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Haunting Memories

Haunting Memories
A haunting night at the Casino
Thomas Dimopoulos

October 31 2012

In his weekly column, Thomas Dimopoulos takes us down the back streets of Saratoga to bring us the city's best stories.

Jamie Parillo gestured to the museum’s 19th century gaming room, where the strange mist had gathered before creeping up the spiral stairs.  In the parlor, next to a piano topped with a candelabra, two Victorian ladies were having tea.

“I’ve been here for 13 years, and through those years I brushed most of it off,” he says, his eyes falling down the long hallway. “Finally I stopped ignoring it. Something’s going on.”

A series of unexplained phenomena brought a team of paranormal investigators to the Canfield Casino, which was built in 1870 as a gambling house before it was converted into a museum in the 20th century. The findings were broadcast on NBC Universal's SyFy channel in 2010. Something, they concluded, is happening on the museum’s third floor.

Here, doors slam shut inexplicably and the lights flicker on and off.  Muted conversations emanate from inside vacant rooms, accompanied by a sudden drop in temperature; hanging crystals jingle from glass chandeliers, randomly. A volunteer came to work one morning and discovered a carpet runner rolled up and jammed flush against the back of a locked door inside a room that had no other exit; body-less Victorian gowns glide across the floor.

“Some of it you might say that the building is settling, making noise. But when you’re standing next to somebody and you hear something behind you, and they see the door handle wiggle…that’s just not something that somebody did,” Parillo says.

Outside the Walworth Family exhibition, on the third floor of the museum, the profile of a woman sits in the shadow in the hall of orbs.  Inside the Walworth, the family’s furniture remembers a tragic history of spousal abuse and murder.

The casino's third floor

The most common places for energies and hauntings to occur are where tragic events have happened or where people have passed through with highly charged emotions, paranormal researcher John Zaffis explained during an interview about unexplainable phenomena when visiting the region a few years ago. Certain objects are capable of opening a door to the unknown, Zaffis said. “It could be a good spirit, or it could be an invitation to something demonic. The thing is, you just never know.”

“Creeped out?  Not really,” Parillo says, as a coven of dead leaves levitate outside his Congress Park office, momentarily caught in the swirl of Sandy’s breath before tumbling across the pavement with a bony scrape. “Sometimes you just feel…uneasy. I’ve heard things and then I’ll wander in to the room and say, ‘OK, just do something and show me you’re here.’ And I’ve actually had them respond.  They knock. And I’ve been physically touched,” he says. “More than once.”

Thursday night the museum will host a historic ghost tour of the Canfield Casino in Congress Park.  The tour lasts about one hour and runs every 20 minutes.

“You’ll meet with staff members who have actually experienced things in the building,” says Parillo, executive director of the Saratoga Springs History Museum.  “They’ll take you around to the spots and tell you the real deal, not just spooky ghost stories.”

Admission is $7 for adults, $3 for children 9-17. Children younger than 8 are admitted free and reservations are required. Organizers expect all 120 tickets for the event to sell out prior to the event. For more information, call 584-6920.

Thomas Dimopoulos is a local author who has a knack for storytelling, and a gift for finding some of the best-kept secrets in Saratoga Springs.
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