Former town historian Blake Bell publishes local ghostly tales in ‘Haunted History of Pelham New York’

Blake Bell’s favorite local ghost story has been around since at least 1848. It’s called the “Haunted Cedar Knoll.” As he tells it, a girl in the mid-to-late 18th century is warned by her grandmother not to go to the Cedar Knoll because the grandmother knows there had been a big battle between two indigenous tribes there, and one tribe killed a lot of the other tribe members, decapitating them. The young girl disobeys her grandmother and decides to go to the knoll on a moonlight night.

“She hears things, and she starts to see lights in the distance, and when she gets to the center of the Cedar Knoll, she sees a gigantic bonfire with many, many people,” said Bell, author and former Town of Pelham historian. “Their arms (are) linked over each other’s shoulders, and she thinks their heads are bowed because she sees them all leaning forward but doesn’t see their heads, but she hears them dancing and singing and moving in a circle about a large bonfire, until she realizes that it’s not that they have their heads bowed, but they have no heads.”

“They lift up and carry heads with them.”

Bell tells that ghoulish story in detail in his new book “The Haunted History of Pelham New York,” which was published Feb. 1. The book covers the fascinating ghost stories of Pelham and surrounding area, both popular and some unheard of.

The Haunted Cedar Knoll is the first story in the book because it is Bell’s favorite and is probably the most famous Pelham ghost tale. Bell said he researched to figure out as much as he could about the story, finding a newspaper account where a reporter interviewed a woman who claims to have seen the ghosts.

Blake Bell

As the Cedar Knoll story continues, Bells said, the young girl “becomes more and more terrified and becomes fearful for her own safely and is trying to decide how to sneak away without being caught, without being seen, without being discovered. And she starts to try to run from that location and run back down the haunted Cedar Knoll and back home. When she turns her back to the bonfire, suddenly all the sounds stop, and when she spins around and looks, all of it’s gone. The bonfire is gone. There aren’t any flames or embers. There are no longer Native Americans in a circle. There are no longer heads or anything else. To her, that’s just as frightening given what she had just seen and what she knew she had seen, and in her panic and in her race home, she falls down that Cedar Knoll to Shore Road. And still manages to run home and lives and talks about a good 80 years later to a newspaper reporter in which she claims to have actually seen it.”

As town historian for Pelham from 2005 through 2020, Bell’s job was to archive, maintain and expand a collection of important records. While doing so, he wanted to learn as much as he could about the history of Pelham.

“I wrote lots and lots of articles,” he said. “I wrote two books before this one. And I also wrote 2,300 blog articles as well, all about the history, and those are all still online. And I viewed that as part of my responsibility in terms of educating the town and its residents in an entertaining way, not in a boring way but actually trying to tell fascinating stories.”

The new book is basically a fusion of the history of Pelham and New York City together with ghost stories associated with historical events.

“These set of ghost stories from the Pelham region are unusual to an extent because more of the Pelham ghost stories have some kernel of fact underlying them,” said Bell, “So there is either a historic event that each is related to or, alternatively, there were actual events, historic events that caused some of the ghost story to be passed from person to person to person.”

The book is broken into nine major sections and each section is divided into ghost stories about the same topic. Bell started writing individual stories about six years ago. Then, when he was finishing the manuscript almost over a year ago, he found more stories while doing research and put those into the book.

Bell said his interest lay in history more than than ghosts: “I wasn’t really interested in ghosts or the supernatural or things like that. I didn’t consider myself to be observant or an avid believer in that. What I was so interested in was that almost every ghost story was built around some kind of historical fact. I don’t think that there is one of the 37 stories that I have told that didn’t have some real event that underlies it.”

“The Haunted History of Pelham New York” is available on Amazon.