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THE LEGEND OF WILLIAM CLARKE
William Clarke had been riding his trusted mare for more than an hour since he had shot the Bishop’s representative. He was trying to reach the railhead in Fort Plain before the Sheriff's faster car caught up with him. He now questioned why he done it but he really knew why. Since his father had lost so much money in the futures market on hops, he had felt it necessary to sell some of the land that was William's birthright. There must have been some other way he could've made up for his losses. William couldn't bear the thought that the church would take that prime piece of land. Now he hoped to out run the Sheriff's new car but while he was on that small trail that was hardly meant for riding a horse, he could hear the sound of the car’s motor on the toll road a quarter-mile away. If he could only make the stationbefore the 5 clock special left for New York. Unfortunately, the sheriff reached the station five minutes before William and was waiting for him when he arrived. William gave up without a fight. His horse was too tired to go any further, and he knew there was no way he could escape.
It all started two years before in 1908 when the price of hops had dropped significantly below the previous year’s cost to plant and grow it. His father, George Hyde Clarke Sr., was the largest grower of hops in the Cooperstown region. His high-quality crop had always been in demand, but that year he couldn't cover his costs. He made the fatal decision to hold the 1909 crop inthe drying barns for one additional year in hopes that the market would rally. In 1910 the market dropped further, and not only had his new crop failed, but the stored crop in the drying barns began to mold – he lost more than he had ever lost his life. That is why in the fall of 1910 he decided he needed to sell some of the land on Clarke's point in order to cover his losses. That was when he approached the church, since the Bishop had been asking for that piece of property for a summer camp for Episcopal children. It was a very difficult decision but it had to be done. In the middle of October the Bishop sent his representative to meet with George Hyde Clarke Sr. who, until just the day before, had not said anything about his plan to his son. William was furious. It was land that was to have gone to him as part of his inheritance. He grew so angry that he lost his sense of reality and showed up on that fatal day with the .44 horse pistol and confronted his father and the bishop's representative. There was no arguing with his father and as the bill of sale was handed to the representative, William pulled out the .44 and shot him in the face. William immediately mounted his horse and headed off along the forest trail toward Fort Plain. He knew the Sheriff would not be far behind.
William stood in his County jail cell and pondered his fate. Even though he knew that his father loved him he wasn't sure there would be anything that could be done to save him. There had been four witnesses to the murder. There was no way he could deny it or excuse it. The only thing that he could do was to throw himself on the mercy of the court. Meanwhile, George Hyde Clarke senior had contacted his old family retainer Dr. Joseph McIntyre who lived in Cooperstown. He had been the family’s Doctor for more than 40 years. McIntyre had been doing some experimentation over the last few years on reviving patients who died on the operating table and was known to have worked in secret on means to revive people after fatal accidents. It was late on a Tuesday night in October when William received a visitor. He could hear his steel-toed boots clumping down the aisle toward his cell. Dr. McIntyre was dressed in a long black suit and white shirt, starched, high-winged collarand a bowler that barely fit his head. Three hours later he left, assuring William that everything had been set. McIntyre told him that when he was to be hanged, which he was certain would happen, the doctor would arrive two hours before the appointed time and fit him with a stiff leather shoulder harness and leather neck collar. He had tried this with corpses and had been successful in preventing spinal separation when a person is hanged.
It was early December and the trial commenced the following day on the fourth. The Cooperstown Courthouse was filled to brimming with onlookers and curious bystanders. The prosecution’s case was presented by the District Attorney of Otsego County. There were four witnesses including George Hyde Clarke Sr. who, with great reluctance, had to admit that he was there when William shot the bishop’s representative. The others were Forsythe Baker, the senior servant, John Harland, the stable boy, and Bernard the gardener. In the end, it took the jury only one hour to convict William and sentence him to death. The hanging was to take place on January 15, 1911 in the courtyard behind the County jail. Old Doctor McIntyre visited William every day right up to the day of the hanging. He made sure that William would be dressed in his finest clothes, with a starched, high-winged collar, cravat, and morning coat. The morning of the hanging, which was to take place at noon, he fit William with the strong leather chest strap and leather collar, which was hidden by his starched shirt and high collar. The Doctor and William’s father had bribed the hangman to ensure that the rope would be much shorter than needed to break his neck. Immediately after the body fell through the trap, McIntyre cut William down, pronounced him dead, threw him in the back of his wagon, covered them with heavy canvas cloth, and rode off to his office and laboratory. There he immediately began working on William’s head and neck. He would spend several months ensuring that William would live.
It was late winter when the good Doctor pulled up in front of Hyde Hall. There were two feet of snow on the ground and a harsh wind out of the north cut through his heavy wool overcoat and he shivered as he hefted the large, canvas sack from the wagon. He dropped it on the large step in front of the kitchen door, knocked loudly, quickly returned to his wagon and drove off into the night. He was never seen again. Responding to the loud knocking, Forsythe opened the door and pulled the heavy sack in front of the large room. There was a note attached to the tied end of the sack.
Open this at your peril
Forsythe understood this message immediately. He reached for a heavy ring of keys on a hook by the kitchen door. He clumsily half carried and dragged the heavy load down the stairs to the basement. He reached for the large ring of keys, selected a particularly heavy and odd appearing one and unlocked the door to the wine cellar. He dragged the sack down the stairs and pulled it to the very back of the room behind several barrels of wine. Out of breath and visibly shaken, he mounted the stairs to the basement, turned and locked the door and ascended to the warm kitchen. After two glasses of port, he felt calmer. No one must know what was in the wine cellar. It would be his secret. He put the large key ring back on the wall beside the back door. He turned out the lights and went up the back stairs to the servant’s quarters.
It was late October 1912, and only five servants remained at Hyde Hall. George Hyde Clarke Sr. and his family had left three days before to visit friends in New York City for Thanksgiving. The group of family servants was having dinner in the large kitchen. They were eating a late snack of sandwiches and some wine theyhad been given permission to obtain from the wine cellar. There was Forsythe Baker, the old head servant, who had been with the Clarke’s for more than 40 years. The old Scotsman knew all about the family history and had been present at the murder the year before. He had almost forgotten the late winter night in February and the strange sack he had stowed in the wine cellar. With him was his wife, Bernice, who was the cook, John Harland the young stable boy, Mary Stuart the upstairs maid, and Prentice Bailey the butler. Outside the wind was howling out of the Northwest bringing bitter cold and driving rain. The five were laughing over some joke when John held up the wine bottle noting that it was almost empty. He said in a broad Scottish accent “I'll go down to the wine cellar and get another”. He walked across the room and lifted the heavy ring of keys from itsusual place on the large hook next to the door. The stairs off the back of the kitchen led to the basement, which was lit by only two small light bulbs. About halfway across this room was the small wine cellar door. It was just high enough for a man to stoop down and enter. As Forsytheselectedthe large, heavy key on the ring and began to unlock the wine cellar door he heard a blood chilling sound. It was a scuffling and a slight pounding on the door and there was a swishing gurgling noise followed by a strange gargle and moan. He cautiously withdrew the key from the lock. The pounding grew much louder and small piece of one of the boards broke through revealing what appeared to be gnarled claw. He hesitated. As he stepped away from the door, he suddenly remembered that night one year ago, that heavy canvas sack he had dragged to the back of the wine cellar and the strange note left with it. Fear struck him to his very bones. Could this be William? Could he have actually survived this long? He stood frozen and terrified in front of the door when suddenly a great banging and tearing came from behind it and the hinge broke. There in front of him stood the most unbelievable creature he had ever laid eyes on. From the shoulders down it appeared to be a muscular but seemingly normal human being. Where his hands should have ended in fingers, they were twisted and pulled together. The nails appeared to have grown together into long, gnarled claw-like appendages. But it was the head that terrified him. There was no neck! Skin and muscles and the flesh of his head and cheeks blended with the top of the shoulders.The mouth was pinched into a permanent oval and each time this creature breathed in, it sounded like a “schuss” and gargle. When it exhaled, it emitted a burbling sound and a frightening deep moan. Before Forsythe could move aside the creature threw himself forward, the reach of his arm caught John's face and the side of his right shoulder. He only had enough time to throw himself to the left onto some bales of old clothing.
At first it seemed the creature was startled by the small white lamp John had brought with him. But then it seemed to focus on the brighter light at the head of the basement stairs. It sucked and moaned as it climbed the stairs up, up into the bright kitchen. Forsythe screamed” Getaway, getaway, it's William”. The four terrified servants escaped quickly through the dining room just-in-time to see William emerge into the kitchen and turn toward the rear door to the outside. Above the noise of the wind and rain they could hear his footsteps in the wet mud and strange sucking gurgling and moaning sounds slowly disappearing into the forest.
It was mid-October 1932, and fall had descended upon Hyde Hall and Otsego County. The trees had turned their beautiful fall colors – brilliant reds of the maples, golden browns of the oaks – and John Rathbun and his good friend Henry Beaumont were preparing to go hunting. Rathbun owned several summer cabins on the East side of Lake Otsego about three miles from the entrance to Hyde Hall. Some of the local farmers had told him of a ten point buck they had seen at the edge of the woods on Clarke's point. John had his 30-30 and Henry his 12-gauge shotgun. They packed some food, some extra dry clothes and extra ammunition and put them in the back of John's old Model A truck. They drove north on the East Lake road and turned into the entrance to Hyde Hall. It was midafternoon and both were looking forward to an afternoon and evening of successful hunting. The wind had picked up and the afternoon had become cold and blustery. John had parked his truck just east of the Shadow Brook covered bridge, and, gathering their supplies, the two set out toward Hyde Hall. They were trudging along an old logging road north of the Hall, when the buck appeared not 50 feet in front of them. John raised his gun and his first shot hit its mark. He and Henry were thrilled. They were, however, nearly a quarter mile from the road and it would not be possible to drag the large deer to the truck. It was agreed that John would hike back across the bridge and bring the truck up the road to pick up the deer. As evening was coming on, darkness would soon be upon them and John needed to move quickly before it got too dark to see. Large clouds were rolling across the sky and the wind had picked up significantly. Leaves and dust swirled along the road and the wind whistled around the trees. As John approached the covered bridge over shadow Brook there was just enough light for him to see the other side of the bridge. The wind howled through the open end of the bridge and he could hear the rushing of Shadow Brook beneath it. As he approached the west end of the bridge he thought he saw some movement at the other end. It must just be his imagination but he felt a chill go through his body. He carefully stepped into the west end of the bridge and cautiously moved forward looking around all the time to see if he was fooling himself. As he neared the East end of the bridge he heard strange bone chilling sound. It was a shushing and gurgling sound followed by a gargle and deep moan. It came from the rafters. Just as he was about to reach the east end of the bridge he saw movement in the in the rafters to his left. The gurgling and moaning increased and suddenly the most unbelievable and horrifying creature leapt from the side of the rafters straight towards John. He jumped to his left but he couldn’t avoid the long claw-like hand that struck him on the right side of his face tearing his eye and cheek. John reeled to his left, his back slamming hard against the side of the bridge. In the dimming evening light he saw what had injured him. The creature, whatever it was, appeared to be a strong and muscular man from the neck down, dressed in ragged stained clothes. The hands were the first thing that he noticed. The ends of the fingers had all grown together, the nails twisted into a long,claw like appendages. But it was the head that struck terrifying fear into him. There was no neck. The top of the head was covered with long, dirty matted hair.The eyes were black and beady and stared straight at him. The mouth was a grotesque oval showing gnarled teeth.With each breath you could hear its intake shhhwish and gurgle followed by a rattling, gargling sound and deep moan with each exhale. The neck went straight from the ears to the shoulders with no indentation. The creature made a move to step forward.
Suddenly out of the dim light of late evening he saw an apparition approach silently from the East along the old dirt road. It appeared to be a transparent large black Rolls-Royce Phantom and it drove right up next to the creature at the end of the bridge. The rear door opened without a sound and a woman’s soft but commanding voice was heard to say, "William this is enough. You must get in." With that the creature turned, stepped into this soundless, ghostly vehicle, closed the door, and the Rolls-Royce silently moved off in the direction of Hyde Hall.
John slumped down to the floor of the bridge put his hand over his right eye and realized he could no longer see out of it. Blood was flowing down the side of his face and he was almost at the point of fainting from shock. He sat there for at least 5 minutes gathering his strength and fighting to regain his composure. If he could only get to his truck he knew he would be able to make it to Henry and the deer. He struggled up the road about 50 feet and climbed into the cab of the old Model A which had been parked at the side of the road. He started it up and drove slowly and carefully across the bridge looking from side to side to see if he could recognize that ghostly Rolls Royce. Within several minuteshe reached the point where the road met the old lumber track. He turned into the old track and drove the quarter-mile to where Henry was standing with the deer. As soon as John stepped from the old Model A Henry saw the wound on his face, and in a horrified voice said "What the hell happened to you John?” John tried to explain what happened and but he wasn't sure that Henry would believe him. Somehow they managed to lift the large deer into the back of the truck and, Henry driving, they headed for the hospital in Cooperstown. They arrived some 40 minutes later and John was helped into the emergency room. The doctors were unable to save his right eye. They stitched up the deep cut in his cheek, fitted him with a black eye patch and released him. To this day John Rathbun wears a black patch over his right eye and if you ask him how he lost it, he will launch into an unbelievable story about the creature with no neck, hands ending in claws, and the terrifying gurgling and moaning breathing.
It was a beautiful early August afternoon in the summer of 1952. Fourteen girls from the Otsego Girls Camp on the east side of Lake Otsego were preparing to spend the night on Clarke’s Point. They had been riding on horseback for two hours and had reached Hyde Hall at about four in afternoon. They passed in front of the old mansion and waved hello to the gardener, Maurice. They then continued on to Clarke’s Point, about a mile further. While the girls were watering and feeding their horses, the counselors were building a campfire and instructing three of the girls about preparing dinner. With the horses securely tied all of the girls proceeded to pitch their small pup-tents and spread out their sleeping bags. Among them was a young 12-year-old named Nancy Weatherall. After dinner while all the other girls and counselors were checking the horses to be sure they were secure for the night, Nancy was in her tent writing a letter to her mother. It was a crisp clear evening and the only sounds were a slight breeze the trees and the lapping of the water of the lake along the shore. As she was writing she thought she heard a rustle of leaves and brush behind her tent. Then she heard a sound that she'd never heard before. It was like some animal breathing, but it seemed as if the animal were in trouble. There was a shushing and a strange gargle followed by another gurgle, a rattle and a sickening deep moan. The sounds were evenly spaced and the rustling became louder. Nancy peered out of the front of her tent and around the corner. Suddenly an unspeakably horrible creature lashed out at her tearing open the side of her face. She screamed help twice and then her voice suddenly stopped. Her throat had been slit and she was dying. The lead counselor heard the screams as did all of the other girls. Running up the hill through the trees to where Nancy's tent was located, she saw the poor girl lying on the ground in a pool of blood. The counselor stopped suddenly, 20 feet from the tent and stood in horror at what she saw. There was what appeared, in the dim twilight, to be a man from the shoulders down. She saw it was clothed in torn and filthy rags. The arms ended with fingers twisted into long, horrible claws. But it was the head that terrified her. Its hair was long and matted and hung down below his waist. The black eyes stared at her menacingly but it was then she noticed that there was no neck. The head from the ears to the shoulders went straight to the collarbone. There was no chin. Each time the beast breathed, there were only terrible sucking and moaning sounds. She looked at Nancy and realized she needed to hurry if she was going to save her. Blood was trickling from her torn throat and the creature's mouth was covered with blood. Step by step the creature moved toward the counselor, then turned suddenly at the sight of the other girls and raced into the woods. The counselor immediately ran to the stricken girl and told the other counselor to corral the rest of the campers down near the campfire. She wrapped her neck in a clean towel, trying to staunch the flow of blood. Realizing that there was nothing more she could do for the stricken girl, she ordered one of the older campers to mount her horse and ride to Hyde Hall to get help.
Upon arrival at Hyde Hall, she found Maurice sweeping the back porch. In a terrified voice she told him what had happened and begged him to call for help. Maurice immediately phoned the emergency center in Richfield Springs. Within about 35 minutes, an ambulance arrived and drove as far as possible along the old dirt road leading to the point. By that time, the counselors and campers had carried Nancy up the steep horse trail to the end of the old road. They helped lift her into the ambulance. One of the counselors rode with poor dying Nancy to the hospital in Cooperstown. By the time they reached the emergency room, she was dead.
The counselors had decided that it would be best if the remaining campers did not stay on Clarkes Point that night, for fear of further attacks. When the terrified campers arrived back at the Otsego Girls Camp that night the news soon spread quickly. The next day, the camp director called all of the parents, and asked them to come and take their children home. The camp closed that year and never reopened.
There were no more reports of William Clarke for many years. Elderly local residents still speak of the creature, but only if prompted. No one has actually seen William in all the years since the horrible incident at the girl’s camp. One old farmer told a story of one of his sheep that had been killed in the strangest way in 1972. The poor animal was found in the field nearest the forest with holes up its back and its throat torn out. Another said that one of his dogs had been killed in the same manner in 1992. Maybe William has died of old age, or maybe he is still alive, hiding in the forests of Otsego County, feeding on small animals or an occasional deer or coyote. No one can be sure, but if you are out alone in the forests around Otsego County, chiefly near Hyde Hall, you should be especially alert. It is 2012 and William seems to make his presence known every twenty years. If you hear strange sounds and heavy, labored breathing with a shhush and gurgle, followed by a rattling, gargle and a deep terrifying moan, beware! He usually strikes in the late evening. It’s best not to venture out alone.