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A Murder, a Haunting, and the Mysterious Death of Grace Brown

Located in the picturesque Adirondack Mountains in northeastern New York of United States is a large, fairly remote lake called Big Moose Lake. Covering a total of 1265 acres, it is a scenic spot among the rugged scenery, and a popular destination for tourists who don’t mind getting out into the boondocks a bit. Here one can enjoy fishing, sailing, rowing, and other water sports, staying at rustic, historic lodgings at the former hunter outpost and nearby settlement of Big Moose, but beyond the scenic beauty here lies a dark tale of murder and hauntings

Grace Mae Brown was born in 1886 to dairy farmers in South Otselic, New York, and at first had a rather mundane and unremarkable life. In her adult years she became a textile factory worker at the Gillette Skirt Factory in Cortland, where she toiled away day in and day out, and that might have been the way her life would have turned out if she hadn’t met the nephew of the owner of the company himself, a man named Chester Gillette. Although he was considered a big shot in the company from a super wealthy family and Brown was just a factory worker, she managed to catch his eye and the well-known womanizer and playboy became smitten with her. At the time, the rich, handsome heir to the Gillette fortune was considered a very sought-after, eligible bachelor, and he swept Brown off her feet, he himself becoming quite infatuated by her as well, much to the raised eyebrows of others in high society.

Chester Gillette and Grace Brown

Brown and Gillette would have a bit of a whirlwind romance, with Brown getting a taste of life as a wealthy socialite and finding it intoxicating. It was somewhat suspicious to her that Chester didn’t seem to want to take her out in public, but she was so in love and so excited about it all that she didn’t care. In 1906, Brown became pregnant with Gillette’s child, and at the time he seemed very understanding and noble, offering to support her, although in the meantime there were rumors that he was seeing several other women on the side, something she chose to ignore. As this was going on, Brown was practically begging him to marry her, and he arranged for the two of them to have a romantic getaway in the Adirondacks. Along the way, they ended up staying at the Glenmore Hotel, at Big Moose Lake, where Brown was hopeful that he would finally propose and they could start a life and family together. However, this was to be far from a romantic dream trip.

On July 11, 1906, the couple rented a canoe on the lake from a man named Robert Morrison, who didn’t think much of it at the time. To him this was just another pair of lovebirds going out on the lake, but by that evening they still hadn’t returned. When they still had not come back the following day, Morrison put together a search party to look for them, only to find the canoe overturned and bobbing aimlessly about in the water. Authorities were notified, and they would find Brown’s body washed up on the shore, with scratches and bruises on her face and head that suggested that she had been struck with a blunt object. There was no sign of Chester anywhere, and questioning of Morrison turned up some suspicious clues. For one, while Brown had left all of her belongings behind, Gillette had taken his whole suitcase full of belongings aboard the canoe, among these a tennis racket. It hadn’t struck Morrison as so odd until she had turned up dead, and the working theory at the time was that Gillette had smashed her over the head with the racket and pushed Brown, who didn’t know how to swim, into the water to drown, possibly because he had wanted to get out of the relationship and preserve his reputation in light of the news of her pregnancy.

Police would later find Chester Gillette staying at the nearby Arrowhead Hotel, where he had suspiciously booked a room under the name “Carl Grahm.” Also suspicious was that he at first denied even knowing Brown at all, before changing his story to claim that it had been an accident. His story would be very inconsistent, to say the least. He at first claimed that she had accidentally hit her head and fallen in, before finally settling on the story that she had thrown herself into the lake to commit suicide after he told her he didn’t want to marry her after all. He claimed that he had tried to save her but that the boat had then capsized to leave him frantically paddling to shore, losing her in the process. Too bad for him, there was plenty of damning evidence against him, including a series of letters Brown had written to Gillette, in which she pleaded with Gillette to accept responsibility for her pregnancy and threatened to expose the whole affair if he didn’t. They also managed to find his tennis racket in the lake, which was broken in the way one might expect it would be after bashing someone over the head with it, his clothes had been bone dry, and there was also the fact that he had not reported the death and had simply taken off to stay at another hotel under an alias. The trial, which was becoming a media circus, came to the understandable conclusion that he was guilty as hell, leading to his conviction and subsequent execution in 1908 by electric chair.

That was the end of Chester Gillette, but according to the lore of the area, Grace Brown has never really left. One of the most popular tales is that she can be seen wandering around the lakes shore, sopping wet and looking distraught. She is also sometimes seen thrashing about in the lake as if drowning, before vanishing, and she is sometimes even seen eerily lurking under the surface. Brown’s ghost is also said to wander around nearby resorts and settlements, even seen in hotels and homes, where she will strangely turn off all of the lights. Brown’s restless spirit has become rather well known for being constantly wreathed in a cloud of absolute crushing despair, that can leave witnesses speechless, breathless, or in sudden, unexplained terror. One witness named Rhonda Bousselot saw the ghost and experienced this sense of despondency along with three friends as they were staying at the Covewood Lodge on Big Moose Lake. She says of what happened:

I walked into the staff lodge, straight up the stairs with my hand out, reaching for the string, which is how to turn on the light. As I approached the top of the stairs and just before I was ready to turn on the light, a feeling came over me that somebody was right there. More or less, I stopped in my tracks and really just didn’t move. I didn’t have an overwhelming feeling of fright, but something definitely or someone was there, and it just kind of took my breath away. All three of them (the friends) had the same exact story. It lingered for just a few seconds, and then moved away. All three of them saw the ghost. I didn’t see anything myself, but I felt that somebody was right there, and it was just a strange feeling.

There is no doubt that Big Moose has a tragic history. It is horrible what happened to Grace Brown. No matter what Chester’s motivations were, there are certainly traumas and reasons for why her spirit might want to stay behind. Is she still there wandering about, perhaps looking for something, an answer to why she is in this predicament? Does she even know she is dead at all, or is she merely a place memory, a so-called residual haunting, her last moments permanently etched onto the landscape through means we may never understand like an image on film? Or is this all just spooky lore surrounding a very real tragedy? Grace Brown certainly did die under brutal circumstances out on that lake, but whether her restless, possibly vengeful ghost still lurks about is saved for the realms of speculation and paranormal investigation.