Volume 79, Number 21 | Oct. 28 - Nov. 03, 2009
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933

Villager photo by Caroline Debevec

An open casket with a re-creation of a former resident of the Merchant’s House Museum lying in state added to the ghoulish atmosphere at the museum around Halloween last year.

Spirits are high in Village, ghosts’ favorite haunt

By Scott Stiffler

Steeped in history but burdened by poor feng shui, the Village is home to more ghosts than any neighborhood in Manhattan — offering paranormal enthusiasts a wealth of restaurants, museums and open spaces in which to possibly experience otherworldly frights and sightings. 

Graciaella Carri (a psychic medium/astrologer) says that in addition to its age and violent history, the Village’s high concentration of ghosts stems from its lack of a typical Manhattan grid pattern. The resulting imbalanced feng shui “acts as a magnet. Many streets intersect in strange ways, and that attracts paranormal energy,” Carri explained.

Impolite diners and those wearing long earrings have the best chance of encountering spirits at the former 1754 carriage house that’s now home to One if by Land Two if by Sea, at 17 Barrow St. But don’t make reservations on the premise that their resident apparitions will perform on demand. 

“They don’t do two shows nightly,” warned Kirk Adair, the restaurant’s wine director.

Contrary to speculation, the ghost of Vice President Aaron Burr does not haunt the establishment. However, daughter Theodosia is said to roam the premises, and may be the spirit who makes her presence known by playing with the earrings of patrons — although it could be the doing of 23 other spirits Adair says have been identified by mediums. 

“Certain rooms have certain spirits that inhabit them,” Adair noted. In the Constitution Room, impolite diners often argue amongst themselves and request a table in another room. According to medium Jeffrey Wands, that’s the doing of a former Ziegfeld girl and resident who passed away on the premises and “dislikes rude people.” 

The Mezzanine, formerly the historic building’s hayloft, is said to be occupied by a ghost wearing a black dress from the 1800s. She appears late at night and has been sighted by two former bartenders. Others have noted that the distinct perfume of a late loyal patron sometimes fills the air of the ladies’ room, and several dots of light (thought by investigators to be guests still hanging around at the bar) have been spotted by a bio-energy-capturing Kirlian camera. 

Are the ghosts said to haunt Brittany Hall, at 55 E. 10th St., the restless spirits of former hotel guests or just the cumulative nervous energy of college students? Built in 1929, the former Brittany Hotel now serves as a New York University dormitory. In 2005, Dom Villella and his Paranormal NYC crew (www.paranormal-nyc.com) were asked by students to investigate strange happenings on the 16th and 17th floors. Villella believes that thin walls and poor electrical wiring may account for some calls he gets every year reporting strange activity — including unexplained voices and ghostly shadows. 

But shoddy construction may not explain all of those accounts. Villella speculates that decades’ worth of human foot traffic may have created a “residual haunting” — which occurs when you “disturb residual energy, which, like a filmstrip, reactivates once and awhile.” That energy may be triggered by “college students under stress,” Villella said. “The higher your own energy, the bigger chance of leaving behind or picking up on residual energy.” 

The Merchant’s House Museum, at 29 E. Fourth St., is reportedly one of the most haunted houses in New York City, or anywhere else. A row house built in 1832, it was home to the prosperous Treadwell merchant family for nearly 100 years. The most frequently sighted (and cited) ghost is Gertrude Treadwell, who died at age 93 in the front bedroom and remains there as a kind and protective presence. In 2005, when the museum was having a concert of songs sung at the death of Abraham Lincoln, Gertrude is said to have “appeared to certain members of the audience.”

Staff members often feel an energy going up the staircase from the second to third floor. Staying late after work in 2006, Merchant’s House education coordinator Eva Ulz said she heard “footsteps in the third-floor hallway.” Assuming someone had returned, she recounted, “I listened a little closer and realized they were footsteps very light and fast, as if being made by a child in bare feet. When I went into the hallway, they stopped.” 

Since June 2007, investigator Dan Sturges and his colleagues from the Historic Paranormal Research Group (www.historicparanormal.org) have been investigating the Merchant’s House. Although the staff attributes much of the activity to Gertrude, Sturges believes several servants to be present.

“A doctor from Canada took a photo of an ornate mirror in Eliza Treadwell’s bedroom. The head, shoulders and upper torso of a man appeared when it was developed,” he noted.

That photo is shown during the Merchant House’s annual Ghost Tour — which Ulz says was designed to both “educate and freak you out!” During the 2008 tour, visitors reported being poked by invisible forces, and the staff was unable to identify the source of “strange drafts of air running through the house.” This year, the candlelight event will take place every half-hour, from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. on Oct. 29 and 30. 

Although it’s an unusual activity for a museum, Ulz said that “by addressing our haunted reputation, we can interject some historical information. So in that way, the ghosts are sort of using us. It’s a very symbiotic relationship.”

That relationship seems to be working. When Sturges brought in psychic Richard Schoeller to conduct a séance, she said, “He was able to give the first and last names of some of the servants, who we later verified were on the register from the 1800s. They said they are very happy with the way the people who are working with the museum are treating the house.”

On May 31 of last year, the Research Group team captured the sound of bells ringing in the servants’  quarters: “We have it on audio and video,” said Sturges. 

So what does this preponderance of evidence mean? 

“I can’t conclude there are ghosts floating around the Merchant’s House,” Sturges admitted. “But I’ve seen and witnessed some pretty amazing things that lead me to conclude there’s paranormal activity.”

Earlier this year, Sturges and his colleagues captured an audio recording in which a disembodied voice is heard. (The exact phrase will be revealed on the Ghost Tour). As viewers of cable TV ghost-hunter shows know, hearing specific recorded words from an otherworldly source usually requires a stretch of the imagination — or repeat listenings. But Ulz said: “It is clearly somebody’s voice. The first time I listened to it, I came into it cold and I got the same thing out of it as the investigators did. Everyone who’s listened to it has been able to discern the same phrase.”

Want to hear accounts of ghost sightings at the Merchant’s House Museum? Call 877-MHN-1832 and listen to recordings of four different people who’ve experienced happenings there.

To increase your own chances of a having a paranormal experience in the Village, visit Washington Square Park, White Horse Tavern, the Ear Inn and the Waverly Inn. All are said to have at least one resident ghost.

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