What's the most famous ghost story in Western New York? It's a tough question in a region that is rich in supernatural lore. Among the best-known stories is certainly the tale of the headless ghost who reputedly haunts Old Fort Niagara's French Castle.
Legend has it two French officers fought a sword duel and one was decapitated. The duel's survivor threw the deceased's head in Lake Ontario and stuffed the headless body down the well. On nights of the full moon, a ghost allegedly rises from the well in search of its wayward cranium.
The headless ghost is certainly Old Fort Niagara's best-known ghost story. Virtually every school child in the region has heard one version of the story or another. Most people aren't so familiar with dozens of other unexplained phenomena that have been reported over Fort Niagara's long history.
On Saturday nights, Oct. 18 and 25, visitors to the fort will have the opportunity to come face to face with the darker side of its history. Over the years, the fort has been the scene of violent death, sickness and starvation. Several of these stories will come to life during the fort's annual "Haunted Fortress."
This year's event will add some new stories to the haunted tour. Visitors will travel back to 1687 when the French left 100 men to winter at the fort and found only 12 left alive when they returned in the spring. They'll also meet a British woodcutting party that was attacked by American militia and did not survive the encounter. There also will be a variety of ghosts and ghouls that wander the dark corridors of the French Castle.
Visitors can linger by a large bonfire and hear true ghost stories or visit the garrison cemetery. Food will be available for sale.
The "Haunted Fortress" is a fundraising event that supports educational programming at Old Fort Niagara. Tickets are $13 per person and must be purchased in advance by calling 716-745-7611. The tour is not recommended for children under age 8. Visitors are urged to wear walking shoes. For more information, visit Fort Niagara's website at www.oldfortniagara.org.