Click. Click. Click. There were more than two dozen people continuously clicking their phones in the darkness. Every click seemed to startle the night. And with every click I felt closer to a ghostly discovery.
“There is a limper that walks the east curtain wall at night. Then there is this woman who appears in the upper level window of the north barracks. There is a scratcher who hides under that staircase. I have seen ‘em all - but don’t take my word for it. Please do take a lot of pictures. You never know when you catch ‘em floating around” said the tour guide in his low-pitched monotonous voice.
It was clear that he knew his script by heart. He was looking in the distance and occasionally his eyes would light up as if seeing familiar things. Dressed in black his T-shirt read: Fort William Henry - Original Ghost Tour. He was standing next to the “original well” from 1756 at the Fort William Henry. This was Lake George in upstate New York.
Many had lost their lives inside that well.
There is a lot of bloody history surrounding this fort that has led to the belief - that the ghosts of those who died here more than 250 years ago are still floating around like disembodied spirits.
“One of the skeletons shown here doesn’t have a head. He was decapitated by a Huron Indian during the massacre in 1757, and his head was displayed as a trophy of war. He was buried in the fort’s eastern barracks and was discovered during the excavations in 1957”, the tour guide explained as he encouraged the group to walk down the steps and visit the Military Crypt.
Forensic anthropologists have been studying the bones found here to understand the cause of death of the soldiers. They try to assign an identity to the forgotten soldiers. Many soldiers were found to have herniated disks from carrying heavy loads. The forensic scientists have discovered evidence of trauma including decapitations, cut marks in the chest and stomach areas, and indications that a number of men had been shot in the knee.
The military cemetery is right behind the south east bastion.
The fort was constructed as a square with bastions at each corner. This was meant to be a launching point for military operations by the British against the French.
For nearly a 100 years, France and Britain had been at war for control of North America. The power struggle that originated in the European continent extended to the rest of the world. The imperial rivals used their colonies as footholds to enlarge their empires and to bring as many native tribes as possible under their influence.
The English were primarily after the land of the aboriginal inhabitants. The French on the other hand wanted to fraternize with the natives, they wanted to merge the two races. By inducing the Indians to become Christians, they wanted to have one law, one people and one master.
Whatever their ulterior motive, both the English and the French kept fighting one another to gain control over Lake George.
The British won in 1755. They constructed the original fort next to the lake, christening it Fort William Henry, in honor of the two royal grandsons of King George II.
But then the fort was bombarded and taken over by the French in 1757.
The French General Montcalm gathered a large force and surrounded the fort. He had support from 38 tribes of Indians. He also had more cannons. There were 8000 on the French side including French Regulars, Canadian Militia and the Indians.
The British on the other side were less than 2500, in both the fort and the camp.
The French had nearly 40 cannons, howitzers and mortars. The British had 17 rusty iron guns.
The commander of the fort Lt Colonel Monro tried to get reinforcements but failed. 11 of his cannons burst due to over-use and the British had to finally surrender after six days.
Montcalm was generous and allowed the British troops to keep their property but asked them to vacate the fort the next day and agree to not fight against the French for 18 months.
However - the French had little control over their Indian allies. Apart from language barriers, there was a misunderstanding regarding customs. The Indian allies of the French felt they had been cheated out of the spoils of war. They entered the fort at night and killed many soldiers. The next day when the British troops were being marched away, the Indians attacked them again. It is estimated that 185 British people lost their lives while numerous others were taken captive and brought north towards Canada.
As they prepared to march north, Montcalm ordered the fort to be burned to the ground.
What we see today is a reconstruction that was done 200 years later, based on the original.
The French and Indian War of 1757 was really the first “world war”. Apart from Europe and North America, the fighting between Britain and France also took place in India, Africa, the Caribbean and the Philippines.
In the year 1688 the French East India Company had established itself in Chandernagore in India. Soon after that, the British had established their Fort William in Calcutta.
1757 was a fatal year...
The same year that the British lost the Fort William Henry in North America to the French, they captured Chandernagore by defeating the French in India.
The power struggle continues to this day on both sides of the “divide”. Even after more than 250 years, nothing seems to have changed for us - on this side. It feels like yesterday.
“I think I got one of them!” whispered a young lady excitedly. She had a heavy camera, perhaps a modern DSLR and was carrying a black bag that had a lot of fancy equipment. She proudly showed the picture of a green apparition on her large glowing camera screen to the curious people around her. People were nodding their heads in growing belief.
Even the tour guide was now looking at the picture seriously.
I chuckled to myself. Catching a ghost couldn’t be so easy. That was most probably just the light reflecting from the top of the bastions, creating an image that was hard to distinguish from the rest of the picture.
The group was now headed to the Arms & Artillery exhibit. A sign on top read “Powder Magazine”. One by one the visitors entered the dark corridor that led to the dimly lit exhibit room at the end.
Smartphones lit up the old corridor.
The sound of shuffling feet echoed in the narrow space. Some people had both their arms outstretched in the darkness, marching forward like soldiers - holding their phones like a modern weapon. I quickly stepped aside to let them go. There was this quiet space behind one of the old log shelves. I wanted to lean against the shelf but then I slipped noiselessly into the darkness. I think I might have stepped on some mold by accident. As the group marched past me like a bunch of giant shadows, I could see their enlarged pupils and smell their bated breath.
What a committed group of paranormal enthusiasts, I thought to myself.
All of a sudden - the young lady with the heavy camera stopped right in front of the log shelf and flashed a bright light at me. Before I could move, she clicked. The shutter speed was faster than one eight thousandth of a second. It felt like a blur.
What a sudden exposure.
I love my darkness.
“So – do you believe in ghosts now?!”, the young lady was now boasting to her companions in a spirited voice, repeatedly zooming in and out of the picture and showing off her camera screen like a trophy.
The picture showed a nebulous image standing in front of the log shelf.
Some believed her immediately. Others couldn’t see a thing.
I believe her.
After all - I am one of 'em.