; Phantoms and Monsters: Pulse of the Paranormal

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Treachery, Sorrow and Death...Haunting Remnants From Fort William Henry's History

poststar - Most people know Fort William Henry is full of history, but some longtime employees believe it's full of paranormal activity, too.

In mid-April, a group of professional ghost hunters will visit the resort and historical site to conduct an investigation and teach workshops on how to become a ghost hunter.

The weekend-long event is geared toward novices interested in learning how to detect the paranormal.

Part of the program will include a boot camp on methodologies led by The Atlantic Paranormal Society, also called TAPS, and an investigation of the site where major battles of the French and Indian War occurred.

This is the first time the resort has organized a special weekend dedicated to ghost hunting, but it's not the first time ghost hunters have visited the property.

Fred Austin, the resident expert on the site's paranormal activity, said the fort, which was the site of a bloody massacre in the mid-1700s, has attracted many paranormal investigation groups over the years.

In addition, the fort museum hosts walking ghost tours on Friday and Saturday nights during the summer season, but the weekend event will entail a thorough investigation by professionals.

While he doesn't put stock in all the ghost hunting groups and shows, Austin said TAPS has a good reputation and takes its work seriously.

"We had heard of them, and they had heard about us at the fort," Austin said of TAPS. "Word gets around."

Austin said there have been many sightings of a little girl near the dining room and a soldier in the tavern, as well as reports of objects moving on their own in unoccupied spaces.

Sam Luciano, a vice president at the Fort William Henry Resort, has been at the hotel for 26 years. A nonbeliever for a long time, Luciano said guest and staff experiences eventually convinced him there is paranormal activity at the fort.

"We are definitely an active site," he said.

According to Luciano, the resort decided to offer the weekend event because there was such high demand for it. But the business has not talked about or promoted its reputation in the paranormal community because it wants to avoid becoming known as a "haunted" hotel.

"It's a quandary for us because, if we share it in the wrong light, you can build up hysteria," he said.

TAPS coordinator Syd Schultz II, who will lead the boot camp in April, said the first goal of any investigation is to "debunk" the phenomenon and rule out any logical explanations for what is occurring.

"If people are hearing knocking (noises), it could be a water pipe in the night," he said. "The biggest misconception (about ghost hunting) is that we just run around in the dark chasing our tails."

Once the normal has been ruled out, Schultz said he looks for the abnormal - an unexplained voice, noise, temperature change or electromagnetic field spike.

He said three or four signs at once are usually a clear indication of something paranormal.

The rarest sight is a full-body apparition, which Schultz said he's only seen twice in his career.

"Seeing them is less common than hearing them," he said of ghosts.

Schultz's class will focus on how to get started in paranormal investigation, standard operating procedures and protocol, terminology, equipment, what kinds of business licenses are involved and how to screen for and use psychics in the field.

"Anybody that's interested in getting into this field, this is a perfect way for them," he said.

Equipment used to detect activity includes voice and video recorders, temperature gauges and devices to detect electromagnetic fields.

Schultz said the hobby has grown in popularity with the advent of shows chronicling it, such as "Ghost Hunters" on Syfy.

The star of the international version of that program, Dustin Pari, and Patrick Burns from "Haunting Evidence" on truTV will attend the Fort William Henry event.

Even the skeptics, Schultz said, generally want to relate some weird experience they had.

"It's opened the door for us so that now it's a watercooler conversation," he said.

Austin agreed. He said the fort has likely had paranormal activity for more than a century, but only in recent years have people felt comfortable relating their stories without worrying they'll be perceived as crazy.

"People don't feel weird about talking about it," he said.

The weekend will take place April 16 and 17.


Lake George was wilderness. It was the void between two encroaching European frontiers. Just a few miles north of the lake, stood Fort Carillon, the French fortress, designed to guard the area north from any English advance into Canada. Several miles south and east of the lake stood Fort Edward, on the Hudson, the northern terminus of the English foray into this forested area. Between the two stood the 26 mile long Lake George.

Named Lac Du St. Sacrement by the French, the place was renamed Lake George by William Johnson in 1755, shortly before he had defeated a French force there in the Battle of Lake George, to leave no doubt as to English sovereignty in the area. A road, constructed to link Fort Edward to the lake, now needed protection. In addition, a fort at this site could prove to be a launching and resupplying point for assaults against the French outposts and beyond. Thus was born Fort William Henry, designed and situated by Captain William Eyre along with Johnson.

On June 7, 1756 General Daniel Webb arrived to assume command of the fort and lead the upcoming planned offensive. At both ends of the lake, French and English garrisons were increased, entrenchments built, and preparations undergone. Over the course of the next year, a series of raids, counter-raids, and scouting missions occurred leading to some casualties and gathered intelligence.

It soon became apparent that Fort William Henry was becoming a thorn in the side of New France. General Marquis de Montcalm, in command at Fort Carillon, decided to invest and reduce the log structure at the south end of the Lake. Departing from his post on Lake Champlain, Montcalm led a force of 6 French Regular battalions consisting of 2570 soldiers. Augmented by an almost equal number of Canadian militia, 300 volunteers, along with a large contingent of invaluable Indian allies - between 1500 & 1800 from a large number of tribes - this French force became almost invincible, in this situation, by the presence of 200 men of the artillery units firing their 36 cannon and four mortars.

By contrast, the garrison at Fort William Henry, under the able leadership of Lt. Colonel George Monro - once General Webb decided to turn tail and survey matters from Fort Edward - had a total, as the siege began, of 2372 men. Only a maximum of 500 could man the fort. The remainder settled into an entrenched camp just east of the fort. No preparations were undertaken to resist French attempts to make landings on the shore. The English merely waited. Expecting the attack to come from the west - the east side being swampy and fortified by the camp - Monro had the heaviest of the artillery pieces along the west wall.

Montcalm chose the northwest bastion to bear the brunt of the artillery barrage he planned. Arriving during the night of August 2-3, 1757, he immediately set to work building a road and then a series of entrenchments to inch ever-closer to the fort walls. Meanwhile, Indian and militia marksman positioned themselves between the entrenched camp and Fort Edward, straddling the road, and harassed the beleaguered British.

As the days went on, the French artillery moved closer, the British casualties mounted, and hope of reinforcement continued to dwindle. Couriers were routinely dispatched between the British forts, often times being intercepted by the French or their Indian allies. One such message, from Webb, encouraged surrender, as at the time, he felt he could not aid Monro. On August 7, Montcalm ordered his aid-de-camp, Captain Bougainville, forward under a flag of truce to make this intercepted letter known to the garrison. By the next morning, the French trenches were a mere 250 yards outside the fort wall. Within the fort, ammunition was low, spirits were lower. There was little hope.

And so, just after dawn on the 9th of August, following a conference of the fort's officers, a flag of truce was visible flying over Fort William Henry. Montcalm offered generous terms, even for the typically gentlemanly terms of the day ... the entire garrison would be allowed to march off in military parade, colors flying, to Fort Edward. A cannon would even be allowed to accompany the procession. In return, the English would not bear arms against France for the next 18 months. No ammunition would be granted, and the sick and wounded would be returned when well. One British officer would remain as hostage, until the French escort attached to the retreating column, returned safely from Fort Edward. In European terms, all was well. The paid French soldiers had earned their victory. Once burned, there would no longer be a British post on the shores of Lake George. The British, though defeated, had retained their honor. The siege of Fort William Henry was over.

The British evacuated the fort, leaving about 70 sick and wounded to the care of the French. Almost immediately, Indians entered to plunder - their form of payment - what baggage the British had left behind. Cries and screams for help were heard outside the fort. A missionary, Pere Roubaud says of one particular warrior, "[he] carried in his hand a human head, from which trickled streams of blood, and which he displayed as the most splendid prize that he could have secured." Accounts vary, but somewhere between four and seventeen were killed within the fort. In light of upcoming events, it is reasonable to assume that they perhaps resisted. French troops soon restored order.

The tribes were restless. They wanted booty. It was their only reward. Clothing, arms, ammunition, supplies, rum ... many felt deprived. They lingered. Tensions mounted. A proposed march from the entrenched camp to Fort Edward was postponed, at Montcalm's suggestion, until the following morning, as hostile Indians gathered in the vicinity. They pestered the soldiers, wanting their baggage. Montcalm posted French guards. It was a long, tension-filled day and night. Two-thirds of the Indians were not in their camps.

At dawn's light on August 10th, the English assembled by companies, Monro on horseback, and attempted to leave from the entrenched camp. A French escort of 200 was on the scene. When the last British regiment had left, Indians fell upon 17 helpless wounded left behind in huts. They were scalped and killed. At the rear of the column was a Massachusetts regiment, some New Hampshire militia, and camp followers. The Indians next fell upon them. "... than the savages fell upon the rear killing and scalping." A "hell whoop" was heard. " ... the Indians pursued tearing the Children from their Mothers Bosoms and their mothers from their Husbands, then Singling out the men and Carrying them in the woods and killing a great many whom we say lying on the road side." Not surprisingly, despite a halt being ordered, many fled, these images indelibly stamped upon their minds. Hundreds, up to 1500, were reported killed by those panic-stricken souls arriving at Fort Edward. It is easy to imagine it as so. The column was unarmed. The Indians fully armed. Eyewitnesses claimed this "slaughter" went on for "three hours". Accounts were typified by this:

...this Day when they Came to march the Savage Indiens Came upon them and Stript them of their Packs and Cloths and the most of their Arms then they Pickt out the negrows Melatows and Indiens and Dragd them Away and we Know not what is Become of them then they fell to killing of our men At A most Dredfull manner they Ravesht the women and then Put them to the Slaughter young Children of the Regular forces had their Brains Dasht out Against the Stones and trees

It is easy to visualize nearly the entire column being slaughtered under these circumstances, much like what one sees in the movie, The Last of the Mohicans. How could it be otherwise? 1600 armed, frenzied warriors falling upon a defenseless, panicked column of some 2400 (including women & children) for nearly three hours. It certainly is very easy to imagine. In reality, however, it just didn't happen. Col. Monro, speaking of his regular troops, gave 129 killed and wounded - including the siege - as his estimates. Regarding the militia, he says, "No Regular Accot Could be got from the Provincials but their Numbers Kill'd Could not be Less than Four Officers & about 40 Men. And very near as many Men Wounded." Roubard stated killed could number "hardly more than forty or fifty." Another man stated, "Near Thirty Carcasses, however, were actually seen ..." There is no doubt some killing occurred, but, by and large, the picture was one of Indians taking, from terrified soldiers, baggage and clothing they felt was due them. It was a scene of pawing, grabbing, poking & touching. When a soldier resisted stiffly, he may have been knocked down, beaten, scalped or killed. Indians had learned from Oswego that a soldier was worth more alive than dead. The French would pay handsomely for the return of prisoners. So, as the soldiers broke and ran, the Indians pursued. They gathered booty, and collected prisoners. It was undoubtedly a scene of utter pandemonium and terror, but the "massacre" as film and some historians have presented it, just never did occur. At some point, the French did help restore some semblance of order. Though hundreds streamed in well before, the remnants of the column, including Col. George Monro, did arrive at Fort Edward, under French guard, on August 14.

These two images are from the recreated set of Fort William Henry from the feature film 'The Last of the Mohicans' starring Daniel Day-Lewis and Madelaine Stowe

According to Ian K. Steele's Betrayals, the most recent and exhaustive study on the subject, of the 2308 soldiers who left Fort William Henry on August 9, 1783 had shown up at Fort Edward by August 31, an additional 217 appearing by year's end. Considering the fact that only 500, including "wives, servants, & sutlers" arrived with Monro, it is obvious that many fled into the woods to make their way alone or in parties over the next weeks. Among those captured, most were paroled at some point. By the new year, only 308 were considered killed or missing. It seems reasonable to assume that of these, many were those who fled but never, for one reason or another, went to Fort Edward. Again, according to Steele's study, the maximum number killed on August 10 "including those who happily or unhappily lived the rest of their lives in the villages and forests of New France's Indian allies, could not have numbered more than 184." His minimum figure is 69.

Fort William Henry's impact on history had been accomplished. The French burned the fort. Today, a reconstruction stands where the original once stood. There is a marker on the site of the entrenched camp, and several other markers and monuments nearby. The ruins of a portion of Fort George, built a couple of years later near where Fort William Henry stood, can still be found. Fort Edward is marked merely by a couple of blue signs. Fortunately, there is excavation work being done in the vicinity, and this may someday change. Fort Carillon (Ticonderoga) stands proudly today, as it did nearly 250 years ago, as a silent reminder to all that once took place.


This happened about two years ago. I live in Maine and there are many old forts to visit. On my birthday (July) I went with my mom and husband to Fort William Henry. This fort has a tower and what is left of the old foundation of the fort. Next to the tower are what remains of the foundations of the soldier quarters. My mom and husband went into the tower because there was a little museum in there. And, strange for July, there were no other tourists around.

I was fascinated by the soldier quarters and I just stood there staring at the old foundations and wondering and thinking about what it must have been like to be a soldier back then. Suddenly, a man came over from the direction of the tower and stood near the foundations I was looking at. He stood there until I noticed him. I could not see him with my eyes, but he was definitely there and he was a man. When I noticed him, he went back over to the tower and stood in the doorway with his arms crossed, just standing there. I had the feeling he belonged in the tower. I was freaked out so I decided to go find my mom and husband, and when I started walking toward the tower... the man disappeared.


In 1997, the first professional archaeology in fifty years began at this famous site. For four seasons crews worked in the fort's well, along the road that was the entrance to the fort, and at various sites around the outer moat and the military cemetery.

Workers digging a foundation behind the Holly Tree Inn unearthed the 250-year-old remains of two soldiers this month, and a historian says 100 more still lie in unmarked graves in the area. Skeletal remains that archaeologists believe are those of young men who died in the Battle of Lake George were uncovered when the owners of the Holly Tree, at Route 9 and Birch Street, started preparing the ground for cottages. Gerry Bradfield, curator at the privately owned Fort William Henry, said he has an eyewitness account of a mass burial of 126 men on this site in the shadow of Prospect Mountain. French and British forces clashed here during the French and Indian War. They were fighting for control of the lake, part of a strategic waterway from Canada to Albany. Warren County Sheriff Larry Cleveland said the contractor called his office when the bones were found, but deputies quickly determined the site was not a crime scene. Finding grave sites is really not that unusual around here," Cleveland said. David Klinge of Hartgen Archaeological Associates of Rensselaer said a physical anthropologist reviewed the remains and examined the site for signs of European burial practices. Bradfield has pictures from 1965, when two dozen of the fallen soldiers' brothers-in-arms were uncovered when the motel was built. The men likely were killed during one of the three clashes between French, British and Indian forces on Sept. 8, 1755, the curator said. The current owners of the Holly Tree, where rooms are $50 a night midweek, would not talk about the find. Vinnie Crocitto, whose mother owned the hotel for 30 years, said he remembers builder George Hayward explaining the history of the site. A newspaper report from 1965 shows Hayward holding a skeleton and posing for a photograph with Jim McGee, who at the time was the curator of Fort William Henry. Buttons from French uniforms were discovered in the sandy soil at the time. Crocitto, now the manager of a nearby Super 8, said his mother put a new level on the hotel, adding seven rooms, but "we never touched the ground." Bradfield said such discoveries throughout Lake George were common as hotels were built in the 1950s and '60s. Those who found them gave the bones to Bradfield's uncle, Edwin McEnaney, a co-founder of the fort. Eventually, they were buried under the marker "John Doe" in the fort cemetery. The original fort was razed in 1757, less than two years after it was built. Dozens of remains were unearthed when work began to build a replica in 1953. The bones were on display for 40 years, according to plaques in the cemetery. They were laid to rest in 1993. In 2001, a set of remains, which had been scalped, was found under a sidewalk. The skeleton was reinterred later that year. Although the state Department of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation was notified of the bones at the Holly Tree, spokeswoman Kathy Jimenez said she expects the state to have little to do with them. "We don't have direct involvement in this case, we spoke to the owner and encouraged him to hire an archaeologist ... we recommend that if the remains need to be removed, they do so sensitively and rebury them," Jimenez said. She explained that if remains are found on public land or if public money is used for construction work, the state often orders an archaeological survey in historically sensitive areas. Such is the case of the Lake George Forum, a convention center and skating rink under construction across the street from the Holly Tree. No remains were found there, Bradfield said. In the case of an unmarked burial, Jimenez said her department can only make recommendations. Bradfield said he has offered to bury the skeletons with the others in the fort cemetery. He said the owners seem anxious to do so. Jim Anselmo was filling in for his daughter, the regular manager at the Holly Tree, on Wednesday while workers poured concrete in the back. The owners bought the cottages behind the Colonial Manor, which was razed to make way for the Lake George Forum, and they plan to move them across Route 9 to sit on the new concrete. In the meantime, motels and a batting cage mark the anonymous graves of young men who died here before the country was born.

Video: The Battle of Fort William Henry (Siege of Fort William Henry) was conducted by French and Native Indian forces under the command of General Montcalm against the British and settlers who held Fort William Henry in August 1757. Some of Montcalm's Native American allies violated his surrender terms and killed a column of British survivors, making it one of the notorious battles of the French and Indian war. Some scenes from the feature film 'The Last of the Mohicans' (adapted from James Fenimore Cooper's epic story) were used in the video...Lon

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Treachery, Sorrow and Death...Haunting Remnants From Fort William Henry's History