Steve Benson 2017-04-05 01:50:50
Until the opening of the Erie Canal in 1825, Old Fort Niagara, perched high atop a promontory at the mouth of the Niagara River, occupied a position of great strategic importance, controlling access into the interior of the continent. The heart of the fort, what is known today as the “French Castle,” was constructed in 1726 by the French, who while assuring the Iroquois that they were only building a trading post, were in fact erecting a stone structure equipped to fend off any Indian attack. Keeping one’s head was no easy matter at Fort Niagara. Not only did British commander General John Prideaux lose his in 1759 during a French & Indian War siege when he stepped in front of a mortar at just the wrong moment, but a romantic legend tells another tragic tale. As the story goes, in the 18th century two young, hot-headed French officers stationed at Fort Niagara fell in love with the same beautiful Seneca maiden from a neighboring village. Confronting one another within the fort’s grounds late one night, they bared their swords and engaged in a fatal duel. The winner, to hide the evidence of his misdeed, decapitated his opponent, threw his body down the well inside the entrance to the castle, and then tossed his head into the Niagara River. From there it was carried out into the middle of Lake Ontario where it lies on the bottom. It is rumored that the headless ghost of Fort Niagara now rises from the well at each full moon in search of his missing head. One wonders if Canadian singer/songwriter Gordon Lightfoot had this tale in mind when he referred to “a ghost from a wishing well” in “a castle dark or a fortress strong” in the song If You Could Read My Mind. The “French Castle” still stands today at Old Fort Niagara, an imposing sight seen from Lake Ontario.
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