Hamptons Horrors: Real-Life Haunts on the East End

Ghost hunting at Old Whalers Church
Ghost hunting at Old Whalers Church, Photo: Oliver Peterson

Every fall, when Halloween comes scratching and rapping its bony fingers on our doors, we often find our thoughts drifting beyond the dusky edges and into gloomy, cobwebbed corners where true darkness dwells. Murderous clowns, hockey-mask slashers, haunted hayrides and spooky walks are all well and good, but some of us crave a deeper look into what resides in the murk between life and death. This is the time to recount chilling tales of experiences not soon forgotten—the long dead spirits calling out in the blackness and gripping us in the clammy hand of fear. Our collective hearts beat just a bit faster when we think of the haunted places lying in wait throughout Hamptons hamlets, villages and towns. Enter if you dare.

This list, presented in no particular order, is gleaned from published materials, stories passed from one person to another over many years, and from my own experiences as a journalist and paranormal investigator. I was lucky enough to interview witnesses about events that defy rational explanation at some of these places, and I’ve even explored two firsthand, spending hours attempting to cut through the firmament and make contact during protracted nights in cold, dark rooms.

Vintage photo of Old Whalers Church
Vintage photo of Old Whalers Church, Photo: Courtesy Sag Harbor Historical Society

Old Whalers Church, Sag Harbor
It should come as little surprise that the historic whaling port is steeped in ghostly legends and lore. Among its most recognizable buildings, the Old Whalers Church on Union Street (built in 1844) has inspired numerous terrifying tales. Along with multiple witnesses speaking of eerie feelings, the sound of footsteps coming from empty rooms and disembodied shadows moving among the pews, the most compelling accounts surround the church’s organ and the loft where it sits. One organist told me of seeing two faces in the organ’s mirror while practicing late one night, inspiring him to vacate the premises posthaste.

Another man close to the church told me how men working in the structure’s “guts” were locked inside after the access door, right next to the organ, somehow closed and locked despite no one else being in the building—I checked and there’s no way this could’ve happened naturally. During my own investigation, my camera and watch battery simultaneously drained and died moments after entering the organ loft. The camera battery refilled soon after leaving the area, but the watch remained dead until I replaced the battery. Something is happening here.

Mill Hill Windmill, Stony Brook Southampton Campus
Built in 1713 behind Windmill Lane in Southampton and moved to its current Shinnecock Hills location in 1890, this 300-year-old windmill has a rich history, as well as a tragic, apocryphal tale. Now used as a gathering place for Stony Brook events, it was designated a Literary Landmark in 2013 because Tennessee Williams spent the summer of 1957 there writing The Day on Which a Man Dies, an experimental play inspired by the death of his friend Jackson Pollock the year before.

According to a well-circulated legend, as chronicled in Kerriann Flanagan Brosky’s excellent Ghosts of Long Island and Scott Lefebvre’s Spooky Creepy Long Island (which cites Brosky’s book as a reference), the windmill is home to the spirit of Beatrice Claflin, a young child who used it as a playhouse when her parents owned the property. Beatrice is said to have broken her neck and died after a fall down the windmill’s steep stairs, and students have long reported seeing the ghostly face of a young girl peaking through the windows. In her book, Brosky shares a story of a couple’s car inexplicably breaking down outside the windmill, and of capturing the sound of grain going down the long-inoperable chutes on a digital recorder. I spent a great deal of time attempting to investigate the Mill Hill Windmill, but the school eventually rejected my request.

Villa Paul Restaurant
Villa Paul Restaurant

Villa Paul Restaurant, Hampton Bays
Well known for its history and strange occurrences, this popular Italian restaurant at 162 West Montauk Highway was just a log cabin in 1804, and its original “borning room” (reserved for births, illness and death) still remains. A New York Supreme Court justice (1920–1940), Judge Edward Lazansky, and his wife, Cora, may be the cause of the spiritual activity here. The story goes that after Edward’s death, Cora removed all the headstones from the adjacent cemetery in order to sell the house more easily, leaving the bodies in unmarked graves. In lieu of their headstones, it’s quite possible that angry spirits continue to make their presence known in other ways, including disembodied footsteps, lights going on and off on their own and more. The home was converted into a restaurant, which has been owned and operated by the Pensa family since 1965.

64 Division Street, Sag Harbor
Now closed and up for sale, the former home of Murf’s Backstreet Tavern may have a ghostly resident within its walls. Constructed in 1792, this humble building was a small home before retired NYPD cop Tom Murphy bought it and opened Murf’s there in 1976. During his 30 years as proprietor, Murphy sensed that whiskey wasn’t the only spirit at Murf’s. He believed a former resident, Adelaide “Addie” King, kept watch over her home from the great beyond. Murphy, who died in 2010, gladly told anyone who asked about the blender that turned on even though the switch was still in the off position. He also said Addie flipped chairs and once turned on the jukebox while he was filming an interview for TV. I spent a long night investigating the bar for ghosts in 2007 and came away with very little, but Murphy’s claims always felt credible.

Montauk Lighthouse
Montauk Lighthouse, Photo: David Taylor

Montauk Lighthouse, Montauk Point
Commissioned by George Washington in 1792 and built in 1796, the Montauk Lighthouse has been associated with a variety of spectral stories. The experiences vary, but most attribute the paranormal activity to Abigail, a young woman who is said to have perished more than a century ago when her ship went down in the rocky sea below. Established lore says she was brought ashore and died of her injuries inside the lighthouse or on the nearby beach. Now she’s known for pulling on people’s shirts, moving furniture and pictures, speaking and making otherwise unexplained sounds that stand out over the crashing waves and whistling wind. Water is thought to conduct energy and enhance paranormal activity, and lighthouses may work as antennae for attracting spirits, creating perfect conditions for a haunting.

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