Ghosts of New York

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There are ghosts in New York. There are ghosts everywhere. I am an open-minded skeptic; I believe in the paranormal, at least to an extent, because even if 99 out of 100 claims of strange activity are false, the exception is more than enough to prove the rule. I believe in various fairly reasonable but as of yet unexplained phenomena (especially aliens, being one myself), but I want to focus on ghosts here for a few reasons.

1. My friends and I have been on various ghost tours throughout the city, some of them multiple times. So I can give a little tour that does not require leaving home, or listening to old tourists ask a million questions about the history and architecture of haunted buildings (I am strictly in this for the ghosts).

2. I have possibly (trying to stay skeptical here) had a ghost encounter of my own while attending class in what was previously the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory.

3. I have come to the conclusion that there is some kind of life after death. I can’t decide if I believe in God and I don’t personally have much use for religion, but I genuinely believe there is significant evidence throughout history and across cultures that we go on in one form or another. To expand on that, although I have no idea what a “ghost” really is, I am very much convinced it’s something real.

So I don’t really know how to summarize or provide meaning to the supernatural. But here we go. The ghost tours I’ve taken, a few centered in downtown Manhattan, visit a lot of the same places but I learn something new every time. I particularly recommend Boroughs of the Dead. They’re kind of nerdy (our tour guide was dressed in Victorian garb) but they’re entertaining and really take you around. My friends and I tend to go in the winter and complain the entire time how cold it is; I would recommend going literally any other time of year. Also, don’t smoke on the tour or loudly make fun of the tour guide or other guests. You will not get thrown off, but you will get dirty looks.

Just a few examples of locations on and off the tours I’ve been on: 

Washington Square Park: There are thousands of bodies buried beneath Washington Square Park, a result of the Yellow Fever epidemic of 1918. People have seen what ghost fans call a “full-body apparition”, which is essentially a Scooby-Doo style, holy shit I just saw a ghost ghost. Most of the places I’ll list here are pretty extreme hauntings, rather than more questionable claims of orbs and strange sounds. I have spent a lot of time in the park as it is essentially NYU’s “quad”. I’ve been through at night a lot and have never seen a ghost, but I’ll keep trying.

Washington Square Park ghosts
Standing atop the skeletal remains of thousands.

St. Mazie Bar & Supper Club: Typical haunted bar—an old speakeasy where things break out of nowhere and move on their own. Apparently some of it has been caught on camera. Would highly recommend because the drinks are great and the whole place is Instagramable even without the ghosts.

The Ear Inn: 217-year-old bar in Soho. It’s evolved in various ways over the years, and was initially the home of James Brown, a free black man and aide to George Washington. It housed an apothecary, then a tavern frequented by sailors (it’s right by the Hudson River), and eventually a speakeasy during Prohibition. The upstairs space was once a brothel and smuggler’s den, and is now an Air BnB. As for the haunted stuff, guests have seen ghosts walking around and had some unique interactions with one in particular (known as Mickey) who literally gets into bed with people, pokes and prods women, and is generally a creep, even moreso than most ghosts. But he seems to be a totally benevolent spirit, beyond the harassment, which I perhaps unfairly feel is more acceptable from the dead than it is from the living.

White Horse Tavern: Very cool tavern in the West Village, once a favorite place of Jack Kerouac and Dylan Thomas, who haunts the bar. People often say he died here. He did not, although he did drink a ridiculous amount of whiskey at the tavern prior to returning to his room at the Chelsea Hotel, then died shortly thereafter in the hospital (likely as a result of complications related to alcoholism). Many people have seen his ghost hanging around.

The House of Death (14 West 10th Street): Absolutely as ominous as it sounds. There are supposed to be 22 spirits here––it’s literally like season 1 of American Horror Story. Mark Twain, who lived in the house at one point, is the most famous ghost in residence. People report seeing full-bodied apparitions, including that of Twain (who ironically did not believe in ghosts). There are also plenty of stories about unexplainable footsteps, cold spots, and furniture moving by itself, but the more visual sightings are most compelling. This house has seen a lot of death—too much to cover in a tiny write up, so I’ll just go over one more notable one. In 1989, an extremely successful attorney beat his adoptive daughter to death in the house. There have been no reports of a little girl haunting the house, but I believe every tragedy or trauma contributes to the energy of a location. I think places have memories; and this is a house full of sad stories, many of which are unknown. It’s also a private residence (or was last I knew) so you can’t visit. Had to include it in my list because it’s especially haunted, but for the most part I am trying to stick to places you can visit with the intention of seeing a ghost.

the House of Death

Landmark Tavern: An Irish Pub, with live Irish music. It’s one of the oldest bars in the city; built in 1868, so only slightly younger than McSorley’s, which as far as I can tell is only haunted by the douchiest bartenders on the planet. The Landmark was popular in its early days with sailors coming in from the Hudson River and as a neighborhood bar (mostly Irish immigrants in the area back then). It’s still very much in business and has pretty good Yelp reviews, in addition to three ghosts. They’re a very diverse *crew*—a little Irish girl (died of Typhoid Fever), a Confederate soldier (died in a bar fight, or after a bar fight, when he climbed into a tub that’s still there and died from his injuries), and George Raft, a popular actor from the Golden Age. They have very different personalities, and different occurrences are attributed to each of the three spirits. But I had significant trouble, despite a lot of research and a visit to the bar, finding out exactly what the occurrences are. In any case, I like to imagine the three of them have a positive relationship and spend a lot of time together, having been brought together by death despite very different life experiences.

One if by Land, Two if by Sea: One of the more populated haunted spots in the city. There are supposedly at least twenty ghosts here, possibly including Aaron Burr (which would make sense as the property used to be his carriage house). Employees and customers have had experiences with things around the bar moving or falling on their own (including dishes flying through the air), unexplained cold drafts, and lights flickering, in addition to more *intense* paranormal encounters. If ghosts throwing dishes isn’t intensely paranormal enough. People get shoved and women regularly report having their earrings pulled out. It seems to be sort of agreed on that Aaron Burr’s daughter, Theodosia, is responsible for this. Presumably she didn’t do this kind of thing in life, so I don’t know what fuels the assumption this is her. But she’s another “definite” as far as who’s haunting the restaurant. Burr and Theodosia have been sighted, along with other apparitions who the staff have on occasion mistaken for actual living customers. Aside from being full of ghosts, One if by Land, Two if by Sea is super romantic and is known for being a popular spot for proposals. It’s really highly-rated, well-decorated, and expensive. Website says is was voted “#5 most romantic restaurant in the world”. I’ll go if I ever get money.

The Dakota: My first apartment was right near the Dakota. I walked by it most days, and took many, many pictures of the building looming on the horizon from various places around the Park. It’s huge, gothic, and gorgeous; very old, and full of ghosts. Being the final home of John Lennon and the place of his murder, it’s unsurprising multiple people say they’ve seen him there since his death, including his wife. Yoko still lives at the Dakota (I was always hoping to see her poking around when I lived in the neighborhood, never did), and claims to have seen John sitting at the piano in their apartment. I say “claims”…I should just say she saw John sitting at the piano, because I believe her. Side note, she’s eighty-six years old and still making art. Very cool. John Lennon is one of my favorite musicians of all time, so I would be absolutely honored to be haunted by him but probably will not have the opportunity as the building is very private, so any paranormal experiences are the privilege of those who live there. John himself saw the ghost of a crying woman while living at the Dakota, and other tenants have reported seeing the same woman along with several other apparitions. And the ghosts are by no means new or even solely a result of death and loss at the Dakota. As the building was being constructed, painters reported seeing the ghost of a little blonde girl. This was in the 1880s. Since then, there has been a ridiculous number of supernatural occurrences. The usual mysterious footsteps, furniture sliding around, etc. Creepiest story, IMHO, is the sighting of a ghost of a man with a child’s face. Also, the apartment building in Rosemary’s Baby is the Dakota. No actual devil worship or demon babies, as of yet.

the Dakota
The Dakota (right in the middle) from across the Park.

The Hotel Chelsea: So fascinating. I would literally love to write a book on this place. It’s New York legend, heavily featured in my favorite stories of the city and a crucial spot in cultural history, particularly the history of punk rock. Several of my favorite artists spent time at the Chelsea––Bob Dylan, Patti Smith, Leonard Cohen, Lou Reed, Sid Vicious, Jack Kerouac, Dylan Thomas, Stanley Kubrick…the list goes on. And a few of the aforementioned are still spending time there, in the company of a few significantly older ghosts. As I’ve already mentioned in this post (see White Horse Tavern), Dylan Thomas fell into a coma in his room at the Chelsea before dying of alcohol poisoning or possibly pneumonia. His face has since been seen at the hotel, literally hovering around…disembodied if various internet accounts can be believed. Sid Vicious also haunts the hotel, specifically room 100. He and his girlfriend, Nancy Spungen, lived in the room for a time, and on the night of October 11, 1978, he presumably stabbed her there. He sort of half denied it after the fact, but it was a pretty unambiguous case. She was a difficult person and they were both doing a huge amount of heroin, so it wasn’t a super shocking event. Also not particularly shocking when Sid overdosed a few months later. He didn’t die at the hotel, but his ghost has been seen there. People have also claimed to hear arguing from the room when unoccupied, and the sound of a woman screaming. It’s really a tragic story, because I do think Sid loved Nancy and I could write a lot more about this but there are other ghosts in the hotel and this post has taken me a couple hours already. Even before the bohemian golden age of the Chelsea, there were relatively frequent deaths and possibly hauntings. Mary, a woman widowed on the Titanic, is said to reside at the hotel, and there’s an incredibly wild (I think true) story about a young woman named Nadia who cut her hand off with a pair of scissors before jumping out a window because the pain was so bad. She sometimes appears outside people’s balconies. Further ghostly activity includes lights flickering, strange noises, and reports of being touched and shoved. The hotel is not currently a hotel, but the last decade has been a shitshow of an attempt to renovate and open back up again. The few remaining tenants who have successfully insisted on remaining in their apartments have for a variety of reasons prevented things from proceeding apace. Good for them––the idea of the Chelsea becoming a tourist trap or losing its original gritty vibe is definitely upsetting to me. But if / when it opens back up I will be taking a staycation and bringing my Ouija board.

I’ve never been to several of these locations, let alone had any paranormal experiences in them. Except for the Brown Building at NYU, which is actually not on the list because I am going to talk about it now; it was originally the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, which was the site of a rather well-known and deadly fire in 1911. The employees were mostly young immigrant girls and a bunch of them died because fire codes were non-existent back then. The factory bosses were (unsurprisingly) huge assholes and locked the doors to the factory from the outside during work hours to stop the workers from taking breaks. Ultimately these women had no way to get out. It’s an all around horrible, sad story, which tends to result in ghosts. I had several classes in the building while I was in school. One night, I was going to the bathroom after class, with the building mostly empty (not entirely, but very quiet seeing as it was after 7:00). This particular bathroom was off of a long hallway connecting the building to the one next door, and there were few if any doors / rooms off the hallway aside from the restrooms. I actually tried last week to get into the building to take a picture of the hallway and prove the set-up which is pretty crucial to this being a paranormal experience, but since I have no school ID and do not actually go there anymore the security guard would not let me in.

Anyway, while I was in the stall I heard the bathroom door open––did not hear footsteps or any other sounds indicative of a person being in the bathroom. I immediately stopped peeing because I can’t pee in front of strangers, so I did hear all of this really clearly unclouded. The toilet in the stall next to me then flushed, and to be honest I can’t remember if the toilets were automatic flush or not, which I will admit is kind of a crucial detail. I would tend to air on the side of manual flush. I was mildly scared at this point and stayed in the stall until I heard the fucking door open again. After that I left the stall, did not finish peeing or wash my hands, and went out into the hallway. Nobody there. Like I said, no doors along the hall that I could see, that somebody could’ve potentially gone into. I didn’t really investigate further because I was freaked out, and left immediately. And I know there may have been some normal explanation. I just haven’t come up with one myself. It was weird, freaky shit. That is the only explanation I will offer. And that’s my only personal ghost story so far, hopefully not the last because I am a real big fan of ghosts.