Legend of Spook Rock

As with most legends and folklore, there are many versions that have been handed down and The Legend of Spook Rock is no different.  There are so many different ones, but one of the most romantic comes from “The Parsonage Between Two Manors” written by Elizabeth L. Gebhard in 1909 and printed by the Bryan Publishing Company in Hudson.

In early days it was the custom of tolling the (church} bell at the passing of a life, or the hour of burial ….it probably gave rise to a curious old legend founded on a still earlier Indian legend, both of which are still told with interest along the banks of Claverack Creek.

Long before the first white settler had discovered beautiful Claverack, a tribe of Mohican Indians had a village here called “Pot Kote.”  On more than one farm have their battle axes, arrow heads, and hammers been unearthed by the husbandman, while engaged in the peaceful occupation of tilling the soil.  There is a tradition connected with the Chieftains’ daughter, that would lead us to believe that the Indian colony was not only strong and numerous, but that its young squaws were also charming in the eyes of neighboring tribes.  The Chief of the Mohicans had his wigwam on the summit of Becraft Mountain, a safe vantage ground in case of hostile attack, for the arrows of his followers aimed at an enemy skulking along the trail below, would have been fatal, while the Mohicans were quite able to defend themselves behind the mighty fastnesses of the slate rocks.

But the Chief had a daughter whose soft dark eyes and raven locks, and nut-brown skin were a bewitchment, and whose slender moccasined feet were swift upon the trail.  Alas, that her lover was the son of an enemy who forgot the tribal hatred, when, hiding from tree to tree one day, he had worked his way to the top of Becraft in order to discover the weakness of the Mohican camp, and saw instead the graceful form of the Princess flitting between the wooded aisles at the top of the mountain.  It was useless to plead with the Chief of the Mohicans, though the daughter made the effort, and equally useless to fight for the maid, for the tribe of the young brave was far outnumbered by that of the Princess’ father.  The lover’s only hope was in strategy.

A swift runner brought her a tiny roll of birch-bark wrapped in a rabbit skin with a love message inside.  She found it within the flap of her tent, and trembling donned her doe-skin robe, and waited till the night shut down, and the tribe slept, and only the glow of the camp fire was left, then sped over the trail, and down the rocks to the shadows of the overhanging cliffs.  Among the ferns and lichens and wildflowers she met her lover.  The night air swept their cheeks, and the music of the stars sung their happiness.  The moments sped swiftly by.

A low rumble in the distance, a flash of light across their path, a moment’s terror of discovery, then they drew close within the shadow of the overhanging rocks, shielded by bushes and young trees from the big drops of rain.  The crash of the thunder rolled over their heads, the forked lightning played over the water and fields of maize, and they clung to each other in the midst of the tumult.  Then quicker than thought, more sudden than fear, came a heavy crash, a blinding light, and the great boulder rolled into the stream, carrying the lovers with it.

It was all over in a few moments, the noise and commotion, the flash and the downpour.  One by one the stars came out again, the young trees shook off the rain drop, moved by a gentle breeze, a whip-poor-will cried in the night, while the creek skirting the trail lay quiet in the starlight, and the overhanging rock had found a new resting place for all time in the winding stream, becoming a monument to two lovers, a son and a daughter of Indian Chiefs of alien tribes.

This is the Indian legend of Spook Rock, but for many a year the story that has been oftenest told as connected with this rock, is that it turns over every time it hears the Claverack church bell toll, and though the great rock has no ears to hear, or power to turn in the winding stream, if sound is carried to remote distances, affecting the formation of rocks and mountains, the impress of almost two centuries of the tolling funeral bells of Claverack must have left their mark, though unseen, on the hard and rugged sides of Spook Rock. 

Submitted by David Hart, Greenport Historian


The wonderful Legend of Spook Rock has been part of our local history forever.  Thanks to Michael Leonard’s keen eye catching a notice that the William G. Pomeroy Foundation now had a grant program that funded markers for Legends and Lore, and bringing it to David’s attention just before the deadline, we were able to submit an application just in the nick of time.  We believe they loved the legend as much as we do because after a few bits of correspondence with them, they notified us that we were successful and would be receiving the grant. In January 2016, we received a check in the amount of $1,000 to cover the cost.  The new marker was installed on Spook Rock Road and dedicated by the Greenport Historical Society on September 18, 2016.