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Brooklyn Daily Eagle
22 June 1884

The Ghost Story of the Mansion in Melrose Park. Colonel AXTELL and the Dark Lady The Secret Door and the Concealed Stair What Greeted the Gallant Soldier on His Return from an Indian War.
Just above the tollgate, on Flatbush avenue, opposite the site of the redoubt held by the Americans during the Battle of Long Island, is situated the romantic home of the famous Colonel AXTELL, a descendant of an officer in CROMWELL's army. History and tradition have thrown a vail of mystery around Melrose Hall, and now that the old mansion, with its spacious grounds and long avenues of pines, is to be transferred, many seek the interesting place to catch a glimpse of the hall, as it was before the work of renovation is complete. The Town of Flatbush, formerly called Midwout, or Middlewood, one of the oldest settlements in America, is situated on a slight inclination extending from the fo?? of Prospect Hill to the sea, and was for years the County seat. Many of the homes of the old Dutch burghers are still standing, forming a strange contrast to the modern residences of the merchants and professional men, who are rapidly availing themselves of the advantages which the picturesque village offers for their country seats. A short distance from Melrose Park, is the Dutch Reformed Church, the oldest on Long Island;
Erasmus Hall, with its antique roof and shingled walls studded with innumerable windows, is interesting from the fact that here the college, now flourishing in New Brunswick, was first established.
Among these old time institutions stood the Melrose mansion, gloomy, deserted and surrounded by the superstitious dread with which tradition has clothed it. The hall, the only ancient dwelling of English architecture in Flatbush, was built in 1749 by one Lane. Its solid hand hewn timbers have withstood the wear of more than a century, and to-day the building is in a perfect state of preservation. The mansion is a grand structure, two stories and a half high, with old fashioned gables and wide weather boarding. No plan seems to have been followed, the edifice being an agglomeration of immense rooms, secret passages and innumerable hiding places. A massive oak door, double bolted and divided horizontally into two sections, opens upon a large waldscotted hall, extending the entire depth of the house, while in the center is a fireplace large enough to roast an ox. To the left, a broad mahogany staircase leads to the rooms above. On each side of the house are large wings; the right containing the ball and banqueting halls and the left the dining rooms and library. Above the banqueting hall is the haunted chamber, around which the traditions of Melrose have gathered. Until recent investigation divulged a secret staircase, opening into a closet on one side of the fireplace in the hall, the only mode of access to the haunted chamber was through the small stained glass window near the roof. In this room the beautiful Isabella, subsequently referred to, is said to have perished from starvation. What appears as a handsome buffet in the dining room, is in reality a hidden door. The back moves by the action of a spring concealed in the panels, and a dark passage is disclosed leading into the slaves' quarters. Deep alcoves, formed by the gables in the roof indenting the rooms and narrow hallways, afforded ample means of concealment to those who wished to be unobserved, and all the apartments are connected by secret passages behind the panels and tapestry. Beneath the mansion are the dungeons, dark vaults into which the light of day never penetrates, where prisoners were confined during the Revolution. After the death of Coloner AXTELL, a human skeleton is said to have been found in the dark cell, the frame entire, though the skull was fractured, probably in an attempt at suicide, and the clothing had long since moldered into dust. Such was the home in which the famous old loyalist lived and died. The haunted chamber has a strange story connected with it: Colonel AXTELL having procured the command of the colonial forces, moved into the new home, with his family, consisting of a wife and two small children, together with a retinue of servants, among whom was an old slave who had gained the confidence of her master. Just before the arrival of the family a strange woman made her appearance, and took up her abode in the secret attic above the ball room. The few who saw her described the stanger as a tall, dark woman of wondrous beauty and kindly manner. Her presence in the isolated room was soon forgotten, as no one ever visited the mysterious stranger, except Miranda, the faithful slave, who upon her arrival immediately took charge of the dark lady upstairs. The fact of her being there was carefully kept secret from the Colonel's wife, and the superstitious negress dared not mention her name above her breath. Thus matters went on for some time, when the colonel was unexpectedly called away to command a dangerous and probably prolonged Indian campaign. For some unaccountable reason the summons filled his mind with alarm and fearful forebodings, and he resolved after the family was at rest to send for the fair prisoner, communicate to her his apprehensions, and persuade her, if possible, to return to the home of her childhood; or at least to abandon the concealment of her prison room, now that his arm was no longer present to protect his guilty love. At midnight, their usual time of meeting, while sitting in an easy chair before the flickering fire in the hall, the secret catch was sprung, and the panel slid back admitting the dusky form of the slave, followed by the dark eyed Isabella, who at once took her accustomed place on the stool at the Colonel's feet, the slave retiring to a corner to be a mute witness of the parting scene, or to sleep, as best she liked. Taking the willing hand the Colonel kissed the proffered lips. After a moment's pause, he said: "Isabella, I have been ordered to take immediate command of an expedition against the Indians, who have again attacked the frontier pioneers, and in a few days I must leave you. Fate has decreed our separation, perhaps forever. I cannot, dare not, leave you here in your present condition, without a soul knowing of your existence except Miranda, for she might prove false or might die, and escape from that prison room would be impossible. Fly, I pray you, fly ! Here is gold, the womand will attend your every want, but you must not stay here to die." Indignantly she spurned the offered purse. Rising with flashing eyes and face livid with suppressed passion, she exclaimed: "What! is this the end; is this the love you offered me; is this the reward for which I forsook my God, my home, my very self? Am I then only the toy of a moment's pleasure, flung aside, when the idler has wearied of his plaything? Offered money in return for all that woman holds most dear. Do you look on me as a mandicant, whom a purse of gold can purchase? Oh, faithless man, why, why have I loved you, followed you over seas, to be flung aside despised and paid? Cannot your affection stand the test of a few months separation, or is this a mere pretext to sever the relations which you have so soon tired of?" "Be calm," he replied, "for God's sake be calm and quiet yourself, or we shall be discovered and both forever lost. Isabella," he continued, "you cannot doubt my love? What have you given that I have not dearly repaid? For you I have wronged myself, my wife risked my chance of heaven, and for you I would die Such words from you are cruel; once more I beg you, go. Death lingers in these fatal walls. Life and happiness may be found beyond the sea." His entreaties were in vain; the weak woman, strong in her love, remained in the secret chamber -- remained to die. A year rolled by, and the Colonel was expected home in a few days. With untiring zeal the faithful Miranda had tended her charge, and the lady wanted for nothing. Only a week before the welcoming feast was to be given to the successful commander, the kind old negress suddenly sickened and died, worn out by the strain of a hard life. She lingered but a day. Her last efforts were to explain the nature of the hidden chamber, but her warnings were taken as delirious wanderings and passed unheeded. Isabella wondered why the attendant so long delayed her coming. the usual time for the visit passed -- she patiently awaited the coming midnight, but no Miranda. Days passed and none came to relieve her hunger. She bagan to realize her fearful fate and that the room where so many happy hours had been passed with her lover was soon to be her grave. On the evening when the Colonel was expected to return, the hall was brilliantly lighted and everything in readiness to give him a cordial welcome. Though not expected until late, it was midnight before the carriage reached the hall. Long ere the arrived guests assembled and were in the full tide of social enjoyment, and on his alighting he was met by a host of admiring friends eager to welcome the returning soldier. To the casual observer this was indeed a happy moment for the Colonel. Yet if one had observed him closer, he wore a look of unrest. Once or twice he rose nervously from his chair, and paced up and down, seemingly unconscious of those about him. Suddenly he darted out of the hall, through the library into the slaves' quarters. Though warmly greeted he did not respond to the delighted blacks. Beckoning to an old negress he asked where Miranda was. When told she was dead he staggered back toward the hall without a word. As he entered a sight met his fixing gaze which froze the terrified man to the spot. In the midst of the gayety and dancing the candles had suddenly gone out and in their place a sickly, glow worm light shone on every object in the room. Low and unearthly noises were heard throughout the house, then died away mingling with the sighing of the wind through the tall pines. Suddenly the secret passage opened and the spectral form of Isabella entered. The face was ashen pale, each vein strongly defined on the emaciated features, her long black hair hung drooping over her shoulders to the floor, and she seemed clad in airy gossamer. The apparition bore the look of unutterable sorrow, and the hands were clenched in an attitude of woe. Noiselessly the glided through the hall -- her sightless eyeballs bent on the petrified form of the colonel, while the lips moved in a ghastly smile as the bony hand pointed to the trembling wife. Nearing the entrance to the secret stairs she turned and with her finger wrote the word "Betrayer," then vanished. The dismal light gradually faded and glimmered out, leaving everything shrouded in darkness. For a moment all was still. Then an agonizing shriek through the hall, accompanied by the heavy thud, as if a body had fallen. The fearful sound was echoed by the frantic slaves and the howl of the dogs, as the wind blew the windows open and swept through the room. Again the strange glow appeared, lingering just long enough to illuminate the prostrate figure of the Colonel lying before the secret entrance and the spectral woman bending over him with the same heartless smile upon her lips, pointing to a bleeding wound near his heart, which the maddened man had inflicted with his own sword. As the bell tolled the midnight hour, the light died out and the specter once more vanished. When lights were brought, every attempt was made to save the Colonel's life, but he only lived a few hours, and his last entreaties were to have the house sold and his family return to England. Nor were his wishes opposed, for none cared to risk another such night, and as soon as the funeral was over the hall was closed. The hall came into the possession of an American officer who had married the Colonel's sister, and for that offense was dismissed from the hall. After him the estate passed through several hands until at length it was bought by Mr. Mowatt for his child wife, the gifted Anna Cora Mowatt, afterward an authoress, and the most successful actress of her day. The young girl took a fancy to the romantic place and it was bought for her soon after their marriage. The entire nature of the park was changed; the dismal chamber was closed, the vaults were locked and the grounds laid out in beautiful floral designs. On Mr. Mowatt's death the estate was again sold, several families living there in succession until it was finally bought by its present owner. End of article. Transcribed for the Brooklyn Info Pages by Kate Fitzpatrick. Back to EASTERN DISTRICT Main Back to TOWN Main Page Back to STREETS Main Back to BROOKLYN Main