly it was gone. One of the stories that surrounded the disappearance of the boat is that one day, people claimed to have seen ghostly images of a man and a woman in the boat and suddenly the ghostly man attacked the woman, who let out a loud shriek. Then they disappeared. Whether or not people had seen a ghostly reenactment of the murder remains a mystery.
And of course you all have heard the story of Grace's ghost at Big Moose Lake, right? It is one of the most famous ghost stories in New York State history. Over the years, people who have gone to Big Moose Lake have claimed to have experienced some unusual activity and sometimes claimed to have seen an image of a young woman in Victorian-era garb floating around the lake. Many have experienced a really strong feeling of sadness from the spirit, as though the ghost was mourning the circumstances that led to her death.
The most famous encounter was in 1988 when two women claimed to have seen Grace's ghost. That encounter led to a segment of the TV show "Unsolved Mysteries" that aired in January 1996.
Even today, the ghost stories of the Gillette case capture the imagination of the public as much as the love letters, Theodore Dreiser's "An American Tragedy," and the film "A Place in the Sun" have done. It keeps people guessing and it is always open to speculation. People believe what they want and it is always interesting, especially since this is Halloween season after all.