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Ghost of Grace Brown

Grace Brown’s ghost haunts the lake

Does a century old murder victim haunt a resort in upstate New York?

For generations, the Adirondack Mountains in upstate New York have been a favorite vacation spot for the famous and the infamous.  One summer night in 1988, several employees of the Covewood Lodge on Big Moose Lake, including Rhonda Bousselot, were approaching the staff lodge.  Rhonda led the pack, unaware that someone, or something, might be waiting inside: 

“I walked into the staff lodge, straight up the stairs with my hand out, reaching for the string, which is how to turn on the light.  As I approached the top of the stairs and just before I was ready to turn on the light, a feeling came over me that somebody was right there.  More or less, I stopped in my tracks and really just didn’t move.  I didn’t have an overwhelming feeling of fright, but something definitely or someone was there, and it just kind of took my breath away.”

But the real show was outside. According to Rhonda, her friends were witnessing a spine-tingling vision:

“All three of them had the same exact story.  It lingered for just a few seconds, and then moved away. All three of them saw the ghost.  I didn’t see anything myself, but I felt that somebody was right there, and it was just a strange feeling.”

But who is haunting Big Moose Lake? People there believe it is the ghost of the young and beautiful Grace Brown.  In 1906, her brutal murder shocked the nation.  Decades later, Hollywood turned the notorious case into a hit film, “A Place in the Sun.” Hollywood portrayed Grace as an unattractive nag.  But in truth, Grace Brown was a naive, lovely 19-year-old who worked at the Gillette skirt factory in Cortland, New York.  It was there, in 1905, that she met the handsome and charming Chester Gillette, the factory owner’s nephew.

Author Craig Brandon has written about the infamous Grace Brown murder

“Chester Gillette was considered quite a catch by the people in town because he was popular and he was athletic and he was handsome.  I’m sure a lot of women in Cortland were interested in him.”

From the start, it was a scandalous romance.  According to Craig Brandon, Chester convinced Grace to see him without a chaperone which, in those days, put her reputation at risk:

“I think she saw him as the ideal person, that he was everything that she wanted.  She was in love probably for the first time in her life, and she wanted to see this through no matter what.”

For Chester, it was a secret affair.  He never took Grace out in public.  He never acknowledged their relationship.  According to Craig Brandon, Chester was frequently seen with other young women, especially those from the town’s wealthier families: 

“Her friends were warning her that he wasn’t what he seemed to be, that he was something different, and I think that she had no experience with that type of person.  And so she was seeing what she wanted to see rather than what her friends were telling her.”

But Grace could not resist Chester and she soon discovered she was pregnant.  At the time, unwed mothers were outcasts.  Grace begged Chester to marry her, but he stalled as long as he could.  Finally, in July, 1906, Chester took Grace to the Adirondacks.  She assumed it was a wedding trip.  According to Craig Brandon, they rented a rowboat at Big Moose Lake from a man named Robert Morrison:

“Morrison expected them to come back around dinnertime.  And when they didn’t come back, he thought that was somewhat suspicious.”

The next morning, Morrison organized a search party.  The rowboat had capsized.  A short distance from it, they found Grace’s body.  Two days later, police found Chester Gillette in a nearby hotel.  At first, he denied even knowing Grace Brown.  Then, he claimed Grace had drowned herself in despair because he didn’t love her anymore.  Few believed him.  He was tried and convicted of first degree murder.  On March 30, 1908, Chester Gillette died in the electric chair.  Had justice been served?  Apparently not enough to satisfy the restless spirit of Grace Brown.

Lynda Lee Macken had her own encounter with Grace Brown a few months after Rhonda Bousselot’s:

“I was walking down toward the lake with my flashlight and the light was getting dimmer and dimmer.  By the time I got to the edge of the lake and the rocks, my flashlight wasn’t working.  So I had to turn around and go back… I was awestruck, and not only was I certain that I was looking at a ghost, but I had a very strong feeling of sadness.  She was very sad.”

Was it the ghost of Grace Brown?  Over the years, there have been continual sightings.  And many wonder if her spirit has been trapped at Big Moose Lake since the day she was drowned by her faithless lover.