“’Ackley is estopped to deny their existence and, as a matter of law, the house is haunted (The Honorable Israel Rubin, N.Y. Sup. Ct. App. Div. 1991)(Trull, Kachuba).’”
The Ackley’s Haunted House on the Hudson
When George and Helen Ackley purchased a rambling 18 room Victorian on the end of a dead-end street in Nyack, New York, they undoubtedly knew that they would have a challenge on their hands. The ramshackle mansion measuring some 5000 square feet, not including full attic and basement, which afforded a view of the Hudson River, had been standing vacant for seven years. The old house, which sits 20 miles north of New York City, must have seemed like a wonderful place to bring up the family’s several children. Granted, pesky neighborhood children warned the family as they were moving in that their house was reputedly haunted. That didn’t stop the family from taking up residence. And it was soon after moving in, according to Helen Ackley, that the family realized the house was inhabited by a host of rambunctious spirits whose acquaintance the Ackley’s were soon to make.
During her tenure there, Helen Ackley made no secret that she believed the house to be haunted by “poltergeists.” She even went so far as to write and submit her own article to Readers’ Digest describing the haunting experiences. Unfortunately, the 1977 article by Helen Ackley entitled “My Haunted House on the Hudson” is difficult to locate, as the library system in Delaware only retained magazines starting from the 1980’s.. However, an article by Helen Ackley’s son-in-law is still available online.
The second husband of the Ackley’s daughter, Cynthia, recounts second-hand sources and describes his own experiences in the house in the article entitled, “The Ghost of Nyack.” Mark Kavanagh, makes no excuses for the area’s haunted history noting that Tarrytown is directly across the river. Just outside of Tarrytown is the famous Sleepy Hollow, the area made famous by the Washington Irving story, “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” Kavanagh notes that many of Irving’s stories were based on legends originating around the lower Hudson Valley, an area of reputed paranormal activity.
The Ackley’s Unseen Guests
Even before the family moved in, according to Ackley, a plumber working in the basement reported hearing footsteps on the floor above him when no one else was in the house. On windless days light cords would swing for no apparent reason, and then stop in mid-swing, defying gravity. Apparently a set of French doors was also known to burst open for no apparent reason. Guests of the family were often surprised when windows would slide up on their own. And, of course, the ubiquitous voices and ghostly footsteps were reported. Helen Ackley enjoyed telling the story about seeing a ghost who looked on with approval, as she painted the living room. The spirit, she felt, approved of the color choice.
Cynthia Ackley, Kavanagh’s wife, reported that her bed would often shake on school days seconds before the bedside alarm was set to go off. When spring break arrived, Cynthia informed the ghost before going to bed that tomorrow was spring break and she did not have to get up early. Reportedly, the bed did not shake that morning, allowing the young student to sleep in.
Helen Ackley told stories of “gifts” that appeared and then disappeared. Cynthia Ackley apparently received a pair of silver sugar tongs. The grandchildren received baby rings. An older brother’s wife received coins.
Ackley went on the say that three ghosts had from time to time been observed about the house. The trio included a woman in a red cloak who was often witnessed descending the stairs, a sailor in a powdered wig and an elderly man who was often seen levitating four feet off the floor in the living room. Ackley believed all three spirits were from the Revolutionary War era. She went on to describe one of the ghosts as being, “cheerful” and “apple cheeked,” noting he reminded her of Santa Claus.
The family took their houseguests in stride. Ackley is quoted in the Reader’s Digest Story as saying, the ghosts have always been, “’gracious, thoughtful – only occasionally frightening – and thoroughly entertaining…Our ghosts have continued to delight us (Perkins, 2003).’”
Apparently the sprawling structure became somewhat of a family compound, with adult children moving in with their spouses and children. Kavanagh reports that he moved into the house with his fiancé several months before their marriage. Supposedly the spirits were concerned with Kavanagh’s fitness for marriage to Cynthia, and decided to check him out. He recounts the first instance on Christmas Eve. He had been left alone in the house to put together toys for the younger children. According to Kavanagh, “…I kept hearing muffled conversation coming from the dining room,” which was around the wall from the living room. He reports that he got up and inspected the dining room several times, finding no one. Beyond the muffled conversation he also felt a compelling sensation that he was being watched. In response he turned on every available light, but to no effect. The low sound of talking continued, unnerving the poor man, until his future brother-in-law started pounding on the front door; a resounding sound that nearly sent young Kavanagh out of his skin in alarm (Kavanagh, 2010).
The second encounter for Kavanagh occurred in the bedroom he shared with his fiancé Cynthia. Apparently Cynthia was already asleep. Kavanagh, who was drifting, was lying on his side with his back to the door. He recounts hearing the door creek as if opening and then hearing the floor boards squeaking as if someone was approaching the bed. Rather abruptly he felt the bed depress near his trunk as if someone had suddenly sat down; and then a pressure as if that same someone was leaning against his torso. He tried to turn his head around to see who had come in. He reports seeing, “a womanly figure in a soft dress through the moonlight of the bay windows. I felt she was looking straight at me. After about a minute the presence got up and walked back out of the room (Kavanagh, 2010).” Not being acquainted with such nocturnal visitors, he reports then shaking his fiancé awake and acting like a toddler who, “just had a nightmare (Kavanagh).”
Taxes, Spooks and New York City Buyers
According to Kavanagh’s article, in the late 1980’s property taxes rose in Rockland County egregiously, making keeping the family home on a fixed income inconceivable. George Ackley had passed away several years before and the widow, Helen, began to dream of warm winters spent in Florida. Ackley put up the old estate on the market at an asking price of $650,000 and a New York City buyer decided to nibble. Jeffrey and Patrice Stambovsky put in an accepted offer, and paid Helen Ackley $32,500 as a down payment. Unfortunately, the Stambovsky’s were from New York City where Jeffrey was a bond trader. Not being up on local lore, they had no prior knowledge of the property’s haunted reputation.
A local architect was the “nosy neighbor” in this case, telling the Stambovsky’s that they were buying the “haunted house.” According to later court documents, Jeffrey Stambovsky told the court that he himself didn’t believe in such things, but felt his pregnant wife would not be comfortable in the home. The Stambovsky’s did not appear at the house closing making the agreement null and void. However, that also meant that Helen Ackley would retain the earnest money. Ackley refused to return the money and the Stambovsky’s took her to court.
Historic Courtroom Decision: Stambovsky vs. Ackley