Everyone loves a good ghost story. Especially during this time of year, as Halloween approaches in the Hudson Valley region. Rondout Lighthouse is home to one of these ghostly tales.
The Legend of the Widow’s Watch tells the tale of a young bride who haunts the Rondout Lighthouse, forever searching for her lighthouse keeper husband who perished on their wedding night in a tragic boating accident. On certain autumn nights, lucky (or perhaps unlucky) people may catch a glimpse of this ghostly woman in white watching over the dark waters for her beloved groom to return.
Well, I hate to be the Grinch of Halloween, but this tale, like most legends, has taken tiny bits of truth and spun them into myth.
Catherine (Parsell) Murdock Perkins, the presumed subject of this ghost tale, was no weak maiden fair left pining for her groom. While it was her first husband, George Murdock, who was initially hired as the keeper of the Rondout light, she obtained the position after his death and (wo-)manned the lighthouse for over fifty years.
Catherine, now widowed at age twenty-eight with three young children in her care (the youngest just eight months old and the oldest only four years), took over running the lighthouse and the many difficult tasks that included. Fuel oil for the light would have to be hauled, wicks would need to be trimmed precisely, the glass lens carefully shined. The light was to be lit punctually at sundown, and kept burning until sunrise. Logs were kept detailing the supplies used, with different monthly and quarterly reports to be filed. The entire lighthouse, even the bedrooms, were to be meticulously kept and subject to inspection.
Catherine married a second time, to Jeremiah Perkins, probably sometime before the 1861 birth of the first of their two children together. Instead of passing the keeper position to her new husband, she continued in the role herself. The 1865 New York State census indicates that Jeremiah worked as a laborer, while Catherine’s occupation was lighthouse keeper.
Catherine was widowed for a second time a few months after that census was enumerated. In August of 1865, details of Jeremiah’s death were published in the Albany Argus:
Jeremiah Perkins…. deck hand on the steamer "Santa Claus", had occasion one day last week to go on board the barge "Humboldt", in tow of the steamer. He had been in the hold of the vessel, and on attempting to ascend, and when he had taken a couple of steps on the ladder, it fell over backward with him, causing him to fall heavily upon the floor. He was so much injured that he was not able to extricate himself, and he lived but a couple of hours after the accident.
Catherine, now thirty-six years of age, persevered with her work keeping the lighthouse marking the mouth of the creek illuminated. The sailors that plied the waters of the Hudson River and Rondout Creek relied on her for their safety.
In 1867, a second Rondout Lighthouse was constructed. This second lighthouse was Catherine’s home until her retirement at age seventy-nine in 1907, after more than fifty years of dedicated service. James Murdock, her son who had been born in the lighthouse, was the next family member to take on the lighthouse keeper position.
Catherine died at son William Perkin’s home in Ponckhockie in 1909 at the age of eighty-one years, after a long illness.
The lighthouse that had been Catherine’s home was left boarded up after being replaced by a third Rondout Lighthouse in 1915. The lighthouse that had been Catherine’s home was eventually demolished in 1954.
While a spooky tale of a heartbroken, widowed bride haunting the Rondout Lighthouse might be appealing to those looking for a fright, the actual facts show little resemblance to the legend. While Catherine was widowed twice, and both husbands’ deaths did, in their own way, involve boats, she was far from a newlywed at the time of either of their deaths.
The Rondout Lighthouse that stands today was constructed years after Catherine’s death, and was not a building she would have known in life. Given the season, however, if you dare to check out the legend for yourself, a few evening lantern cruises remain available through Halloween night! https://www.hrmm.org/all-boat-tours.html
Michelle Dowd Torosian is a professional genealogist. Her extensive research experience and sharp analytical skills enable her to work with clients undertaking historical research, solving the mysteries lurking in the branches of their family trees, identifying unknown ancestors or compiling a house history for a beloved home. A former CPA, Michelle is a certificate holder from both Boston University’s Genealogical Research program and the ProGen Study Group.
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