Over the past few weeks I have devoted quite a bit of my time to learning how to hunt. And now as the calendar switches from early to late fall, I am continuing on with that mission. However, in the spirit of October, I felt it would be appropriate to trade the rifle in for a camera and kayak and head out on a different type of hunting expedition. I didn't need a gun because the "game" that I am after on this trip was already tragically killed over a hundred years ago. Yes, that's right... I'm ghost hunting!
The Murder of Grace Brown
In 1906 a horrific murder unfolded on a quiet Adirondack lake in the Central Adirondacks. Many say that the victim's spirit has never left, but rather it wanders the shore of Big Moose Lake. The victim was Grace Brown.
In 1905, Chester Gillette moved to Cortland, NY to take a job at his uncle's skirt factory (The Gillette Skirt Factory). It was there that he met a seamstress named Grace Brown. Chester and Grace became romantically involved and ultimately Grace became pregnant. When Chester was unwilling to marry her, Grace moved home with her parents. She continuously wrote Chester love letters and he responded by inviting her on an Adirondack vacation. Grace believed they were going to the Adirondacks to get married, but Chester had other plans.
In July of 1906, Chester Gillette and Grace Brown took a train to Tupper Lake, New York. After spending a night in Tupper Lake, they boarded another train to Big Moose Lake located about 9 miles northwest of Inlet, NY. The people of Big Moose Lake were the last to have seen Grace Brown alive.
On July 11, 1906, Chester Gillette rented a row boat for an afternoon out on Big Moose Lake. Reports say that Chester boarded the boat in a suit and brought along with him a suitcase, camera and tennis racket. The couple never returned, so the following day a search party went out. Rather than finding the couple stranded by wind as they had hoped, they found the boat overturned in the Southern Bay of Big Moose Lake. Grace's body was later found submerged with lacerations to the face and head. Three days later Chester Gillette was arrested for murder at the nearby Arrowhead Hotel in Inlet.
Since then, Grace has often been sighted lurking sadly around the shores of Big Moose Lake. As for Chester, he was tried for Grace's murder, found guilty and was executed on March 30, 1908.
The story gained national attention throughout the trail and then again later through a series of movies, folk songs and books that were written on their story. Some of these works include:
- An American Tragedy by Theodore Drieser (Novel - 1926); it later appeared on Broadway and then was adapted for film in 1931
- A Place in the Sun (Movie - 1951) - an Academy Award winning film staring Elizabeth Taylor
- A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly (Novel - 2003)
- Adirondack Tragedy: The Gillette Murder Case of 1906 by Brownell & Wawrzaszek (Non-Fiction - 1986)
- Unsolved Mysteries (Television - 1996 Episode #8.9)
Following Grace's Trail
After some research on this case, I decided to take a road trip along Grace's final trail in hopes to learn more about the hauntings. On an early Thursday morning, I met up with my niece Krista at the Tupper Lake Train Depot. The replica station stands on the footprint of the original depot and the same location that Grace Brown had passed through during her final hours alive. Since the train is no longer in operation, we loaded our Kayaks into my vehicle and headed south on NYS Route 30.
We were still in a thick blanket of fog when we reached the Hamlet of Blue Mountain Lake. There we decided to pulled over for a cup of coffee at The Ol' Station located at the junction of Routes 30 & 28. As we walked through the door, the fantastic smell coming from the deli kindly welcomed us. We contemplated grabbing a bite to eat but were not quite hungry yet, so we refueled with a hot cup of Joe and got back on the road to continue to our destination.
By the time we reached the Village of Inlet the fog had lifted revealing the magnificent colors of autumn. The bright reds, oranges and yellows contrasted against the bright blue sky and we were eager to get our boats into the water. We passed through Inlet and continued along Route 28 for a few miles before turning right onto Big Moose Road.
On our way into Big Moose Lake, we passed a light post and phone wire with nearly a hundred pairs of shoes hanging from it. Krista and I laughed as she stated that they must be the shoes of previous ghost hunters who took off so fast they ran out of their shoes.
We reached the Big Moose Lake Train Station by 9:00am. The station has since been converted into the Big Moose Station Restaurant. It was not open at the early hour in which we arrive, but I suspect that this will be a busy location once snowmobile season starts. We walked the tracks for a ways soaking up the sunlight and then decided continue on to Grace and Chester's next destination: the water.
We followed the shoreline of Big Moose Lake spotting the different landmarks that we had researched for our trip. Since it was an early autumn morning, and a weekday, we did not spot anyone else - just a few cars passing us on the roadway. With little success trying to find someone to question about Grace's Ghost, we decided to follow Chester's trail back to Inlet where he fled by foot to the Arrowhead Hotel.
Map of Moose Lake
Finding the Arrowhead Hotel
Today the footprint of the former Arrowhead Hotel is part of Inlet's beautiful Arrowhead Park. We visited the baseball field within the park which is where the massive structure once stood. I explained to Krista that this is where Chester had spent his last few days as a free man. On July 14, 1906, Chester Gillette was arrested for the murder of Grace Brown here in Inlet.
Making a Day of It!
When our ghost trail had gone cold, we came to the conclusion that we had made a major mistake when planning the trip. Most sightings of Grace had reportedly been at night. We decided that we needed to do some additional research on Grace's Ghost, get some first-hand accounts and then try again on a later date.
However, the day was still young; the weather was beautiful and fall foliage was nearing peak, we were determined to start along the trail of our own adventure. First stop: getting something to eat!
Breakfast & Hiking in Inlet
Around 10:30am we pulled into Drake's Inn in Inlet. There we enjoyed a hearty french toast breakfast in the cozy Adirondack diner. Before leaving the restaurant, we browsed through the small gift shop in the foyer and then headed back up Route 28 towards Raquette Lake.
A few miles north of Drake's Inn we found a sign for Catherdal Pines and stopped to walk off breakfast. Cathedral Pines is not a long hike, in fact it is only a tenth of a mile long; don't however let its short distance deceive you... it is totally worth a visit. The gigantic Virginia Pines which lead you past a stone memorial for World War II Veteran, 2nd Lt. Malcolm L. Blue, are absolutely spectacular. Some of the pines were more than 4 feet in diameter. This location is a good spot to stop to stretch your legs when you're traveling, and would be an excellent family hike for someone with young children. We were definitely glad that we visited this cool spot!
Sightseeing & Paddling in Raquette Lake
We pulled into the Hamlet of Raquette Lake right as the W.W. Durant was boarding for a fall excursion. This was Krista's first time in the Hamlet and it was a spectacular day to show her around. She had watched our children this summer when we had taken a Dinner Cruise aboard the W.W. Durant and was happy to see the ship we have been raving about. I believe she may have hinted at the fact that next year we will need to find a different babysitter, since she stated she is coming with us!
After leaving the Hamlet of Raquette Lake, we traveled north about another mile to the canoe and kayak put-in at the South Inlet of Raquette Lake. This spot has always attracted my attention and I thought that today would be the perfect day to check it out. There is parking for about 10 cars between the pull-offs on the eastern and western shoulders of Route 28. The launch point is a small sandy area at the bottom of an approximately 150 foot sloping path.
We easily unloaded our kayaks and gear and started east along the inlet. We paddled with some ducks and listened to the Canadian Geese preparing for their migration south. But more than anything, we simply got lost in the serenity of the day and the beauty of the fall foliage reflecting off of the calm waters.
Visiting the Falls in Long Lake
After we returned to our vehicle, we realized that we still had a little time left before we needed to be home. We chose to continue up to Long Lake and visit Buttermilk Falls, but first we stopped back at The Ol' Station in Blue Mountain Lake for some snacks. Buttermilk Falls is always gorgeous, however the fall leaves contrasting against it certainly enhanced its beauty.
From there we continued home, understandably tired, but delighted by the way our Adirondack Road Trip unfolded. As I drove, I thought about Grace Brown and realized that she had probably imagined her trip to have been similar to ours. Unfortunately, Chester had a more horrific itinerary planned.