|Bannerman Castle sits on Pollepel Island in the Hudson River, New York. It is thought to be haunted by a malevolent spirit which caused a series of disasters over the ages, including the destruction of the castle. Photo: Wikipedia public commons|
While the colonies were being populated and shipping steadily increasing up and down the Hudson River, the Dutch seafarers would refer to the spirit which haunts the island the "Heer of Dunderberg". They believed that the Hudson from the point at Dunderberg Mountain, to Pollepel Island about fifteen miles further north, was haunted by a spirit who would send his Storm Ship manned with his goblin minions to raise havoc upon that stretch of river. Over the years people referred to this spirit as The Storm King. But that is a story in itself. They believed that the island was his northernmost outpost on the river and that the Heer of Dunderberg was responsible for any misfortune on the island.
There is a legend that states the island was named for a heroic event that took place there. It was thought by some that a minister from New Amsterdam named Paul Vernon, who was staying with the Pell family, was walking along the river while the young Mary Pell and her love interest were on a sleigh ride on the frozen river. The ice broke and the sleigh fell through the ice. Hearing the accident, Paul made his way to the scene and pulled them out of river and they made their way to a nearby island. Mary and her lover were so taken up with emotion for each other having survived the accident, they asked the minister Paul to marry them on the spot there on the island. After since that day, folks referred to the island as Paul Pell Island which eventually became Pollepel, or so some say. Others disagree and believed that the island was named for another tragedy that happened at the island which will be mentioned shortly. Most likely, the name was derived from the Native American name.
The young Francis Bannerman VI and his family came to America in the late 1800s. He and his father started gathering surplus supplies, arms, and munitions from the military. It slowly grew as a business. They became quite successful as after the Spanish American War, they purchased the majority of the surplus military goods from that war. They created a mail order catalog which became world famous as a weapons guide as it was had detailed illustrations for each item that they sold. Eventually Francis took over for his father and continued the success. They had a warehouse in New York where they kept all of their munitions. The city forced them to move it out of the city, aware of the danger that it posed. Bannerman purchased Pollepel Island in 1900, which until then was only used by smugglers, hunters, and fishermen. He began constructing a castle like fortress on the island as well as a personal residence.
This is when the real torrid history of the island begins. Bannerman Castle and the accompanying munitions warehouse were completed in 1908 and was known as the Bannerman Island Arsenal. Sadly, Francis Bannerman VI only enjoyed his creation for ten years as he passed away in 1918. The family kept the munitions business going, but tragically two years after Francis' death, there was a tremendous explosion at the island warehouse destroying a good portion of it. It is believed that a lightening strike touched off the explosion. It was still somewhat operational however, and the business kept going and the family still used the island castle as a residence.
In 1950, the ferryboat Pollepel which serviced the island, exploded and crashed into the island. Once again, this incident happened during a storm. Many believe that this disaster is where the island got the name, not as result of starry eyed lovers. This ended use of the island as an arsenal. The Bannermans closed down the munitions supply business totally around 1959. The family still used the Pollepel as a summer retreat and then eventually gave it up, selling it to the State of New York in 1967. All munitions were removed from the warehouse and the island was put into use as a tourist attraction and tours were given of the lavish estate. Then, just two years later in 1969, another tragic event ensued when a fire broke out destroying much of the structure. Only the walls remained and the island was closed to the public.
The island remained in this state for almost forty years. A historical society worked to restore the castle to its former grandeur. Private paid hardhat tours were given of the island and structures. Progress towards the restoration were well underway when again, tragically in 2009, a sizable portion of the castle walls collapsed in a pile of rubble.
So when you are driving or taking the train along the East side of the Hudson River and see the ruins of Bannerman Castle, remember the Heer of Dunderberg is watching over the river. It seems that over time, the Goblins of Bannerman Castle have been very busy indeed. Now, once again the island sits vacant in its wondrous solitude on the Hudson River and left to the mercy of the spirits that dwell there.
Location: 41.455128 -73.989084
Eastern shore driving: 41.455314 -73.98887
The Heer of Dundenberg - Hudson Valley Highlands, New York, USA
Ghostly Storm Ship of the Hudson River - New York, United States