Thursday, October 28, 2010

Gambling and Ghosts

In honor of Halloween and my Bat Mitzvaversary, I hereby present a post on my home town. I've mentioned before that I enjoy visiting places close to home and posting on them, especially since I haven't really been able to go anywhere fun or new lately. So, Ghost Hunters recently featured a building called the Canfield Casino (yes, it used to be an actual casino, no, you can't gamble there anymore). I knew the building was supposedly haunted; everyone knows that. Another fun fact about the Canfield Casino? I had my Bat Mitzvah there, sixteen years ago (I feel old) last week. So of course I have to post on it.

The Casino (as it shall be known hereafter) is located in my home town of Saratoga Springs, NY, in Congress Park, right in the center of town. While I don't exactly understand the concept of "home town pride" (you don't choose where you're born and you probably didn't choose where you grew up), I have to say there are a lot of great things about Saratoga. One of those things is Congress Park, where the Canfield Casino is located. Just for fun, I headed to the park last weekend to enjoy the fall weather, take a few pictures, and be a temporary tourist, even though I wasn't seeing anything new.

I think Congress Park is pretty special; it was designed (or at least enhanced) by Frederick Law Olmstead, famous for Central Park in New York City. Cooler than the park itself is some of the stuff found there including a sculpture by Daniel Chester French, he of Lincoln Memorial fame. His sculpture/reflecting pool, The Spirit of Life, is a memorial to a prominent summer citizen, Spencer Trask. I'll be writing about him later (for a good reason, I promise). I was hoping to capture The Spirit of Life in all its reflecting pool glory but alas there was no water.

However, this post is supposed to be about the Casino, and so it shall be. As I mentioned, the Casino used to be an actual gambling hall. Gambling has a long and proud tradition in Saratoga, continuing to the present day though, to my knowledge, the Canfield Casino is the only former casino still standing and recognized as such.

Ordinarily, I might not think the building is so deserving of its own blog post despite being pretty cool. However, its recent appearance on Ghost Hunters definitely elevates the cool factor as well as the building's visibility. Today, the building houses the local historical society/museum which I visited in full for the first time last week. Like many local museums (and I've been to more than my fair share, in many places), this museum offers a mish-mash of local history and artifacts with some not-so-interesting "historical" details thrown in along with some relevance to the rest of the world. Interesting to me since I recognized buildings and aspects of local life and culture but not necessarily so interesting to people unfamiliar with the area. That said, the town is pretty famous (there's a famous racetrack (I told you gambling is big), you may have seen Saratoga water for sale or even tried it, etc.) so maybe some people do kind of sort of care. Maybe.

The most interesting and relevant to this post parts of the Casino/museum are a recreated gambling room and a former mansion that was sort of transferred from its original location to the Casino. These are the areas where the ghosts are supposedly found. I'll start with the Walworth Mansion, formerly a house called Pine Grove, now approximately one floor of the Canfield Casino. I'm not an expert in ghostology (is that a thing?) but I don't understand this: supposedly this floor of the Casino is haunted by members of the Walworth family. But they never lived there! Just their furniture and some family history is found at the Casino. Now, granted, if I were a member of the Walworth family, I'm not sure I'd want my dirty (and it is dirty) laundry aired in public, dead though I'd be since I think the family has died out. Or that branch has, anyway. But really, who wants people to know about a family member who shot (and killed) his father? Perhaps not so exciting is the stepsister and brother who married a la Clueless. Never mind the fact that he was abusive and the marriage didn't last. Interesting though their furniture is--and it is, being of a certain period in history and all--despite their having been a prominent local family, I confess to being a little baffled regarding their place in the local historical society. Sure, the last family of the member wanted the stuff preserved but is that really so unusual?

Anyway, Pine Grove was sort of relocated to the Casino and is supposedly haunted by members of the Walworth family. I guess they decided the gas station located where their house used to be just isn't worth haunting. While I saw no sign of any Walworths, I know I wasn't there at the right time. They've started having late-night ghost tours of the Casino/museum which I'm guessing would be better for history and chance of ghost-sighting for any believers. I haven't been yet but ghost tours are a lot of fun (I may post about York before Halloween. Maybe) so I think it'd be a good time. Hopefully they'll keep 'em up.

Another supposedly haunted room is that reconstructed casino room. There are random audio clips throughout the museum and so the sound of a spinning roulette wheel is generally audible in that particular room. I was hoping it was a ghost but no dice. Remember? I said roulette.

I wish I could report that being in that building was really creepy but it just wouldn't be true. Maybe at midnight. After all, I'd already been there many, many times without even thinking about the whole ghost thing. Still, fun experience so no regrets there. Sorry for the lack of pictures, photography isn't allowed in the museum. Somewhere I do have Bat Mitzvah photos though... and if I'm remembering correctly, part of the movie Seabiscuit was filmed there.

Lastly, thanks to a pseudonym-less friend for telling me about the whole Ghost Hunters thing. If you're interested, here's part of it: