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By Bob Kostoff

A quiet, fruit-laden farm nestled in the peaceful community of Appleton in the northeast corner of the Town of Newfane was once menaced by ghosts of the Merritt family.

One John Morley in newspaper accounts told the tale at the end of the 19th century. He dubbed the Merritt mansion a "hoodoo farm," an appellation that stuck for decades.

Directly after the War of 1812, Isaac Merritt came to Newfane from Seneca County and settled on Lake Road at Appleton. In 1830, Isaac Merritt married Delilah Wisner. A brother, Shubal Merritt, came about the same time, but in 1840 settled in a large, square wood-frame house that was to become haunted.

The house was destroyed by fire in 1853 and relatives claimed Shubal was killed in the fire. Whether this had supernatural causes or not the story does not mention. But soon after, the heirs who took over the farm noticed some peculiar goings-on, including three mysterious fatalities.

John Morley wrote that the farm was then abandoned and deteriorated steadily as "rats overran the house and weeds choked all legitimate vegetable growth. But the walnut trees throve and the Witches Broom flaunted its head as threateningly as ever."

The house was finally sold in 1895 to Dr. Charles Ring, an eminent specialist in nervous diseases. Dr. Ring, greatly respected in the community, undertook improvements to the hoodoo farm. He increased the four acres of peach trees to 150 acres and added berry bushes and apple trees.

Morley said, "He had the finest fruit orchards and berry patches in Northern New York. The house became cheerful and the practical common-sensed physician had apparently laid the ghost at least so low that he could entertain guests and surround himself with faithful servants."

The ghost may have been laid low, but not out of commission. It seemed a heavy door to one unoccupied hall named Baronial Hall kept popping open on its own at 3 p.m. each day. But, Morley wrote, "so long as the ghost wrought no more mischief than this Dr. Ring declared he could not complain."

However, he figured the ghost may have been upset because Baronial Hall had never been finished. Therefore, he undertook to remodel and redecorate the hall, hoping "this might prove an incentive for the ghost to vacate the place entirely."

Dr. Ring hired architects, interior designers and furniture craftsmen to design an entirely new Baronial Hall. When the work was nearly completed, Dr. Ring himself worked late into the night putting on finishing touches. When he was done, Morley said, he informed the servants not to rouse him early because he would sleep in.

The servants waited patiently until 3 p.m. the next day, but began to get anxious when Dr. Ring still hadn't appeared.

Morley wrote, "At three o'clock the next afternoon, just as the door of Baronial Hall swung open in its usual unearthly way, the servants became uneasy and decided to wake their master.

"They knocked at the door and received no reply. The bravest of them turned the knob and entered. Their master sat at his desk, pen in hand -- dead!"

Morley added with a rhetorical flourish, "Then, indeed, did all Niagara County rise up and curse the ghost of Appleton Hall and the hoodoo farm for Dr. Ring was greatly beloved all over the countryside for his kindness and unostentatious charity."

A relative, Estelle Morse, then took over the farm. One afternoon, a reporter from a Buffalo publication named The World was interviewing her. He noted the door to Baronial Hall stood open while Estelle Morse said neither she nor any of her servants had unlatched the door and "could not explain why or how the door had been unlatched."

She claimed she was not superstitious and would not let an open door keep her from enjoying her inheritance. But while she was talking, a servant entered to inform her all the horseshoes had been placed right side up over all the entrances.

The hoodoo farm was then sold to a religious order and taken over by the Sisters of St. Joseph. There were no further reports of haunting.

Bob Kostoff has been reporting on the Niagara Frontier for four decades. He is a recognized authority on local history and is the author of several books. E-mail him at RKost1@aol.com.

Niagara Falls Reporter www.niagarafallsreporter.com March 28 2006