A look at the creepy stories surrounding the mysterious ruins of Haunted Bannerman Castle, which lies in the middle of the Hudson River.

About 50 miles away from Manhattan, the ruins of a castle lie on a small island in the Hudson River. Travelers pass the ruins on the train, and the only clue to the history of the destroyed castle are the words “Bannerman’s Island Arsenal,” emblazoned on the side of the structure. The island, and the area, has a long history of hauntings, from its pre-colonial times, to the superstitions of Dutch sailors and stories of a legendary goblin king.

Highlights include:
• A ghost ship
• A poem about the goblin king
• An amateur architect
• Exploding steamships
• Old-timey sailor hazing

Episode Script Haunted Bannerman Castle

DISCLAIMER: I’m providing this version of the script for accessibility purposes. It hasn’t been proofread, so please excuse typos. There are also some things that may differ between the final episode and this draft script. Please treat the episode audio as the final product. 

  • Bannerman’s Castle / Pollepel Island
    • About 50-60 miles away from Manhattan
    • Visible from train
    • I saw from train, wanted to visit
    • It’s this big, crumbling, Scottish style castle that says “Bannerman’s Island Arsenal” on the side
    • steamboat races, sunken ships, not on maps
  • Chen, David W. “Long Abandoned, an Island in the Hudson is Restored.” New York Times, Late Edition (East Coast) ed., Nov 28 1999, p. 1, 45:3. ProQuest. Web. 13 Sep. 2021 .

 

“The portcullis and drawbridge have vanished. The pith helmets and cannonballs are gone. But the crumbling Scottish castle remains, cryptically adorned by the chiseled words ”Bannerman’s Island Arsenal.”

 

Ever since it was abandoned in the 1950’s, this island, one of the Hudson River’s most incongruous and inaccessible ruins, has fascinated history buffs. Once the private warehouse of Frank Bannerman VI, an eccentric Scottish immigrant in the military supplies business, the castle has deteriorated so badly that the island has been declared hazardous and off limits by its current owner, New York State.

 

But now, Pollepel Island is becoming more than just a place of mystery and memory. . . .

 

Situated only 50 miles north of the George Washington Bridge in the town of Fishkill, Pollepel Island had a colorful history even before the Bannermans arrived at the turn of the century. American Indians believed that the island was haunted. Dutch sailors feared goblins who, legend had it, whipped up squalls, dooming many a vessel.

 

And the name itself is said to have two possible sources: One is a Dutch word meaning ”pot ladle,” referring to the drunken or boisterous sailors who were deposited on the island while their vessels cruised the Hudson, then picked up after they sobered up. The second is a girl named Polly Pell, the object of two gentlemen callers and the subject of a dramatic tale of love, honor and rescue — on the island.

 

In the Revolutionary War, American colonists installed chevaux-de-frise — a kind of underwater fence of sharpened logs — between the island and Plum Point, on the western shore. The idea was to sink British vessels. But the British weren’t fooled: no ships were sunk.

 

By the end of the 19th century, the uninhabited island, owned first by the Van Wycks, then by the Tafts, was used sparingly as a picnic ground and fishing spot. Then came Frank Bannerman, whose Manhattan business traded surplus military goods — including, at one point, 90 percent of the equipment from the Spanish-American War, Mr. Caplan said. The problem was that New York City officials prohibited the storage of such combustibles. So Mr. Bannerman bought this island in 1900 to build his own warehouse-cum-billboard, visible from the trains humming along the Hudson.

 

Mr. Bannerman designed seven buildings for the island — three warehouses, two workers’ houses, a family residence and the signature six-story tower — in homage to his Scottish roots, complete with turrets, crenelated towers, a drawbridge and a moat.

 

Mr. Bannerman even invented a family coat of arms, said his grandson Frank Bannerman VIII. . . .

 

The island was not immune to accidents. In 1920, a powder house explosion injured three people and catapulted a 25-foot-long piece of stone wall onto the eastern shore of the Hudson, where it landed on the railroad tracks. And once, a cannon mistakenly shot a shell over a mountain and through a barn. No animals or humans were injured.

 

Still, the island, equipped with amenities like telephone service and indoor plumbing, often possessed a comforting, members-only kind of rhythm, as the Bannermans used the island primarily on weekends and a small group of employees lived there full time.

 

Visitors would gather at a spot on the eastern shore directly across from the island, and ring a brass bell that would echo across the 1,000-foot distance. Then, the island’s employees would board rowboats to pick up the visitors — who often carried jugs of drinking water, since the river’s water was not potable.

 

After Frank Bannerman VI died in 1918, two of his sons, Frank VII and David, took over the business, which also published a well-regarded military supplies catalog. In 1959, the family moved the business from Manhattan to Long Island, and emptied the island of its remaining supplies. In 1967, the family sold the island to New York State, and by 1969, when a suspicious fire gutted many of the buildings, Mr. Bannerman’s island had fallen into desuetude.

 

The castle is visible from West Point, about four miles to the south. But to many drivers, train passengers and boaters, the castle may resemble something mistakenly plucked from Robert the Bruce’s Scotland. The Dutchess County Tourism Promotion Agency fields more phone calls about Bannerman’s Island than about any other place.

 

”Because it’s sort of unexpected,” Ms. Arena said, ”people ask, ‘What is that?’ ‘Did I really see it?’ ‘Was it a movie set?’ ‘Are there romantic or tragic stories behind it?’ ” (According to Mr. Caplan, the castle did appear in ”North by Northwest.”)

 

On a recent tour of the island, Jim Logan and Thom Johnson, two members of the Bannerman Castle Trust, noted how Mr. Bannerman had used recycled bedsprings, bamboo spears and bayonets as building materials. The tower, they explained, was actually designed to create an optical illusion, with top floors wider than the lower ones to make the building look imposing. And none of the buildings contained right angles.

 

Unfortunately, vandals have sullied the place in recent years, security cameras and No Trespassing signs notwithstanding. There is fresh graffiti, done in tribute to Limp Bizkit, Kid Rock and teenage romance. Nature has asserted itself, too, as evidenced by the spread of poison ivy and sumac.”

  • Bannerman island trust restored the castle and island

Bischof, Jackie. “Preserving a Hudson River ‘Castle’; Trustees of the Bannerman Castle are Trying to Preserve what’s Left.” Wall Street Journal (Online), Jan 13 2014, ProQuest. Web. 13 Sep. 2021 .

    • “The castle was built as a summer home for the Bannermans and to house the inventory of the family business, which dealt in military goods such as firearms, uniforms and cannons, according to Mr. Gottlock.
    • The business was started in the 1860s in New York City. After the end of the Spanish-American war, neighbors became alarmed at the idea of Mr. Bannerman stockpiling explosive materials in the middle of Lower Manhattan and he was “more or less leaned on to leave,” Mr. Gottlock said.
    • In 1900, he purchased the 6½-acre island, known officially as Pollepel Island and located between Beacon and Cornwall-on Hudson.
    • Over the next 17 years, Mr. Bannerman proceeded to build a summer residence, a superintendent’s house and five buildings, including the tower. He based the architectural design of the buildings on castles in Europe, particularly in Scotland and Belgium.
    • Mr. Bannerman emblazoned the side of the main building with “Bannerman’s Island Arsenal” in four-foot letters for passing boats and trains to see and which are still visible today. He planned to continue building on the island when he died in 1918.
    • Since then, the castle has suffered a series of misfortunes. In 1920, a powder house on the island blew up with a boom that was heard in the far reaches of the Hudson Valley and shattered windows. In 1969, two years after the Bannerman family sold the island to New York state, a massive fire raged for three days, devastating its buildings.
    • And in late 2009 and early 2010, stormy weather conditions are believed to have caused the collapse of a number of its walls. The island also suffered at the hands of vandals, scavengers and trespassers during years of neglect before the trust took over care for the island in 1993.
    • Visitors today aren’t permitted to come within several feet of the island’s buildings, but their dramatic architectural design and dilapidated state draw thousands of snap-happy tourists each summer.”
  • Frank Bannerman, who built the castle, made his money from dealing surplus arms. He started in that line of work when he was 14, buying surplus ordnance I think from the Spanish American War
  • He was scottish, and a lot of the castle is a tribute to his scottish roots
  • Dunlap, David W. “A Restoration on the Hudson: [Metropolitan Desk].” New York Times, Late Edition (East Coast) ed., May 22 2011, ProQuest. Web. 13 Sep. 2021 .

“FIRST-TIME travelers along the Hudson River might have been forgiven for thinking, upon first astonished glance, that they had seen Brigadoon emerging midway between Beacon and Cold Spring, N.Y. For everyone else, the view of that mysterious Scottish castle known as the Bannerman’s Island Arsenal had grown more disheartening over the years.

 

Into the late 1960s, the fantastic confection was still pretty much whole, until fire gutted it in 1969. Just a few years ago, the ornate shell of the tower keep was largely intact, encrusted with turrets, crenels, merlons, oriels, corbels, loopholes and bosses that looked like cannon balls. Whatever providential force held the walls precariously upright expired in the winter of 2009-10, when much of the tower crumbled.

 

In April, however, signs of a modest revival could be spotted on Pollepel Island, as it is formally known, which is owned by New York State and managed by the nonprofit Bannerman Castle Trust. The trust, which offers guided tours to the public, has begun a $358,000 stabilization of an elaborate summer residence uphill from the castle, including a new roof and new floors.

 

The residence was built in romantically medieval style in the early 1900s by Francis Bannerman VI. Downriver, at 501 Broadway, between Broome and Spring Streets, Bannerman operated New York City’s premier army-navy store at a time when that meant more than warm jackets and sturdy boots. He dealt in real wartime ordnance and materiel, and was said to have cornered the market in surplus from the Spanish-American War.”

  • I tried to look into the haunted history of the island some more. There’s a great video by Full Dark Paranormal (confirm) on youtube that I recommend that you check out, that mentions shadow people.
  • There was also the dutch superstition. From a 1996 NYT piece, Rodell, Susanna. “Bannerman’s Folly: A Hudson Island, Haunted by Goblins.” New York Times (1923-), Jan 20 1996, p. 22. ProQuest. Web. 13 Sep. 2021 :
    • “The early Dutch sailors who had to navigate the river believed this part of the highlands to be haunted by goblins who were responsible for the murderous and sudden squalls that came out of nowhere and often sank their ships. They believed that once past the island, a ship was safe. The name “pollepel” is said to be derived from the Dutch word for potladle, a reference to the drunkenness of sailors who were put ashore on the way upriver and picked up on the return journey once they were sober. A variation on this lore has it that old salts purposely got first-timers drunk and put them ashore on Pollepel to appease the awful Heer of Dunderberg (the goblin described by Washington Irving).
    • “Another legend refers to a young farm girl named Polly Pell who lived nearby during the Revolution and was courted by her old schoolmate Guert Brinkerhoff and a refugee minister from British-held New York, Paul Vernon. Brinkerhoff took her for a sleigh ride on the ice and Vernon, fearing the ice was unsafe, pursued them. He was right. He reached the pair just as the ice broke up. As the tide turned and began sweeping them downstream, Polly, who was sure the end was near, confessed her love to Brinkerhodd. Vernon nobly married them on the spot, just before the current smashed their ice floe onto the island, which was named–when all were rescued–after Polly Pell. . . .
    • “According to old river hands, during the awful squalls you can still hear orders being shouted by the captain of the Flying Dutchman, which like many other vessels sank south of the island in the early 1700s. In fact, the ruins as they now stand seem a fitting tribute to the highlands’ spooky legacy. Clearly any new human effort here will have to content with the Heer of Dunderberg.”
  • I’d never heard of this Heer of Dunderberg, but here’s what I learned about him:
    • Apparently the legends about him date to the days of Dutch New Amsterdam, there were stories of a mysterious ship, not flying any flag that anyone could recognize, going up the Hudson, all the way from Gravesend Bay, to the Hudson Highlands.
    • He was mostly seen in the highlands, and it was said that the ship was an omen or warning of death.
    • If you tried to flag down the ship or get anyone to respond, you wouldn’t be successful. Some people attempted to shoot it with cannons, but the balls seemed to go right through without damaging the ship.
    • Sailors would try to get close to the ship, which would disappear as soon as they got close.

SeaKayaker.com:

“During the black squalls that came in the spring, the old rivermen claimed to hear the shouted orders of the long-dead Captain of the “Flying Dutchman”, which was sunk on the flats south of the Island in the early eighteenth century.”

  • The ship was usually seen by moonlight, and usually a huge storm would accompany it or happen right after.
  • If the ship appeared, heading straight for yours, you were supposedly doomed.
  • I think the idea is that the ghost ship is the ghost of the Flying Dutchman, which sunk in a storm just south of Pollepel island. Other people say that it’s the ghost of the Halve Maen (which in English is Half Moon), which was the ship that Henry Hudson, whose ghost has also supposedly been seen further north, near the Catskills. Also, supposedly Henry Hudson saw ghostly figures in the area as well, when he was sailing.
  • A website called anomalien has a good description of this:
    • “Many Dutch sailors believed that this was a ghost ship summoned by the Heer of Dunderberg to prey upon unwary vessels on the river. A ship summoned from their homeland in Europe where witches and goblins thrive.

 

The Heer of Dunderberg was told to be a goblin king and his army set about to bring his wrath of rain, wind, thunder and lightening to sailors making their way up and down the Hudson. Inexperienced sailors being the most likely victims. Dutch sailors would fasten horse shoes to their masts in an attempt to ward off the Dunderberg.

 

Most sightings would occur near the shadows of the Dunderberg, a large mountain thought to be the dwelling place of the Goblin King. This mountain also marked the southern gateway to the Hudson Highlands where the most treacherous encounters would occur. Sailors claimed to see a goblin-like figure when the biggest of storms hit.

 

He was a plump round fellow with a light colored sugar-loaf hat who was carrying a horn and would be seemingly shouting out orders, commanding the gales and lightening. Some would tell tales of seeing the sugar-loaf hat of the Storm King as he became to be known by some, blow in from nowhere and land in the rigging of the ship.

 

It would stay there until the ship passed out of the Heer of Dundenberg’s domain, then blow away as if by some unseen hand. Then the skies would clear. The northern boundary which marked safety was just beyond Pollepel Island.

 

Some sailors reported seeing the Storm Ship lingering in anchorage at Pollepel Island which led them to believe that island was the home harbor for the phantom ship. Some referred to this place as Dead Man’s Isle.

 

It became a ritual at one point, to leave a new sailor on the island on the voyage up the river, and then pick him up again on the way back. If he survived! If he did, then it was thought that the Heer of Dundenberg would leave him in peace during his future voyages up the river. Any attempts to inhabit this island have failed. The ruins of Bannerman Castle stand there as a testament to this.

 

There are those who believe that this ghostly ship is the Halve Maen, then vessel of Henrick Hudson and crew in an trans-morphed form. The ghosts of Henrick and his crewmen have been seen up river where it meets the Catskills on occasion. It is said that Henry himself happened upon ghostly figures when he and his crew grounded his ship.”

  • The American writer Arthur Guiterman, who published some books and poetry from the 19teens through the 1940s, and was known for writing funny poems, wrote a poem called “The Lord of the Dunderberg,” which I wanted to read a bit from. Basically, the poem describes a ship carrying rum being plundered by the goblins.:

“Goblin and kobold and elf and gnome

Riot and rollick and make their home

Deep in the Highlands, where Hudson glides,

Curving the sweep of his volumed tides

Round wooded islet and granite base

Down through the rush of the Devil’s Race.

Great is the prowess of Goblin might;

Dread is the malice of troll and sprite;

Chief of them all is the potent Dwerg,

Heer of the Keep of the Dunderberg!

 

Mountain and River obey his spell

E’en to the Island of Pollopel;

Brooding, he sits in the rugged glen,

Jealous of honor of sprites and men.

Ye who would sail his dominions through

Scatheless, withhold not the homage due!

Lower your peak and its flaunting flag!

Strike! — to the Lord of the Thunder Crag! . . .

 

Shrouding the vessel, before they wist,

Streamed from the Mountain a curdling mist.

Piercing the woof of that leaden veil

Pelted and rattled the heavy hail.

Hudson arose like a tortured snake,

Foaming and heaving; the thunder spake,

Rolled from the cliffs, and the lightning played

Viciously red through the pallid shade!

 

Oh! how the elements howled and wailed!

Oh! how the crew of the Geertruyd quailed,

Huddling together with starting eyes!

For, in the rack, like a swarm of flies,

Legions of goblins in doublet and hose

Gamboled and frolicked off Anthony’s Nose;

While on the shuddering masthead sat

Cross-legged, crowned with his steeple-hat,

Grinning with mischief, that potent Dwerg,

Lord of the Keep of the Dunderberg!

 

. . . Skippers that scoff when the sky is bright,

Heed ye this story of goblin might!

Strange the adventures of barks that come

Laden with cargoes of gin and rum!

When the Storm Ship drives with her head to gale

And the corpse-light gleams in her hollow sail —

When Cro’ Nest laughs in the tempest’s hem

While the lightnings weave him a diadem —

When Storm King shouts through the spumy wrack

And Bull Hill bellows the thunder back —

Beware of the wrath of the mighty Dwerg!

Strike flag to the Lord of the Dunderberg!”

  • From Myths and Legends of Our Own Land — Complete by Charles M. Skinner:
    • “Dunderberg, “Thunder Mountain,” at the southern gate of the Hudson Highlands, is a wooded eminence, chiefly populated by a crew of imps of stout circumference, whose leader, the Heer, is a bulbous goblin clad in the dress worn by Dutch colonists two centuries ago, and carrying a speaking-trumpet, through which he bawls his orders for the blowing of winds and the touching off of lightnings. These orders are given in Low Dutch, and are put into execution by the imps aforesaid, who troop into the air and tumble about in the mist, sometimes smiting the flag or topsail of a ship to ribbons, or laying the vessel over before the wind until she is in peril of going on beam ends. At one time a sloop passing the Dunderberg had nearly foundered, when the crew discovered the sugar-loaf hat of the Heer at the mast-head. None dared to climb for it, and it was not until she had driven past Pollopel’s Island—the limit of the Heer’s jurisdiction—that she righted. As she did so the little hat spun into the air like a top, creating a vortex that drew up the storm-clouds, and the sloop kept her way prosperously for the rest of the voyage. The captain had nailed a horse-shoe to the mast. The “Hat Rogue” of the Devil’s Bridge in Switzerland must be a relative of this gamesome sprite, for his mischief is usually of a harmless sort; but, to be on the safe side, the Dutchmen who plied along the river lowered their peaks in homage to the keeper of the mountain, and for years this was a common practice. Mariners who paid this courtesy to the Heer of the Donder Berg were never molested by his imps, though skipper Ouselsticker, of Fishkill,—for all he had a parson on board,—was once beset by a heavy squall, and the goblin came out of the mist and sat astraddle of his bowsprit, seeming to guide his schooner straight toward the rocks. The dominie chanted the song of Saint Nicolaus, and the goblin, unable to endure either its spiritual potency or the worthy parson’s singing, shot upward like a ball and rode off on the gale, carrying with him the nightcap of the parson’s wife, which he hung on the weathercock of Esopus steeple, forty miles away.”
  • To go back to hauntings at Bannerman Castle and the island itself, supposedly the explosion that ruined a lot of the castle was caused by a lightning strike, adding to the mythos of the island maybe being cursed.
  • The website anomalien also has this story of a haunting, which I hadn’t seen many other places:

“The property was protected by breakwaters, which were formed by the sinking of old barges and boats. There is a legendary tale that the tugboat captain of one of the boats requested that his prized vessel not be sunk in his presence, but before anyone knew it, the boat was sinking right before the former captains eyes. The captain cursed Bannerman and swore revenge. It has been said that employees in the lodge often heard the ringing of the boat’s bell at various times signifying that the captain had returned to make good on his promise.

 

Just as the tugboat captain experienced a devastating loss that would condemn him to Bannerman’s castle for an eternity, Bannerman would also experience loss.”

  • To flesh out the timeline a bit more, and elaborate more on the island’s potential curse, there was the explosion of 200 lbs of shells back in 1920 that ruined part of the warehouse. SeaKayaker.com has a good description of some of the island’s disasters:

 

The cannon being tested against the mountain jumped and its shell went over the mountain and through a nearby barn. The workman melting scrap put live ammunition in the melting pot with resultant disaster. The castle was often known to have as many as fifteen flags flying about it; however, lightning struck down the flag poles so frequently that it became impractical to replace more than a few of them. Then, on a hot august day in 1920, a tremendous explosion wrecked the arsenal. Two hundred pounds of powder and shells stored in a powder house exploded, heaving a barrage of brick, munitions and equipment high into the summer sky. A twenty five foot section of high stone wall was blown to the mainland, blocking the New York Central railroad tracks.

 

The castle was considerably damaged, while the tower, along with a corner of the Island itself, were blown far out into the river. Cities and villages along the river between Hudson and Peekskill were shaken by the explosion and hundreds of window panes were smashed.

 

  • though it stayed in operation, sales declined as the 20th century wore on. In 1950, the Pollepel, the ferry boat that took people from the shore to the island, sank, and after that the island was basically vacant. In 1967, NYS bought the island, and they started giving tours in 1968. Then, in 1969, there was a fire that happened under suspicious circumstances (I’d guess vandals, but who knows), which ruined the floors and ceilings of the structures. Then the island was closed to the public. It was’t reopened until the 2000s.
  • In 2009, a bunch of the castle collapsed–about 40% of the front wall and 50% of the east wall.
  • So basically now the castle part is just what’s left of the outer walls, with the inner walls and floors and stuff gone. You can still go into the family residence though, which has been restored a bit.
  • In April 2015, a woman and her fiancé kayaked out to the island, and when her fiancé didn’t return, she was charged with his murder, and plead guilty to negligent homicide.

 

Sources consulted RE: Haunted Bannerman Castle

Videos consulted RE: Haunted Bannerman Castle

Books consulted RE: Haunted Bannerman Castle

Articles consulted RE: Haunted Bannerman Castle

  • Chen, David W. “Long Abandoned, an Island in the Hudson is Restored.” New York Times, Late Edition (East Coast) ed., Nov 28 1999, p. 1, 45:3. ProQuest. Web. 13 Sep. 2021 .
  • Bischof, Jackie. “Preserving a Hudson River ‘Castle’; Trustees of the Bannerman Castle are Trying to Preserve what’s Left.” Wall Street Journal (Online), Jan 13 2014, ProQuest. Web. 13 Sep. 2021 
  • Dunlap, David W. “A Restoration on the Hudson: [Metropolitan Desk].” New York Times, Late Edition (East Coast) ed., May 22 2011, ProQuest. Web. 13 Sep. 2021 .
  • Rodell, Susanna. “Bannerman’s Folly: A Hudson Island, Haunted by Goblins.” New York Times (1923-), Jan 20 1996, p. 22. ProQuest. Web. 13 Sep. 2021 .
  • “F. BANNERMAN, ARMS DEALER, DIES: BROKE DOWN FROM OVERWORK IN SHIPPING HIS GIFT OF 50,000 GARMENTS TO BELGIUM. GAVE TO ALLIES $135,000 OWNER OF ISLAND ARSENAL IN HUDSON WAS CHARGED IN CONGRESS WITH ATTEMPT AT PROFITEERING.” New York Times (1857-1922), Nov 28 1918, p. 17. ProQuest. Web. 13 Sep. 2021 .
  • DePALMA, ANTHONY. “An Expert on the Hudson Seeks its Revitalization.” New York Times Sep 22 2005, Late Edition (East Coast) ed. ProQuest. 13 Sep. 2021 .

Websites consulted RE: Haunted Bannerman Castle

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