Bizarre Poughkeepsie in Your Own Backyard

by Robin Miniter

Nestled along the banks of the Hudson River, Marist College’s wholesome atmosphere provides an idyllic learning and living environment: we’ve got the greenery, the scenery, and…a ghost? Now if you thought the most bizarre things about Poughkeepsie were the roaming cabs with shoddy paint jobs, it’s time to think again. Like any city, it has bizarre tales to tell that might just hit closer to home than you might expect.

Hudson River State Hospital

No one's home: The empty Hudson River State Hospital stands empty, a shell of its former self. (Image courtesy of Sebastian T./Flickr)

No one's home: The empty Hudson River State Hospital stands empty, a shell of its former self. (Image courtesy of Sebastian T./Flickr)

Looming upon a hill overlooking Route 9 is the old Hudson River State Hospital. Opening its doors in 1871, it was home to thousands of inmates at a time when insanity was thought to be a treatable ailment. However, as in many cases in the heyday of mental hospitals, undeserving victims were often committed. “Insanity” had no clear-cut definition. Abusive husbands could have their spouses admitted; orphans, women pregnant out of wedlock, and rebellious adolescents were all common faces in the wings of these hospitals. Though the state forbids trespassers, the spot is popular among urban explorers looking for a sinister thrill. Now it sits quietly in a state of squalor and decay, haunted by the shadows – and as some claim, ghosts – of its dark past.

The Haunting of Sheahan Hall

Shelley L. Sperling, purportedly Marist College's resident spirit. (Image courtesy of http://www.christinahope.com/shelley_project/)

Shelley L. Sperling, purportedly Marist College's resident spirit. (Image courtesy of http://www.christinahope.com/shelley_project/)

Speaking of spooky specters, our next stop on the list brings us to our very own Sheahan Hall. On February 18, 1975, quiet Marist College became a chaotic crime scene when student Louis Acevedo shot and killed ex-girlfriend Shelley Sperling in the cafeteria (now the Presidential Dining room). Angered by her new collegiate lifestyle, Acevedo was taken into police custody after he was found in

a rocking chair looking at pictures of the couple. Sperling was lying just feet away. Her spirit is said to roam the halls of Sheahan and the wooded Grotto memorial, dedicated to students who have died while attending the college.

The Poughkeepsie Tapes

Though the Hollywood version of this story is a bit more fluff than fact, you may never look Fulton Ave. the same way again. Directed by John Erick Dowdle, this slasher flick was inspired by local serial killer Kendall Francois. He was a local man, born and bred in Poughkeepsie with a history of violence and solicitation.

'Poughkeepsie Tapes' Movie Poster (Image courtesy of zvents.com)

'Poughkeepsie Tapes' Movie Poster (Image courtesy of zvents.com)

As missing persons reports filled the Poughkeepsie Police files from 1997-1998, a pattern and the suspicion that something more sinister was at hand began to emerge. On September 2, 1998, eight bodies of missing prostitutes were discovered all throughout house number 99, not far from the popular upperclassman housing.

The movie is based loosely on the story in a fictitious “Saw”-meets-psuedo documentary style. In the movie, police find hundreds of hours of murderous video footage after raiding a house. Through these clips, they try to piece back together the story of the crimes and the identity of the killer who remains at large.



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