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Bar owner, patrons recall paranormal occurrences at Katie’s on Main Street

The stairway leading to the basement of Katie’s bar in Smithtown. Photo by Kevin Redding.

By Kevin Redding

If there’s something strange in your neighborhood bar, chances are you’re at Katie’s on West Main Street in Smithtown — where ghostly happenings are just as normal as ordering a drink.

The two-floor pub and live music venue, which sits on the grounds of the old Trainor Hotel that burned down in 1909, has long been a hotbed for spooky sightings and experiences according to its staff and patrons. The bar’s high level of spectral activity has even been featured on episodes of popular paranormal shows like Travel Channel’s “Ghost Adventures,” A&E’s “Paranormal State” and the Biography Channel’s “My Ghost Story.”

Dominique Maciejka, a former bartender at the establishment, said she had her fair share of brushes with the bar’s spirited regulars.

“I was by myself closing up, the music was off, nobody else was around, and a beer bottle cap went flying from one side of the bar to the other, like, sideways across the room,” Maciejka said, recalling one such freaky occurrence at the end of a night shift in fall 2011.

“I was the only person around so there was no explanation, nothing that could’ve triggered that … other than something supernatural,” she said. “On the way home, I called my mom and asked her to stay on the phone with me.”

She was also working when a soda gun behind the bar seemingly flung out of its holster on its own and dropped to the floor, an incident captured on the bar’s security cameras.

Gary Bates, from Smithtown, said he once saw what he described as “a big, gray, seven-foot tall” figure walk from one end of the bar counter to the other.

Another time, Bates said he was walking in the empty bar and felt the sensation of stepping into a large spider web even though there was no physical one in sight, and was then suddenly poked in the arm.

“There’s definitely something weird going on there,” Bates said of the Smithtown nightspot.

Owner Brian Karppinen believes the bar might be haunted. Photo by Kevin Redding.

Over the years, folks who frequent Katie’s have reported a wide range of eerie activity: distorted faces taking shape in the bar’s mirrors, hearing voices in empty rooms, feeling like they were being watched by unseen presences, seeing transparent children in the background of selfies and group pictures and having whatever may be haunting the place follow them home.

None of these reported occurrences  come as a surprise to Katie’s owner.

“The whole place is active,” said Brian Karppinen, 53, who has owned the bar since 2000. He pointed out that while the bar’s lively upstairs tends to be occupied by mischievous and relatively harmless ghosts, the basement billiards area is where he thinks more sinister ones roam. “Down there is a darker feeling, a heaviness — not as fun. You feel, spiritually, like something is not nice down there.”

Karppinen recalled a night in which a tough biker went downstairs to confront one of the malevolent spirits, stood in what was considered the basement’s most active spot by the pool table and was violently punched in the stomach by an invisible force.

“If he faked it, it would be amazing, but that seemed real,” Karppinen said, making clear he takes a lot of people’s reports with a grain of salt. “He hobbled out of here and I’ve never seen him again.”

While there are a number of theories from various paranormal and psychic groups that have explored the bar hoping to identify the ghosts, Karppinen said little concrete evidence has emerged from such explorations.

Some say the ghosts are past Smithtown residents who may have died in the Trainor Hotel fire, while others are convinced the more evil spirits could be Jinns, a Middle Eastern poltergeist that has purportedly existed before any religion.

However, one of the more mischievous ghosts that has become a sort of celebrity at Katie’s is widely thought to be Charlie Klein, a Prohibition-era bootlegger and part owner of the Smithtown Hotel in the 1920s, which is now Croxley’s Ale House.

According to members of the Smithtown Historical Society, Klein shot himself in his house in 1933 after serving a prison sentence. Klein’s house, Karppinen said, is directly across the street from the bar.

Brad Harris, the historical society’s president, said even though he’s never personally experienced any of the bar’s hauntings, he doesn’t think they’re made up.

“I don’t think it’s a figment of anybody’s imagination as there does seem to be strange occurrences happening there,” Harris said. “We have always had problems trying to explain why Charlie Klein’s ghost would be disturbing the bar, as he didn’t kill himself there, but it’s a strange world.”

Even stranger, Karppinen said, was when members of the Pennsylvania State University “Paranormal State” group were investigating the basement and one of them pointed to the end of the bar and said, “that’s where your ghost died — right there.”

“I said, ‘no he didn’t, he died across the street, he killed himself,’” Karppinen recalled. “And he said, ‘no … I used to be a DJ here in the early ’80s and there was an old timer who used to drink and would fall asleep at the bar. We would wake him up, get him a cab, and we would send him home every night. One night, he didn’t wake up and he died at the bar.’”

The corner of Katie’s many patrons believe is the habitat of the bar’s more sinister spirits. Photo by Kevin Redding

Karppinen said weird and unexplainable occurrences have surrounded him all his life and “it really seemed like I was called here.”

It was when the Lake Grove resident was driving to his girlfriend’s house one day, he said, that something told him to go visit his friend, Rich, who owned a struggling bar called Wolfgang’s Pub.

Sure enough, his instincts were right and Rich was in rough shape, depressed that his business was losing money and claiming the place was “cursed.” He asked Karppinen to be his partner and help out. Rich retired from the bar business soon after and Karppinen renamed the place after his grandmother, Katie Dunagan.

Naturally, for Karppinen, it didn’t take long before things got phantasmic.

Once, while jostling with a rotted door at the top of a steep stairwell in the bar, Karppinen lost his balance and felt himself teetering backward when, he said, “I felt two things grab my shoulder blades and upright me. I was like, ‘wow, whoever that is, thank you.’ I got the vibe it might have been my dad or a passed away family member. It was not a spooky vibe at all.”

“I think it’s some kind of a package deal that maybe this place was active and they wanted me here,” Karppinen said, laughing. “[I think] the darker thing attracted me and likes that I never really thrive. There’s times when I’m behind in bills and I’m like ‘I’m selling the place’ and then something comes through and suddenly we have money for bills again. It almost seems like they love the torture, but don’t want me to leave.”

Unless you own a corporate bar, Karppinen said, the bar business is a dying industry, but the ghosts have helped bring traffic to Katie’s.

“People love to talk about it, people know us all over, it has definitely helped,” Karppinen said. “That and our live music. Sometimes people are jerks and they’ll come in drunk from another place, like, ‘I wanna see the ghost!’ and, spiritually, I have no idea what’s going on here … so I try not to let that happen. I don’t want to torture these [dead] people more.”

Asked what he would say to any skeptics out there, Karppinen said, “I would tell them I’m not here to debate you. I don’t believe a lot of the [stuff] people say happened here, but some of it is very hard to explain.”

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The house at 401 Beach Street was the site of a brutal double murder. Photo from Port Jefferson Village historical archive

“Silent but smiling, Henry hit William again and again, leaving the young man lying senseless on the carpeted floor.”

It’s a story that unfolds like a dark novel. A member of a prominent family in a quiet, seaside village snaps one day and beats his relatives to death at the home they shared, splattering blood everywhere, before hanging himself in the backyard barn. A child who narrowly escapes the massacre grows up to be a successful businessman but will remain forever haunted by his memories.

The 1857 murder-suicide on Beach Street shocked the Port Jefferson community and would likely still shock residents today.

It could have all started with the reportedly turbulent relationship between Henry Walters and his wife of three years, Elizabeth Darling-Walters. Or perhaps it was the feud between Walters and his wife’s son-in-law William Sturtevant that was boiling into legal action despite the two living under the same roof.

According to a narrative written by former Port Jefferson historian Ken Brady and published in the Port Times Record 10 years ago, the gossip around the village was that Walters, 57, and Darling-Walters, 46, fought frequently, with things so bad that they did not share a bed. The husband, a carpenter and a farmer, felt ignored and was “worried that his wife would leave her substantial estate to Martha Jane and Emmet,” her children from her first marriage to the late Matthew Darling, one of the founders of the nearby Darling Shipyard on the west side of the harbor.

The Darling family was originally from Smithtown but built their Port Jefferson shipyard in 1832 and quickly became prolific, building 13 ships during that decade alone.

A house at 401 Beach Street was the site of a brutal double murder. Above, a view of the home in the distance, overlooking a frozen Port Jefferson Harbor. Photo from Port Jefferson Village historical archive
A house at 401 Beach Street was the site of a brutal double murder. Above, a view of the home in the distance, overlooking a frozen Port Jefferson Harbor. Photo from Port Jefferson Village historical archive

If the chatter is true, Walters showed warning signs of a violent outburst. Brady wrote, “In a creepy attempt to win back his wife’s affections, Henry bought a shroud from local coffin maker Ambrose King. Walters often wore the white burial sheet about the homestead, threatening to commit suicide if Elizabeth did not return his love.”

At the same time, the farmer’s feud with Sturtevant and his father, fellow ship carpenter Amasa Sturtevant, who also lived on Beach Street, had reached a climax the day before the son-in-law’s murder — according to Brady, Walters received a letter from William Sturtevant’s attorney, Thomas Strong, warning him to “retract statements he had made about young Sturtevant” by Nov. 21, the day of the bloodshed, “or to expect a slander suit.”

That Saturday morning in the white, one-and-a-half-story home, Darling-Walters was eating breakfast with the young Sturtevant couple when Walters, finished feeding the horses, grabbed an iron bar and rushed into the dining room. According to Brady, the son-in-law was bludgeoned to death first with blows to the head, “splattering brain matter on the walls and furniture.” Then Walters went after his wife and 20-year-old stepdaughter, who both fled outside.

“Elizabeth tried to shield herself from the savage blows, but soon fell to the ground mortally wounded, her skull fractured and dress soaked with blood.”

Martha Jane Sturtevant was spared when Matthew Darling’s younger brother, Beach Street resident John E. Darling, heard his seriously injured niece’s screams. Brady said when Walters caught sight of the man, he went back inside and looked for 11-year-old Emmet Brewster Darling. But the boy was hiding under a bed in the attic and, while his stepfather was in another room, ran down the stairs and escaped Walters’ pursuit.

“Her barn was haunted by the ghost of Henry Walters, whose terrifying screams supposedly echoed over the harbor.”

That’s when Walters went into the barn, put a white handkerchief over his face and hanged himself. According to Brady, the murderer had neatly folded his coat and vest and placed them on a bench.

Despite his traumatic experience, Emmet Darling, who also went by E.B. Darling and whose first name has sometimes been misspelled as “Emmett,” grew into a productive adult. According to former Cedar Hill Cemetery historian George Moraitis, Darling took over his family’s shipyard and married twice before his death almost 30 years after the murders.

His elder sister moved on to a degree — in his written history “Forevermore on Cedar Hill,” Moraitis noted that Martha Jane later remarried, to Capt. Oliver Davis. But Brady said the woman lived in the same house where her mother and first husband were murdered until her own death in 1906, “despite claims from some villagers that her barn was haunted by the ghost of Henry Walters, whose terrifying screams supposedly echoed over the harbor.”

No one else will live in the murder house, however — both the home and the shipyard property have been torn down and rebuilt. The Port Jefferson Village historical photo archive notes that the Port Jefferson Fire Department burned down the home during a drill 60 years ago, on Jan. 22, 1956, and a Suffolk County sewer facility took its place. The Darling shipyard, on the other hand, eventually became a power plant.

Darling-Walters is buried at Cedar Hill with her first husband and daughter, and William Sturtevant at his own family’s grave site there. Emmet Darling rests at Oak Hill Cemetery in Stony Brook with his second wife, Julia A. Oakes.

According to Moraitis, the killer’s burial place is unknown.

The Un-Living History cast, front row, from left, Jim Ryan, Carmen Collins, Rick Outcault and Ellen Mason. Back row, from left, Florence Lucker, Peter Reganato, Vincent Ilardi and Mary McKell. Photo from Vanderbilt Museum

A terrifying, hooded figure sits in Mr. Vanderbilt’s bathtub. A skeleton stands behind an armchair in one of the elegant bedrooms. An eerie woman in a black robe with pasty-white skin and a frightful stare sits on a divan in Mrs. Vanderbilt’s bedroom. Near the fireplace in the grand, paneled library stands a tall mummy.

These are just a few of the ghostly, life-size props that will welcome you to Halloween at the Vanderbilt Mansion.

Saturdays and Sundays, Oct. 24 and 25 and Oct. 31 and Nov. 1, are Haunted Weekends at the Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum, 180 Little Neck Road, Centerport. Festivities will include hourly Un-Living History Tours of the mansion beginning at noon, with the last tour starting at 4 p.m.   

Tours are interwoven with Vanderbilt family history and include ghost stories told by mansion guides dressed for the occasion. Visitors may meet Delia O’Rourke, the Irish cook, dressed in her bloody apron and carrying a meat cleaver, or one of the Vanderbilt family guests, aviator-industrialist Howard Hughes, dressed in the dirty, bloody clothing from his plane crash. Visitors also might run into the Phantom of the Opera or the occasional witch.

The Vanderbilt Mansion has a few ghost stories of its own — experienced by staff members from years ago. Those tales include hearing the laughter of young girls in the nursery wing of the mansion, in the evening after hours, and the nighttime sighting of the ghostly figure of a young boy in knickers and a cap running across the mansion lawn.

Recommended for children ages 8 and up. Tickets, sold at the gate, are $7 adults, $6 students and seniors, and $3 children ages 12 and under general admission plus $5 per person for a guided mansion tour. For more information, call 631-854-5579 or visit www.vanderbiltmuseum.org.

A creepy graveyard will be on the tour during the Haunted Hayrides at Benner’s Farm. Photo by Giselle Barkley

By Rita J. Egan

Scaring up some Halloween fun isn’t tricky when you live on or near the North Shore of Suffolk County. However, beware; some activities are not for scaredy cats.

Those taking a hayride at Benner’s Farm, 56 Gnarled Hollow Road, E. Setauket, will find that things will get a little spookier on Oct. 30 and 31. While visitors will find an array of static figures, including ogres, witches and ghosts, in the fields on any given day this month, the creatures will come alive on Halloween eve and day from 6 to 9 p.m. when the farm offers Haunted Hayrides.

Owner Bob Benner said the event is open to all ages, but he warns that the later the ride is, the scarier it gets. “We have had some people who have been really scared and other people who simply just enjoyed the ride a lot,” he said.

Mr. Benner said the farm staff, along with volunteers, play the creatures that can come out of nowhere and jump toward the hayride or unexpectedly scream. In addition, there are different tableaus, including the farm’s spooky cemetery, where visitors may witness a ghoulish figure up to something evil.

Mr. Benner said the creativity of those in the field always amazes him. “I never quite know what they are going to come up with in terms of scaring folks.” Rides, which cost $6 per person,  leave every 20 minutes. Visit with the animals and have a Halloween treat while you wait. For more information, visit www.bennersfarm.com or call 631-689-8172.

Over at F&W Schmitt’s Family Farm in Melville, 26 Pinelawn Road, a mad doctor who encountered a book of ancient texts has taken over. Visitors to The Haunted Mansion of Melville will encounter otherworldly creatures as well as various oddities during their spine-chilling visit.

Outside, those who dare can explore The Haunted Corn Maze where the physician dumps his patients who may or may not be dead. There’s also a high-intensity live stage show, “The Experiment,” that gives spectators the opportunity to witness some of the doctor’s experiments on his patients.

The show, which is enhanced with special effects, isn’t recommended for those with heart conditions or those who cannot handle intense situations. Tickets are $19 for the mansion, $11 for the corn maze, $5 for “The Experiment” and $30 for a combo ticket. Open Thursdays and Sundays 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. and Fridays and Saturdays 7 p.m. to midnight through the end of October. Visit www.schmittshaunt.com or call 631-271-3276 for information, including hours for their less scary, daytime show for children.

For more hair-raising Halloween moments, head over to The Darkside Haunted House at 5184 Rt. 25A, Wading River. The indoor and outdoor attraction, which spans over 14,000 square feet, features movie-quality sets and bone-chilling special effects. While The Darkside Haunted House is not recommended for children under 12 years old, an early matinee from 1 to 5 p.m. on weekend days, with the lights on and no live actors, is available for the little ones as well as the weak of heart. The Darkside Haunted House is open weekdays and weekends until Nov. 1. Tickets start at $18. For more information and hours, visit www.darksideproductions.com or call 631-369-SCARE.

For a tamer treat, join the animals at Sweetbriar Nature Center, 62 Eckernkamp Dr., Smithtown, during their annual Halloween Spook-tacular. Children are encouraged to wear costumes as they spend the day walking through the ghostly garden, and participating in the scavenger hunt, story time, crafts and sensory activities. New this year, visitors can travel the Jack O’ Lantern trail decorated with hand-carved and glowing pumpkins. The Spook-tacular is scheduled for Friday, Oct. 23, and Saturday, Oct. 24, from 7 to 9:30 p.m. and costs $7 per person. The center will also offer a Not-So-Spooky Spook-tacular on Oct. 24 from 3:30 to 5 p.m. For more information, or to contribute a carved or uncarved pumpkin, call Eric at 631-979-6344, ext. 302.

Spooky stories will fill the halls of the museum of the Hallock Homestead Farm, 6038 Sound Ave., Riverhead, during its Haunted Museum Tours on Friday, Oct. 30, at 4:30 p.m. More than 250 years of Hallockville Homestead dark secrets will be exposed, including the death of the Phantom British Officer.

During the tour, one may hear the hair-raising sobs of the broken-hearted Spectral Bride searching for her lost love, and guests may even encounter the ghost of the dishonest Regretful Rumrunner, doomed by his own poisoned drink. Based on historical fact, local folklore and urban legend, the tour was created by professional actress, costume designer and museum educator Colette Gilbert.

Beth Motschenbacher, assistant director, said this is the first year the museum is offering the tour. “I hope people enjoy seeing the historic homestead in a different light and learning a little bit more about the darker side of folklore,” she said.

Tours, which depart from the Hudson-Sydlowski house, last 50 to 60 minutes and run every 15 minutes until 7:45 p.m. Advance reservations are recommended. Geared for all ages, admission is $7 for adults and children age 10 and under are free. For more information, call 631-298-5292 or visit www.hallockville.com.