Yesterday, my mother and I took a ghost tour of Yaddo, an artist's colony in Saratoga Springs, NY. Saratoga has a long and storied history, dating back before the Revolutionary War. I've only visited Yaddo's rose garden during the summer, and was curious to see what my favorite season did to such a beautiful place. Autumn didn't disappoint. The grounds were festooned with crinkly leaves in a variety of fall colors.
As we gathered around the docent to hear her opening words, I noticed a movement out of the corner of my eye and turned. All I saw was a falling leaf, so I wrote it off, even though I could have sworn that what I saw in my peripheral vision was bigger than a leaf. Nearby, a hanger hung from a tree. The strangeness of it provided a spooky counterpoint to the growing twilight. The statues were covered to protect them from the impending arrival of another upstate NY hurricane. With the marble statues covered in protective housing, and the leaves gone from the trees, the energy of the place had changed from what I've experienced during the summer. It was still peaceful, but just a little creepy, like a mummified pharaoh.
Yaddo was created by Spencer Trask, a New York financier and philanthropist, and his wife Katrina. Previously, the land had been owned by Jacobus Barhyte, who operated a tavern on the property. The most notable visitor at Barhyte's tavern was Edgar Allen Poe. The place must have made an impression on him, because he is one of the more commonly seen apparitions at Yaddo.
By the time they purchased the land, the Trask's had already known tragedy. Their 5 year old son had died of meningitis. Later, Katrina would develop diphtheria. Their two surviving children were exposed to the contagion, and died within days of each other. After the death of their first three children, Katrina gave birth to a baby who died in infancy. Spencer himself died tragically, in a train accident on his way down to NYC from Saratoga.
The area was also a Native American meeting place, and it was while describing the legends of a Mohawk and Mohegan skirmish that the docent started describing some of the sightings that have happened over the years. Many people report seeing an apparition out of the corner of their eyes, but when they turn, nothing is there.
That sounds familiar, I thought with a smile.
Later in the tour, while we gathered in the garden behind the pergola, a few people spotted some deer grazing in a meadow beyond the trees. For several moments, we tried to catch glimpses of the young animals as they nibbled the grass in the deepening dusk. They moved farther into the meadow, and became hard to see, so I turned my attention back to the docent. After a few minutes, I saw a movement off to the side. The dark shadow was large enough that I thought one of the deer had moved into the wooded garden area to my left (pictured below). I turned, convinced I would get a closer view of one of the deer. But there was nothing there. Nada.
Yaddo has truly become a place of creativity. It has hosted many notable writers, like Truman Capote, Sylvia Plath, James Baldwin, and John Cheever. Some of those writers, it appears, never left.
All photos from my visit to Yaddo can be found here.