Small towns allow families to share traditions and celebrations, all in a close-knit community. But small towns also come with an eerie downside: ghosts. When families move from the big city to a small town, ghosts are usually the least of their worries. However, many small towns have their own phantom residents that linger among the living. The origins of these stories are known by most residents, as they have been passed down by the generations before. When asked if they believe, most would say “yes.” Ghosts have become a part of these towns and their histories, and the pasts of many small towns live on through these spirits.
Lake Ronkonkoma, New York
Lake Ronkonkoma is a small suburban town on Long Island. As the last stop on the Long Island Railroad, many visitors step off to pay a quick visit while on their way to the Hamptons. Some people may stop for a drink at the pub, but others come to see Lake Ronkonkoma and the ghost residing there. Many people gather at the lake to fish or to feed the ducks, but none dare to swim, especially men. Legend has it that in the 1600s, an Indigenous princess fell for an Englishman who lived on the other side of the lake. Some versions say that he was actually an Indigenous man from a tribe across the waters. Regardless, each night they would meet in the middle of the lake. On the night they decided to run away together, she rowed out to the middle, but he never showed up. She then stabbed herself and disappeared into the water.
The Lady of the Lake, as they call her, now haunts the lake and allegedly drowns one man every year as revenge for getting betrayed by the man she once loved. When asked, most residents are conflicted on whether the ghost is real or not. Before the lake’s closure, drownings would occur occasionally, and they were almost always male victims. Multiple locals have embraced the town’s abnormal history, and there are several artworks displayed on buildings throughout the town that depict an Indigenous woman believed to be her. Even a sculptor had carved her image into a 32-foot-tall wood sculpture to greet the town’s visitors.
Just up in New England, the beautiful outdoor scenery of Stowe, Vermont, holds the Gold Brook Covered Bridge. This 50-foot span bridge was built in 1844 and is the oldest living covered bridge in the country. The mesmerizing, covered bridge sits nestled between the wild, crisp trees of Vermont. Many people have flooded to Stowe for the skiing but get an eerie surprise from the bridge. Nevertheless, residents know it better by its nickname: Emily’s Bridge. Although the bridge has a storied architectural history, it’s better known for the phantom that haunts it to this day. The legend states: Emily was a young woman in the 1800s who fell in love with a man her family disapproved of. They met each night at the bridge and planned to elope together. On the night of their elopement, he never showed. In fear of turning back and being humiliated, Emily hung herself over the rafter.
Emily still waits at the bridge for her lover, growing angrier each year. In retaliation for being left behind, she plays tricks on those who visit her bridge. The story is quite similar to other small-town ghost stories but with a few details changed. There are multiple versions of the story, but all seem to end with Emily losing her life at the bridge. Some versions involve her killing herself after her husband’s death and being left alone with her children, while others say that she was murdered by the boyfriend instead. While people might come to Stowe for its ski slopes, they also stop to visit Emily at the bridge. Some residents may not believe in the ghost that haunts the small-town bridge, but nevertheless, the small town and its historical bridge still gain publicity for its ghastly lore.
Brookville is home to the house of the late John Hanna, Jr. It was constructed in 1842 and later finished by his son, Washington Hanna. Jenny, a possible relative of the Hannas, was murdered in the house on the night of her wedding — which was also her 16th birthday — though she is not the only ghost that’s been seen. Washington Hanna passed away in 1904 and now rests beside his wife and two daughters who all mysteriously died in 1888. In the mid-1970s, the house was converted into The Hanna House Restaurant by the Hassler family. The Hasslers later built a separate complex that some speculate was due to the growing success of the restaurant, while others believe it was due to the hauntings. It is also said that if you walk to the edge of the boat ramp, you’ll get a view of the Dunlapsville cemetery, but only one headstone can be seen — Washington Hanna’s, which he built purposely to look over his house for all eternity.
In 1976, a construction worker claimed to have seen a pretty girl in a white dress, later identified as Jenny. Restaurant workers claim that Jenny is harmless, but another ghost that inhabits the area is not. The other spirit is argued to be either Washington or John Jr. and is aggressive. After selling the house to Michael Taggart and Valarie Schilkofski, another construction worker fell victim to the ghosts’ tricks, although this was less than playful. He described sawdust footprints following him and eventually feeling choked by an invisible force. Former owners were driven out of the house by hovering ghosts above their beds. There are also bullet holes in the walls from past owners attempting to shoot a hovering apparition. The house is currently for sale, and although people can no longer visit it as they once did, they can still feel its energy from the outside.
History and lore often permeate these small suburban areas. Phantoms and paranormal beings offer a way to remember the old history of their towns from generations ago. Although some people may not believe in the superstitious stories of their community, it does allow them to keep the history of their homes alive. Ghosts may be helping these towns more than the residents realize.