Written for LakePlacid.com by guest blogger Christie Sausa.
Haunted Lake Placid
Lake Placid, New York, is known more for its sports stories than ghost stories, but don’t let that fool you; although they aren’t often publicized, several sites in the Lake Placid region have spooky reputations. Behind the small-town charm of the two-time Olympic site lies little-told stories of ghost sightings, odd experiences, and unsolved mysteries. So join us on this journey through the most haunted places in Lake Placid, where history and the supernatural intertwine in chilling tales of apparitions and unexplained phenomena.
The lady in the Lake (Placid)
On September 21, 1933, influential educator Mabel Smith Douglass went canoeing alone on Lake Placid. Her boat was found capsized 3 miles opposite of her starting point, and searches at the time turned up nothing. The first dean of the New Jersey College for Women, now part of Rutgers University, Douglass had retired due to ill health and accompanied her daughter to her camp on Lake Placid after a year in a sanatorium. She was recovering from the twin tragedies of her husband’s unexpected death and her son’s suicide, and allegedly thought the trip to Lake Placid would help her recuperate further. Despite various accomplishments since those life-changing events, including being named to the New Jersey State Board of Education and becoming the first female recipient of Columbia University’s medal for distinguished public service, Douglass still felt the losses keenly and suffered from overwork. She paddled onto the lake that cool September day to search for autumn leaves, but Douglass would never be seen alive again. Thirty years later, almost to the day, divers found Douglass’ well-preserved body resting on a rock shelf near Pulpit Rock, considered one of the deepest parts of the body of water. The lake had become her tomb.
Reports say that a rope attached to an anchor was found wrapped around her neck, and although her death was ruled an accidental drowning, the question remains. Did Douglass follow in her son’s footsteps and commit suicide that day? Or was it, indeed, somehow an accident? Only Douglass knew for sure. Since then, countless visitors camping and boating in the area have spotted an apparition floating near Pulpit Rock, prompting some to believe Douglass is doomed to guard her earthly resting place for eternity.
The former Lake Placid Club
Although few remnants of the Lake Placid Club remain, there can be no doubt of its impact on the region and the Village of Lake Placid. In 1891, creator of the Dewey Decimal System and influential librarian Melvil Dewey and his wife relocated to Lake Placid. Seeing its potential as a winter wonderland location, Dewey purchased five acres on east Mirror Lake and established the Lake Placid Club in 1895, initially as a social and recreational club. The Club started small and mainly catered to academics, teachers, and clergy in its early years.
In 1904, Dewey made a decision that would forever impact Lake Placid’s sports culture. He bought winter sports equipment from Europe for the club's first winter season. He hosted several adventurous types, including Henry Van Hoevenberg, the founder of Adirondack Loj and the namesake of Mt. Van Hoevenberg, to enjoy winter activities at the Club. From then on, Lake Placid became known as a winter sports paradise, and the Club hosted winter sports events, including dogsled derbies, ice skating competitions, tobogganing races, and alpine skiing on their property and Mirror Lake.
The Club's decline
The Lake Placid Club comprised 9,600 acres and employed over 1,000 people in the early ‘20s. Business boomed until the Great Depression of 1929, which started the Club’s decline. After Melvil’s passing in 1931, his son Godfrey was the strongest advocate for the Olympic Winter Games, becoming President of the 1932 Lake Placid Winter Olympic Committee. Supposedly, without the Club and its high profile, Lake Placid would not have even been considered. As their business declined, the Club was used for other purposes. In the ‘50s, the US Army used the buildings as a reconditioning center, and renovations were completed during World War II, which might have stirred up ghostly activity.
Some have said that former employees who met untimely ends did their duties oblivious to their ghostly status. But the most documented spirit was that of Annie Godfrey, Dewey’s first wife. Former guests and employees reported that she could sometimes be seen rocking back and forth in a rocking chair in the library - a fitting place for a librarian’s wife to appear. Other accounts say she would drift through the rooms in the main building, only to disappear into thin air.
Sadly, due to declining business, the Club would close shortly after serving as the International Olympic Committee (IOC) headquarters during the 1980 Olympic Winter Games. Frequent arson and vandalism occurred throughout the 1990s, and the place became a favorite creepy hangout for local kids who often rode their bikes through the abandoned main building and told tall tales about gruesome deaths and the tormented spirits who remained behind.
The main building was finally demolished in 2002. All that remains of the primary structure is the crumbling stone wall, driveway leading up to the former Club, and various bits and pieces on the property, including a heavily graffitied fireplace. Renovated cottages are still occupied, and the golf course is still top-rated. New condominiums were also built on the property around the footprint of the original main building, allowing a new generation of vacationers to enjoy Lake Placid.
Some still allege that remaining buildings on the property are haunted, but there aren’t enough accounts to say for sure. Some have noted strange sounds and wispy apparitions on the property late at night. Please note - the former Lake Placid Club property is privately owned, and trespassing is not permitted.
The Stagecoach Inn
Located away from the hustle and bustle of Main Street, The Stagecoach Inn on Old Military Road is indeed like stepping back in time. Built in the 1700s, it is the oldest building in Lake Placid and was formerly Lyon’s Inn (also known as North Elba House), a popular meeting place among locals and visitors, and even served as a post office and stagecoach stop (hence the name) before the railroad came to Lake Placid. In the 1900s, the Inn was the home of Lake Placid Club founder Melvil Dewey. Years ago, an attic fire severely damaged the property, but the previous owners, Mary Pat Ormsby and Tony Carlino, lovingly restored the Inn. Today, The Stagecoach Inn hosts guests in rustic comfort after being the site of several historical comings and goings. But do these visits continue today? Employees and guests say yes.
Previous employees say that guests have either seen spectral entities or felt their presence. Meanwhile, housekeepers report that someone – or something – swipes pillowcases. The antics regarding home goods don’t end there; pillows with the message “Welcome Friends” used to be a permanent fixture on the couch welcoming guests, but they would be found turned around or upside down when no one else had been in the room. Since Ormsby and Carlino moved on from the property, the new owners, Stacia & Mike Takach, have had their own experiences and allowed paranormal investigators to investigate the Inn.
Some experiences recorded and recounted include items being moved or falling on their own, televisions being turned on and off and blaring at high volume when no one was in the room, apparitions in photos, cold spots and strange feelings, unexplained scents, and phantom humming. Those who have witnessed this activity conjecture that several ghosts are present, including a lady, a man, a shy girl, and possibly a former innkeeper from the 19th century. If you’re looking for a historically charming place to stay in Lake Placid, the Stagecoach Inn is it. Apparently, the ghosts think so too.
The Olympic Center
Visitors know the Olympic Center as home to the Miracle on Ice, where the 1980 US Hockey Team bested the Soviet Hockey Team. However, some have claimed that sports history makes itself known spectrally. Years ago, visitors, employees, and skaters reported they saw a mysterious skater sometimes early in the morning at the Olympic Center when the lights were out and no sessions were scheduled. Others have simply felt a strange vibe in the rink when they were all alone.
Who is this mystery skater?
As for the identity of this spirit, reports vary. Some feel that the presence is that of Russian pairs skater Sergei Grinkov, who suffered a heart attack at the Olympic Center during Stars on Ice rehearsals and later died en route to the hospital. Others have claimed the presence felt more feminine, including the wild theory that the spirit was 1932 Olympic gold medalist Sonja Henie.
The strange activity is said to have continued at the Olympic Center’s Olympic Speed Skating Oval, the outdoor long track venue where Eric Heiden won his historic five gold medals. Since then, it has hosted numerous events, including competitions, public and speed skating sessions, and special skating events. It is also popular with one particular ghost.
Happenings at the Oval
Several oval employees have claimed to see a human shape out of the corner of their eye while cleaning the former warming hut late at night; the sightings occurred when the doors were locked and no one else was in the building. One employee claimed to see a form reflected in the clear glass of the vending machine; when he turned around to see who was standing behind him, no one was there. Employees suspected that the ghost was that of a speed skating official who died after a freak accident on the ice. Officiating a meet in the 1990s, he fell backward and hit his head on the ice after a skater collided with him, resulting in a fatal brain aneurysm. Since then, several claimed his presence was felt in the building, especially upstairs where the timing rooms used to be.
However, these stories originated before the renovations that began in 2019, and since the Olympic Center and Oval have been significantly improved, and some spaces (such as the former Oval warming hut) have been knocked down and replaced by other facilities, tales of ghostly activity seemed to … die down. Whether or not they are verifiable or still occurring, these stories reflected the unique echoes of time experienced by these legendary sporting venues.
The Whiteface Club & Resort
Mark this one down as 'previously haunted', because there haven’t been reports since the late 1990s. However, perhaps the ghosts are just waiting for you! Once called the Westside, the Whiteface Club & Resort was built in 1882 and housed summer guests, offering splendid views of Lake Placid and the opportunity to escape overcrowded and polluted cities for the grandeur of the Adirondacks. In 1898, the Whiteface Club & Resort was born. The Club was known for its extraordinary golf course, and the game was being played at the Whiteface Club and Resort before its official acknowledgment by the US Golf Association. Now, it houses condominiums, short-term rentals, golf courses, and a restaurant adjacent to the nearby Lake Placid Lodge.
The Knollwood Cottage overlooks Lake Placid and resides on the Whiteface Club property. The structure has a dramatic history; fires have damaged the Club building not once, not twice, but three times. In the 1980s, the main lodge nearby was demolished to create the condominiums that currently inhabit the property. One person who did not take kindly to the changes was Preston Bickford, the son of the family that built the original structure and the caretaker of the inn. Bickford shot himself, and since then, ghostly pranks were said to go on at the Whiteface Club property, including the Knollwood Cottage, which is now a short-term rental property. People taking photos of the beautiful staircase in the Cottage have reported seeing the ghostly image of a man at the top of the stairs in the developed photo, even when no one else was in the house.
The incidents at the Whiteface Club don’t stop there. Previous plumbers have claimed Bickford’s ghost sabotaged the pipes in the Convention Hall building. Other employees in the Club buildings claim to have experienced inexplicably flushing toilets, lights turning themselves on and off when no one has been in the room, kitchen doors swinging on their own, and the sound of running footsteps. Apparently, Bickford was still around, keeping an eye on the place and ensuring everything was in working order. Don’t let these incidents scare you, though - significant time has passed since they were last reported, and renovations have occurred since then. Despite these disruptions, no recent reports of hauntings have been made apparent.
Please note that the Knollwood Cottage is a vacation rental, and the Whiteface Club and Resort is private property. Please do not trespass.
John Brown’s Farm
Abolitionist John Brown was buried on the farm where he spent some time before his infamous raid on Harper’s Ferry. Although there haven’t been reports of Brown himself hanging around, reports assert that other spirits remain. One such spirit is called “Billy” and is thought to be the ghost of a farmer who worked the land over a century ago and was fatally struck by lightning on the property. Another rumored ghostly resident is John Brown’s daughter-in-law Martha, who passed away after giving birth to her daughter Olive, who also died. A former tour guide has reported hearing the sound of a rocking chair upstairs in the farmhouse and believes it’s the ghosts of Martha and the infant in the rocker, unaware that they are no longer of this world. The farm is a National Historic Site and is open year-round, Wednesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. - 5 p.m. and Sunday, 1 p.m. - 5 p.m. There are also hiking trails on the grounds.
The Palace Theatre
One of the most beloved landmarks on Main Street, the majestic Palace Theatre was opened in 1926 and has been operated by the same family since 1961. With its intimate theatres and Art-Deco-inspired interior, the Palace brings the vintage glamour of old-time movies to the present day. But some, including the owner of the Palace, say a visitor from the past continues to make his presence known. Believed to be the ghost of former contractor George Bola, he has been heard “working” early in the morning when no one else was there. Phantom footsteps, slamming doors, and falling glasses have also been reported. Employees apparently conducted a seance years ago in an attempt to communicate with George, and a nearby door flew open, yet no one was inside. The Theatre offers movies and matinees year-round and is a host venue of the Lake Placid Film Festival. Stop by and watch a movie (or two), and maybe George will join you.
Gone but not forgotten - the Grand View Hotel
Capping the top of the hill overlooking Mirror Lake sits the Crowne Plaza Lake Placid. This land was the site of one of Lake Placid’s first hotels - The Grand View Hotel. Built in 1878, the Grand View Hotel reached its final grandeur by 1900. By then, it was an incredibly popular hotel despite competition from other hotels that sprang up around it. After a long history that included being a refuge for World War II refugees, the hotel was closed in 1956 and eventually razed in 1961 to make way for what would then become the Holiday Inn. But some have reported strange experiences at the former Grand View Hotel. A Lake Placid resident reported sneaking into the abandoned Grand View before it was razed and seeing ghostly guests milling about the former lobby. Understandably, he bolted and never went back.
Today, the sprawling Crowne Plaza Lake Placid occupies the site, offering much the same views as those that guests at the Grand View once enjoyed. It should be noted there haven’t been any ghostly reports at the Crowne Plaza, or, indeed, at the prior incarnations/names of the property. But the story from over 60 years ago was too spooky to pass up.
Enjoy the spooky season in Lake Placid and visit these places if you dare (and if they are accessible to the public). Even if you don’t experience any ghostly activity, you can still experience these historic sites; and when you’re done, be sure to stop in one of Lake Placid’s fine restaurants, unwind with some shopping, or stay the night in one of Lake Placid’s many hotels.
Photos of the Lake Placid Club were courtesy of the Lake Placid Club Facebook page unless otherwise noted, and most were altered with Photoshop.