Villa Paul restaurant in Hampton Bays is one of many “haunted” places on Long Island explored in the new children’s book The Ghostly Tales of Long Island by Rachel Kempster-Barry. The book explores various spooky tales of ghosts and other scary stories from around the island. Kempster-Barry, a Long Island native, talks about the book, her favorite haunts and more.
Tell us about the book. It’s adapted from Historic Haunts of Long Island Kerriann Flanagan Brosky with Joe Giaquinto.
I used that as my source material and just tried to “Scooby Doo-ify” it! It wasn’t written for children originally, of course, and I tried to pick through and find the stories that I thought kids would find the most interesting, fun, intriguing. I wanted to push the spooky bits without terrifying the children.
Are you a fan of the spooky and scary?
My dad, who has since passed, went through this real horror movie phase and got me into it as a middle school kid. I went through a big Stephen King moment in my youth and have a great fondness for it. The thing I liked about this project and the thing I dig about the Arcadia books in general is that there’s so much history. The haunting bit is a way to talk about history in a fun way so that was really attractive to me.
Have you been to any of the places mentioned in the book?
Growing up on Long Island, I’ve been to a lot of these places. I’ve been to Villa Paul, the St. James General Store, I’ve been to Old Bethpage Village Restoration. I’ve of course been to Fire Island, Oheka Castle. These are big spots so I’ve definitely been there.
Talk a little about your writing style.
When I look at the area I’ve written books in, it’s about creativity, kindness and looking at the world in a creative way, self-expression, things like that. This was a bit of a departure from that. But it pushed me quite a bit to look at these stories with fresh eyes and think how, as a kid, I could have entered into this scene and found it fun, fascinating but not terrifying!
How did you go about picking and choosing the stories from Historic Haunts of Long Island?
I definitely tried to pick the stories that had more history and were spooky-based than gory-scary. I just tried to soften it a little bit! Kids love this sort of thing and the popularity of the “I Survived” books.
I remember when my nephew, who’s now 20, went through a scary, R.L. Stine phase. R.L. Stine draws a crowd! It’s fun and I remember everybody sitting around and telling scary stories about Long Island. The fact that these are based on real places you can go to. I went to Old Bethpage so many times on field trips. I totally want to go back now with this new information! It certainly adds some fun to field trips and other family outings.
Long Island has a very rich “haunted history.”
It’s funny, too, because I’ve been talking about it with my friends and some of my cousins and when I said I was writing book about haunted places on Long Island half the time they’re like, “give me a break” and half the time they’re like, “oh my god, is this place in the book?” So a lot more people in the book have their own, special stories and their own unexplainable encounters.
Do you have a favorite chapter from the book?
I have to say, I did love learning about the Culper Spy Ring. It went on for a while and involved quite a few people. It was a piece of history I don’t remember learning about in school. It’s very exciting and a thrilling piece of history to learn about.
Have you read any spooky stories recently?
For the first bit of the pandemic, I found reading, writing and doing anything really challenging, I just played Animal Crossing! But we bought it right before everything shut down. I’ve read Devolution by Max Brooks which is a scary thriller with Sasquatches and then The Lesson by Cadwell Turnbull about an alien invasion in the not-so-distant future.
Meet Rachel Kempster-Barry and publisher Nancy Ellwood in a virtual kid-friendly Halloween event at Book Revue on October 28.