Mr. and Mrs. Voetsch are surprised by an apparition as they return from Buffalo in their motor car. (Illustration by AI)

The Chamber of Commerce Ghost Hoax of 1920

(Read time: 24 minutes)

In 1920 a series of purported ghost sightings captivates the Tonawandas. But are at least some of the poltergeists merely political propaganda?

While driving home from Shea’s Theatre in Buffalo one spring night with his wife, Edward Voetsch of North Tonawanda sees something curious in the road about forty feet ahead. No, it isn’t in the road: it is floating above the road, drifting toward Elmlawn cemetery. It appears to be a woman, with the wings of an angel and a long, flowing robe.

Four days later, trolley operator Albert Stroessel sees a similar, if earthbound, woman, waiting to board the Kenmore line trolley, not far from the cemetery. He picks the woman up, but when he looks again, he is startled to find the car is empty. His conductor says he never saw such a woman at all.

These two sightings touch off a positive phantom fever in the Tonawandas in early 1920. Ghost hunters from other cities come to catch–or catch sight of–the so-called “angel” of Tonawanda. A local bicycle club organizes a posse and narrowly misses capturing the shade, while school district members stalk the cemeteries with shotguns. The owner of a boarding house where one of the floating women appears challenges the public to spend just one night in the house–and gets many takers.

After additional apparitions appear in the form of Lady Liberty and a legless “Indian,” the Tonawanda News at last unmasks the source of the stories, and–spoiler alert–if there is such a thing as a “groan-worthy” ending to a ghost story, this is most assuredly it.

Follow the twists and turns exactly as they were reported in local newspapers between March and June of 1920 in these sixteen articles, illustrated by AI.


The first appearance of the winged woman in white.

Tonawanda News, March 20, 1920.

Mr. and Mrs. Voetsch are surprised by an apparition as they return from Buffalo in their motor car. (Illustration by AI)
“I was driving home from attending Shea’s theatre in Buffalo and was nearing the cemetery when the form of a woman with wings, long flowing hair and dressed in long white garments appeared from a small orchard on the east side of the roadway and drifted across the road about forty feet ahead of my car.” (Illustration by AI)

**Form of Woman with Long Hair and Flowing White Garments.**


Local Restaurant Proprietor and Wife Startled by Apparition in Vicinity of Mt. Olivet – Came Out of Orchard at Side of Road.

Mr. and Mrs. Edward Voetsch of the White Elephant restaurant at No. 76 Webster street claim to have seen the apparition of an angel on Delaware street, a short distance south of Mt. Olivet cemetery, while returning home from Buffalo in their automobile a few nights ago.

“I was driving home from attending Shea’s theatre in Buffalo and was nearing the cemetery when the form of a woman with wings, long flowing hair and dressed in long white garments appeared from a small orchard on the east side of the roadway and drifted across the road about forty feet ahead of my car,” said Mr. Voetsch this morning.

Mr. Voetsch slowed down his car to prevent hitting the figure and called the attention of his wife, who was in a drowse. Mrs. Voetsch became so excited over the affair that she was unable to sleep during the remainder of the night.

Mr. Voetsch stated that the form disappeared after reaching the opposite side of the street.

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Four days later, a trolley operator near the original sighting stops for a mysterious passenger.

Tonawanda News, March 24, 1920

**Elmlawn Cemetery Section is Getting to be Spooky Place.**


Motorman of Kenmore Trolley Stops Car Thinking it is Woman Desirous of Getting Aboard—Not Visible to Conductor in Rear Vestibule.

Mr. and Mrs. Edward Voetsch of No. 76 Webster street are not the only persons who have recently seen apparitions on Delaware street in the vicinity of the Elmlawn and Mt. Olivet cemeteries, which are almost opposite each other. Mr. and Mrs. Voetsch claimed to have seen the form of a woman, robed in a white flowing gown, with light streaming hair and wings float across Delaware street in front of their automobile while returning from Buffalo one night last week. The story was ridiculed, but now comes another story of an “angel” which tends to strengthen the statement of Mr. and Mrs. Voetsch.

When the northbound Kenmore trolley car arrived in front of the North Tonawanda police station at 11:30 o’clock a few nights ago, the motorman Albert Stroessel and the conductor John Zimm, both of Buffalo, went into headquarters and related their strange experience with an apparition near Elmlawn cemetery. Stroessel saw what appeared to be a woman, robed in white, and with hair hanging down her back, standing besides the track as though to board the car when it stopped. Under this impression he stopped his car. As nobody got onto the car after it stopped, Zimm went to the forward end of the car to learn the reason why Stroessel stopped.

“Didn’t a woman get onto the car?” asked the motorman. When informed that nobody boarded the car and that the conductor saw no person when he looked from the vestibule to see if anybody was waiting to get aboard, Stroessel related the circumstances which caused him to stop.

The motorman and conductor related the experience to Sergeant A. D. Smith and several members of the police department who were in the station when the street car men arrived. Sergeant Smith verified the story this afternoon.


At a boarding house in Tonawanda about a half mile away, eight people flee from a floating phantom female.

Tonawanda News, April 6, 1920

**Desert Dwelling After Spiritual Being Makes Second Appearance.**


Arrival on Both Occasions is Accompanied by Noise Like Blowing of Wind—Covers Are Carried Off Bed—Vanishes Through Ceiling.

Another ghost, angel or some spiritual being has made its appearance here and this time the matter has been called to the attention of the police. It has also resulted in Anthony Ross giving up his boarding house at No. 411 Main street and fleeing with his wife and seven boarders to the Washington Hotel, leaving behind all their household effects.

According to Ross, the ghost made its first appearance at the dwelling Saturday night between 1 and 2 o’clock. Describing the [unclear] of the strange being, Ross told the police that a noise like the blowing of wind and a movement of air in the room that caused the bed covers to be removed accompanied the arrival of the figure, and caused his awakening. He said the ghost was in the form of a woman took short steps like a child, but that its feet did not appear to touch the floor.

Ross said he was [unclear] the apparition which remained in the room for a few minutes and then vanished through the ceiling. Believing that Ross had been drinking or was “seeing things,” one of the boarders said he would spend Sunday night in the room and capture the ghost. It again appeared between 1 and 2 o’clock in the same manner as the night before, but was not captured. The boarder testifies that he saw the same thing as Ross, adding that he was not [unclear].

Ross declares that he will not return to the building, and will turn over the keys to any person who desires to [unclear].

Laying the Ghost (4/16)

In a strange twist, it comes to light that Anthony Ross and his family were ordered to leave the boarding house the week before his alleged sighting. Did he invent the ghost story to cover his family’s hasty exit? Or did he intend to make it harder for his landlord to find new tenants willing to share the house with a ghost?

Niagara Gazette, April 7, 1920

Anthony Ross was brought into the police court yesterday to show cause why he should not be ejected from No. 411 Main street, where he and his family had been living. He was served with a three-day notice last week, but failed to comply with it. While at the police station, he told a story about some person being in his house one night three weeks ago and that the person escaped without being caught. This gave birth to the story that the ghostly figure alleged to have been seen by a number of persons on Delaware street in the vicinity of Elmlawn cemetery a month ago had moved into North Tonawanda.

Ross denied the ghost story yesterday afternoon, but still holds that some person wearing black clothing visited his home one night last month.

In court this morning, it was announced that Ross had moved and no further action was taken. Ross was forced to store his furniture as he was unable to find a house to move into. The police brand the ghost story a fake.


The News notes the free publicity the ghost stories are bringing the Tonawandas.

Tonawanda News, April 9, 1920

**Tonawandas Are Receiving Much Notoriety from Weird Stories.**


Special Writer Sent Here by Nearby Newspaper Secures Material for Sensational Article—Man Who Saw Ghost Reported Critically Ill.

It will not be necessary for the Chamber of Commerce to spend $15,000 advertising the Tonawandas if they have a few more ghost stories and visits from angels. The Twin Cities are securing many thousands of dollars’ worth of advertising throughout the country as the result of newspaper circulation to date of these weird tales.

The unusual situation has been given so much prominence that a few days ago a special writer from a nearby newspaper was sent here to conduct an investigation to culminate in the writing of a feature article on the Tonawandas ghosts and angels. Although efforts were made in some quarters to discredit the presence of a good newspaper story, the writer left the impression when he departed that sufficient material had been secured around which to build a sensational article.

A number of persons, too, have come here from other cities for the purpose of spending a night in the dwelling on Main street, which is supposed to be the habitation of a ghost. Promises have been made that the ghost would be captured but, so far as is known, the alleged spiritual being is still at large.

It was reported today that one of the men who saw the ghost had been made critically ill as the result.


A retelling of the visitations by an out-of-town paper, with the names–and some of the facts–changed.

Utica Globe, April 10, 1920

**Several Persons Have Seen It and It is the Cause of Much Excitement—One Man Offers to Give Away His House.**

By R. S. MULVEY, Buffalo.

IN THESE strenuous times of ouija boards and spirit messages any story, true or imaginary, is interesting, but the story of how a ghost in woman’s form has been haunting the people of Tonawanda, N. Y., and vicinity for the past two months, and corroborated by a half dozen people, will prove doubly interesting. Perhaps seeing this “thing,” whatever it is, is the result of a shot of home-made “boosh”. However, here is the story:

George Argus, who conducts a roadhouse near Tonawanda, says: “On the night of March 8, my wife and I were returning from Buffalo in our car. I was driving and as we neared the Mount Olivet Cemetery at Kenmore, I saw something white, in woman’s form, floating along the road about 10 feet in front of the car. I slowed down but did not tell my wife, because she is nervous and I didn’t want to alarm her. However, when we got directly in front of the cemetery, the thing turned and came towards us, but when it got near, it rose in the air and went right over our heads and on into the cemetery. My wife also saw it and became so hysterical that I found it very necessary to take her to a doctor immediately, and she has not yet gotten over her fright. I am not a superstitious man but I am willing to make an affidavit as to the truth of what I say.”

Another report of the ghost’s appearance is related in the story of Fred Graham, a motorman on the International Railway’s Kenmore line. Mr. Graham says: “It was about a week after the ghost was reported seen by Mr. Argus that I saw the same thing. I was running my car on the Kenmore line, and when I drew near the Tonawanda city line I saw a woman apparently waiting to board the car, so I applied the brakes and slowed down. After stopping I waited for the conductor’s signal to go ahead, but instead he came to the forward part of the car and asked me why I stopped. I told him that I had seen a woman ready to board the car, but he informed me that no one got on. This woman was also dressed in white and the stop she was at is right near the Mount Olivet Cemetery.”

The next appearance was in the heart of Tonawanda’s residential district, in fact, inside a house. This time it was seen by Anthony Rose in his house at 411 Main street, where he conducted a boarding house. The appearance of the apparation [roused?] him and his seven boarders to leave the house and take up quarters in the Washington Hotel. Mr. Rose says:

“I was awakened by a sudden gust of wind that carried the bedding away from me, and as I opened my eyes I saw the form of a woman, dressed in a robe of white and having all the appearance of an angel, floating through the room. I was awe stricken and unable to speak until the ghost vanished through the ceiling of the room.”

When Mr. Rose related this story one of his boarders boasted that he was not afraid of the ghost and that he would sleep all night in the house alone and throttle the nocturnal visitor.

Accordingly the boarder went to sleep in the house and about 1 o’clock was awakened and saw the same thing that Rose had told about. He hurriedly dressed and ran out of the house to the Washington Hotel, where he is also staying now. The boarder was stricken speechless and was unable to move a muscle until the ghost disappeared. Mr. Rose has offered to give the building to anyone who wants it.

The Tonawanda police have searched in vain for a possible joker and the apparition has the city in a great state of excitement. Is it really a ghost? Surely there is something to the story when several people have seen practically the same thing, at the same time, several time in six weeks. And when a man will offer to give a home worth several thousand dollars away on account of it, what can the answer be?


The owner of the allegedly haunted boarding house at 411 Main Street in Tonawanda calls the sightings nonsense, and “floats” his own theory as to their origin.

Niagara Gazette, April 12, 1920

So Say Mr. and Mrs. Kumm of This City, Owners of Building Around Which Is Woven Ghostly Stories Told For Purpose.

There may have been an apparition of an angel or some other sort of a ghostly form seen in the so-called “haunted house” at No. 411 Main street, Tonawanda, a short time ago but August Kumm, a carpenter and owner of the house, who lives at No. 640 Twenty-second street, this city, says there is nothing to the report whatever.

Ever since Anthony Ross, former renter of the house, left the premises hurriedly one week ago today, bag and baggage, with a statement that he had seen the form of an angel floating through one of the rooms in the house during the dead of night, Mr. Kumm has made it his business to either watch the house in person or hire a man to stay there all night in an effort to determine whether or not an apparition really is appearing during the night in any part of the house.

“I went down to Tonawanda last Thursday evening,” said Mr. Kumm today, “just to see for myself what there is to this report. A friend of mine stayed in the house with me until nearly 2:30 o’clock in the morning but we never saw a thing or heard any sound. Not satisfied with watching the house that night I went down again Saturday night and kept constantly on the lookout until 2 a.m. Did I see or hear anything? Not on your life, everything was as quiet as a mouse in the house. However, I am having the house watched nightly for I think there is something back of all this.”

“What do you think is really back of all these ghostly reports?” a representative of the Gazette asked.

“Just this,” replied the owner. “Soon after Ross vacated the house I received several calls from someone in Buffalo who told me that he wanted to purchase the house. He would not give me his name or tell me where he lived. That set me to thinking that somebody is trying to get hold of the property cheap. Another time, I got a call over the telephone from a person, whom I have since found lives at 43 Winslow avenue, Buffalo. This person told me that he had heard about someone’s seeing a ghost in the house and guaranteed to rid the house of the apparition at once if I would let him. Of course I took no notice of such talk as far as the ghost part of the proposition was concerned.”


A young Buffalo reporter and two friends spend a few hours in the boarding house before being chased out by the cold, while a separate, self-proclaimed “expert” ghost hunter stakes out Elmlawn Cemetery.

Tonawanda News, April 12, 1920

“Shortly after 2 o’clock the trio reappeared at headquarters. They said that the supernatural visitor failed to appear up to 2 o’clock. They considered that a late enough hour for any ghost to appear and, as they were almost frozen during their sojourn in the building, decided to stay no longer.” (Illustration by AI)

**Cold Not Spirits Drive Buffalo Trio Out of “Haunted House.”**


Vessel Pilot Lays in Wait in Elmlawn Cemetery for “Angel” that Fails to Appear—Claims to be an Expert at Solving Such Mysteries.

“Can you direct me to that haunted house of which we have heard so much about lately?” inquired a man of Sergeant A. D. Smith of the North Tonawanda police force Saturday night. The man told the officer that he was Jack McGee of Buffalo. He was accompanied by two other men. The trio stated that they had secured a key to the building and intended to remain there over night in an attempt to solve the mystery of the reported frequent appearance of a ghost there recently.

The officer took a lively interest in the quest of the men and directed them to the house at No. 411 Main street, where Anthony Ross, his family and several boarders lived until they claimed to have been frightened into leaving a week ago by the appearance of ghost on two successive nights. The men carried blankets for their temporary lodging and expressed determination to solve the mystery.

Shortly after 2 o’clock the trio reappeared at headquarters. They said that the supernatural visitor failed to appear up to 2 o’clock. They considered that a late enough hour for any ghost to appear and, as they were almost frozen during their sojourn in the building, decided to stay no longer.

George Lake of Buffalo, who claims to be a vessel pilot, has instituted a search for the angel seen in the vicinity of Elmlawn and Mt. Olivet cemeteries. Lake sat on a tombstone in the cemetery Saturday night waiting for the angel to appear but his stay was in vain. He says he is going to keep up his vigil until satisfied that the angel has left for other parts.

Lake also expects to go to the house at No. 411 Main street to capture the ghost reported there. He claims to be an expert ghost hunter, having recently captured one near a Lockport cemetery which turned out to be a man in disguise.


More details on the vessel pilot and reporter’s efforts at two different locations.

Buffalo Express, April 12, 1920

“If there is a ghost in the Elmlawn cemetery it should be captured.” George Lake of Buffalo waits for the “angel” to reappear as motorists mistake him for a ghost (Illustration by AI).

No amateur, he explains to the police—Boasts Buffalo as his home.


Tolerates no more adventurers as he will move into the house himself.

Special to The Buffalo Express.

Tonawanda, April 11.—”If there is a ghost in the Elmlawn cemetery it should be captured.”

That was the statement made here last night by George Lake of Buffalo, a lake pilot, who has set out to round up the one reported to have been seen near the cemetery on Delaware avenue. Lake says that just as soon as the ghost at Elmlawn has been found he will go to North Tonawanda and make short work of the one that is alleged to have appeared in a house there.

Late last night the telephone at the Tonawanda police station rang and Desk Sergeant Edward Marohn answered. A man’s voice asked for information relative to the ghost story. The caller declined to give his name but said that he was no amateur in the running down of ghosts and that he would take the Tonawanda ghost story up at once. Sergeant Marohn thought that the stranger was joking and gave the matter no further thought.

About 2 o’clock this morning, while Sergeant August F. Pohl was standing at Delaware and Young streets, a stranger approached and told him that he was the person who had called the police station relative to the ghost at Elmlawn. He said his name was George Lake of Buffalo. He said he walked from Buffalo to Elmlawn cemetery and had sat on a tombstone there for two hours but saw no sign of the reported ghost. Becoming tired, he walked to Tonawanda to secure information relative to the North Tonawanda ghost.

After spending a half hour there he started back up Delaware street toward Elmlawn cemetery, where, he said, he would remain until daylight.

While here, Lake said he formerly lived in Lockport and that some years ago he saw a ghost near a Lockport cemetery. He armed himself with a shotgun, secured a horse and rode past the cemetery. The ghost appeared and he fired at it. The ghost, who was a man dressed in woman’s garb, was thus disclosed.

Another adventure fails

While Lake was sitting on a headstone at the cemetery last night he lighted a cigarette as an automobile was passing. One of the persons in the machine cried out, There’s the ghost!” The driver speeded his car faster toward Buffalo. Lake had a good laugh.

But this hardy Mr. Lake is not the only person willing to match wits with ghosts. Late last night a young reporter for a Buffalo afternoon newspaper came to the North Tonawanda police station and asked to be directed to a house on Main street where, according to his newspaper for which this adventurer worked, a ghost had been seen.

According to the police, the youth claimed to have a key to the house and proposed to stay there all night. He had just the wee bit doubt of his own courage and two friends were to spend the night with him. He left the house at about 8 o’clock this morning and had seen no signs of a ghost. Whether he carried a Ouija board with him is not known.

August Kumm of Niagara Falls, who owns the house at No. 411 Main street, is indignant at the ghost stories, the truth of which has been denied in the morning newspaper. [unclear]. He declares he will move into the house himself.


To dispel the ghost rumors, the boarding house owner offers the keys to the house and even a bed to any willing to stay the night.

Tonawanda News, April 14, 1920

August Kumm Urges People to Visit Alleged Haunted House.


Bed Set up in Dwelling for Accommodation of Any Who Care to Spend a Night There—Preparations Made to Handle Rush of Applicants.

Anyone who wants to go ghost hunting can be accommodated by calling at the North Tonawanda police station. A key to the alleged haunted house at No. 411 Main street has been left there by the owner, August Kumm, along with a standing invitation to Tonawandans to spend a night at the dwelling.

Kumm has taken this step in an effort to refute the ghost stories which have been told about his former home here, which he charges were the outgrowth of a conspiracy to cause him to dispose of his property at a sacrifice. Kumm declares, however, the plan has failed.

Word was also left at police headquarters by Kumm that he has set up a bed in the dwelling for the accommodation of anyone who desires to put a night in there. Kumm told the police that he spent several nights there, but the alleged ghost never bothered him.

Anticipating a rush of applicants to visit the supposed haunted house, the police are preparing to compile a list and it will be a case of first come, first served.


After over a month with no further supernatural activity, a seven-foot tall ghost with clipped wings is witnessed by several people in North Tonawanda.

Tonawanda News, June 11, 1920

“It was also reported today that during the night a resident of Falconer street caught sight of apparently the same ghost. S. M. Knapp was aroused by the rattling of his bedroom window, as if a hard wind was blowing, and on peering out saw the form of the ghost at the window for an instant.” (Illustration by AI)

Vanishes in Air When Surrounded and About to Be Captured.


Entire Community in Vicinity of Sweeney Cemetery is Aroused by Appearance of Apparition—Motorcycle Policeman Corroborates Story.

North Tonawanda has a ghost. It was seen late last night on Falconer street in the vicinity of the high school building. Among those who saw the apparition were C. Roy Phillips, Elmer A. Arenz, and several Buffalo automobilists. Their story is corroborated by Motorcycle Policeman Fred C. Sprenger.

The ghost is described as about seven feet in height, dressed in flowing creamy white robes and had the appearance of having its wings clipped off. It floated over past the high school building from the direction of Sweeney cemetery at 11:30 o’clock last night.

There were a number of persons abroad, on account of the pleasant evening, and several set in pursuit of the ghost. They had surrounded it in the middle of Falconer street and were about to seize the apparition when it vanished in the air.

It was also reported today that during the night a resident of Falconer street caught sight of apparently the same ghost. S. M. Knapp was aroused by the rattling of his bedroom window, as if a hard wind was blowing, and on peering out saw the form of the ghost at the window for an instant.

This is the third time that ghosts have been seen in the Tonawandas in recent months. Great excitement was caused in the vicinity of the high school building by the appearance of the apparition and the entire community was aroused during most of the remainder of the night.

The high school building is only a short distance from Sweeney cemetery. Not many weeks ago a ghost was reported seen in the vicinity of Elmlawn cemetery and later an apparition was reported having made its appearance in a dwelling on Main street, driving the occupants from the place because of fear of it.


Two additional, strikingly different ghosts are reported in Tonawanda and North Tonawanda. The News teasingly asks, “Is resurrection on?”

Tonawanda News, June 12, 1920

“The North Tonawanda ghost last night took on the appearance of an Indian. It had feathers on its head, long flowing hair, an abnormally large face, long hands but no feet. The apparition was draped in a white robe thrown over its shoulders, through which could be seen the outline of a skeleton.” – Tonawanda News, June 12, 1920. (Illustration by AI)

Ghosts Seen Last Night in Tonawanda and North Tonawanda.


Unmistakable Apparitions Reported Seen by Responsible Citizens—Buffalo Spiritualists Are Interested and Come Here to Investigate.

Two ghosts made their appearance in North Tonawanda last night and, consequently, the mystery surrounding the presence here of these spirit beings grows deeper. The fact that the apparitions are said to have been seen by leading citizens lends credence to the stories. The ghosts last night were seen on Bryant street in North Tonawanda near the place where a ghost was seen the previous night, and on Main street in Tonawanda near Park avenue.

The ghost stories are attracting so much attention that Buffalo spiritualists came here today to investigate. They were headed by Mrs. George Geyer of No. 1032 E. Ferry street. The spiritualists said the ghost seen some nights ago on Delaware street, near Elmlawn, was discovered through a seance to be the spirit of Norman Baker of Buffalo, who was murdered on the Rasminger road in the town of Tonawanda last September. The spiritualists propose to hold a seance to determine the identity of the ghosts seen here.

The North Tonawanda ghost last night took on the appearance of an Indian. It had feathers on its head, long flowing hair, an abnormally large face, long hands but no feet. The apparition was draped in a white robe thrown over its shoulders, through which could be seen the outline of a skeleton.

The Tonawanda ghost had the form of the statue of Liberty. It was a transparent figure and appeared to float off the ground. When pursued, the ghost turned on its would-be captors, and the latter took to their heels.

[Editor’s note: This next paragraph is mostly illegible].

Spiritualists who came here to investigate the stories, today questioned persons who are said to have seen the ghosts. They said apparitions are according to their belief, projections of thoughts, planted in the mind of the seer, to be stated by those who are led to venture the ghosts. The psychic vibration emanated by the seer who saw the apparition was seized by others who said to be in continuity with their teachings.

Those who saw the ghost in North Tonawanda were attracted by a moaning and then, seeing a figure clothed in white, thought some one had fallen from a bedroom window in his bed clothes, being electrocuted by coming in contact with electric light wires in the street.

The Tonawanda Power Company last night reported mysterious interferences with its electric light circuits for which it has been unable to account.

Searching parties have been organized by the members of the Eldredge Bicycle Club to cooperate with the police departments in solving the mystery. Some persons are of the belief that local graveyards are beginning to give up their dead.

Seven-foot ghost is too speedy for crowd of pursuers (13/16)

Recounts the most recent sightings, notes shotgun posse.

Buffalo Express, June 12, 1920

Makes for wood when chased in North Tonawanda—Thought to be a woman.

Special to The Buffalo Express

North Tonawanda, June 11—Another ghost is reported to have been seen in North Tonawanda this time in the vicinity of the North Tonawanda high school on Falconer street. The alleged ghost was seen shortly before midnight last night, but attempts to capture it were of no avail. The apparition disturbed a number of residents of Falconer street by appearing before the window and was in the vicinity of Mayor [unclear] home. It is reported the police were notified, but the officers did not arrive on the scene to see the ghost.

The ghost is said to have been a figure about seven feet tall, dressed in white, but had no wings. A number of people took after the apparition and it bested them by going into the woods east of Falconer street.

A party of residents of the school district have arranged to be on the lookout for the ghost and have armed themselves with shotguns. This was the third time that the ghost has been seen in the Tonawandas. The authorities are of the opinion that the ghost is some woman dressed in white to frighten friends.


By mid-June, the ghost craze in the Tonawandas has reached fever pitch. Residents stalk the streets with firearms, and the graveyards are full of hopefuls waiting to catch a glimpse of a glowing wing or luminous garment.

To understand the resolution of the story, at least as far as the newspaper reports are concerned, you have to understand another hot-button issue on the minds of Tonawandians in the spring of 1920: “consolidation.” A vote is before the public to combine the cities of Tonawanda and North Tonawanda. Businessmen urge the move; citizens are not convinced. In the June 14th issue of the Tonawanda News, these seemingly unrelated issues crash into one another.

Tonawanda News, June 14, 1920

“The Tonawanda ghost had the form of the statue of Liberty. It was a transparent figure and appeared to float off the ground. When pursued, the ghost turned on its would-be captors, and the latter took to their heels.” – Tonawanda News, June 12, 1920. (Illustration by AI)

**Spirit of Tonawanda Going to Join That of North Tonawanda.**


Words of Advice on Disappearing are to Vote in Favor of Consolidation Tomorrow—Mystery That Aroused Tonawandas and Vicinity Solved.

The ghost mystery of Tonawanda and North Tonawanda has been solved. Volunteer searching parties after two nights of relentless vigil, were rewarded by the reappearance of the ghost Sunday night shortly after midnight. According to the police, there were more than twenty curiosity searchers on the watch in and about local cemeteries.

Descriptions given to the NEWS by eye-witnesses of the ghost capture differ widely but all seem to agree that the ghosts actually came out of the ground like heavy white smoke and gradually took form. When surrounded, the ghost in Tonawanda hovered about two feet above the ground and suddenly began to utter sounds… What the ghost said was described to be as follows:

“Do not be afraid to do your duty by your city and by your fellow men…for I am the spirit of your own Village of Tonawanda. Mark you, that this week, Tonawanda is giving up her ghost, never to be seen again.

It were as wise to have two national governments at Washington, two houses of magistrates at Albany and two governments in all the great cities of the land than to burden the chosen Greater Tonawanda with double tax load which our people can little afford. Therefore, I say unto you, go to the polls and vote ‘yes’ on Tuesday. Vote yes or pay the price. The ghost Tonawanda departs to join the ghost of North Tonawanda. We vanish to make way for consolidation together. Vote YES.”

Thus, the greatest mystery in the history of the Tonawandas, which agitated nation wide interest for the past few days is explained.

Tonawanda News front page, June 14, 1920. Note the multiple items urging citizens to vote “yes” on consolidation, as well as the item which concludes the ghost story.

Ghost reports in Tonawandas as propaganda (15/16)

The Express reacts to the recent revelations.

Buffalo Express, June 15, 1920

**They accept resignations, but the men are still on the job.**

*Special to The Buffalo Express*

North Tonawanda, June 14. That the recent ghost reports in the Tonawandas were part of the chamber of commerce campaign in behalf of the merger project was admitted tonight by Police Chief John F. Ryan. The ghost idea was evolved by the chamber, he said, and the stories of a ghost were reported by various members of that organization.

According to chamber’s plan, it is said, the ghost was supposed to end his visits last night, whereupon a newspaper article would appear tomorrow in which it would be stated that if Tonawanda would give up the ghost for North Tonawanda in the merger project, North Tonawanda would give up the ghost for its sister city. Just how this would influence the vote on the merger proposition, which takes place tomorrow, was not explained.

Despite a newspaper announcement today that the ghost had given himself up to Chief Ryan last night, which the chief denied, a large number of persons hung around Sweeney cemetery tonight in hopes of seeing the apparition.

Prominent Men Went Gunning For Those Ghosts (16/16)

Instead of apologizing for its complicity in the hoax, or expressing guilt over the additional papers it sold, the Tonawanda News, admirably, decides to dunk on its gullible subscribers.

Tonawanda News, June 16, 1920

Never again will any resident of the Tonawandas believe ghost stories. They are all cured after realizing the manner in which they were “taken in” on the recent stories circulated as propaganda in the consolidation campaign. Hereafter, it will be a case of “seeing is believing” and “I’m from Missouri.”

Promoters of the propaganda decline to state the names of prominent residents who went gunning for the “ghosts,” but declare there was a large number of them. Instigators of the scheme mingled among the hunters for the spirits and had a good time out of it.

So what happened to the consolidation vote?

Since there is still a separate Tonawanda and North Tonawanda, you will not be surprised to learn the bill fails. Citizens of the Twin Cities vote the consolidation bill down by the overwhelming margin of 1517 to 441. As it turns out, the scheme hatched by the North Tonawanda Chamber of Commerce was defeated by an ancient grievance: a grievance that–much like the purported spirits of that year–refuses to die. A later News writer chastises:

In a last-minute move the silent opposition had lashed out, reminding the peoples of the Tonawandas that there had been ill feeling ever since “a load of gravel had been taken” and the community had split. Enough of the opposition turned out at this childish reminder to swamp those in favor of the movement.

“Old-timers’ mistrust and jealousies blocked merger of Tonawandas,” Tonawanda News, 1948-07-21.


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