Haunted New York
Let's start with one of the city's most popular spots. From beatniks to folk singers, from hippies to hipsters, it seems as if Washington Square Park has always been the preferred locale for the young and cool. But next time you take your Starbucks from the NYU dining hall out to a bench in the Square, imagine a body dangling above you. This hot spot in trendy Greenwich Village was once a gallows and execution ground. And you don't know just which trees were used for public hangings. One thing's for sure: On 19th-century Sunday mornings, New Yorkers watched the dead dangle ... and then buried them in the afternoons. Many a body still lies beneath the park's famous fountain and arch.
And did we mention that, before the park was built in 1826, the Washington Square plot served as an American Indian burial ground? So the next time you’re “hanging” in Washington Square, recall those who hung there before you, and who might be lingering still.
Learn about this famous and haunted New York landmark on Project for Public Spaces. You'll get a sense of its bohemian beginnings and the current controversies surrounding its renovations and relationship with New York University. If you can't make it to the park in real life, you can always pay a virtual visit to Wasington Square Park via YouTube.
Maybe you’d like to get away from the spookiness and say a little prayer for the dead. If you find yourself at Old St. Patrick’s Cathedral, located on Mott Street just a few blocks east of Washington Square, you may not realize that you’re praying above yet another mausoleum. Who haunts Old St. Patrick’s? None other than the ghost of runaway slave and hairdresser, Pierre Toussaint.
There is also the long-deceased bishop who just can’t turn away from his old parish. Legend has it that Bishop Dubois, buried at the entranceway of Old St. Patrick’s, is seen with regularity. View images of this architecturally stunning building and find mass schedules on the parish’s Web site, but don’t expect much about its poltergeists. You may glean some insight into the ghosts of Old St. Patrick’s from this tour taken by the Bowery Boys. Or visit a virtual tour of the New York macabre through NYC24.org: Its “A Walk On The Dark Side” lists Old St. Patrick’s as its first stop.
If you think all of this ghost business is a load of bunk, head over to the former residence of American novelist Mark Twain. Nestled unobtrusively on 10th Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues in the West Village, this unassuming townhouse is where the ghosts of 22 people who’ve died in the house continue to haunt its hallways—including Samuel Clemens himself, who's apparently put his ghoulish stamp on the stairwell.
With all this walking around the park, you're probably getting hungry. Head to Soho's Manhattan Bistro where, in addition to sampling fine French cuisine, you may encounter the ghost of Juliana Elmore Sands, a young woman murdered at the site in 1800. Legend has it she was tossed headlong down a well in the building's basement by an assailant believed to be her fiancé. Is that steam emanating from the kitchen? Or is it the phantasm's ectoplasmic vapor? You be the judge.
If you’re in the mood for fancier cuisine, stop by the Village’s romantic eatery One if by Land, Two if by Sea. But before you begin making eyes at your date over strip steak and soufflé, consider this: In this former carriage house once owned and operated by Vice President Aaron Burr (who famously killed Alexander Hamilton in a pistol duel), there’s more than just love in the air. Burr and daughter, Theodosia (who was supposedly kidnapped by pirates), haunt patrons and staff. One maitre d’ quit after being shoved up and down the stairs every night by invisible hands, and numerous women claim to have had their earrings pulled off by Theodosia while sitting at the bar.
The full story takes into account Theodosia’s failed trip from South Carolina to New York to visit her father. During the journey, it is said she was taken aboard a pirate ship and forced to walk the plank. Eventually, Theodosia’s ghost arrived at her father’s residence, where she and her dad remain in spooky tandem.
Due to the fact that the center of New York University’s campus is Washington Square Park, it should come as no surprise that the school is also plagued by ghosts in its dorm rooms—karma for buying up the Brittany Hotel, perhaps? Built in 1929, the hotel has been home to journalist Walter Winchell and actor Al Pacino. It even hosted a speakeasy in its penthouse.
Decades later, it seems the parties aren't over, as dorm residents have reported mysterious music and footsteps, and the feeling of being watched. The ghosts of the old hotel apparently don't seem to mind whether others know they're present, either. A former resident of the hall reports that he and his fiancé were both prevented from having a good night's sleep due to a "presence" in the room (scroll down to about the middle of the page to access the Brittany story). It wasn't long before this nervous couple moved out.
With that in mind, you’ve probably opted not to stay over in the NYU dorms. Perhaps you’ve made a reservation at the Algonquin Hotel instead. But if you were hoping to avoid ghosts, you booked the wrong room. The remodeled hotel is now frequented by tourists and business people drawn to its central location in midtown Manhattan, but the hotel just can’t seem to shake its haunted reputation.
It all started in the 1920s, when the Algonquin was the daily meeting spot for the "Vicious Circle,” a group of writers, editors, actors and playwrights also known as the Round Table. For eight years, the group ate lunch together every day to discuss the authors’ projects. Despite the 2004 renovations, ghosts of the “Vicious Circle” are rumored to remain in the Algonquin. If you don’t catch a glimpse of a literary spirit in your bedroom or walking through the bar, you might still see one on the Algonquin Round Table walking tour.
Things could be worse: You could be staying at the Chelsea Hotel, where many a deceased famous figure is said to dwell. Dylan Thomas, Eugene O'Neill and Thomas Wolfe have all been spotted in spirit form. Be particularly careful when you ride the elevator: The ghost of Sid Vicious (the Sex Pistols bassist who died of a heroin overdose) is reported to linger on the elevator.
If you'd rather not visit the Chelsea, you can always get a glimpse of its impact on artists of the era: Leonard Cohen wrote the song "Chelsea Hotel" and Andy Warhol made the film "Chelsea Girl" to commemorate the seediness of this establishment. Or visit the hotel online. Living With Legends: Hotel Chelsea Blog is all about the past (and present) Chelsea Hotel and veers into nostalgic remembrances of its bohemian days.
If all this talk of death makes you long for a stiff drink or a cup of coffee to clear your spooked head, visit the oldest food and drinking establishment in New York, the Bridge Café. You won't escape the ghosts, here, however: With so much history (it also used to be a brothel), the Bridge has had its fair share of opportunities for ghost stories to accumulate.
Built in 1794, the Bridge Café was a stopping point for pirates, and also had one of the most famous bouncers in New York. Gallus Mag, an Englishwoman who stood more than six feet tall, was less than kind when throwing rowdy drunks out of the establishment. She'd drag an offender through the door with his ear in her teeth and—depending on her mood—was known to bite off an ear or two and stash them in a jar. Ms. Mag's ghost is said to haunt the café today.
Maybe imagining Lady Gallus has left you less than thrilled about drinking cappuccino and munching on a croque monsieur after all. But perhaps thoughts of the old café did pique your historical curiosity. If that's the case, pay a visit to the Morris-Jumel Mansion. Here's a small history lesson to make your trip all the more enjoyable.
The Morris-Jumel Mansion, located at 175 Jumel Terrace in Washington Heights, is the oldest house in Manhattan. Built in 1765, it served as George Washington's headquarters in September and October 1776 during the Revolutionary War. The house remained a meeting place for powerful politicians for years.
Eliza and Stephen Jumel took control of the house in 1810. Their marriage was quite tumultuous, as Eliza was supposedly having an affair with former Vice President Aaron Burr. (Perhaps in the upstairs rooms of One if By Land, Two if By Sea?) In 1832, Stephen met his death when he "mysteriously" fell on a pitchfork. Without wasting any time, Eliza married Aaron.
Eliza and Aaron divorced three years later. Aaron died not long after, and Eliza's mental health deteriorated. According to TruTV, prior to her death in 1865, "Eliza became reclusive, and she was a frightening sight to behold, with false teeth, unkempt hair, soiled clothing, and ungainly large feet. Finally, dementia took her and her babbling drove away even the staunchest relative."
The haunting began soon after her death, as Eliza was allegedly seen wandering about the property in a white dress, producing spine-tingling noises. When a psychic went to the mansion and purportedly summoned the spirit of Stephen Jumel, the spirit said that he was murdered and buried alive.
The City of New York took control of the museum in 1904, and tours have been fraught with ghost sightings ever since. A famous sighting occurred in 1964 when Eliza, wearing a violet dress, supposedly appeared to some schoolchildren and yelled at them to "Shut up!"
Right about now, you may feel an urgent need to leave Manhattan, and why shouldn't you? For a healthy dose of horror, just visit the Amityville Horror House on terrifying Long Island.
On Nov. 13, 1974, Ronald and Louise DeFeo and their two sons and two daughters were all shot to death in their beds. Ronald, Jr., the only surviving member of the family, was then sent to prison.
George and Kathy Lutz and their three children moved into the house the next year. The Lutz family allegedly experienced unexplainable paranormal events, such as cabinets slamming shut, doors suddenly breaking, green slime coming from the ceilings, swarms of insects attacking, the materialization of "a demonic face with red glowing eyes" and the appearance of ominous hoof-prints in the snow, according to Snopes.com. Apparently, when a priest came to bless the house, a voice told him to "get out!"
The Lutz family concluded that the house was pure evil, and that it probably drove Ronald, Jr. to murder his family. A book, "The Amityville Horror: A True Story," written by Jay Anson and published in 1977, later gained instant public attention. A number of films have been made about the story, including the 2005 remake of "Amityville Horror," featuring Ryan Reynolds.
The truth of the story remains in doubt, but national interest in the tale clearly has not dwindled.
Now you're properly terrified. This tour has opened your eyes to the actuality of haunted churches, hotels, restaurants and houses. You need to seek sanctuary someplace and you figure, how many churches could possibly be haunted on one small island? Head over to St. Paul's Chapel.
George Frederick Cooke, a prolific British actor who died of alcoholism in 1812, was buried on the chapel grounds. Not so strange, perhaps, until you consider that he was buried without a head. Cooke donated his skull to science to pay medical bills (a somewhat self-defeating barter), though it supposedly made its way into a stage production of Hamlet. Cooke was laid to rest sans cranium and, according to legend, haunts the chapel and churchyard in search of his noggin.
Haven't had enough church? Visit St. Mark's Cathedral, another Episcopal Church with some supernatural tendencies. Take a tour of the East Village landmark where many a body is buried, including the likes of Daniel Tompkins and Alexander Stewart. Peter Stuyvesant, who owned a farm that took up most of the East Village, is said to haunt the area, along with his friends Edgar Allen Poe, Washington Irving and Harry Houdini. Spend enough time around St. Mark's Cathedral and you're likely to have some pretty unusual celebrity sightings.
Not all residents of the cemetery at St. Mark's have stayed beneath the ground, however. Wealthy department-store owner A.T. Stewart was buried there in 1876 but two years later, as the New York Times reported at the time, thieves snatched his corpse and held it for ransom. His body (at least what is believed to be his body) was eventually recovered and buried elsewhere.
To lighten the mood, let's go see a show at the Palace Theatre. This historic landmark was the center of the vaudeville universe in the early 20th century, attracting acts from across the country. Today, it hosts Broadway's best and brightest. The Theater is said to be home to hundreds of ghosts, including Judy Garland's. Read this Playbill article for more information on the various spirits that haunt the theater, or listen to a CD of Judy Garland's performances there.
Another infamous act in the theater's history is that of acrobat Louis Borsalino, who fell to his death during a performance. Let's hope you don't catch a glimpse of his ghost; those who see his spirit are rumored to die shortly thereafter.
By now you’re a thick-skinned ghost-chaser, right? After the show’s over, head to the heart of New York City haunts: the Dakota. Take a stroll (or a cab) up the west side of Central Park to get a full glimpse of the towers in all their ghastly majesty.
The Dakota, an apartment building completed in 1884, is a city landmark, and one of the more beautiful examples of architecture on the Upper West Side. But its exquisite veneer shields a history of tragedy and horror. Visit NYC-Architecture.com and marvel at the striking photos of the Dakota, stunning vistas of Central Park and blueprints of original designs. Scroll down the page and you’ll find a detailed account of resident John Lennon’s assassination, which happened right outside the building.
The famed musician is rumored to haunt the building, and construction workers claim to have seen apparitions of turn-of-the-century children. Although these stories can’t be proven, it is true that "Rosemary’s Baby," one of the most terrifying horror films of all time, was filmed there.
The Dakota is one of the best places to end your tour of terror. If you were yearning to see a ghost, we’re sure you’ve had your fill. And if you were once a nonbeliever, chances are you’ve changed your mind.