Halloween Month continues as Balladeer’s Blog presents another neglected American horror legend.
THE BLACK RIVER NUNS
Along New York’s Black River there stood an imposing mansion in between Carthage and Watertown. The home had stood unoccupied for decades until, during the summer that the War of 1812 broke out, four mysterious women arrived to take possession of the home. These ladies dressed all in black, kept their faces concealed behind veils and claimed to be Nuns but by all accounts seldom said they were from the same order of Sisters twice.
Still, the women caused no difficulties and stayed completely isolated inside their new location. A large contingent of carpenters, painters and upholsterers restored the mansion to its former glory but the village gossips took note of the fact that all the workmen were from far away and could offer no new information on their reclusive employers. They also clucked over the high stone walls that were added, further cutting off the Black River Nuns from prying eyes.
The craftsmen and laborers seemed to abruptly disappear at one point and were never seen again. As they were all strangers in the area no one was able to make anything of it one way or another. The Nuns never spoke to anyone in either Carthage or Watertown and their only companion was a large black dog which rode with them when they ventured forth from their lair in a luxurious carriage.
Deliveries were made to the Black River Nuns from all over New York. A steady stream of wine and other delicacies unaffordable to the locals flowed into the mysterious old mansion and provoked further gossip and speculation. On one occasion municipal authorities from Carthage called on the Sisters and politely but firmly insisted on some further clarification of their status.
The four women claimed to have taken vows of celibacy until their sweethearts returned from fighting in the war, which was still raging. It was not the likeliest of stories but still, the women caused no harm and in any event refused to be pressed any further.
By February of 1815, when the misnamed War of 1812 had been over for weeks, the absence of deliveries to the old mansion was noted. Nor was the black dog ever again heard barking from within the high stone walls. No one recalled the last time the Black River Nuns had been seen riding in their carriage, either.
When American veterans of the triumphant second war with Great Britain returned to the area a handful of them found the tale of the Black River Nuns as odd as their sudden withdrawal from sight. A handful of the plucky soldiers climbed the wall at the mansion and explored the grounds and the building. When they opened the gate from within the men all stated that what they found was far worse than anything they had seen at war.
All indications were that the women were cannibals and had slaughtered and fed on all the workmen and deliverymen who had paid calls on the isolated mansion over the past two and a half years. They had appropriated all the possessions of their victims after butchering them.
The Black River Nuns had served the fresh meat of their prey in extravagant meals, puddings and soups and then preserved the excess in jerky form. The bones had been used to construct candle-holders and assorted decorations. Human remains were suspended by hooks hung from the ceiling of one of the outer buildings that had obviously served as a meat freezer. Human leg bones littered the yard and were apparently much gnawed upon by the large black dog.
Whatever elaborate arrangements the women had made for their repairs and deliveries had apparently served to stymie any efforts the survivors of the dead men might have made to find their loved ones.
Most mysterious of all was the fact that there was no trace of the Black River Nuns. Even though they had obviously abandoned the mansion in winter no traces of the women, their horses or their carriage had been left in the snow surrounding the mansion walls. They were never seen again and, as no buyers could ever be found for the now-notorious mansion it was eventually destroyed and the area reclaimed by nature.
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