Updated: Aug 26, 2022
It seems the more you tell ghost stories, the more you get told. They have an infectious way of coming out of people. The second I bring up a ghost story I know of I am either met with everyone in ear shot telling their own, or total ambivalence. I certainly enjoy engaging those with their own stories much more.
So when I first heard of Annette Hinkle's Sag Harbor Ghost Tours I was excited to talk to her about all she knew. We have talked plenty of times now about all things ghostly and if any of you ever get a chance to join in on one of her Haunted Sag Harbor walking tours, I highly encourage it! But if you don't live in the area or just can never seem to make it, she has kindly written about some of these ghostly stories for us to share on our blog.
I would also suggest if you can, to sign up for the Sag Harbor Whaling Museum's Ghost Stories event on October 23rd for a chance to hear maybe some of these and many more real life ghost stories! You can get you tickets for their event on their website here.
By Annette Hinkle
It’s funny, but I can’t honestly say that I’ve ever encountered a ghost. Sure, I’ve had some weird, unexplainable things happen nearby — a glass exploding on its own accord, for example, or that time the water faucet in my bathroom sink turned on at full force when I was nowhere near it — but those are the sorts of events that could have a plausible explanation. I’ve certainly experienced nothing definitive enough to make me think, “that was definitely a ghost.”
Yet despite my own, specter-free experience, one thing is certain — over the course of the last decade or more, I’ve encountered more than my fair share of ghost stories.
That’s because as a longtime editor and writer at the Sag Harbor Express (and now the Arts & Living editor of the Express News Group which covers the whole East End), people in the community know to come to me when they have an interesting historic tidbit or a quirky human interest story to share. Somehow, along the way, I also became the purveyor of the ghost story — particularly, ghost stories set in Sag Harbor, which, in my limited experience, seems to be a hotbed for spirits.
It all began back in the early aughts when I was talking with Tony Garro of the Southampton Trails Preservation Society at a holiday party at the Sag Harbor Express office. Somehow, the subject of ghosts happened to come up and Tony told a sort of strange tale of an unidentified noise he once heard while alone at a house deep in the woods as he was setting up for a trails group event.
I had nothing to offer, other than the faucet and the glass, but we hit upon the idea of trying to find enough stories to cobble together a haunted walking tour of Sag Harbor and reached out to local museum directors and others for tales we could share. We came up with a good and spooky few of them that first year, all set in Sag Harbor, and they were pretty decent, even if there was a twinge of “urban legend” folklore to them… You know the kind, “I heard this happened to a friend of a friend.”
Every October thereafter, Tony and I offered our annual haunted walking tour of the village, and along the way, a funny thing happened. As we were making our rounds, inevitably, someone on the tour would point to a property we knew nothing about and say, “Can I tell you about what happened to me in that house?”
Of course they could. And they did. And over time, we replaced our urban legends and “friend of a friend” stories with first-hand ghostly encounters told to us by people we really knew with real credibility. And why not? When you look at Sag Harbor, with its shadow-filled streets and 18th and 19th century dwellings, you understand that it’s the ideal place to imagine things that go bump in the night. That’s even more true at this time of year when the sun sets early, the cold winds pick up and dry fallen leaves swirl in the streets.
But perhaps those bumps aren’t always the result of an over-active imagination …maybe just maybe, there’s something more to it.
Here, without further ado, are a few of the tales of haunted Sag Harbor.
Murf’s Backstreet Tavern on Division Street is a veritable institution. Not only is it a well-known spot for knocking back a few drinks, there have also been stories about spirits of another kind inhabiting the bar as well.
The late Tom Murphy bought the building in 1976 and for years, he operated the tavern that still bears his name. Tom wasn’t shy about sharing stories of his resident ghost, whom he affectionately called “Aggie.”
Before it was a bar, Murf’s had been a home and Agatha King, he explained, lived, and eventually died, there in the 1940s. According to Tom, her body was laid out in the front room during her wake.
In life, Aggie was a teetotaler who did not approve of drinking and debauchery, and for that reason, Tom believed in death, her spirit haunted the place.
It certainly looks like Murf’s would have a ghost. The building is one of the oldest in Sag Harbor. It dates to the 1790s and was likely moved to the village from Connecticut. Inside, not much has changed — it still has rustic wooden floors, an ancient brick fireplace and thick beams that lend to the ambiance.
Then there’s Aggie.
“One night before I was open to the public, I was down under the bar doing some repair work … and that’s when the door opened and immediately closed again,” said Tom in an interview a few years before his death. “I got up and asked ‘Who’s there?’”
No one was there.
“I figured that maybe it was the wind, but then I realized that the door opens out so it had to be pulled open,” said Tom, who had been told about the presence of a ghost by the previous owner.
“I thought, OK, it’s my turn now,” he said. “Let’s get it on.”
On cold winter nights when he would go upstairs to the office to total up the receipts, Tom reported that he would often get the creeps across the back of his neck and was certain he was not alone. At that point, he’d bid goodnight to Aggie and head home.
Once, while reaching for a wine glass from the overhead slot rack, a glass slid out on its own accord and flew right into Tom’s outstretched hand. Astonished patrons at the bar asked him how he did it. He assured them it was all Aggie’s doing.
Electrical appliances also seem to have a mind of their own in Murf’s. The blender has been known to turn on by itself, as does the jukebox. One New Year’s Eve a group of friends snapped a picture in the bar and when the photo was developed, there was an additional shadowy figure in the image.
“Every once in a while she lets us kow she’s around,” said Tom.
But it turns out, Aggie isn’t the only ghost hanging out at Murf’s.
One night back in 2001, a young local couple went out on the town for the night. Kristen and her husband had both grown up in Sag Harbor and had recently celebrated the birth of their baby girl. It was their first child and while overjoyed, the baby’s arrival was bittersweet for Kristen. She was extremely disheartened by the fact that her father, with whom she had been very close, had died before he had a chance to meet his granddaughter.
“When the baby was a couple months old, my mom offered to babysit so we could go out alone for the first time since she was born,” recalled Kristen. “We decided to go to Murf’s because we thought we might run into some high school friends there.”
And figuring those old friends would ask about the new baby, before she left home, Kristen slipped a picture of her baby daughter into the back pocket of her jeans.
When they arrived at Murf’s, Kristen and her husband took a seat at a table by the front window. As they were drinking their beers, she noticed a man seated at the end of the bar who kept glancing over at her. She had never seen him before.
Finally, the man got off his bar stool and walked over to Kristen and her husband. He pulled out a chair, sat down across from them and stared directly into Kristen’s eyes.
“He started blinking,” she said, “and I know this sounds weird, but his eyes were brown and as he blinked, they changed color and turned bright blue.”
Blue…just like her father’s eyes.
“He stared at me and then said, ‘Show me what’s in your back pocket,’” said Kristen.
Slowly, she reached into the pocket of her jeans and pulled out the photograph of her baby daughter. She handed it to the man who studied at it intently.
“Then he looked up, gave it back to me and said, ‘Thank you. He needed to see that,’” said Kristen.
At that point, the man got up and went back to his seat at the bar. By this time, tears were streaming down Kristen’s face and she was in in complete state of shock and disbelief. Finally, she composed herself enough to go over and confront the man.
“Who are you? How did you know?” she asked him. “I don’t even know your name.”
The man was just finishing his beer. He looked at Kristen and said, “Just call me Al Green.”
Then he got up and walked out the front door of Murf’s.
As soon as he left, an Al Green song came on the jukebox.
And Kristen never saw him again.
Old Whalers’ Church
Not far from Murf’s sits the venerable Old Whalers’ Church. It’s an imposing Egyptian Revival edifice that was built by architect Minard Lafever in 1844 and paid for with money from the whaling industry. The 168-foot steeple that once stood atop the church (making the structure even more imposing) was blown off during the hurricane of 1938 and came crashing down into the Old Burying Ground next door.
And inside, there have been even stranger goings on over the years.
Orbs have regularly been photographed near the basement stairs leading up to the church’s main level and footsteps have been heard throughout parts of the rambling building.
But the major action is in the sanctuary — particularly in the choir loft on the upper level.
One night while rehearsing, a church organist glanced up into the long, rectangular mirror that hangs above the organ. Because the instrument is played with the musician’s back to the alter, the mirror is situated so the organist can see the service as it is going on. But instead of a service, this night the man saw two distorted melting faces appear on either side of the mirror. The faces faded before his eyes. He quickly packed up and left for the night.
Another time, a maintenance worker used a small door in the wall of the choir loft to enter a crawl space to make a repair. While he was inside, the door slammed shut behind him and locked itself — from the outside, trapping him. Fortunately, he had a screwdriver on his tool belt and was able to remove the hardware from the door to escape.
Then there’s the bell choir story.
The handbell players of the Old Whalers’ Church stand, not in the choir loft, which is in the back of the church, but on the upper level near the front of the church where they overlook the alter. While they play, the ringers have a clear view of the choir loft to their left.
One October evening while the bell choir rehearsed, one of the players, glanced over at the choir loft and saw a man sitting there. He had a white beard and was dressed in full choir robes.
“Who’s that over in the choir loft?” the woman asked the other players in the choir.
As soon as she said it, the man faded away and she knew she had seen a ghost. The rest of the choir members asked for the details about what she had seen and what the man was doing. Then the choir moved on, finished their rehearsal and the players headed home.
But when one of the players got home, her husband, a member of the Sag Harbor Volunteer Ambulance Corps, told her that the church had lost one of their parishioners that evening, a man named Richard Vincent.
Richard was an active member of the church and was particularly involved in the choir. He also wore a big white beard. As soon as her husband said his name, the woman knew who had been seen in the choir loft that night.
That was where the tale stood — until a few years later when Sag Harbor author Tom Mathews wrote “Our Fathers’ War,” a book about World War II veterans and their reluctance to share their stories of war.
One of the vets profiled in the book was Richard Vincent, who happened to be the author’s brother-in-law. In the book, Tom describes how Richard loved to sing. He could often be heard performing arias in his Sag Harbor garden and his dream was to sing on the stage of the Metropolitan Opera.
When asked if he believed in ghosts, Tom said he did indeed. And when told the story of his brother-in-law being seen in the choir loft on the very night of his death, Tom asked when the choir practiced.
Thursdays from 6 to 8 p.m.
“That’s perfect,” said Tom. “I was with him when he died. It was at 7 o’clock on a Thursday night.”
“He died with this big grin on his face,” added Tom. “I thought it was because he was getting out of that boat we owned together.”
“But now I know, he was sitting in the choir loft at the Old Whalers’ Church.”
Within sight of the Old Whalers’ Church and on the other side of the Old Burying Ground is the former of home of the late monologist Spalding Gray and his wife Kathie Russo. The couple bought the house on Jefferson Street in the mid-1990s and from day one, unexplained happenings began.
Not long after moving in, while she was on the second floor with the couple’s three children, a babysitter reported hearing a full-fledged cocktail party going on in the living room below. She was too scared to investigate.
The children all had bedrooms in the attic of the home, but when Spalding was out performing on the road, Kathie would always bring the children down to the second floor to sleep near her. On those nights, she would often be awoken by the sounds of walking overhead and someone jumping up and down as if children were playing overhead.
Kathie got more insight into the ghost one August when they returned to the house after having rented it out for the summer. During the course of their stay, the tenants had found a portrait of Kathie in the basement and hung it on the wall. The portrait had been painted by Kathie’s ex-husband and she hated it. In the middle of the night on their first night back in the house, the painting came crashing down all by itself.
That’s when Kathie knew she’d get along fine with the ghost.
“Sometimes I would hear three knocks on the front door at 4 a.m., “ recalled Kathie. “But when I went down to check it out, no one was ever there.”
When the house was included on a L.V.I.S. historic house tour, one of the organizers of the tour asked Kathie if she had ever heard knocking on the front door at 4 a.m.
Kathie was shocked and admitted that she had.
The woman told her that her aunt had lived in the house too — back in the 1940s — and she heard the knocking as well.
Wine glasses were particularly vulnerable in the house. One evening while sitting by the fire, Spalding watched his glass slide across the small table on which it was perched and crash to the floor.
In 2001, Kathie and Spalding decided to sell their house and move to an old captain’s house in North Haven. They had just finalized the deal on the North Haven house and were sitting around the dining room table in Sag Harbor with friends toasting their new home.
“Right in the middle of the toast, two glasses that were sitting on the table flew up into the air and crashed together right in front of everyone,” said Kathie, who by this point, had decided she had had enough of that particular ghost.
Of course, she soon would learn that the new house in North Haven had a ghost of its own.
But that’s another story….