Sally Townsend was a young women when she received a love letter from an older, worldly man wearing the blood-red uniform of the British Crown.
That officer, Lt. Col. John Graves Simcoe, commander of the Loyalist Queens Rangers occupying Oyster Bay, had taken over her house and forced her well-to-do family to work like field hands.
Simcoe, as notorious as he was innovative, went back to England, and later Canada, after Patriots smacked the Brits around in the American Revolution. Sally lived into her 80s, a spinster who died in the home she was born in.
Some people around Oyster Bay claim she still hasn't left.
It's a ghost story for the ages, and a tale perpetuated not only by the locals but by paranormal experts who say something strange is going on at Oyster's Bay's Raynham Hall Museum. It calls to us from beyond with the scent of apple pie and pipe smoke, beckons us with tales of espionage and unrequited romance.
For Steve Waldenburg, it's much more... It's a way to keep history alive and bring new supporters to the Oyster Bay landmark on West Main Street.
"The ghosts keep bringing people in," said Waldenburg, the museum's education coordinator. "But the history keeps them coming back.''
Halloween weekend, Raynham Hall is the focal point of fun-filled events going on in the summer home town of
On Saturday evening, paranormal expert Shawn Schildgen offers a guided ghost tour of Raynham Hall from 7-10 p.m., including tarot card and crystal ball readings. Schildgen has performed experiments at the museum in an attempt to contact any ghosts that may or may not inhabit the place. (Adults: $12; members and students: $10.)
Then on Sunday, hop on a free horse-drawn carriage at the Sweet Tomato Healthy Eatery and attend ghost tours, crystal ball readings and other historical fun at the Oyster Bay Historical Society on Summit Street, Raynham Hall and the old Railroad Station nearby. (Museum Tours; $10, $5 for kids, free for little ones.)
There are numerous ghost stories associated with the old Townsend homestead, Waldenburg said, including tales of spirit sightings, the smell of baking apples, and the aroma of a pipe smoked two centuries ago.
But by far the most enduring tale is of Sally and Simcoe.
Simcoe wrote the Valentine during the six months between 1778-79 when the British occupied the house. It was during this period that Sally overheard a conversation between Simcoe and British Maj. John Andre'. The topic was the surrender of West Point.
Sally's family, prominent citizens of Oyster Bay, were also spies for Gen. George Washington. Sally passed the information to brother Robert, a member of the Culper Spy Ring. Ultimately, Benedict Arnold's plan to surrender the all-important fort on the Hudson River was foiled and Andre was hung.
By then, Simcoe was gone. When Sally died in 1842, relatives found Simcoe's love poem, well worn from many readings. Paranormal experts detect a cold spot in Sally's room. Some say they've seen her at her window; others claim to have heard the rustling of a petticoat on the stairs.
On Saturday and Sunday, you can make up your own mind and help support the museum, which is applying for grants to perform much needed renovations.
Even ghosts need a roof over their heads.