OSWEGO, NY ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â‚¬Å“ It’s that time of year again.
For those brave enough, guided ghost tours will be conducted at Fort Ontario on Oct. 23, 24, and 25, from 7 to 9 p.m.
A dead body's hand reaches out from under a sheet. The west artillery casemate is being redone to reflect what it might have looked like in the early 1900s when it was a makeshift morgue when an Influenza outbreak decimated the fort as well as the Port City.
Tickets are available by advance purchase only and cost $8 for the public and $5 for Friends of Fort Ontario members.
Tours are scheduled in 10-minute increments, group sizes are limited, and no walk-ons are allowed.
How many ghost stories are there connected to Fort Ontario?
“More than the number of bars in Oswego,” quipped Richard Guinn, one of the organizers of the tours.
“It takes weeks, if not a month, to get everything set up and ready to go,” said Guinn. “The special effects take a long time because you’re dealing with an out-dated power system. The fort wasn’t designed for this.”
Guinn assembles period furnishings, lighting, and other props for the sets interpreting the lives and deaths of those people discussed during the ghost tours.
There will be ghostly sights and sounds at various locations within the historic fort.
“We’ll probably still be setting up right up to the night of the tours,” Guinn said.
Since 1755, murder, accident, suicide, drowning, disease, wounds, and natural causes have ended the lives of many of the fort’s military and civilian occupants.
Some legendary figures, such as Lt. Basil Dunbar, killed in a duel in 1759, or Private George Fykes, who died in a 1782 fever epidemic, are rumored to appear as ghostly figures walking the ramparts of Fort Ontario and scaring army sentries and intruders, according to Paul Lear, historic site manager.
Phantom trains also play a part in the fort’s grisly past.
Ghost tour producer Jennifer Emmons, who handles historical research at the fort, tells of a soldier who tried to run away from the fort.
He sneaked off and tried to climb aboard a passing freight train.
However, he fell off and the train ran over him, she said.
A tramp witnessed this and went to the fort to report the soldier’s ghastly demise, Emmons said.
“The only way they could identify who it was was from the shreds of his uniform,” she said. “Before they got back to him, he had been run over by two more passing trains.”
And so, a word to the wise, stay off the railroad tracks at the fort ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â‚¬Å“ you never know when there might be a train bearing down on you!
Emmons utilizes primary historical and other sources to present fascinating accounts of the lives and deaths of individuals whose life stories ended at the fort.
There will be live volunteers portraying the living and non-living denizens of the fort for the event.
The west artillery casemate is being redone to reflect what it might have looked like in the early 1900s when an Influenza outbreak decimated the fort as well as the Port City.
The makeshift morgue is being decorated with approximately a dozen “dead” bodies.
“They were so overcome with dead at that time that they started using the underground casemates here as a temporary morgue,” Guinn explained.
Emmons said about five years ago a woman approached her and said she remembers the Spanish Flu outbreak in Oswego.
“She said she was about six at the time (fall of 1918) and said she remembers adults talking about the Spanish Flu outbreak and using the old fort to store the dead,” Emmons said. “I started doing some research and discovered all the funeral homes were just overwhelmed.”
Anywhere from 3 to 13 soldiers per day died of the flu at the fort hospital and anywhere from 14 to 27 civilians also died daily at the Oswego hospital over the course of about two weeks, she noted.
The outbreak started around Sept. 28 or 29 and was at its peak for about two weeks, she said.
The autumn weather made the stone casemate even colder; providing an adequate space to house the numerous dead.
Some of the fort’s most notable dead will likely be on hand to greet visitors.
However, if you’ve come the last three years, Emmons cautions ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â‚¬Å“ “Don’t expect to see the same things.”
The fort’s bloody and sometime macabre history has given organizers a wide assortment of material from which to draw inspiration for the ghost tours.
There will be about seven ghostly stops along the tour with narratives planned to keep the queue of visitors moving forward smoothly at 10-minute increments.
It will be about 3 to 4 minutes at each site.
The whole tour usually takes about 45 minutes or so, Emmons said.
They hope they have things planned out, time wise, so they don’t hurry anyone through the tour, she added.
Located at the north end of East Fourth Street in Oswego, Fort Ontario is considered one of the ten most haunted places in the United States by purported experts on the paranormal.
Call Roberta Elmer at (315) 343-4711 from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. for tickets and reservations.
For more information, visit www.fortontario.com