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Somerset specters: Visitors feel (and hear) otherworldly presences in lighthouse

Brandon Sandolfini of Somerset, a firefighter with the Barker Fire Department, doesn't scare easily.

But in his day job on the maintenance crew of the Golden Hill State Park in Somerset, there is one situation he avoids: After a couple of eerie experiences, he tries not to be alone in the Thirty Mile Point lighthouse building.

Sandolfini's most memorable experience happened years ago when he arrived before dawn to begin renovation work in the downstairs quarters of the cut-limestone building, built in 1875 in High Victorian Gothic style.

When he entered around 6 a.m., the living room was shadowy, lit by only the glow of the red exit lights. But it was what he heard that made his hair stand on end.

As he prepared to start working, Sandolfini said, "I thought I heard some running, kids running, several footsteps upstairs going back and forth between the hallways."

The sound was so identifiable that he walked out to the door to see who had entered the building. "I'm standing looking around outside and I'm like, 'Hmmm,' " he said.

"So I didn't stick around, I left the building," he said, waiting outside until his co-worker arrived.

While by itself, the sound of children running could be a happy sound, "By yourself in the dark, it's a scary sound," said Sandolfini. "It kind of gives you like a rush, then an eerie feeling."

Brandon Sandolfini stands in the downstairs living room area of the Thirty Mile Point Lighthouse, where he was working when he heard children's footsteps overhead. The downstairs quarters, which were occupied by the lighthouse keeper, are set up as a museum that can be toured from May through mid-October. (Mark Mulville/Buffalo News)

The building that includes the lighthouse tower was constructed as a residence for the lighthouse keeper and assistant keeper, as well as their families. Since about 2000, the upstairs flat, with three bedrooms, an updated kitchen, a comfortable living room and a magnificent view of the lake, has been rented to visitors.

Sandolfini's stories mesh with those of many people who expect only peace and solitude when they rent the Lighthouse Cottage, which costs $1,250 a week or $200 per night, with a two-night minimum. Families gather for holidays or reunions in the bright, second-floor quarters with a sweeping view of the lake, enjoying meals at the large table, then playing board games before the electric fire into the evening.

It's when the lights go out that they start to experience unusual phenomena. Many document their experiences in guest books kept at the cottage.

So Sandolfini is just one of many people who have experienced and documented strange sounds and events, including clocks, lights and televisions going on and off at random, things falling and noises, including footsteps and doors slamming in the middle of the night.

Through the years, he's had two other experiences. Once a TV turned on by itself while he was passing the room it was in. More recently, he was doing a quick cleaning when he heard someone call his name twice. He thought a co-worker had come in and was looking for him, but when he walked down to the front door, he realized nobody was around. The co-worker whose voice he thought he'd heard was in the office at the entrance to the park, nowhere near the building.

Barb Larson, a parks employee who works with the interpreter's office and is also president of the Friends of Thirty Mile Point group, gives tours of the building from May through mid-October.

She always mentions the paranormal lore, and her guests' reactions determine whether she provides details. "Some are interested in the ghost aspect of it, others aren't, so usually I get a feel for the people and I'll go from there," she said. "They get a history of it, and if they are interested in the ghost stuff, I can tell them that, too."

"I always use the line, 'If you believe in ghosts and spirits, they are there; if you don't, they're not.' I like to have fun with it; I'm not there to scare anybody," she said. "I say, 'If there's a shipwreck out there, where would a sailor go? He'd come to the light!' "

Through the centuries, there have been at least four shipwrecks on the treacherous shoals and shifting sandbar off Thirty Mile Point, so named because it is 30 miles east of the Niagara River. The best documented is the H.M.S. Ontario, which sank during a freak blizzard on Halloween night in 1780. Some 88 passengers and an Army payroll of gold and silver estimated at $15,000 were reported lost.

Larson has her own eerie story from years ago. She and her family were camping at the park when a guest who had to leave early invited them to use his final, paid-for night. They enjoyed a peaceful evening, then went to bed, where they slept soundly -- until 1 a.m.

"At 1 o'clock in the morning, the alarm clock went off, although it was set for 7:30 a.m.," said Larson. "I didn't think much of it, and then a couple years later, a woman came down and said to me, 'I hate to tell you, the kitchen clock broke. It fell off the wall at 1 in the morning.' When she said 1 in the morning and a clock, I said, 'Well, that's kind of suspicious!' So that's my story. I'm waiting for someone else with a story about a clock at 1 a.m.

"I don't know if it's totally convinced me, but it's got me thinking, that's for sure," she said.

The guestbook, filled by people who stayed in the upstairs Lighthouse Cottage at Golden Hill State Park, contain plenty of eerie stories. (Mark Mulville/Buffalo News)

Before leaving, guests often write their goodbyes in one of the cottage's bound guestbooks, one for each year. Although most of the entries tell of sightseeing, nature hikes, shopping, local restaurants and happy evenings, a sizable minority mention unusual events.

Most of those are related to sounds -- footsteps, doors slamming or just loud noises outside -- and misbehaving lights, clocks, TVs and radios. "I don't know that anyone has actually seen a person," said Larson. " Some people used to talk about a man walking around, but I don't have that in any of the books."

One entry does mention the hour of 1 a.m. A woman who stayed in early December of 2015 wrote: "The first night I experienced a mysterious shadow reflection upon the ceiling. The time was about 1:00 a.m. My friends didn't believe me, but I did see it!"

Somehow through the years the names "Simon" and "Sarah" have become associated with the ghost lore, and some people mention the spectral visitors by those names.

In 2007, after three couples stayed, a guest wrote, "Had an alarm clock go off and something in the kitchen fell. Sarah, maybe?"

After a stay on June 14, 2015, a guest wrote: "Simon (maybe) was making some noise by the coffeepot. It was a lot of static and voices but unable to understand it. There was nothing plugged in at the time. It was my first experience of this ... I didn't sleep well. I don't know if I were dreaming or ..."

From April 2007: "On the second night, we were visited by someone -- Sarah? The carbon monoxide alarm beeped -- and continued to beep, but not in rhythm. It was as if someone was randomly pushing the button. My husband thought it was the battery, but it wasn't. Also, late that night he heard someone walk across the hardwood floor and a door knob rattle -- he went and checked and everything was fine."

After their stay in March 2006, a couple from Niagara Falls was sure. "And there is a ghost in here. He or she putters around the kitchen from midnight until the moon rose at 1:16 a.m."

Thirty Mile Point Lighthouse in Golden Hill State Park, built in 1875, is owned and operated by the state. Tours of the first floor, which was the lighthouse keeper's residence and is now a small museum, are offered from May until mid-October, while the second floor, the assistant keeper's residence, is rented to guests year-round. (Mark Mulville/Buffalo News)

Guests who arrive hoping to experience something uncanny are often disappointed, said Larson. "It seems that if people are determined to hear something, it usually doesn't work out, and they'll write in the book, 'I was waiting.' But it doesn't happen like that," she said. "It happens when you are not expecting it."

A comment from June 3, 2012: "Had a wonderful time! Very relaxing and No ghosts! (underlined twice)" In 2014, a family from Akron wrote: "I think I even had the ghosts confused. No sign of any. Maybe next time ..."

Some people hear noises but won't make the leap to paranormal sources. In August of 2006, two couples from Rochester staying in the cottage wrote: "But where was the ghost? The strange noises we heard were just from the wind .. or were they?"

Some renters talk to her but don't bother to document their experiences in the book, Larson said. A group of women who stayed a few weeks ago reported that a dishtowel kept falling off the stove when nobody was in the kitchen -- sometimes when nobody was even in the cottage.

"One woman was convinced, she kept saying, 'I know nobody is touching it,' " said Larson. "They would go out for the day and come back and the towel would be on the floor."

That group didn't document the mystery of the dropping dishtowel. But many people did leave comments about unusual events through the years.

"Lots of strange noises, but ghosts? Who knows?" wrote Natalie in October of 2011.

The family that visited on Sept. 12, 2004, had an opinion. "Our first night here, we began to believe the lighthouse was haunted. As we lay in bed around 12:30 a.m., we heard the giggling of a small child. During the night there were sounds of Hoo Hoo Hoo several times and the sound of someone walking in the kitchen, even though no one left their beds. The lighthouse is definitely haunted!"

"If there are ghosts at least they seem to be friendly," wrote one visitor who experienced several events. "Besides making sounds, moving some doors, there was only one other interesting thing they did. They turned off the TV and turned on the radio. True, maybe the TV had just lost its connection, and we tried turning the radio on 5 minutes earlier with no luck, but I like to believe."

Many people who stay in the Lighthouse Cottage report strange incidents involving the lights, alarm clocks, TV and radio. The staff keeps the alarm clocks, like this one in a bedroom, unplugged when nobody is staying in the cottage. (Mark Mulville/Buffalo News)

Many reports center on the alarm clocks in the rooms.

"When the front bedroom alarm went off at midnight, three of us snuck into the room to turn it off," one guest wrote. "When we walked through the bedroom doorway into the kitchen, all three of us felt a cold chill and Bill's hair stood up on his arms (NOT KIDDING!). It was great!"

After a story on June 12, 2015, visitors wrote: "We were awakened at 12:35 a.m. by a noise -- turned out to be the alarm clock in the northeast bedroom Dirty trick by the previous guests? Malfunctioning equipment? Something else? Who knows?"

One visitor wrote, "My mom slept in the red room and she doesn't believe in ghosts, but she heard a man's voice and felt a presence in the corner of the room. She said she told it to 'Go away' and it left her alone after that. That night the clock radio went off in the blue room at 3 a.m., we heard the toilet flush and the seat go down but no footsteps and no one else was going to the bathroom ... That night we also felt a nudge on the bed a few times. That day the clock alarm went off twice -- after we had turned them off."

Several guests said they had no experiences the first night of their stay, but reported oddities on the second night.

In September of 2012, a Lancaster couple who avoided the room with the alarm clock in it had difficulty with a fan instead. "The night of 9/16/12 was uneventful (no ghostly encounter). The night of 9/17/12 ... well, maybe an encounter -- we'll let you decide. My husband, who cannot sleep without a fan, brings his own wherever we go. Fearing the 'alarm clock' room, we stayed in the bedroom off the living room on the east side of the cottage; with his travel fan on the nightstand -- we went to bed. (He also had the ceiling fan on high -- UGH!) I woke to what seemed to be a large thud  ... the fan was laying on the floor! This happened again once more throughout the night. My husband, who also usually doesn't believe in the nonsense of ghosts told me that he felt someone 'playing' with his hand -- as if they were trying to put a cigarette between his fingers. I personally did not have that type of experience -- just the fan being tossed off the nightstand. Regardless -- the lighthouse cottage offers a lovely get-away, and we will return -- all in all we didn't mind the ghostly company."

After a stay on June 2, 2013, a woman wrote: "On the second night, I was sleeping in the red room off the kitchen. It was around 1:30 a.m. and I suddenly woke up from a deep sleep. I heard a loud mechanical vibrating sound .. I started getting anxious and sweaty. Then I heard what I thought was my brother walk from his room to the bathroom and slam the door. However, no one ever re-opened the bathroom door or walked back out. I then woke up my boyfriend to take me to the bathroom and the bathroom door was wide open ... I do not think the "spirits" are very bad or that all people will sense something when staying here, but I definitely had a different experience my second night here."

One guest from Lewiston who stayed n the cottage on Oct. 31 reported "taps" and a "rippling' presence next to a bed. (Mark Mulville/Buffalo News)

A Lewiston group was bold enough to stay in the cottage on Oct. 31, 2008. One person wrote, "Some random 'taps' at front window in green room. Night brought fun, cards, and while talking about spirits, my glass was 'tapped' onto my lap, but only spilling in my lap. Approx 4 a.m., awoke cold to see a disturbance in the area of my right side, 'rippling' in the air, about the size of a child or young adult. No malice felt, like a parent watching a child sleep. In a.m., found DVD player cord unplugged on carpet. Heather said she left it plugged in. Mystery?"

Not every person in a group will have an experience; some say they sleep soundly and undisturbed, while others report noises and sights.

Two women in a group of relatives heard the same thing overnight. "My youngest sister did some research on this lighthouse and found out it had ghosts. Again, we weren't disappointed, we heard them laughing the first night we were here. I wasn't going to say anything because I thought they would say I was making it up. My sister got up the next morning and asked if anyone heard someone laughing during the night. I said, 'I DID!' but I didn't think they would believe me!"

In early July of 2011, two couples from Port Colborne stayed, with only one person reporting anything. "No ghosts for Jim or I, my sister had a couple run-ins though, at one point seeing someone standing by her bed at night. Scary stuff!"

For a group from Connecticut that stayed for two weeks in August of 2014, the experiences were shared. One person wrote, "The first night arriving 'home' with groceries, the door at the top of the stairs opened to let us in. My daughter and friend stayed in the large room off the entry and reported that the overhead light went off while they were standing and talking, only to go back on a minute later. Needless to say, they spent the rest of their stay with the bedside lamps on! I also experienced the side motion detector lights going on and off and hearing children's voices at the same time. While there was a tour of the light house underway, a check with the guide revealed no children in attendance. Our experiences were not frightening and were not overtly paranormal, but did convince us that something unusual was going on."

In September 2014, a group of six arrived hoping for a paranormal encounter. One of their group took steps to ensure that it happened. That person wrote: "Six of us arrived with the hope of encountering a ghost or two from the past. Sorry to say there were none, but we still have one more night. ... I had fun playing jokes on the others staying with us. I left a porcelain doll on a bed and put a cute little dress with shoes on one of the beds. I tried to make all the guests believe the little girl ghost was present. Hee hee. Check one of the closets and you might find the dress and shoes. Whoever is reading this, I hope you enjoy your stay and experience a haunting. Have a scary fun time."

That aspect of fun -- and maybe a few shivers-- is what Larson stresses. "I like to think of it in a positive way, because we've never had anything bad associated with it," said Larson. "I think something is there, but in a good way, in fun or good humor, not the dark creepy stuff."

email: aneville@buffnews.com

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