I love a good ghost story as much as the next guy, but there is too much wrong with “The Screamer of Glen Haven” for me to embrace the tale. The story, widespread on the Web, begins, “A sanitarium was burned down in 1912 to clear a spot for a watershed for the city of Syracuse. The Sanitarium’s caretaker was said to have perished in the fire. His screams could be heard across the lake.”
This is a reference to the Glen Haven and its water cure sanitarium. But when the city of Syracuse bought the Glen Haven property in 1911 to remove possible sources of contamination from the city’s water supply, it chose to tear the buildings down, not burn them down. The wood from the hotel was sold and carried away in 1913. So no caretaker could have perished in a fire that did not happen.
Could the story have stemmed from an earlier fire? The main building at Glen Haven did burn down in 1854, but no one was hurt.
The story of The Screamer continues, “He can be seen and heard at night pacing the wooded cliffs above the camp brandishing his sharpened scythe and wailing.” If we accept this part of the story, who might The Screamer be?
Perhaps it is Lewis Thomas, who had charge of the baths at Glen Haven. In May of 1904, he attempted suicide with a dull knife, failed at the attempt and was sent to the New York State Asylum for the Insane. So it could be his ghost, brandishing a dull knife, and screaming in frustration.
But if there’s going to be a haunt at Glen Haven, why not the spirit of Lillian Dumont of Brooklyn, who, oddly enough, was born at Glen Haven. She came from a good family and had lived a life of ease. She was 22 years old, pretty and popular. But in August of 1889, without leaving a word or a note, she went to her room in “Liberty Hall,” a Glen Haven cottage, and using the laces from her corset hung herself in a closet doorway.
She was discovered by her mother, who at first saw only her empty bed. “Just then she noticed a hand protruding from the closet,” the newspaper reported, “and she at once gave the alarm. Some ladies who happened to be near rushed in and the door being opened, Lillian was found hanging to the same. The cord was cut and the body laid upon the bed. She gasped a few times, but all efforts to resuscitate her were unavailing.”
Her family had no explanation for her suicide, saying only that Lillian had been suffering from “occasional fits of melancholy.’”
The same day’s newspaper reported a second Glen Haven suicide that week. James C. Terry, a resident of Cortland who had been in poor health, hired a boat, rowed to the middle of the lake and jumped in. He was 58; he left no family.
I do have one more candidate, one with a reason to scream. The month before Miss Dumont and Mr. Terry took their lives at Glen Haven, Darius Green of the town of Scott was working at a saw mill at Fair Haven, just across the lake. The newspaper noted:
“He was standing on a plank at the side of the large circular saw, greasing the same while it was running at full speed. The plank tipped up and flung him headlong in front of the saw, which cut the top of his head completely off, spilling the brains on the floor. His left hand was also severed and fell into the lake and has not been recovered at our latest advices. He leaves a wife and nine children in poor circumstances.”
In fact, there appears to be no lack of troubled spirits who might be pacing the wooded cliffs above the lake. Or perhaps there is nothing to the story of The Screamer, and all these troubled souls have found peace. Would that it be so.