In 1894, within a span of four months something strange and unsettling occurred in Long Island, New York. A series of unexplained and terrorizing events took place in the small town of Woodside. Leaving many residents baffled and many more afraid to leave their homes after dusk. The following story is based on the events that happened one fall in Woodside.
It all began late one August evening near the corners of Betts and Greenpoint avenues. When Mrs. Sunker walked past the old Episcopal church that stood on the grassy corner. She hadn’t been paying much attention to her surroundings as she felt comfortable in this part of town. It was a route that she had taken many times before, however on this particular night something terrifying was about to cross paths with the young woman.
As she made her way past the dilapidated structure something in the darkness, a swift fluttering movement caught her attention. Mrs. Sunker started to pick up her pace when out of the shadows jumped a tall, scraggly woman. The woman had an extremely bony, emaciated face and appeared to be, abnormally long and abnormally thin. The haggard woman held a pistol on one hand, waving it in front of Mrs. Sunker’s terror-stricken face.
The view of the wrong end of a barrel itself wasn’t what paralyzed Mrs. Sunker. Neither was the fact that this mysterious woman had jumped out of the shadows that surrounded the church grounds late at night. What made Mrs. Sunker stop dead in her tracks were the deep set eye sockets that seemed to be hollow if it weren’t for the pair of glowing red eyes. Like two small, hot glowing coals in a darkened room, they peered right at Mrs. Sunker’s soul. In that moment she managed to regain enough breath her to let out a horrific shriek that cut through the dead sleep of that night.
Before the entire neighborhood could come to Mrs. Sunker’s aid, the old hag had made her way into the church’s cellar. By the time a few passersby got to Mrs. Sunker the commotion had been over. They arrived to see a badly shaken Mrs. Sunker standing near the church, sobbing and wanting to leave the premises right away. After they had calmed her down she told the concerned neighbors about her terrifying encounter with the strange looking woman that lived in the church’s cellar.
None of the neighbors had seen or heard anything about anyone living in the old Episcopal church’s cellar. As far as they knew it had remained empty since an escaped murderer had made the cellar his temporary home a few years back. Some of the neighbors took Mrs. Sunker into a nearby house while several men armed themselves with whatever they could find nearby. They began a search of the property starting with the cellar. Several of the men went inside the church while others scoured the nearby areas. After an hour or so of searching they came up empty handed. They found no signs of anyone inside the building or anyone making it their place of refuge.
The men left the church and headed a few houses down the street where a trembling Mrs. Sunker had filled in the rest of the neighborhood to what she had seen near the church grounds. There was an uncomfortable silence as the neighbors looked at one another with fear and concern. The men came in and reported to the crowd that they hadn’t found anyone inside or near the church property. The silence in the room grew as they all looked at Mrs. Sunker face for any type of answer. Just then a blood-curdling scream echoed loud outside, making every single person in the room jump a few inches.
“It’s coming from the old Gavin place…” someone shouted.
A few of the men that had returned from search the church ran out and down the street to a two story house from where the screams had come from. Inside they found Ms. Nellie Gavin passed on the floor. After tending to the young woman, she managed to regain consciousness fairly quickly and proceeded to tell the men about a tall, terrifying figure that she had seen just before everything went dark.
She managed to get the story out through her chattering teeth. Soon, they all learned that when Nellie and the two Dauer brothers sat on the front stoop of her house that night, they felt as if someone had been watching them. Nellie and her friends were sitting and talking while waiting for her sister to return home. As they joked and talked late that evening she happened to look across the street and see a strange and really tall woman staring at them from a shadowy patch of woods.
Whatever it was, it stood motionless, watching their every move. It didn’t take long before they were all up on their feet, ready to book it. Nellie and the two Dauer brothers stood in silence, not sure what to do next. Suddenly the woman from across the street pulled out a long revolver and began running towards the three of them.
Nellie let out a resonating scream and they all split, running in different directions. Nellie ran inside and locked the door behind her. Once inside the safety of her home she thought about helping her friends; if they were still there. Nellie peered through the window to see where the brothers were long. There was no one near her stoop or around the window. The street was empty and silent. Just as she was about to step away from the window she saw her. Halfway hidden between the shadows was a hideous face staring right at her through the glass.
Nellie passed out, only to awaken in the arms of familiar faces. “She had a straw hat…and was very tall. She had a long, narrow face.” she described the woman to the men who had been chasing this ghostly hag. Nellie went on to tell them that the most terrifying thing about this hideous woman were her eyes. They were set deep into her head and shone like balls of fire. Concern turned into sheer fear for some of those listening to the frightening description of the ghastly woman.
Samuel Twaddle, the man responsible for apprehending the outlaw that hid in the church’s cellar, stepped up to organize a posse to go and put an end to this mystery that had the entire neighborhood awake in terror. He called on a few men to gather weapons: guns, knives, clubs, axes. Anything they had stowed away at home for protection. After seeing how terrified both Mrs. Sunker and Nellie had been after their encounters, the men didn’t know what to expect.
Once gathered outside the church building, Samuel instructed a few men to enter the building through the front while another group went in through the back of the building. He and others would enter through the cellar while another man stood guard outside the church. The youngest member of the posse, James McDonald, was appointed guard in front of the church. The plan was a simple one as they expected to flush out possibly a vagrant or outlaw trying to make the cellar their hideaway.
The groups of men scoured throughout the property looking for the mysterious woman. They checked all the rooms, cellar, attic. They checked behind the organ and between every pew and found nothing but cobwebs, dust, and some of the residential rodents that called the old building their home. The entire grounds were searched thoroughly only to come up empty handed. Only when the men gathered outside the church did they know something was wrong. James McDonald wasn’t in his post. He had gone missing.
The young man who had been stationed as a guard was nowhere to be found around the property. They called and began to look for James near the small patch of woods that stretched out just behind the church. It was only after expanding their search that they found him. He had ran a few blocks down from the church and was near some train tracks.
“I saw it.” he sputtered. “I saw the creature. It came running out of the back of the building and headed down to the swamp…” he reached his trembling hand up to put the cigarette between his lips. “It’s tall.” he continued. “It just ran into the swamp.”
Whatever it was that James had seen was serious enough to make him run away and abandon his post. The men made sure James made it back home before searching the area around the swamp. They searched all night and well into the early dawn. They found no traces of whatever had terrified many that night in Woodside.
As the light of day pushed away the shadows that surrounded the churchyard, neighbors began recounting the terrors experienced throughout the night. More and more people in Woodside awoke that morning to the wild stories of what transpired near the old churchyard. Rumors of ghostly and of illegal activities began to circulate throughout town. Bringing many more concerned people to organize and try and figure out what it is that’s in their town and how to stop it. That same day, as the town struggled to make sense of the strange disturbances a string of burglaries were being reported across Woodside.
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A rash of burglaries spread through Woodside
On the morning of August 5th Woodside awoke in a sleep-deprived commotion. By that afternoon it was possible that almost the entire town had heard of what went one near Betts and Greenpoint. About that terrifyingly looking and terrifyingly tall stranger with a big straw hat, which they could only assume was used to hide her skeletal face.
By that time there were still several patrolling groups of armed men all across Woodside. Samuel Twaddle and his men were still guarding the Episcopal church however this time they paired the McDonald kid with someone, making sure that he wasn’t left alone. The men were posted inside, outside and across the street of the old church. Nothing was to go in and nothing was to come out. It took the effort of almost the entire community to bring some sense of pleasantness back into Woodside.
That pleasantness dissipated once reports of burglaries made their way throughout the community. Amidst the commotion and established neighborhood watches across the town, a pair of burglars decided to take advantage of the dire situation the town was in. Several residences and some businesses were hit by a couple of reported burglars.
The word started to spread and soon people all over Woodside were on high alert. There was talk about the burglaries possibly being related to the strange old hag seen near the church. However no one, not even the Woodside police could tie the two incidents together.
Soon many people began taking alternate routes when they had to pass by the old Episcopal church. An ominous reputation had befallen upon the forgotten structure that sat on the intersection of Betts and Greenpoint avenues. For many of those who were there the first night, the talks of an old witch that lived in the church’s cellar had become a living nightmare. As the days turned into weeks a welcoming normalcy crept back into the everyday life of the residents of Woodside. For it seemed that for two consecutive days, their bustling little town experienced more activity than decades in old Salem.
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Of burglars, hags, and stranglers…
For the next few months the streets of Woodside had become once again busy with pedestrians and children comfortably walking and playing. It had been a few months since the townspeople were under siege by an ‘tall hag with glowing red eyes’, or as the general consensus had come to describe the attacker. A slight chill had already crept in as the month of November was coming to an end.
One Monday morning in a quiet street in Woodside Heights, seven year-old Josie Bogardus plays alone in her front yard. Her father was somewhere nearby. Josie had no idea that as she placed her dolls alongside the imaginary picnic spread she had set, a man stood across the street, hiding and stalking young Josie.
Without warning, he ran across and lunged at the young girl. The man was on top of her, strangling the young child, restraining her screams for help in her throat. Somehow Josie managed to escape the man’s grip, suck in a lungful of air and scream for her father’s help. When he arrived at the front of his house, Mr. Bogardus was shocked to see a stocky and well dressed man running away from his front yard, where Josie lay crying and gasping for her breath.
A few hours later around noontime that same day the well-dressed attacker struck again. This time six year-old Hattie Maxwell was confronted by the same man that had attack Josie Bogardus. This time however the man pulled out a knife.
Hattie screamed and before either of them managed to move a muscle, a wagon made its way around the corner near where the two of them stood. The mysterious attacker quickly ran off when young Hattie was approached by the people driving the wagon. Like a wild fire, the word quickly spread across the town of Woodside. With the still glowing embers of what was left from that past August, the growing reports of this new mysterious stranger set Woodside ablaze once more.
The following day eight year-old Mary Lindblom was on an errand when she became the third child to bump into the mysterious strangler. Mrs. Lindblom sent her daughter Mary to the local grocery store. Unaware of the recent attacks on children around the neighborhood, Mrs. Lindblom sent Mary through a route that would take her near an old Baptist church. An area of the neighborhood considered…unfavorable by many.
Little Mary Lindblom had no idea that as she walked past the church, the well-dressed lunatic waited behind some bushes. Eager and ready to pounce on her as she got closer. The man leapt out of the bushes and made Mary jump and cry out for help. The depraved lunatic found himself with no time to proceed with whatever macabre plan he had for little Mary. Luckily for Mary, as well as the other children, the attacker was always thwarted off by some passerby in the nick of time.
It was after Little Mary’s encounter that the wild fire could no longer be contained. The entire community of Woodside was on high alert and ready to confront the new danger that threatened their streets. Samuel Twaddle and his men regrouped and armed themselves once again. They, along other groups, patrolled all of the streets of Woodside and the streets of what today is known as Elmhurst, New York.
Comprised mainly of angry fathers, the mob of vigilantes wanted justice for these recent and horrifyingly violent attacks on their daughters. As nighttime fell upon the streets, the relentless fathers continued combing through the streets but no signs of the creep could be found. They walked and searched the streets until daybreak. Tired and upset, the residents of Woodside were once again left without any answers to the strange and unexplained events that seemed to plague their town.
It had been disclosed by the Woodside police department that they had a few suspects in mind. The New York Times reported that Woodside authorities detained two men who had been harassing passersby near Hoffman boulevard. A tall young man dressed in woman’s clothing and a much shorter man who many said fit the description of ‘the strangler’.
The suspicious pair’s Modus operandi however was different than that of the depraved strangler, burglars, or even the rumored ghostly old hag that was said to live in the cellar of what is now known as the Saint Sebastian Roman Catholic Church building. The two young men that were detained in October seemed to be a pair of losers taking advantage as well as making light of the unfortunate events that had transpired in Woodside. The police knew it and so did most of the worried residents. Whatever had frightened Mrs. Sunker that warm night in August would remain buried and forgotten in the annals of Woodside’s history as the world welcomed a new century. The mystery of the old hag and the disappearing strangler remained unsolved to this day. Nobody knows why these strange events befell upon Woodside that one unusual August in 1894.
*’An unusual August in Woodside’ is based on the actual events reported in the New York Times that August in 1894.