When people say that New York is the city that never sleeps they typically are talking about the 24 hour subway, diners, shows and concerts. But in a city that was established in 1624 as a Dutch colony, there have been other whispered stories about why New Yorkers never close their eyes: the paranormal. New Yorkers take ghost sightings so seriously that in 1991 the New York courts ruled in the Stambovsky v. Ackley case that homeowners who withhold information on a haunted house can nullify the sale of the home with the buyer having no repercussions. From historic homes to popular bars and restaurants, no building can presume to be free of a paranormal past but below are the most notable in New York City today.
Currently the COS clothing store, this SoHo building on 129 Spring Street has long been haunted by Juliana Elmore Sands. It is said that on December 22, 1799 the young girl ran away with her lover, only to turn up dead eleven days later in the Lispenard’s Meadow at the bottom of the well, which is now located in the basement of 129 Spring Street. Speculation was that her paramour, Levi Weeks, murdered her to hide a pregnancy. With the help of two prominent lawyers, Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton, Weeks was acquitted. The case became a public sensation and Weeks ended up leaving New York City. No one else was ever charged with the crime and it is said Sands still haunts the building looking for justice.
Interested in seeing the well yourself? COS left it intact, located in the basement in the back of the men’s section, guarded by two mannequins.
The White Horse Tavern is said to have a special guest on occasion. In 1952, Dylan Thomas, the Welsh poet, decided to beat his current whiskey drinking record. After drinking 18 shots he called it a night, only to collapse outside. He was then escorted to the Chelsea Hotel, where he was staying, but he soon fell into a coma. Thomas was taken to St. Vincent Hospital the next day where he was pronounced dead. Thomas is said to travel back and forth between the Chelsea and the White Horse in his afterlife much as he did in life. Some say you can even hear whispers of “do not go gentle into that good night.”
Jog your writers block by visiting the White Horse Tavern and Dylan Thomas’s favorite stool, 567 Hudson Street, at the corner of West 11th Street. The Chelsea Hotel, at 222 West 23rd Street, has been closed since 2011, but after much renovation it is expected to reopen in 2018. Book your stay now and spend the night in Thomas’s room.
One of Manhattan’s oldest mansions is supposedly a hot spot for a haunting. The Morris-Jumel Mansion, once George Washington’s headquarters, is said to have had spirits of Hessian soldiers roaming around the house since 1810. Rumor has it when the Jumel family purchased the home in 1810 they were able to get a $2,000 price reduction because the hauntings were so well-known. What wasn’t known at the time was that Madam Jumel would become a member of the ghostly company. It has been said that Eliza Jumel murdered her first husband by burying him alive so that she could free herself for her second husband Aaron Burr. She reportedly cannot find peace in her afterlife and haunts the home she purchased with her first husband.
The Morris-Jumel Mansion, a historic house museum, allows you to do your own investigation, Tuesday through Sunday 10 am to 4 pm. Special events like paranormal investigation classes allow you to try and communicate with past residents of the home, 65 Jumel Terrace, NY.
The Merchant’s House and Museum was labeled “Manhattan’s Most Haunted House” by the New York Times. The home was built in 1832 and was occupied by a prominent merchant family, the Tredwells. The family lived in this home for over a hundred years. Daughter Gertrude Tredwell was born and died in the same upstairs bedroom. Shortly after her death, the home was turned into the museum and sightings of the spirit began. It is said that Gertrude keeps watch over the family home, usually as an older woman but sometimes her spirit is seen as a younger woman. If you want to see her for yourself, the Museum offers candlelight ghost tours.
The ghostly sightings don’t stop in Manhattan. Just a ferry ride away in Staten Island is The Billop Conference House. Christopher Billop was a Tory sympathizer and the Billop house was used as a hospital for British soldiers during the Revolutionary War. Billop was kidnapped by the Patriot army. When he was returned after two months of captivity, it is said that he was convinced that one of his servant girls aided in the kidnapping. He believed that she used a lantern to signal the Patriot soldiers. Upon returning home, he witnessed the same servant light a lantern and place it in the window. Billop then went mad, pushing her down the stairs, which resulted in her death. Neighbors have reported hearing the murder, a man yelling, a woman screaming, and the thudding of someone falling down the stairs for years.
Located in Staten Island, The Conference Billop House is a Historic Landmark because the only official peace conference between the British and Colonists was held here. It is the only pre-Revolutionary manor house still standing in New York City. Explore the grounds on weekends and try to find the unmarked grave of the servant girl.
All five of these haunted buildings have been photographed by the Department of Finance and are a part of the 1940s and 1980s tax photo collections. Photographs of any New York City building are available by visiting our online gallery, though the 1940s images are not currently available, they will be digitized and made available in the near future.