Our “sensitives” Sue and Bill Wiand and Suzy Meszoly peer out from the porch of the Auctioneer’s Retreat.
The History Hunters
A psychic tour of Ulster County
By Deborah Medenbach
Photos by Michael Bloom
FOOTSEPS THUNDERED DOWN THE STAIRS in a tumbling roll straight out the front door of the Shanley Hotel in Napanoch.
“Outside on the porch! Now!” Suzy Meszoly shouted as she sped downward and shoved, dragged and supported Bill Wiand into the fresh air and set him down gently at a picnic table. Grabbing her Tibetan bowls and gongs from her car, she surrounded the dazed Wiand with clangs and rings and wafted the air away from him as though chasing bees.
A vortex fumble. An energetic accident. The incident was a surprise in an otherwise peaceful day for a carload of psychics exploring 400 years of Ulster County history.
The group was gleaned from a dozen psychics suggested by locals for their talents in dowsing, clairvoyance and energy sensing. Since it was definitively not a ghost hunt, mediumistic skills were optional. Each focused their respective talents on discerning the historical quirks of five significant locations from Kingston to Napanoch to see which imprints of history reveal themselves in a building’s current existence. Only one of the five sites was associated with the paranormal and seemed as important as a roller coaster at an amusement park to include, since psychics travel from all over the country to explore the Shanley Hotel.
Watching their talents unfold through the day was much like watching a scent-dog trial: the quickening spirit and eye flash as they catch wind of something unseen to those around them, but plainly apparent to them.
A few simple rules were put in place to ensure authentic readings:
Smart phones would be left off for the day except during the lunch break.
The buildings were historically significant, but of a sort of “B level” fame that kept them off tour routes but on the personal lists of those in the know.
No addresses or homeowner names were released in advance.
Here is what they found.
Sue and Bill Wiand explain the use of dowsing rods to Peter Wexler and Julie Hedrick in the courtyard of their Church des Artistes Guest House on Wurts Street in Kingston.
Church des Artistes Guest House
79 Wurts St., Kingston
The group rolled up in front of the gated church on Kingston’s Wurts Street on a sunny morning, rain drying off the street and shady maples shielding the bluestone walks from warming rays.
Psychic Bill Wiand had fractured his back over the winter and after months of recovery, gamely agreed with his wife, Sue, to bring their intuitive skills to touring historic sites and give feedback to the homeowners. Bill’s whole life has been a balance between winnowing binary mysteries as a BOCES computer IT guy and his equally cryptic efforts as a dowser and psychic intuitive.
Bill and Sue were the only psychics evaluating the first location, which was a renovated church where the rain-swollen gate barred entrance until owner Julie Hedrick scurried out to give it the requisite latch sweep and kick, the gate swinging wide to welcome the Wiands into a large courtyard with outdoor dining area, fountains and gardens.
Coming in the front door, Sue looked up. “Someone’s a musician,” she said, walking into the book- and paper-cluttered foyer. No music was playing. Julie hadn’t even hummed. But there it was. Something in the air. Walking down the hall, Bill stopped to look in various rooms before they both arrived in the sanctuary, where Julie’s painting studio took most of the available space and in the center, a grand piano. Julie’s husband, Peter Wexler, is a respected film score composer.
“Was this a courthouse or were there community meetings held here other than a normal church?” Bill asked about the former Baptist church, built in the 1850s by Thomas Cornell.
“I feel something about judgment in this room,” Sue contributed.
Julie said nothing, but smiled slightly and led the Wiands to the kitchen. Bill noted that some other language was spoken there and that he was sure there was an entrance to the basement through the kitchen floor. Perhaps a trap door? Julie confirmed there were tunnels that ran under the building to other structures, but would have to check for a trap door.
As the couple ascended the stairway toward the second-floor choir loft, Sue felt the air compress and dizziness overtook her toward the top of the steps. Fighting the urge to leave, she tucked her chin, grasped the handrail and proceeded up the last steps and hall to guest rooms, where she and Bill entered into a long discussion with Julie about the importance of aligning energy direction in sleeping areas.
It was on the return to the courtyard that Julie told a story that confirmed much of what the Wiands had perceived.
“There was a woman who was once part of the congregation who was very much into music and God and would move around the church during the services,” Julie explained. “The pastor and deacons confronted her and determined she was sort of crazy and kicked her out of the church. The next thing you know, she went up to the bell tower next door and committed suicide.”
The sad tale could be linked to the perceived sense of judgment in the sanctuary, the dizziness Sue felt in the stairway that viewed the bell tower and reconfirmed the role of music in the building.
“Being creative people, you two have raised the vibration of this place just by your daily life here,” Bill said, noting that the current door did not feel like the original portal between the two buildings and the distinct difference in feeling from one structure to the other. Julie shoved aside a large wardrobe and confirmed the location of the original linking passage. “Oftentimes when you have several buildings together or when there’s an addition made, the energetic block between them remains,” Bill said. “You have to consciously do work to bring them together.”
A gifted intuitive his whole life, Bill, now 67, has been married to Susan Bellows Wiand for 46 years and lives in Walker Valley. Bill began using his intuitive skills publicly in the 1990s when he began dowsing for water and was an active leader in the regional dowsing society. He began to do psychic readings in 2005 as part of charity psychic fairs for his community. He currently offers readings each Sunday at the Crystal Connection in Wurtsboro. He and Sue both are trained in metaphysics and religious studies and are certified in several healing modalities related to their private practice, Wiand Wellness. He is a computer network specialist for Orange-Ulster BOCES at its Goshen campus.
Susan Bellows Wiand
Raised in Kingston, Sue, 65, lives with her husband of 46 years, Bill Wiand, in Walker Valley. She became an integrative health practitioner in 1991 and specializes in dowsing, energy and aura field work, holistic health and nutrition in the practice she shares with her husband, Wiand Wellness. She retired in 1994 from Verizon. Susan also volunteers for a number of community organizations and is a devoted dog lover, caring for their 9-year-old poodle, Mollie.
Suzy Astria Meszoly
An Australian spiritual teacher who came to the Hudson Valley 10 years ago while pregnant with her daughter, Una Flynn. She was intrigued by the energy of the Catskills and the open-minded community. She recently moved with her young family from Kerhonkson to Seven Sisters Farm in Shokan, where they plan to create an organic permaculture food and herb farm and retreat. She continues to teach group workshops and private sessions on energetic healing and lectures internationally on the Love Now Movement, which she founded in 2013. She is a professionally trained homeopath and herbalist. Go to LoveNowMovement.org.
34 Stuyvesant St., Kingston
Auctioneers George Cole and Robin Mizerak lovingly renovated their 1891 Victorian home in the 1980s, re-siding and painting the exterior over five years and methodically working their way through each room, dedicating a year to each. The resulting spaces, using Christopher Dresser historic Victorian wallpaper as a backdrop, were soon filled with silk sofas, diverse knickknacks and oil paintings rising as the cream of their auction house collection for their personal use.
Bill and Sue Wiand headed straight for the side yard on arrival, passing through a wrought-iron gate into a rose garden, mossy steps, hosta tufts and holly and a bluestone terrace where koi fish flashed gold in the dark waters.
Though the land slopes sharply downward, Sue remarked how the energy of the property pulls up, lifting the terrace, gardens and home like a mud-threatened hem from the nearby Route 9W bridge and lower properties.
“There was a lot of blasting when they were building the highway,” Robin explained, the house initially suffering a collapsed retaining wall during road construction.
The 1891 home of George Cole and Robin Mizerak on Stuyvesant Street in Kingston – the Auctioneer's Retreat.
“But the property doesn’t feel like it’s falling down the hill,” Bill responded. “The house feels misplaced, but in a good way. There are more garden spirits and elementals here, and the house is part of that.” The presence of the small pond and attentive gardener pleased the sprites and enlisted their supportive aid.
Australian sensitive Suzy Meszoly joined the group indoors, where the carved chestnut staircase and gleaming woodwork framed hundreds of objects in neat arrangements.
“It’s overwhelming,” Suzy grumbled as she moved from curio cabinets to tabletop tableaus to book cases. “Picking up on any one small object draws me in and there are hundreds of them.” Her light brown eyes scanned for a single place to root her attention in the waterfall of sensations and perceptions.
“It’s like Alice in Wonderland,” Bill smiled. “So much energy!” A thoughtful pause came over him. “Is there a maritime connection with this house?”
Robin confirmed that the house had been built for Capt. Absolom Anderson of the historic Mary Powell steamboat.
“The house is unconnected from the other buildings on the street. It’s calmer and married together many different styles successfully,” Bill said. Robin confirmed that when the building was constructed, there were only three houses on the street.
As the upstairs hallway opened into another wing, Bill stopped in his tracks.
“There’s a blockage from the main hallway into the side hallway,” Bill said. Again, Robin confirmed the sensation, saying that during construction they had blocked off that hallway for years to keep out construction dust. At the end of the hallway was a 19th-century Turkish room decorated with Middle Eastern art. The Egyptian prints on the wall did not satisfy Bill’s intuition.
“There’s something here from an Egyptian grave. I don’t think it’s a mummy, but it’s something like that,” Bill ventured.
Robin’s eyebrow raised slightly and he brought out two items from a far corner of the room. “Both of these were acquired from a museum collection,” Robin said, holding a face mask in one hand and a tomb statue of the Egyptian goddess Bastet.
On the front porch, the group gathered for some final thoughts with their host.
“It makes sense that a captain lived here,” Suzy said. “In the back garden I felt a lot of water spirit and water is about deep emotion and sensuality. There is exquisite beauty throughout this house.”
The 1850 House in Rosendale has a reputation for “stuff happening,” especially in the basement.
1850 House Hotel
435 Main St., Rosendale
Clean and well appointed, the 1850 House Inn & Tavern is a soft-toned brick building with bright public spaces and 10 cozy rooms. Owner Mike Ruger welcomed the psychic team into the tavern room, where a quick perusal of the menu shows off locally sourced fresh ingredients for their wood-fired flatbread pizzas and a beverage list that taps into top Hudson Valley brewers and distilleries.
When the hotel was built in 1850, it was known as the Central Hotel and catered to transient businessmen working deals with
the Rosendale Cement company or the D&H Canal.
Suzy wandered into the guest-lounge area that was once an early home for the Rosendale Café and served for a couple of years as an art gallery. Suzy fixated on the floor’s parquet design, sure that it meant something more than being an extension of Art Nouveau woodwork in the tavern room. She pulled up the rug and looked around the space for signs to confirm her intuition.
She looked at the fireplace with its wrought-iron cross attached to the brickwork. Small bird statues rested on a table before it.
“What’s going on here? You have a cross, a fireplace, birds, which are about transformation, and a table that could be interpreted as an altar,” Suzy said, still casting around for why she felt a particular pull to this part of the building. She stretched her arms out and closed her eyes to tune in.
Bill ventured into the tavern with Mike Ruger, noting that the room felt “backwards” to him. Ruger confirmed that insight by showing him images of the bar from when it was first built. The layout of the tap room had been flipped during renovation. The bar was new and didn’t have the brass foot rail of the original that Bill had seen inwardly.
Sue Wiand dutifully walked from room to room throughout the inn but admitted she felt nothing. It’s fresh. It’s new. There was no special imprint to knock her off her axis.
Meanwhile, Suzy sat on a couch in the lounge, still looking at the fireplace and pondering what had riveted her attention to that spot. She began to talk of Freemasons and rituals and dark deeds. Mike listened patiently with a slightly furrowed brow. There was no Masonic use of the building that he’d ever heard of. What Suzy could have been picking up on were the attitudes and behavior of those in the anti-Masonic movement of the mid-19th century. Adherents formed a political party in 1828 that became the main opposition party in New York, accusing Freemasons of being an elitist secret society attempting to rule the country. The anti-Masons bolstered their claims with lurid propaganda that could be pulled straight from a 19th-century tabloid in the heyday of Arthur Conan Doyle.
“There’s no such thing as Masonic secrets. The things that make a good man a better man can be found right in the pages of the Bible. Are they secrets? No,” said past Kingston Lodge #10 Master Joe Walsh of Rosendale of the hysteria of the 1840s. “What you’d sometimes see is a man who had applied for membership, but during the investigation into his character was found not to be a good candidate. If he was blackballed, he might say all sorts of things against a lodge. It’s human nature when you’ve been rejected.”
The anti-Masonic movement was marked by such wild claims in New York that the Kingston Masonic Lodge ceased public meetings from 1833 to 1850 and kept no records until the propagandists faded away and reason returned. John Van Buren, who’d been the head of the lodge before the firestorm, was once again the lodge master when it reopened in 1850, the same year the hotel was built. With a new surge of popularity, the Kingston lodge soon became the largest Masonic lodge in the state, according to Clearwater’s History of Ulster County.
When Suzy asked what room was below the fireplace, Mike led the group down to a basement storage room where staff had reported “stuff happening.”
Entering the dimly lit stone-walled room where platters and serving bowls lined the shelves, Bill talked about feeling unpleasant, which Mike confirmed as a frequently reported discomfort, along with stories of footsteps and the occasional object found in an unexpected spot. With wide-ranging speculation and common urge to leave that basement nook, the group thanked their host and headed across the street for lunch at the Rosendale Café, which had moved out of the 1850 House in 1992.
Owner Sue Dorsey Morganstern told stories of the eccentric residents of the 1850 House, then called the Astoria Hotel, and the world-class music she and her husband, Mark, were able to bring to the tiny café with seam-splitting attendance. “We’d have people hanging out the window,” Morganstern said, noting that her mustachioed husband persistently encouraged patrons to toss generous donations into a silver teapot that he personally brought around the room to pay acts that were used to Ticketmaster accounting. The fireplace wall that had so attracted Suzy had been papered in those days with Rosendale Cement bags and a tiny pair of white shoes they’d found in the basement that she hung there for good luck. She never felt anything uncomfortable in the inn, but she confirmed Mike Ruger’s sense of the basement storage room and that during her time, wait staff often talked about seeing “miners’ legs” walking in the basement, but not their bodies.
The Shanley Hotel in Napanoch, which is included in the I Love New York Haunted History Trail Guide, is frequently visited by ghost hunters, psychics and mediums.
Main Street, Napanoch
None of our sensitives would pass on a chance to see for themselves the only building on our tour associated with the paranormal. Like a ghostly nursing home, the cast of characters reportedly still in residence at the haunted Shanley Hotel receive visits from a steady stream of psychics, ghost hunters and mediums hoping to make their acquaintance.
Bill and Sue had been to the Shanley before, but the place was new for Suzy, who’d never heard of this hotel that had earned a reputation as haunted and earned a place as the only local hotel included in the I Love New York Haunted History Trail Guide.
“When we were in the hotel in 2013 there were many people there – especially gifted sensitives, healers and psychics, so the energy in the building was different,” Sue explained. “At that time I ventured to all four floors on a ‘history of the hotel’ tour where a psychic detailed what she felt and a person who knew the history verified what she felt on the whole tour. Very interesting ‘stuff’ has gone on and goes on in that building.”
The hotel was built on the ashes of another hotel in 1895 by James Shanley, a friendly Irishman with a luxury-loving wife who welcomed leaders and vacationing celebrities to their comfortable rooms at the base of the Shawangunk Ridge. When Shanley died in 1937, his wife received a condolence letter from sitting President Franklin D. Roosevelt, whose wife, Eleanor, was a friend of the couple and a frequent guest at the hotel.
Bill, Sue and Suzy ventured upstairs with a photographer to see what the building had to offer. There was a ghost cat, a grumpy possessive character named Tom in the attic level, a murder/suicide in The Blue Room. The second floor had made Bill feel depressed and he started to cry. He thought he’d fall over the railing. Sue returned to the first floor to talk to Sal Nicosia, who runs the inn and considers himself the “ghost’s caretaker.”
It was on the third floor near Room 13 where Bill experienced something completely unexpected.
Bill Wiand went down to his knees on the third floor of the Shanley Hotel. “I saw a little girl sitting in a chair. She said she needed help. I said, ‘That’s it! I’m out of here.’”
“I saw a little girl sitting in a chair. She said she needed help. I said ‘That’s it! I’m out of here!’” Bill said, describing the child as perhaps 7 years old with the name of Mary. He had a sense of the little girl trying to get in his ear. “It was hard to breathe. My energy was gone. There was this buzzing noise in my ear. I thought it was the photographer.”
Bill went down to his knees and the noise continued to buzz in his ears. Suzy grabbed him and, with the photographer’s assistance, sped him down the stairs and out of the building.
“I think the spirits sort of ganged up on him for attention,” Nicosia said.
The event did not put Bill off of future visits to the Shanley. “He’s perfectly OK,” Sue later reported. “He felt bad that his event rattled everyone, but these things happen. We’ve both been trained to throw a bubble of
protection around ourselves when we do this kind of work. Sometimes there are surprises. It comes with the territory.”
15 Whitfield Road, Accord
Bright sunshine splashed over the fields lining the long driveway leading to Appledorn, a stone farmhouse dating to 1722 for the earliest portion and the larger section marked by a stone lintel bearing the inscription “Benj. M. Schoonmaker, 1758.” The building was restored in the 1930s by colonial revival architects Teller and Halverson. It’s currently owned by Ward Mintz and Floyd Lattin, who live nearby and had the house renovated over the last couple of years. The farm was owned by the Schoonmaker and Sykes family for more than 200 years and was a hub for wheat and grain cultivation in its early days and then was switched to a dairy operation in the early 1900s. The dairy barn was considered state of the art when it was built in 1905.
The psychics knew none of this. They browsed the grounds and then ventured inside the empty house to see what insights came to them.
Bill immediately felt there were several languages spoken in the house. “The language issue might be that the Schoonmakers changed from Dutch and German to English,” Ward said.
“I feel something about slaves here. Servants too,” Bill said.
Ward and Floyd agreed. All of the old Dutch farms had slaves, and later servants to help them run it.
The interior of the house was freshly painted and finished and even the basement was as pristine as a farmhouse milk room.
Bill perceived that water might have been an issue at the farm, perhaps carrying it from a spring? Floyd pointed out a well by the barn and that the house had cisterns. A nearby stream also indicated that water was abundant for the farm’s purposes.
It was when the group reassembled outside that a mystery appeared.
“I feel there was something going on here about educating girls,” Sue said.
“Yes. There was a very advanced woman here. Perhaps a doctor or some other professional who was a leader,” Suzy added. Neither Ward or Floyd was aware of such a woman.
“I know just who it is,” said Alice Schoonmaker, Town of Rochester historian and family member. “Laura Lyon Sykes. When Jack and I were first married 60 years ago, they invited us over for a fox hunt. Her strengths were from her time in England and she brought a kind of international society to the farm. I am sure there were many languages spoken among her guests and they always had servants.”
Margaret Davenport Drake, who knew Laura Lyon Sykes well, had more to say about the Ulster County daughter of a New York stockbroker who’d gone to Vassar and then continued her education at Oxford University in England, where she met and married William John Wilberforce.
Wilberforce’s ancestor had been a member of Parliament who led the movement to abolish slavery in England in 1807.
“She was dominant. They didn’t work together as a pair. He’d be off with his horses and she would do what she chose. She was strong, and if she had been a boy, I’m sure she would have gone off to Africa to hunt big game as her brother Calvin did,” Drake said. “We were very fond of the whole family.”
Drake pointed out that Calvin and his brother Walker had hunted big game for the Museum of Natural History and Calvin had bagged the world’s record lion when he was only 16 years old. The lion and other exotic trophy animals had been in a dedicated gamehouse on the property until only a few years ago.
Though it is one of the more unique features of the property, none of the psychics caught wind of the presence of avid hunters who brought a giraffe, rhinoceros, bears, gazelles or elephant feet to Accord, flying them in on their own airstrip nearby.
“I think the reason none of us was able to pick up on much of anything was because of the renovations. You could do surgery in there,” Sue said. “Everything had been painted and the place was spotless ... It is possible that some of the original energy might come back into the house once it is occupied.”
Appledorn, a 1722 farmhouse in Accord, has recently been renovated. Photo provided