Intro: In an earlier post I mentioned the strange story of Angeline Tubbs, the witch of Saratoga. Here is the entire story. Some of it is true.
She came from England as a girl of fifteen. Engaged to be married, she was, to a British officer. He came to fight the rebels in America, and she was beside him on the long voyage over and during the hardships of wartime.
She was beautiful then, with piercing black eyes and long flowing hair. And summer or winter she wrapped her red shawl round her. Maybe it was her British officer who gave it to her.
After the Battle of Saratoga, he jilted her. When the British troops marched south towards Albany, she was left behind in a foreign country. She walked alone from Stillwater, where the battle had taken place, through the forest to Saratoga Springs. Back then it was not a city, just swampy, rocky places, with wolves and bears all around and never a man to protect her or a woman to keep her company and give her comfort.
She lived off what is now route 9, north of Saratoga, at the bottom of a hill they call Mount Vista–or Angeline’s Hill. She built herself a miserable hut, not fit for any decent creature to live in. And she trapped and shot wild animals and ate them for food. Summer or winter, sun or rain, she scrambled up the hills and over the rocks like a wild goat. And she kept stray cats for company, twenty or more.
Some say she was never the same after she was jilted. She was certainly not a beautiful woman when the townspeople of Saratoga knew her. She was a wrinkled crone with a hooked nose.
Some said she had been arrested early on and sentenced to be hanged. They said the hanging failed, and the noose left its dreadful brand on her forever, robbing her of beauty. But no newspaper I could find said it ever happened.
Some said she was touched in the head. Others claimed she was a granny woman, a witch. But she said nothing at all.
She was in Saratoga when George Washington visited High Rock Springs though he never came to call on her. And she was in Saratoga when Gideon Putnam, the founder of the city, built his tavern.
Mrs. Putnam, Gideon Putnam’s daughter-in-law, befriended her. But most respectable people shunned her and laughed at her and pulled their little children away from the muttering old woman in the red shawl. Once the townspeople mocked her and laughed at her when she came to a prayer meeting, and she ran away, shamed.
When she got too old to trap and hunt, she started coming to town to beg or tell fortunes for a few pennies. Lots of the fortunes came true, some said. And those same people believed she truly was a witch.
One time, William Stone and the Reverend Francis Wayland stopped at Crabb’s House at Bear Swamp, east of town. Crabb had drawn the signs of the zodiac on the floor with a piece of charcoal. He was standing in the middle holding a skull in one hand and a witch hazel rod in the other. He had little fires burning all around him. Nearby, Angeline Tubbs was on her hands and knees cutting open a frog.
Old Crabb was saying, “You see? You see? It’s plain as day if you know what to look for. That there quivering in the frog’s hind leg? Well, that’s the sign we was waiting for. You’ll live as long as every last one of your cats. And if I was you, I’d take good care of them, cause when the last one dies, you die too. And I ain’t got nothing more to say except you owe me what you promised.”
William Stone wrote about it in his diary in 1826, so I expect it must be true.
And Angeline Tubbs grew old and older and older still.
She saw the town grow rich, and she saw the wealthy tourists in their fancy carriages.
Seems like she cared nothing for the scorn of the townspeople. Once a traveling photographer took a picture of her, called it “The Witch of Saratoga.” She sold copies of it to the tourists and earned herself a little money. But whether she was ashamed or proud, no one knew. No one asked.
Folks often claimed they’d seen a woman on Mount Vista, Angeline’s Hill, standing tall on the very edge of a cliff, arms stretched out, hair streaming in the wind, red cloak flying in the middle of dreadful storms, lightning all around her. She seemed to be talking with the spirits of the storm. And the woman was surely Angeline Tubbs, herself.
One by one, her cats died, all twenty or more. And when the last cat died, she died too. Not in her own home, but in the poorhouse, in 1865. By her own accounts, she was 104.
It was years later, in 1932, when the gilded age was a memory and only local historians remembered Angeline at all, that a man named Ben Carradine spent time in Yaddo, that special retreat for writers and other artists just on the edge of town. By the little lake thereabouts in the early evening, he was terrified to see two ghostly spirits, one a young woman and the other a man walking beside her in a bright-red military jacket. The young woman looked dreadfully unhappy. Others there just laughed at Ben Carradine for being a darn fool, thinking he saw ghosts.
Years later, in the spring of 1955, he was visiting Saratoga once again from his home in Ohio. He was driving north of town and stopped to admire a sunset. He even got out of his car and started to climb a hill, Angeline’s hill. Halfway up, a fast moving thunderstorm moved in. He sought shelter under an overhanging rock.
He was in darkness in the rain when a flash of lightning lit the top of the hill on which he’d sought refuge halfway down. A lone figure was standing on the stone ledge at the top, silhouetted against the sky. She stood erect, arms stretched out to the raging sky. Her long hair and wet cloak streamed out behind her. And he heard her piercing scream above him. Another lightning bolt illuminated the woman. She screamed again and again as the lightning flashed, the thunder cracked, the rain fell, and the wind howled. Finally the clouds moved away, the screaming stopped, and the woman vanished.
You may believe that Ben Carradine was just a crackpot would-be writer, that he probably invented the whole thing. Maybe so. But many of us in Saratoga suspect that Ben Carradine had seen the ghost of Angeline Tubbs, a woman more at home with the raging elements than in the town that failed to comfort or protect its own lost soul.
Copyright by Margaret French