Sometimes a ghostbusting skeptic just gets lucky. So it was, following my luncheon speech at a CFI conference, when an attendee told me she knew the true facts behind the “haunting” of Pembroke Middle School in Corfu, N.Y.
The story is briefly given online at strangeusa.com: “While redesigning the auditorium a girl fell off the balcony and died. It’s said you can see her ghost walking across the balcony and stage” (“Haunted” n.d.). Trouble is, the ghost is purely made up, and I have the humorous, handwritten admission from the source herself, Lin Bartlett-Taylor.
Lin began her account by noting that the school’s actual name is Pembroke Intermediate and that it dates from 1935. It was built on an older school site that—like so many alleged haunted places—was located over the proverbial Indian burial ground. In any event, running beside the school is a stream named Murder Creek, and across the creek lies a cemetery. “You would think there could be lots of ghosts!” jokes Lin.
Lin knows the school well, she and her husband having both taught there. She made up her ghost one day when one of her special-ed students was standing on the balcony and placed his leg over the railing. Lin asked him to stop. When questioned why—and another student replied, “You could die, stupid”—Lin, being an admitted story teller, conjured up the tale of “Mary” and her tragic balcony fall.
After Lin’s husband Skip also made up a ghost, coincidentally likewise named Mary, the two stories soon merged. His ghost was created to “explain” the cause of noises under the stage on particularly windy days. Lin sometimes elaborated to her young listeners: “I put a kid under the stage for not doing homework. I forgot about her and she died there. Her parents think she ran away from home” (Bartlett-Taylor 2015). “But Mrs. Taylor,” a student once protested, “I thought you said she fell off the balcony.” Writes Lin, “It seems everyone liked the balcony story better.”
Despite Lin’s retirement some thirteen years ago it appears the ghost of Mary lingers to frighten schoolkids. And she is just as real as she ever was!
Bartlett-Taylor Lin. 2015. Letter to Joe Nickell, July 26.
Haunted: Pembroke Middle School. N.d. Online at www.strangeusa.com/ViewLocation.aspx?id=6932&desc=Pembroke_Middle_School_Corfu_NY&x=1; accessed August 19, 2016.