Amityville Horror, History and High Hopes

Amityville Horror

Photo: By Seulatr (Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons.) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

What do humorist Will Rogers, sharp shooter Annie Oakley and notorious gangster Al Capone have in common? All three were summer residents of Amityville, a village tucked away in Babylon, New York.

During the 1600s, Native American Chief Wyandanch brokered a treaty to allow the English access to areas of Long Island. The area’s marshlands produced a valuable commodity known as “salt hay” which was ground into horse feed, a necessity at the time. Early settlers made money in mill work and farming, and soon the town of Babylon, then known as Huntington South, was booming.

In 1846 until a town meeting was called to name a portion of this area as it was going to have its own post office. Some say the town is named for a boat, The Amity, owned by prosperous Mill owner Samuel Ireland. The real story; however, according to some locals, is that a few members of the committee were getting a bit cantankerous so one lady stood up and suggested that the town meeting needed “some amity.” The Village Amityville was formally Incorporated in 1894. With shops, vacation rentals and close access to Manhattan, Amityville was ideally located. Its waterfront properties attracted buyers who built gorgeous Dutch Colonial and Raised Ranch homes along the quiet streets.

In the early 1900s celebrity guests flocked to Amityville to enjoy the respite from the hustle and bustle of the city. The mood of the town was friendly and family oriented. The only action the Capone family got up to on their rented property was a baseball game on the front lawn. Property values were going up, and folks who lived in apartments in Brooklyn and Queens had dreams of living on Long Island, to enjoy the fresh air and excellent schools. Some families made it and when they did, Amityville was an ideal place to enjoy their newfound status. Older established families made room for the new “up and comers.”

Life went on in the sleepy commuter town until a tragic night in November 1974 a commotion ensued at Henry’s Bar, a neighborhood watering hole located where Merrick Road meets Ocean Avenue. Ronald “Butch” DeFeo, entered the bar hysterical, screaming that someone had shot his parents. Butch was a regular at the bar, so his friends went with him to the house to discover that not just his mom and dad were murdered, but his two sisters and two brothers as well. This was unheard of in this quiet town, and neighbors who knew the DeFeo’s were shocked. The DeFeo family was much like the rest of the folks on their block, although being a large Italian Catholic family, they had their share of loud arguments. Ronald DeFeo Sr. was a partner in his father in laws car dealership and the children enjoyed all of the amenities of the town. When they bought the house, nine years before the murder, they hung out a sign, “High Hopes”, advertising that they were one of the families who had big plans for their lives.

Amityville House

Photo: By BrownieCharles99 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Those who knew the family say that the Ronald Sr. and his pretty wife Louise had big dreams, especially for their five children. No one could have foreseen such tragedy, and no one could have predicted that the murder, later confessed to by Butch, would turn their village upside down the next year when the Lutz family purchased the home and supposedly “fled in terror” a mere month later. As if the publicity from Ronald DeFeo’s trial wasn’t enough, a book that became a movie in 1977 claiming that the house was possessed sparked all kinds of rumors about the town being cursed.

The movie starred James Brolin and Margort Kidder. Margot Kidder would go on to become one of the most iconic characters in movie history starring as Lois Lane in the original Superman Movie Series. The Amityville Horror Movie was released in 1979. James Brolin played George Lutz, while Margot Kidder played Kathy Lutz. The movie also starred Rod Steiger as Father Delaney. While the film was not received well by critics whom described the movie as dreadful, the film actually was a commercial success. It became one of the highest grossing films of 1979. It has also spawned the inevitable series of sequels and remakes. None of which have become ingrained in popular culture.

In reality,history began rewriting itself, with claims that the home at 112 Ocean Avenue was built on sacred Native American burial grounds. Then there was the folk tale of John Ketchum, said to be a Satanist who lived in the area and conducted bizarre rituals. Did Ketchem possess Ronnie that night. Some of the films went as far as having “Ketchum, Kill ‘Em” as a catchphrase. Census records show that there were some residents in the past with the surname “Ketchem” or “Ketchem”; however, .there was no basis in fact that a witch or warlock named John Ketchum lived in Amityville, nevermind 112 Ocean Avenue. The fact that a new cheezy movie was coming out nearly every year didn’t help. Another problem was that with every jailhouse interview Ronnie DeFeo gave a different version of the murders. He was possessed, no, he was on drugs, no his sister did it. The constant rehashing meant no end to the publicity.

The property at 112 Ocean Avenue has been renamed 108 Ocean Avenue, but that has not stopped the curiosity seekers who drive by or stop by to perform an impromptu exorcism or seance by the roadside. The “peeping” windows on the side of the home have been remodeled, and tons of cash has gone into improvements of the home and attached boathouse and dock. Despite the house changing hands several times with no further reports of supernatural happenings of any kind, the legend persists. The house is now worth over ten times what George and Kathy Lutz paid for it back in 1975 and has been listed as high as 1 million dollars. It went up for sale again in 2016, listing for 850K, not because of ghosts or ghouls, but the usual reasons people conduct real estate transactions. New York law says you don’t have to disclose deaths that happened in a house to prospective buyers, but to anyone in the least familiar with pop culture, the home’s “stigmatized past” is well-known.

If visitors to Amityville are looking for ghost tours of Ocean Avenue or creepy happenings around town, they will be sorely disappointed. The only marching bands in Amityville are reserved for parades and high school football games, they aren’t making a spectral nuisance in living rooms at 3am. How much of the Amityville story is fact, and how much is fiction is widely disputed. Yes, a horrific murder happened there, but the village is home to many peaceful residents who just want to enjoy their well earned upscale New York lifestyle.

Every town has it’s share of tragedy in their history. Despite all of it’s unwanted publicity, Amityville also has its share of majestic homes filled with laughter and love of both the elderly and young families with children. Local residents are proud of the positive happenings and the “amity” which for them is still the main attraction of this gorgeous historic village.

Amityville Town

Photo: By http://flickr.com/photos/galfred/ [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

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