Overnight at Singer Castle on Dark Island: The Stuff of Dreams/Nightmares
Imagine this: a man you never met before - a complete stranger- delivers you by boat to a nearly deserted island; one which has a castle on it. Light conversation on the trip-over reveals that the castle has a live-in caretaker, and, mirroring Stephen King's novel The Shining, this man stays alone in the castle for months during the winter, unable to leave the island, due to weather.
Does the boat's captain pick-up on the nervous glances you exchange with the family? All big fans of Stephen King, we each know how THAT turned out. Upon your arrival you find that even though it is only fall, the only other living person on the island is the caretaker; all of the other employees have left for the season. Add this little tidbit in; it’s Halloween Eve. You will be spending the night on this island. Just you (and the family you've brought with you) and the caretaker.
The captain of the boat wishes you good night and says a fond farewell. Your dinner, you are told, will be served promptly at 7:30 in the dining room; by the caretaker you do not know. You are at his culinary mercy, so to speak. You realize there are no phones in your suite; or, for that matter, in the castle. You find out later that the caretaker, much like Fred and George in Harry Potter, knows every single secret passage in the castle.
He also tells you (gleefully) that there is a giant oven to burn evidence, and a river so deep, and with such swift currents, that any dead body would quickly disappear, never to be found again. In fact, Canada is only 75 feet off the shore, so any evidence of a crime would likely turn up on Canadian soil.
After midnight, it is Halloween. A quiet discussion amongst the family leads to the conclusion that this situation is disquieting indeed. In fact, if this were a piece of fiction the audience would be sighing and rolling their eyes at the obvious stupidity of the characters. But this is not fiction, it's real. As you climb into bed, you wonder just what you've gotten yourself into, as you reflect upon the fact that you didn't actually tell anyone in your life that you were staying on this island. (This was because you didn't want anyone to accidentally say it to the young lady the stay was intended as a surprise present for.) So, you realize, you and the family members on the island are the only ones who know where you are. To top things off, judging from the creaking coming from the ceiling above your head, it does appear likely that the island is in fact, haunted, just as the caretaker has said it was!
A young lady who loves the 1000 Islands region more than anything. One who has recently turned 21, and who is (by the way), profoundly physically disabled. One whose family wants an experience she will remember forever. Add into this equation an older brother and a best friend- both with immense imaginations as well, and you get this: a night spent on Dark Island at Singer Castle in which you have the run of the castle - all to yourself, no one else there- just the caretaker and your family. An experience which turns out to be surreal, exciting, and without a doubt- one of a kind!Halloween, 2013. The real story: The night was meant to be a unique gift for an exceptional young lady- a young lady who has a giant imagination and who dreams of castles, and princesses, and nobles and the supernatural.
In her wild excitement over finding out her wish had been granted, and she'd be spending the night at Singer Castle, Sam didn't sleep a wink. Her arrival the next day found her pretty tired! However, the castle was hers for the night and nothing could keep Sam from exploring it from top to bottom; not the lack of sleep, and certainly not her disability. Always a dreamer with a big imagination, Sam began to plan her 21st birthday many months before it arrived. She had a short list of requests which she presented to me - all very specific - with one large item at the top: to spend the night at Singer Castle on Dark Island. Sam didn't want a big party or any of the more traditional celebratory options - instead; she wanted to have an experience that many little girls wish for - to live in a castle - even if it was just for a day.
Sam's party included me, (her mom), Cody, (her brother), and Kallie, (her best friend). Our adventure began at Schermerhorn Harbor, where we were picked-up by Tom and taken by boat to the castle. Tom was friendly and courteous. He gave Sam the seat of honor, in the boat (right next to him) and didn't bat an eyelash when he had to lift her into the boat and set her in her seat. The ride over took about fifteen or so minutes, and in the crisp October air, it was lovely. We nearly had the river to ourselves, and the water was calm. The autumn leaves still graced the trees, and the view of Dark Island, as we approached was breathtaking - a veritable riot of color assaulted the eyes, which included the soaring red roof tops of the castle and the fall color which dressed the lush island trees.
We docked and met Scott the caretaker right away, waiting for us on the dock. Sam's travel wheelchair is sadly not light, and Sam weighs in at 108. Daily life finds us helping Sam to move from one place to another, either by helping her to walk, or by pushing her. (She helps a lot. She is a determined young woman who tries to stay as fit as she can so that she can be as mobile as she can.) Today though, her family didn't do it all. Tom helped Sam out of the boat, and Cody and I walked her to her waiting chair on the dock. Then Scott whisked her off, up the steep inclined stone-paved path to the castle.
The castle is not a Cinderella-type traditional castle. It looks and feels more like an enormous, multi-level grand manor house. Its walls are stone, and the rooftops are an eye-catching red. Close-set greenery along the paths gives the feeling of walking through the Shire. It feels fairy tale like. At the double rough-hewn doors that lead to the main entrance, Scott paused to inform Sam she must use the knocker before entering, to warn the ghosts we'd arrived and intended to enter.
From the main hall we moved to explore the royal suite. Up, up, up we went; into the hall that led to our residence for the night. Once there, we found stately, imposing furniture, polished hardwood floors, and suites decorated with lords and ladies in mind. Windows engulfed the rooms and looked out over the grounds and the river, which seemed to be a foot away. Sam was beside herself with joy. It felt like we were truly nobility, or at least very, very privileged.From the main hall we moved to explore the royal suite. Up, up, up we went. Into the hall that led to our residence for the night. Once there, we found stately, imposing furniture, polished hardwood floors, and suites decorated with lords and ladies in mind. Windows engulfed the rooms and looked out over the grounds and the river, which seemed to be a foot away. Sam was beside herself with joy. It felt like we were truly nobility, or at least very, very privileged.
Tom said goodbye. Scott gave us a little while to settle in, and then our tour began. None of us could have imagined what that would entail. We have all been on guided tours before. This tour was like nothing we'd experienced previously. We began in the library, just off the entrance hall. We sat on the antique library furniture and Scott chatted with us about the books in the library, the furniture, the origins of the property, and finally, about the secret passages. The feeling was comfortable, informal, and informative. He encouraged us to make ourselves at home.
For the next few hours, we toured each floor of the castle and the grounds. My daughter climbed multiple flights of stairs, and at the top of each staircase, Scott was there, ready with her wheelchair. She worked so hard- she was determined to 'see it all'. We moved at her pace, and learned so much that day. The caretaker is a man who certainly cares. There wasn't a question he couldn't answer, and he was a fountain of information. Most importantly, he clearly loves the castle and the island, and he shared that with us.
Because it was Halloween eve, Scott played the role of ‘caretaker of a haunted castle’ perfectly. He discussed possible disappearance scenarios, and locked us in a dungeon. (We were really locked in.) From the look of it, we hadn't been the first ones...a skeleton shared the space with us. As we toured, we were greeted with creepy cackling voices, photographs that changed if you looked at them right, a skull in the punch bowl, and various remains of previous guests who hadn't lived through the experience. We saw the castle's small infirmary, but even a novice could tell it was a torture chamber in disguise. We saw the places where eyes, hidden from view, could look down upon you to watch your every move. The tour inspired dreams and nightmares alike.
We only concluded our tour after it was fully dark. We made our way back through a tunnel which was occupied by a ghost
We only concluded our tour after it was fully dark. We made our way back through a tunnel which was occupied by a ghost.
We got cleaned-up for dinner. Miss Sam was exhausted, so she showered and entered the dining room in her long flannel nightgown.
We had a lovely dinner, which included of platters of salad, rolls, and cheesecake with caramel.
The atmosphere was both comfortable and grand. After dinner, Sam asked Scott about the real ghosts. He regaled her with ghost stories that left her thrilled and excited.
The night ended early for Sam and me. We were wiped-out; I don’t think, and I am being honest, that Sam ever walked that much in her life.
Cody and Kallie stayed-up though. They explored the castle and got a little lost. They considered the secret passages at length and what a very eerie experience this could be, if it were fiction. Everyone was satisfied in the end, and felt lucky to have had such a one-of-a-kind experience. The following morning, (Halloween Day), we had a light breakfast and Tom came to collect us in his boat, at noon. We said goodbye to Scott, and rode back to Schermerhorn Harbor in the rain, enjoying the autumn air while daydreaming of mad caretakers and haunted castles.
By Debra Wdowiak
Debra Wdowiak lives in Kirkwood, outside of Binghamton, NY, where she and her son, Cody, and he fiancé, Kallie Root, recently established The Night Kitchen, a popular restaurant specializing in southern cooking. When not busy at the restaurant, they venture north to Clayton and their family cottage, purchased by Debra’s parents back in the ’50. She says,” I have been coming to the 1000 Islands for virtually my entire life. My brother and I grew up enjoying life on the river during summer vacations. We spent hours boating, fishing, swimming and snorkeling… it is for us ‘the happiest place on earth’.”