As I summarized in this post two autumns ago, I normally HATE being scared. But despite this, I've always been interested in paranormal stories of ghosts and aliens, even writing a research paper in high school on supposed UFO encounters (I never claimed to be cool). It's almost as if *because* I'm so scared that I'm even more interested in learning about these things. Or maybe I just *think* that I hate being scared but I actually enjoy it. This is all making my brain hurt a little.
Anywho, Kater and I have been talking for a while about going on a ghost tour in Manhattan and thought it would be fun to do on a night near Halloween and, why not, during a full moon. We researched a few tour options and decided on Ghosts of NY. Our tour guide, Annie, was incredible. She was extremely theatrical and passionate which brought so much more life than what I would have imagined to a tour about the dead.
The tour started off on West 3rd Street, in between a building where Edgar Allen Poe used to live (later destroyed in favor of an NYU building) and the current home of Anderson Cooper - an old firehouse that he gutted and that is rumored to be haunted. We traveled all around the West Village from there. Most haunting stories begin with a tale of a tragic death. It is said that if someone may have unfinished business or may not be accepting of his death, he may stick around.
On West 10th Street, we walked by a house called "The House of Death," where Mark Twain actually lived for a little. It is considered the most haunted house in Manhattan but is smack dab in the middle of $20 million brownstones. The house is said to be possessed and Annie even said a tiny prayer that nothing evil from the house would leave with us that night - yikes! On Gay Street, we learned a few stories about hauntings in two neighboring houses of several spirits, including one who wears a top hat and is said to be seen in the streets sometimes outside of the house. Marie's Crisis Cafe, on Grove Street, which I wrote about this summer, has had several employees reporting paranormal activity, as I spoke about with one of the managers when I was there.
The most eerie part of the tour for me was definitely while we were sitting in Washington Square Park, and it wasn't just because of the several large rats that kept darting back and forth across the paths. Did you know that most of Manhattan's parks served as burial grounds at one point in the city's history? That's certainly something I'll be thinking about the next time I'm trying to relax on my zebra-print blanket with an iced coffee and a crossword puzzle. Manhattan, of course, started at the south end of the island and then was built up from there. At one time, the area where Washington Square Park is was far away from where everyone lived and became one of the first mass burial grounds in the city. 20,000 bodies are buried just a little below the fountain, the arch, the pathways, and the grassy areas where we sunbathe. The public gallows used to be right by the fountain. So after hearing this, of course we were a little freaked out.
We sat on the park benches for quite some time while Annie told us several scary stories (which I'm now realizing all strangely feature women...):
- A story of a woman who was murdered and found in a well who apparently haunts the Manhattan Bistro, as the sealed well remains in the basement. The accused murderer's lawyers were none other than Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr, who got the accused off scott-free.
- The tragic story of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire of 1911 which killed over 140 young women, some of whom are said to haunt the area today.
- The story of a woman who was hung on a tree in the park for being accused of stealing from the family she worked for (although most agree she did not). The tree still stands there today.
- A recently-buried woman who supposedly haunted a store clerk repeatedly one night back in the day by stealing bottles of milk from his store to draw attention to the fact that she still had a baby alive with her in her coffin. (This is where my jaw dropped and I said "No. What?!" out loud.)
I thought after this tour I wasn't going to be able to sleep well, but I suppose I've become a little braver over the years. I was expecting to revert back to the days when I'd be by myself in my parents' house and run to the cookie jar in the kitchen and then race immediately back to the couch with my heart racing. I had, for some reason, convinced myself that that particular couch was the only safe haven in my house. Of course I was never so scared where forgoing cookies for my safety was an option.