Black Panther


Over the next several weeks, Chautauqua Ghost will be featuring a three part series about the Black Panthers of Chautauqua County:  Past and Present.  Find out the folktale that originated from the actual event that spurred over 67 years of sightings of this predator. Read original 1940’s -2013 newspaper articles, interviews from eyewitnesses, photographs of the elusive big cat, sight maps and in depth information from Wildlife Biologists and officials from the Eastern Puma Research Network. Fact or fiction? Make up your own mind, if this creature still exists in the vast forests of Chautauqua County.

Most folktales originate from an actual event that took place in specific area. There are usually pieces of factual information woven throughout the tale. For over 40 years, I thought that the story of the panther attack in Busti, NY was merely a campfire story meant to entertain and scare children. Little did I know, that there was fact behind the tale!

When I was a little girl my family would visit my grandparents who lived on Baker Street Ext. in the township of Busti, NY. I loved those outings to see Bubbie and Granddad, as I called them. But, the most exciting part of the visit was when we were about to leave at night. The legendary stories of the black panther attack would begin….sending a shiver of fright down my spine and making me look behind me for days. My father would begin telling the story….. “Many years ago, when I was a little boy, my father took me to the circus in Busti. I loved the circus, the music, the clowns and ohhhh the wonderful animals. There were lions, tigers, elephants and my favorite, the black panther. We spent hours at the circus that day; what a wonderful day it was. The next morning on the front page of the newspaper was a story about the circus, but not the happy circus of yesterday.  It was about the black panther which had escaped and was roaming the countryside. Over the next few days, several of our neighbors stopped by, and discussed the loud screams that they heard coming from the woods. A few of our neighbors claimed to have also seen the big cat.  My father told me,my brothers and my mom to stay out of the berry patches and keep close to the house. A few days passed and the sightings and screams had stopped.  Everyone thought the panther had left the area. Things started to return to normal. A neighbor of ours took his girlfriend, who lived on Shadyside Rd., to the movies. It was a bright moonlit night, a harvest moon.  When he took her home, he heard a noise coming from the woods. He told her that he was going to find out what was making that noise and to stay in the car.  He proceeded to go into the woods. After a few minutes, the girlfriend heard him screaming and saw him running from the woods.  His shirt was bloody, torn to tatters and he looked terrified.  Suddenly, a huge black panther was at his heels. The young girl could see the panther’s huge white teeth shining in  the light of the moon. The creature knocked him down with his gigantic paw, took hold of his leg and dragged him back into the woods screaming, “Run for your life!”  The girl stood in shock at what she saw.  When she realized what had happened she ran to get help. The next morning, after hours of searching by the neighbors and police, the only thing they found of the boy was a tip of his bloody shoe.”

Next week read about the actual 1946 panther attack and the sightings of this predator that terrorized the citizens of Chautauqua County. View the original newspaper articles, sight maps and photographs all from 1946!


Flight 401

Mystery Flights

On December 19, 1972 the Eastern Airlines Flight 401 L-1011 jumbo jet crashed in the Florida Everglades killing all 100 passengers and crew aboard.  The Captain Robert Loft and Engineer Dan Repo survived the initial crash but succumbed to their wounds eventually.  Loft while still in the cockpit and Repo many hours later while in the hospital.  It is not known for sure what brought the flight down but it was suspected that both mechanical problems and crew error were to blame.  To save money Eastern Airlines salvaged some of the wreckage and used it in other planes of its fleet.  It was then that the sightings of Loft and Repo began on other Eastern Airlines flights.

Often passengers would see the apparitions of the ill fated crew of Flight 401 all over the plane at night and during the day.  Reports were filed but Eastern Airlines decided to try and keep the situation as quiet as possible.  Soon flight crews started reporting encounters with Loft and Repo.  One attendant reported a Flight Engineer who fixed some faulty wiring on an oven.  When approached by the actual Flight Engineer on that flight she was told she had to be mistaken since he was the only one on board.  It was not until she identified the face of Dan Repo that something paranormal was suspected.

Sightings of Captain Loft were numerous.  One such account placed him in the first class section of a flight.  When the attendant asked why his name was not on the passenger list and he did not respond she sought help from her supervisor who promptly came to question the passenger.  It was then that the supervisor recognized the apparition as Loft. Other occasions saw him warning of impending danger from flight to flight, from faulty wiring to warnings of fires and issues in the hydraulics.  It seemed that Loft was preventing just those things that took down his plane.

The reports became so numerous on Eastern flights and even those planes that Eastern leased out that the salvaged parts were removed.  Log sheets regarding the sightings and all other evidence seem to have been lost.  To this day the sightings are still a mystery. The story was published in 1976 in a book by John G. Fuller called The Ghost of Flight 401.

Recommended Reading

Ghosts of Flight 401

Eilean Mor Lighthouse

Over the years lighthouses have served the purpose of keeping those at sea safe from crashing against rocky outcroppings or running aground when approaching land.  In recent time the lighthouse has gone the way of the great sailing vessels of yesterday.  Now with the advent of GPS and radar the lighthouse has very little use but for the nostalgia of the seafaring community.  However, in 1899, the lighthouse was a much-needed tool to keep sailors safe from harm and disaster.  One such lighthouse was the lighthouse on the small island of Eilean Mor, 20 miles away from the nearest land of Lewis Island.  Established in 1899 the lighthouse was kept by four men who ran six-week shifts.  Three men were always on the island while one man took two weeks off. 

Set up to deliver supplies, mail, and to facilitate the shift change was a ship called the Hesperus. On December 16, 1900 the Joseph Moore set off to relieve one of the men presently stationed at the lighthouse.  Little did he know that he would never see his friends Thomas Marshall, James Ducat, and Donald McArthur ever again.  It took until December 26, 1900 to get to the island because a storm had delayed arrival.  Approaching the island on December 24th the Hesperus noticed that the huge light that guided the ships was not on.  Despite their curiosities it still took them two days to arrive to the island because of the weather.  What Joseph Moore found when he stepped off the ship was a deserted island.  Normally, the men at the lighthouse would prepare for the arrival of supplies.  Nothing was done.  When he entered the lighthouse he noticed that it was cold and dark and that no one answered his continued calls.  Joseph made it back to the ship afraid of what he would find.  Upon getting help and a search party going there was no sign of the men left on the island.

The only thing out of place at all was that two pairs of oilskins and boots were missing.  What made no sense was there was no sign of the third man.  Even the lantern wicks were snipped and the lanterns filled for the evening.  Nothing was out of place. Searching the island the only thing that was discovered was that the West dock was heavily damaged by a storm, assumed to be the one that the Hesperus had just sailed through.  The only other clue as to what had happened was the log entries.

  • Dec 12th: gale north by northwest. Sea lashed to fury. Never seen such a storm.  Waves very high. Tearing at lighthouse.  Everything shipshape.  James Ducat irritable.
  • Dec 12th, midnight: storm still raging, wind steady. Stormbound. Cannot go out. Ship passing sounding fog horn.  Could see lights of cabins. Ducat quiet. McArthur crying.
  • Dec 13th: storm continued throughout night.  Wind shifted west by North. Ducat quiet.  McArthur praying.
  • Dec 13th, noon: Grey daylight.  Me, Ducat, and McArthur prayed.
  • Dec 14th: No entry
  • Dec 15th: storm ended, sea calm. God is over all.

These were the last words ever uttered by the men stationed at the lighthouse.  There are many inferences that could be made as to what happened.  Thomas Marshall was obviously the one writing the log entries since he referred to himself as “Me.” Accounts from Joseph Moore had stated that none of the men had ever prayed, especially in a storm since they were all experienced seamen.  He could not understand what the men would have been so afraid of.  It may have been that the men, trying to repair the dock or something of the like, were washed out to sea by the surging waves.  But again since they were all experienced seamen it would not make sense that they would risk their lives in a storm they knew was bad. And if they were washed out to sea why was the third man not wearing protective clothing when the other two were.

One plausible situation was that one of the men went insane and killed the other two and in turn threw himself into the sea. However, all the men were known to be level headed and had worked on the island for many years.  What would have made one of them snap all of a sudden, what would have made them begin to pray, to even cry?  The mystery of the Eilean Lighthouse to this day has never been solved.  One last detail emerged from the story that adds a little more mystery to what happened on the desolate island.  Only twenty miles away on Lewis Island no storm was ever reported or seen on December 12th 1900. And the SS Archer passing by on the night of December 15th almost ran aground because the light was out.  Only one thing is certain that three men disappeared without a trace on December 15th 1900 never to be seen again.

Charles Dickens Beyond the Grave

Charles DickensIn his prime Charles Dickens was a man who churned out novel after novel that instantly became classics. At times he would release these in chapters and the avid reader would have to wait for each subsequent chapter to come out. His last book The Mystery of Edwin Drood was released in installments to readers from around the world but June 9, 1870 would spell certain disaster to them when Charles Dickens passed away.  They would never learn the true fate of Edwin Drood.

It was not until 1872 when Thomas James began to channel the spirit of the dead author.  No one knows the details but it was said that James knew nothing of spiritualism and only had a rudimentary education.  To pull off the writing of the remaining chapters of Edwin Drood was fantastic.  The collaboration began on Christmas Eve and continued for a little over a year.  James was said to have no recollection of the sessions and claimed that what he did remember was the author by his side dictating the novel to him.  To say that Edwin Drood upon completion was a Dickens novel would be false.  Most think it was an excellent copy of the great author’s prose style nothing more.  No one will ever know for sure if the great author actually chose an uneducated man from Vermont to pen his final novel for the world.  However, the posthumous completion of Edwin Drood is a story worthy of Dickens himself.

Recommended Reading 

Green Mountain Ghosts, Ghouls & Unsolved Mysteries

The Mystery of Edwin Drood (Everyman’s Library)

Roanoke Island, NC

Taking into account the unfamiliar territory and the unknown reaction of the native people to English settlement on nearby land it would seem that the Roanoke Island settlement was doomed from the start.  So why has this story persisted over the years as one of the most intriguing disappearances of American history?

In 1584 the explorers Philip Amadas and Arthur Barlowe discovered Roanoke Island and upon their return to England their reports of the island created much interest in settling the untamed land.  Initially sent by Sir Walter Raleigh to scout the area it was decided that he should be granted land patents to all the land he could occupy by Queen Elizabeth.  Sir Walter Raleigh then sent 100 soldiers and craftsmen to Roanoke to establish the first English settlement in America.  However, arriving too late to plant crops and with not near enough supplies the settlement abandoned their land in 1586. To make matters worse the leader of the settlement, Ralph Lane, killed the nearby Indian Chief over a stolen cup.

Undaunted Raleigh sent a second group to settle in 1587.  Led by John White the settlement picked up where the other left off.  Rebuilding the fort and taming the land it looked like there was nothing to worry about for the 117 new settlers. John White, returning to England for much needed supplies, left his daughter Eleanor Dare and his Granddaughter Virginia born on August 18, 1587 behind to continue to work the land.  He did not know this was to be the last time he would see his family.  Upon returning to England he was trapped for two years while England defeated the Spanish Armada.

August 18, 1590, his granddaughter’s third birthday, marked John White’s return to Roanoke.  What he found was an abandoned island with no sign of life.  The fort, additionally fortified, was left with no one to watch over it.  Carved into one of the beams was the word “CROATOAN.”  White took this to mean that the settlers had moved inland to a tribe of Indians friendly to them.  However, no sign of the settlers was ever found.  Also before he departed White had instructed the settlers to carve a cross along their path if they were forced to leave.  No cross was ever found.  Due to a hurricane White was forced to abandon his search and return to England never knowing the fate of his family. 

What happened to the settlers?  If they were ambushed and massacred by local tribes there should have been some evidence of bodies, none was found.  If they had fled inland then the cross should have been visible to guide the way but all that was found was “CROATOAN” carved on a beam and “CRO” carved on a nearby tree.  Were they forced to leave by fear or starvation?  Many people have surmised that they fled to the friendly tribe and then were assimilated or even that they were living nearby at other settlements. However, no sign of the colonists was ever located.  It would seem that the Island swallowed up the first settlers in America never to be seen again.  Over four hundred years later no answer is forthcoming to what exactly happened to 117 people in the untamed American wilderness.

Recommended Reading


Saint Bonaventure University

A Brief History of Saint Bonaventure University

It would seem that stories persist on every University campus across the world of ghosts roaming the halls haunting students from generation to generation. It is hard to decipher if these stories are just urban legend masquerading as fact or if a reality exists of spectral presences terrorizing the student body.

Saint Bonaventure University began its distinguished life through the dedication of Nicholas Devereux and Bishop Timon, a Franciscan monk. Together with the donation of $5000 and some land by Devereux, the Franciscan order made a home in Western New York. Shortly after the death of Nicholas Devereux the cornerstone, of what would become Saint Bonaventure University, was placed on August 20, 1856. It was not until 1859 that Saint Bonaventure opened to a small class of just over a dozen students and three Friars to teach. With the University on the path to become larger, many tragedies struck the campus itself. On June 30, 1908, the College building was severely damaged by fire and subsequently rebuilt as Lynch Hall. Over the next few decades, the campus began to grow even larger and on May 5, 1930, another fire broke out decimating a large portion of the campus. Plans were enacted to create an addition to the sill standing Devereux Hall for temporary housing until the campus could be rebuilt. Fire struck again in 1933 damaging Lynch Hall. When it was rebuilt it was again renamed, De La Roche Hall. In 1942, a flood hit campus inundating the buildings and surrounding land. However, over the years, the campus has grown even larger and now almost 150 years old it has stretched far beyond its humble beginnings. Located on 500 acres and having an undergraduate enrollment of two thousand Saint Bonaventure has become the largest institution of higher learning of the Franciscan order in the English-speaking world.

However, are there really spirits that reside within the brick and timber walls of Devereux Hall? Is the spirit of a long departed student still trying to write a paper in De La Roche Hall unaware that he has passed beyond the earthly plane? What exactly was discovered in a locked storage space in 1996?

Recommended Reading

Haunted Halls of Ivy