With all of its rich history and fall foliage, the Hudson Valley sets a certain tone during the Halloween season. Washington Irving immortalized Sleepy Hollow as one of the “creepy capitals” of the world. Tarrytown draws annual crowds seeking the same thrills as those who make pilgrimages to Salem, Massachusetts. From haunted houses and scream parks to witchy shops and jack o’lantern festivals, there’s so much spookiness to discover.
@ghoulplease_ Have you visited the Witch House in Salem? #salemma #Salem #salemmassachusetts #witchhouse #1692 #salemwitchtrials #witchtrials #hauntedhistory #witch ♬ Shivers – Nox Arcana
“I have always found interest in haunted locations and all things spooky, but it’s something that only recently became a centrally focused passion of mine,” Petronella says. “Mostly because I didn’t know it could turn into a lifestyle.”
She started pursuing this new medium for her interests during the pandemic. After being furloughed from her full-time job as a photo editor for New York City’s Official Destination Marketing Organization, Petronella felt directionless. On a whim, she booked a trip to Salem. Like most younger millennials, Petronella adored the Disney film Hocus Pocus growing up. The family-friendly flick introduced her to a world of witches and ghouls. When she saw her favorite movie—along with so much living history—come to life, it sparked a new obsession.
@ghoulplease_ #hocuspocus #hocuspocus2 #salem #salemma #salemmassachusetts #witchtok #halloween #sandersonsisters #ropesmansion #pioneervillage #filminglocations ♬ original sound – MALINDA
“When I returned from my trip, I made a “secret” Instagram and TikTok account with the intention to create diaristic posts of my spooky travel adventures, without feeling judged that Halloween was over. A few months later, my TikTok videos were being viewed by hundreds of thousands of people. It’s safe to say my spooky lifestyle is no longer a secret and celebrating the spooky season 365 days a year is very much supported.”
And the rest is history. After showing off haunted hotels and spooky graveyards to TikTok, Petronella garnered over 330,000 subscribers. In fact, it was a video she made in her hometown that first went viral. Nyack’s infamous haunted house stands on One Laveta Pl. Believe it or not, the property’s paranormal activity was officially recognized by the Supreme Court. In Stambovsky v. Ackley, the court ruled that the home’s owner must inform future buyers of the property’s haunting.
Her TikTok video, showcasing the exterior of the home, went viral, earning over three million views. She started posting more regularly, visiting inns, hotels, oddity shops, graveyards, and anything that falls under what she dubs “dark tourism.”
@ghoulplease_ Would you live in a house that is legally declared as a haunted home? #haunted #hauntedtiktok #fyp #hauntedplaces #spooky #hauntedhouse #newyork ♬ Snape’s Demise – Alexandre Desplat
The Nyack home got her thinking about other obscure and creepy spots in the area. Petronella found Mount Moor Cemetery in the Palisades Mall parking lot. Developers wanted to destroy the small plots, but were forced to build around them. Is it possible they angered a few poltergeists?
These are the questions her TikTok account sets out to answer. She spends nights in centuries-old hotels with flickering lights, 3 a.m. wake-up calls, and doors that slam shut on their own. Anything connected to the Salem Witch Trials or similar occurrences of paranoia makes great fodder for content.
@ghoulplease_ Who knew about this one? 🐈⬛ #clarkstown #witchtrials #witchtok #hauntedny #halloween #hauntedhistory #witchcraft #rocklandcounty #spookytravel #🖤 ♬ Pieces (Solo Piano Version) – Danilo Stankovic
For instance, the last New York witch trial took place in Rockland County. Jane “Naut” Kanniff, the “Witch of West Nyack,” came under suspicion of sorcery. Luckily for her, due to the belief that real witches weighed less than a family bible, she was spared.
In the Valley, graveyards produce a certain allure. Gethsemane Cemetery near Rockland Lake in Congers evoked a nasty energy, according to Petronella. She visited with her mom on a fairly calm day, and observed strange phenomenon. Windmills spun erratically, out-of-synch with the breeze. Little bobbleheads bounces up and down. She felt dizzy, lightheaded, and nervous. An old, sinister-looking doll propped up on a gravestone beckoned to her.
@ghoulplease_ Have you ever felt the need to leave? 🪦 #spookytravel #energy #cemetery #hauntedtiktok #spooky #taphophile #haunted #hauntedcemetery #graveyard #fyp ♬ Spooky, quiet, scary atmosphere piano songs – Skittlegirl Sound
“My chest became very tight, and I had this strong feeling that my presence wasn’t wanted. I was with my mom…and when I showed her the doll, she pointed out that the gravestone had three names on it,” Petronella says. One particular detail sent shivers down her spine. Not only did the three share a last name, but they also died on the same day.
“We later found out that they were siblings who died in a tragic car accident where their mother drove them off a bridge. A combination of many things within a short period made me say, ‘Okay, Mom. It’s time to go now.’ For the record, this was the second cemetery we went to that day. We previously visited Oak Hill Cemetery in Nyack, which, in my opinion, is one of the most beautiful cemeteries in the Hudson Valley.”
Oak Hill Cemetery also happens to be the final resting place of one of her biggest artistic inspirations, Edward Hopper. Although she never felt her alma mater was creepy, SUNY Purchase frequently draws claims of being haunted. Petronella passed the campus’ hidden cemetery daily, and acknowledged the iconic “Elephant Tree.” This cooper beech tree watched over the Westchester estate for over 200 years, before perishing. While it was alive, students reported hearing whispers around the tree when no one was around.
@ghoulplease_ #spookytravel #scarystories #haunted #cemetery #letchworthvillage #rocklandcounty #hauntedtiktok #hauntedcemetery #graveyard #hauntedhistory #spooky ♬ Spooky, quiet, scary atmosphere piano songs – Skittlegirl Sound
TikTok also led Petronella to explore Letchworth Village Cemetery several times, although she cited a “dark” energy that prevents her from returning. If you’re not looking for this spooky graveyard, you’d probably never know it was there.
“I think the burial grounds speak volumes of how the patients at the institution were mistreated. Once you walk down a dirt path, you reach a secluded spot surrounded by trees and a quiet creek, filled with hundreds of grave markers,” she recalls.
Petronella was struck by the markers. They didn’t resemble peaceful tombstones. Instead, they’re metal stakes in the ground. Hundreds of these markers display numbers, without names.
“I wish there was a way to pair the specific numbers on the markers with the individuals’ names. I would love to tell their stories and see them with proper stones [marking their resting place].”
@ghoulplease_ Haunted Room at the Hawthorne Hotel in Salem 👀 #salemma #hawthornehotel #hauntedhotel #salem #spookytravel #salemmassachusetts #hauntedhistory #hotel ♬ We’ve Only Just Begun / (They Long To Be) Close To You – The Carpenters
Her expansive “spooky bucket list” includes overnights at the Batcheller Mansion Inn in Saratoga Springs and Wings Castle in Millbrook, two sites of potential hauntings. Of course, she also plans to visit Washington Irving’s Sunnyside very soon.
Though her inspiration for the account originally came from a visit to Salem, the Hudson Valley’s legends fascinated her since birth. Her aunt told her all about Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. In kindergarten, she used to tell classmates scary stories about the Headless Horseman. She spooked a few of her classmates so bad with the tale, her teacher had to step in and shut it down.
@ghoulplease_ The Legend of Sleepy Hollow 🐎 #legendofsleepyhollow #sleepyhollow #spookytravel #headlesshorseman #ichabodcrane #washingtonirving #famousgraves ♬ Cemetery Waltz – Two Steps from Hell
Now, 20 years later, she’s telling the same stories. Only this time she has a much larger audience.
“I was often reassured as a kid that the Headless Horseman was only make-believe. I never thought that some of the characters in Irving’s tale could be [real],” Petronella recalls. After diving back into Irving’s catalog, she was spooked to find that Ichabod Crane was indeed a real person. Several historians believe he and Irving may have been stationed together at Fort Pike. Her curiosity drove her to visit Irving’s grave, and to explore the area. She also found the real Caterina Van Tassel’s tombstone, right near the Old Dutch Church.
“It’s beautiful to read The Legend of Sleepy Hollow over 200 years after it was written, and envision present day Sleepy Hollow. Of course, things have changed over time, but Irving’s description of the quaint Hudson Valley river-town is timeless.”