Deep in the night of March, 1911 a fire started on the third floor of the Assembly Library in Albany, before long it reached the fourth and fifth floor. The only person who stood between the destruction of the entire library was 77-year-old Samuel Abbott, a civil war hero who was the night watchman.
According to employees in the Capitol Building, the ghostly apparition of Samuel J. Abbott, the only victim of the fire wanders the fourth floor, leaving a trail of smoky smell, and the sound of his keys jingling. He died outside of what is now the state senator's office.
The communication director in the senator's office said, “State troopers have even said they’ve seen it. Staff people have sincerely claimed that they have heard keys jingling and have seen lights flickering while working late at night and on the weekends. But this man’s valiant actions and bravery closing doors and keeping the fire from spreading shouldn’t be reduced to a simple ghost story."
On the night of the fire Abbott made sure no person was trapped in the building when the libraries on the west side caught fire.
According to the superstitious the origins of the fire were attributed to a curse placed by a disgruntled mason, who on a wall near the Million Dollar Staircase carved a small demonic face. Presently this area is by the Dunkin' Donuts.
The fire started in the Assembly Library and State Library and climbed to the New York State Museum and State Library where thousands of books and artifacts were destroyed, as the flames burned and smoldered for two days.
Abbott died only a few steps from salvation. His body was fond in a hallway with his silver-handled cane at his side. Inside his pocket was a key to the locked door which would have allowed him to escape if he had managed to reach it.
Jennie, his wife of 44 years, died only two months before on January 1, 1911 from typhoid fever.
In 2017, a plaque was placed where he fell to memorialize his sacrifice along with his picture.
Samuel Abbott started as an ensign and rose to the rank of second lieutenant between May 13, 1861 to August 2, 1861, at which time he was promoted to first lieutenant. On September 19, 1861, four years before the end of the Civil War he left the army for unknown reasons. He served in Company E of the 12th New York State Volunteer Infantry.
Afterwards he was employed as a state civil servant for 50 years, and when he was in his late 70s he started working as the night watchman at New York's Capitol building.
On the night of the fire, he started his shift at 9 p.m. To safeguard the half million books and 300,000 manuscripts he would lock himself in.
Sometime around 3 a.m. a fire started by what was later believed to be faulty electrical wiring sparked, and with so much fodder, the flames quickly engulfed the entire building.
The main stairway melted, and 10,000 archaeological artifacts stored in glass cases were lost.
Witnesses reported that Abbott instead of seeking refuge outside, opened windows trying to save records in the Education Department.
The blaze was referred to by the newspapers of the day as The Great Fire of 1911.
The charred body of Abbott was found inside the locked library, and it was his son George William who identified his remains after recognizing a pocket watch his father always carried with him.
Lawmakers gave Abbott's son George, 35, $280 to cover funeral and burial costs. A large crowd turned out for for the funeral at St. Peter's Church.
Life continued, however lawmakers and staff who worked in the new building swore that Abbott was still making his rounds. The jingle of his keys and doorknobs rattling could be heard after hours when all was quiet.
In the 1960s, a cleaning woman, demanded to be taken off the night shift after she was frightened out of her wits. Others reported that mops floated across the halls and that the telephone switchboard lights flashed and beeped even when calls weren’t coming in.
Portions of this article appeared in the New York Post
Stranger Than Fiction Stories by M.P. Pellicer