One of the greatest cities in the world, the bright lights of New York also hide plenty of dark secrets and entities. From the echoes of long ago-fought battles, to the spirits of strange and sometimes friendly, sometimes protective, and often traumatized, beings.
The history of New York dates back to around 10,000 B.C. It was discovered by an Italian in 1524, and by the 18th century had become a major trading point. New York City boasts fabulous architecture and some of the grandest buildings in the world. It also has more than its fair share of ghostly cemeteries, still-tortured insane asylums, and infamous homes. Let’s take a look at some of the most haunted places in New York City.
14 West 10th Street, Greenwich Village
A townhouse looking like many others in the area, but this one has plenty of gruesome history, it is often called “The House of Death.” It carries the title credited by some, as the “most haunted building in New York,” and could have as many as 22 ghosts. At 14 West 10th Street six-year-old Lisa Steinberg was beaten to death by her reportedly illegally adoptive father, well-known attorney Joel Steinberg, in 1987. It is also the location of murder-suicide.
Mark Twain lived at 14 West 10th Street between 1900 and 1901 and said he had experienced supernatural goings-on at the house, over a century ago. Some report having seen the ghost of Mark Twain himself, in his signature white suit, climbing the staircase in the building and on the first floor. A mother and daughter reported having seen the author sitting in a chair in the 1930s, he spoke to them and then vanished.
The brownstone home in Washington Square Park was built in the 1850s and transformed into 10 apartments in 1937. One resident, actress Jan Bryant Bartell, wrote of the paranormal goings-on in her 1974 book including her experience of a presence at the house she describes as a “monstrous moving shadow.” And, seven years of what she says was psychological and sometimes physical torment inflicted by the property’s otherworldly inhabitants. Bartell also writes of hauntings at 16 West 10th Street, when she lived in that house, next door. The actress and author died just weeks after completing the manuscript for her book about the house and as per the New York Post felt the house had poisoned her.
Paranormal investigators and mediums confirm the presence of a lady in white, a young child, and the specter of a grey cat. A musician and photographer who has lived next door to the house for 20 years have had guests run out after seeing a lady in a gown…and a cat. There have also been ghosts reported nearby at No 17 and No 18.
Grand Central Station, Midtown
A popular destination for ghost walks, Grand Central Station is a maze of underground tracks and tunnels some of them very secret ones. Along with these secrets are spooks and even the specter of an old locomotive.
At Grand Central Station there is a platform with a secret entrance and an elevator that leads straight into the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. This is said to be President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s private entry into the city where he could avoid the press. The door to the elevator is welded closed but it’s said that Roosevelt’s faithful hound Fala can be heard barking and that the ex-President himself is not far behind.
Another story from the Manhattan landmark is that one night a gray-haired man in a black hat approached the on-duty station agent declaring, “the midnight train to hell is coming for me. I have committed too many crimes against man and sins against heaven.”
The agent told the man there was no such train only the 11:58 PM from Croton-on-the Hudson and the 12:02 AM from New Haven. Yet then, the agent said a steam whistle blew and a steam locomotive chugged along the electric tracks. He says he felt the rush of hot air from the engine and the gray-haired man vanished, leaving his black hat on the floor of the terminal.
New Amsterdam Theatre, Midtown
Frequented by the rich and famous and with its vibrant movie and theater scene it is no surprise that New York City has celebrity ghosts. Olive Thomas, a Ziegfeld Follies showgirl who performed between 1916 and 1920 and who died on her honeymoon in Paris, is said to have returned to the place she was most happy – The New Amsterdam Theatre.
Thomas died in Paris when she took what she thought was a sleeping draft, and was actually mercury bichloride, her husband’s syphilis medication. It’s said her spirit returned to the theater and there are numerous reports of a beautiful young lady strolling its aisles.
One report is from a night-time security guard who sensed a presence behind him. He turned and saw a woman in a green dress with a flask in her hand who moved across the stage, blew him a kiss, and walked right through the wall.
Dana Amendola, vice president of operations at Disney Theatrical Group, told the New York Post he felt a tug on his shirt one night when he left the theatre, but there was no one there.
Today there is a photo of Thomas at every exit, theater performers and staff blow her a kiss when they leave the building.
Hotel Chelsea, Chelsea
This haunted New York hotel has seen more than its share of tryst and tragedy. Its most infamous incident was the stabbing of Nancy Spungen in room 100 in October 1978. Her boyfriend was Sid Vicious, the Sex Pistols bassist and he was arrested and charged with her murder. Before the case ever went to trial Vicious died of a heroin overdose.
Potentially the most active ghost at the Hotel Chelsea is instead a woman called Mary. As per the New York Post, “The Sopranos,” actor Michael Imperioli saw Mary hunched over crying at the end of a hallway. He called out and asked if she was okay, then behind him a lightbulb exploded, and the hallway was plunged into darkness. Mary had vanished.
Mary is said to be the spirit of a lady who waited at the hotel for her new husband, returning from a trip to England. Sadly, Mary’s husband had booked passage on the ill-fated Titanic and he perished with over 1,500 others when the ship hit an iceberg in 1912. Mary went back to the Hotel Chelsea and hung herself in her room.
A place in New York with a lower human population, but possibly a higher population of ghouls. The Willowbrook Asylum and The Conference House are now part of the island’s college, but their hauntings persist, according to reports.
There’s also the Moravian Cemetery, home to the Vanderbilt Tomb. The Vanderbilt family were once the richest family in America and the crypt is said to be haunted by an unknown woman and the specter of a man in gray who could be the great Cornelius Vanderbilt himself.
There is also Richmond Road in Graniteville where another man in gray appears in trees to the side of the road. The route is where Polly Bodine allegedly murdered Emeline Van Pelt and her 18-month-old child in 1843.
The Dakota Apartments, Upper West Side
An imposing building that once stood alone in an empty area of Manhattan after it was built in the 1880s. The Dakota is the site of John Lennon’s assassination in 1980. Lennon was shot outside the building four times by Mark David Chapman. The killer remained at the site reading J.D Salinger’s “The Catcher in the Rye,” until he was arrested.
There are numerous reports of Lennon’s ghost but most markedly that of Yoko Ono who lived at the Dakota for 20 years after his death. She says she saw Lennon sat at his piano where he turned and said “don’t be afraid. I am still with you,” before disappearing.
Lennon himself had claimed a number of spooky sightings at the Dakota, including a spirit he called “The Crying Lady.” This specter is said to be the ghost of Elise Vesley who managed the Dakota from the 1930s to the 1950s and who believed she had psychokinetic powers. Vesley’s son was hit and killed by a truck, also right outside the Dakota.
These are just two of the ghosts of the Dakota, there are many other reports of spirits there, including a young girl and short man with a wig who could be Dakota’s builder, Edward Cabot Clark.
The Manhattan Well, Soho
No list of New York City’s most haunted locations is complete without a mention of the Manhattan Well. This well has been a location of tragedy, controversy, and paranormal activity since 1800. It now sits within Soho’s COS store and is a feature of the retailer’s location.
Yet two centuries ago Elma Sands was allegedly killed by her lover Levi Weeks in the Manhattan well. The trial of Weeks became one of America’s most sensational and has led to hundreds of theories about the incident. Both visitors and historians report having heard the ghost of Elma Sands screaming in the well, and she is also said to wander the streets of Soho.
Merchant’s House Museum, Greenwich Village
Philip Ernest Schoenberg, the author of “Ghosts of Manhattan,” says 10th street is not the most haunted location in New York City, instead, it could be the Merchant’s House Museum.
Dubbed “Manhattan’s most haunted house,” the Merchant’s House Museum was home to the Tredwell family for 100 years. It is believed that Gertrude Tredwell, born in the house in 1840 and who died there in 1933, at aged 93, still walks its rooms. Gertrude never married and never left.
The paranormal activity started soon after she died and the house became a museum in the late 1930s. Unexplained phenomena have been reported by museum staff, visitors, neighbors, and even passers-by and include sounds, sightings, and smells. The previous home’s ghost stories are collated into a booklet titled, “Some say they never left.”
Merchant’s house is New York City’s only completely preserved 19th century home. It’s near-perfect preservation and it allows visitors to step back in time entirely. As a museum, it contains many of the Tredwell family’s possessions, and now potentially the spirit of Gertrude. Visitors report a lady in a brown dress moving around the house and even interacting with them.
The Brooklyn Bridge, Brooklyn
The bridge opened in 1883 and its fantastic construction, like many such bridges, is intertwined with tragedy. The Brooklyn Bridge reportedly has both the ghosts of some of the workers who built it as well as the spirits of those who have committed suicide from its heights.
In 1875, during the bridge’s construction, a cable snapped creating what some describe as a “steel whip,” which sliced an unsuspecting worker’s head clean off. Tour guides report hearing footsteps and seeing a man whose face is shadowed, closer inspection shows the man is not a man but a spirit and he’s headless. The man was not the only worker to die during the bridge’s construction, a total of 27 died in accidents.
The bridge’s designer John Roebling, died of a tetanus infection while the bridge was being built, his son took over but fell ill to decompression sickness, becoming invalid.
A few days after Brooklyn Bridge was opened, a traffic jam led to a stampede and 12 people were trampled to death.
Many report screams and unexplained splashes below whilst on the bridge. And, since the 1950s a beautiful blonde in a white dress often appears ready to jump, panicking watchers before and after they realize she’s not completely there at all.
The Empire State Building, Midtown
Sadly, another of New York’s famous landmarks is marred by tragic suicides. There have been over 30 suicide attempts from a number of the Empire State Building’s floors. The most famous suicide is that of 23-year-old Evelyn McHale who threw herself from the 86th-floor observation deck in 1947. A beautiful young woman who was wearing pearls and white gloves, she landed on the roof of a United Nations limousine below. Rather than a gory sight as she landed, her body remained intact and was framed by the folded metal of the luxury car, her legs were “elegantly,” crossed at the ankles. A photograph was taken of McHale shortly after her death and Life magazine called it “the most beautiful suicide.”
McHale’s ghost has been seen by Empire State Building visitors, she left her fiancé in New York and a note that said she wouldn’t make a good wife. Her spirit might sometimes be confused with another a red lipstick wearing, the 1940s attired beauty, who talks about the death of her fiancé during the war in Germany, before throwing herself over the barrier.
The Empire State Building has also seen shootings and plane crashed into its highest floors in 1945 and killed 13.
Ellis Island Immigration Museum, Ellis Island
Not only one of New York City’s most haunted places, but the Ellis Island Immigration Museum is also said to be one of America’s most haunted locations. Between 1892 and 1924 over 12 million immigrants were processed at Ellis Island, over 3,500 died including many children.
On arrival at Ellis Island, one out of five immigrants were marked with chalk to indicate they were sick and were sent to Ellis Island Immigrant Hospital. Many never recovered, between 1909 and 1911, 420 died, most (85%) of these were children under the age of 13 who died without their parents, in quarantine. The parents likely never knew where their children were buried.
Many National Park Service employees report strange experiences at Ellis Island. From doors opening and closing, furniture moving, to children’s voices and crying, the reports are extensive.
The hospital, for obvious reasons, is the most haunted place on Ellis Island. It was closed and derelict for 60 years before opening up to hard hat tours. One visitor says they were being possessed by a spirit that made them say “get out, get out,” over and over, leaving them weak after the experience. One of the photos from that tour, when studied, reveals a gaunt man with sunken eyes and protruding cheekbones who couldn’t possibly have been there.