There are the old stories told only in whispers, and then there are the legends, which hide in the dark corners of local homes and shops. Port Jefferson has a long history, and such a village always has one foot in modern times with compelling ghost stories of days gone by constantly trailing in its wake.
Bob Hodum, the building manager of the Port Jefferson Village Center, annually takes willing participants on a ghost tour of the village to peer into its haunted past. Back in the days when Port Jeff was known as Drowned Meadow, a port settlement with a thriving shipbuilding industry and only a few shops to its name, spirits made their way into the woodwork of these lasting structures, according to Hodum. In the 19th century there was no Main Street as it’s known today, and instead East Main Street was considered the real commercial district.
All along East Main Street, stories abound about a haunted past. Jena Turner, the owner of Breathe Inspiring Gifts, which sells a number of spiritual items — such as crystals, minerals, tarot cards, incense and oils — said she has sensed a number of spirits who live in her store. One she and her friends named George or The Captain and another they named Charles. Another apparition once came into the store just a few months after Turner moved in 2009, a Mae West-looking woman they dubbed The Madam, she said.
“The day I came to look at the building I sensed it right away,” Turner said. “One day I felt like I was pushed, and I broke a mirror. Another day I was in a store with a customer, it sounded like somebody was trying to get out of the bathroom. The mirror came off the wall and landed on the floor. … There’s an office door next to cash register which opens at random times and freaks people out.”
During the 1930s, the space that Turner occupies was a bar, Hodum said, which gained the gruesome name The Bucket of Blood because of the number of fights started by sailors and shipwrights. Hodum added legends say the local village doctor was a regular attendant to those hurt in fights at The Bucket of Blood, and those who survived his treatment were offered a free drink.
“The place was a real dive — men fought all the time in it, and knives were their weapon of choice,” Hodum said.
The house across the street from Breathe was owned by a man named Capt. George Washington Brewster, a well-known mariner of the mid-19th century, Hodum said. Turner suspected his spirit must be the one making an appearance, perhaps among others who once visited the saloon. Despite the spirits being hosted in the building, she said she feels the ghosts aren’t malicious, and they add a little bit to the atmosphere of her shop.
Many other buildings on East Main Street belong to the late-19th and early 20th centuries. In the shop now occupied by BiblioFlames, a book-inspired candle shop on East Main Street, Hodum told another story of Lee Jong, an amiable laundryman and Chinese immigrant to Port Jefferson. Jong was known as a model citizen, and often gave refuge to people down on their luck. That is how he came into contact with John Rys, who was given space by Jong after the young man found himself homeless. Rys later went on a robbing spree, which Jong found out about and subsequently told the police. As Rys was being led away, he vowed revenge on his benefactor.
“One day I felt like I was pushed, and I broke a mirror. Another day I was in a store with a customer, it sounded like somebody was trying to get out of the bathroom. The mirror came off the wall and landed on the floor.”
— Jena Turner
The robber got his revenge in 1922 by murdering Jong in his own shop, according to Hodum. The crime was witnessed by a woman in the shop next door, and he was sentenced to death at Sing Sing Correctional Facility in Ossining. Both Rys and his accomplice John Emieleta were put to death in 1925 via the electric chair, gravely given the sobriquet “sparky.”
Sometimes Hodum said people can still hear Jong in his shop, continuing his lifelong profession by ironing shirts.
Hodum told another story of a lurid murder spree by Henry Walters of his wife Elizabeth Darling-Walters and her son-in-law over the family’s inheritance in 1857. The tragedy took place near the site of the Port Jefferson Power Station. Emmet Darling, the youngest member of the household, survived and managed to escape. Knowing that he would most likely be caught, Walters hung himself, according to Hodum. If you listen on a cold November day, some locals still say they hear the murderer’s voice.
“In November, when the murder took place, in the evening you can actually hear Walters moaning, where he’s crying about the fact that he would be discovered, and how sorry he was for it,” the building manager said.
Hodum hosted ghost tours to help promote the Port Jefferson Conservancy and the Village Center’s Haunted Mansion night Saturday, Oct. 27. The night will included fun and scares for all ages, mad scientists, ghosts, spooky fortune tellers and more.
The funds raised by the event will go toward supporting the conservancy.