By Layla Melendez | October 30, 2023
Photo Credit: Matt Wade / Wikimedia Commons
The city of Albany was first chartered in 1686, becoming rich in history over the past three hundred years. Ghosts of centuries past are said to haunt the city, with one murderous tale leading back to Albany’s historic Cherry Hill estate.
The Cherry Hill estate, built in 1787, was once home to generations of Van Rensselears, one of Albany’s most prominent families. The historic mansion would house many members of the family, including Elsie Whipple and her husband John, according to the Historic Cherry Hill website.
In 1827, the Whipples boarded on the second floor of the family home in what is now Downtown Albany. The couple’s relationship was estranged, causing Elsie to let her eyes wander. Her curiosity led her to a local bar in the arms of drifter Jesse Strang, a man running away from his life with his wife and two children. The pair fell in love quickly, despite being married to other people. They became completely enamored with each other, both deciding that John Whipple must die.
Elsie convinced a reluctant Jesse that he should be the one to kill John. Hesitant at first, Jesse ultimately agreed and delivered a fatal shot through John’s upper back. The couple planned to escape to Montreal where they would elope and start a new life together. However, Jesse was arrested on suspicion shortly after and quickly confessed to the murder.
Jesse and Elsie were arrested and tried for John’s murder with the couple turning on each other once the threat of prison came into the picture. Jesse insisted the murder was all Elsie’s idea, going as far as to ask his lawyer to plant evidence to swing things in his favor. Unfortunately for Jesse, he had found himself in an inescapable situation. Jesse was sentenced to death and hanged in front of 40,000 people, a mass that disturbed public officials. Jesse Strang’s public execution would be the last public hanging in Albany, remembered for the scandal between the two lovers. Elsie Whipple would be found not guilty on all charges, walking free but disgraced nonetheless.
Avoiding ridicule, Elsie fled the region, never to return. While many believe Elise was actually the mastermind behind the wicked murder, it is said that her wit was underestimated at the time because she was a woman.
The Cherry Hill estate where John Whipple was killed still stands today on South Pearl Street, now preserved as a historic museum. Every October, Historic Cherry Hill invites visitors to the estate for a night reliving the murder and exploring the house allegedly rife with Van Rensselaer ghosts. The walls echo the tale of love, betrayal, and a tragic end which has left its mark on Albany for centuries.