Are there ghosts in the Adirondacks? Does Saranac Lake have a haunted past? Sources say yes, and to be honest, it has a haunted present, too. Many of these old buildings have spooky tales to tell.
I set out with a member of the Adirondack Park Paranormal Society to explore what has been seen - and heard - and felt - in what must be the most haunted town in all of the Adirondack Park. After all, Saranac Lake was a village devoted to curing tuberculosis. While it enjoyed incredible success in this endeavor, it also had people who came too late, or who could not be helped. Are some of them still around?
Below you will find a sampling of some of the locations and accounts reported on my quick search of this historic town. From children to grown men, animals to the un-embodied, folks were eager to share the stories they have grown up with.
Begin at the Source
Saranac Lake's first hospital is a natural place to start our quest. First opened in 1913, it was not a curing facility since there were already plenty of places that specialized in that. This was for surgical, medical, and maternity patients, and short-term care of TB patients undergoing surgical procedures.
It's now the main Administration Building of North Country Community College. When I was a student there, I found the basement to be a disconcerting place. I kept getting lost - somehow expecting hallways and doors to be somewhere other than where they actually were. My guide confirmed that I was not the only one to experience strange happenings in the basement which had been... the hospital morgue.
Did you hear that?
Office workers who stayed late often heard footsteps in the hallways when they knew there was no one else there. Sometimes, they could hear the distinctive creaking of gurney wheels. Those old machines were nothing like today's swift and silent models. Some think this is an audible reminder of the building's past.
Hotel with a Past
Another ghostly "hot spot" is the Hotel Saranac. This historic hotel, built in 1927, is the only one remaining of the fifteen grand hotels which filled the town at the turn of the last century. It has been in almost continuous operation since then, and has been the site of many odd experiences.
An addition to the guest list?
One story was told by a bridal consultant who was showing a bride, a groom, and the bride's mother around the grand ballroom space on the second floor. When the bride's mother asked to see the kitchen, the consultant took her to the special events kitchen. When they opened the swinging door, they were greeted with a nod by a woman who was working on some kind of dough on the long table in the center of the room.
The consultant turned to the mother of the bride to tell her something about the kitchen, then turned back to the table as she realized she did not recognize the worker, and she thought she knew them all. In that brief second, the woman, and the dough, had vanished.
"Did you see that?" she asked the mother of the bride, who responded by grabbing the consultant's arm. "No, I didn't!" she said emphatically. "And you didn't either!"
Woman's best friend...
One old woman had been a long-term resident on the third floor, and had demanded that no one bother her. No one did... until a disturbing smell alerted them that all was not well in that room. When they opened the door they found that the unfortunate woman had passed away, and her cat was even more upset by this turn of events than the hotel workers. The cat raced out of the room and was never seen again. Except...
While there's no evidence that the old woman haunts the third floor halls, there have been reports that the cat does; many times the desk would get a call from the third floor that items had been disturbed or that someone had been sleeping in the bed. Maids sent up to tidy the room in question always went up reluctantly, since they often felt the distinctive brush of a cat's body against their legs. They always got out as quickly as possible, even if all they had to do was straighten out the coverlet... which held the round impression of a sleeping cat.
Despite undergoing a massive renovation just a few years ago, the spirits of the Hotel Saranac haven't moved on. Voted one of the most haunted hotels in the U.S. in 2020, the Hotel Saranac also recently partnered with Historic Saranac Lake to establish haunted history tours of the hotel. While those tours are on hold due to Covid-19, rooms at the hotel are available for your own investigation!
Sometimes the Ending is Sad
Little Red was the first cure cottage built for the Trudeau Sanitarium, and the two sisters who were its inaugural occupants eventually got well. Sadly, this would not be the case for all its visitors. In fact, one worker had this brought to his attention in an unforgettable way.
It was a normal day for this worker when something unusual caught his eye. A slight movement brought to his attention a young boy at the cottage windows. He had brown hair and eyes and a gaunt appearance. The worker was just realizing the cottage was locked and no one was allowed in when the boy abruptly vanished from the window.
Business as usual...
While most of the buildings at the sanitarium are no longer in use and remain locked up, some of them are still being used for business purposes and require maintenance. One new worker grew used to seeing a man in a red plaid shirt going in and out of buildings - until he saw the man, with the same ease, going in and out of padlocked buildings.
It turned out the man he'd been seeing was a real maintenance man... from decades earlier.
Checking in - and out...
Prescott House was once known as the Reception Hospital, where TB patients were evaluated, and where those who were the most ill were cared for. This is probably why there's a little passage in the basement with a set of stairs that leads down to the train station. If someone didn't make it, their coffin would be taken out of the house quietly, at night. It was important that patients kept a positive attitude.
Style that transcends the ages
When this property was used as a dorm in the 1960s and 70s, rumors circulated of a woman in an old-fashioned nightdress and hairstyle roaming the halls. However, since the dorm mother dressed liked that, and was known to be vigilant over the young ladies in her charge, the stories were chalked up to being the product of overactive youthful imaginations.
So many tenants have stories of hallway activity which ceases when the door is opened, or even knocks at the door... when no one is there. One woman heard her name called repeatedly, and it pulled her out of sleep - fortunately, because the apartment was on fire! When she reached safety and the fire was put out, she discovered she had been the only one home.
The Union Depot has its own ghostly walkers, and one particularly lively corner which used to be the "men's smoking room." Train workers have heard a lot of conversation going on at times when they were the only ones in the depot, and the voices come from this now open section which had once been a popular gathering place.
The past is still present
Will Rogers is another lively place to explore the past that is still with us. This was where people in show business came to cure. Now, it is the home to numerous friendly folks that are still being entertained by those that came before them.
Stairway to heaven?
There are reports of piano playing being heard with nobody (literally) at the piano, and snatches of music drifting through the halls. One grandmotherly lady reported hearing someone practicing their scales first thing in the morning for many months, but she never did find the person who was doing it. And perhaps she never will.
Living history - redefined
So, in our short search we came up with several paranormal accounts - in a town with our long history, that isn't surprising. Have you heard of other sightings? Can you imagine what we would be able to uncover if we had more time?
'Tis the Season
Ward off the chill in some warm dining spots and see all of the non-spooky attractions in Saranac Lake!