You may want to put the Ghostbusters on speed dial before checking out these spooktacular spots in the city that doesn’t sleep.
As delightful as this urban jungle may be, New York City is brimming with horrors more arresting than the threat of a 13th sequel in the never-ending Halloween franchise (yes, it’s real, and it’s coming in 2021). There’s that mysteriously empty subway car haunted by the smell of an upchucked cheeseburger, the cultish co-op boards more sinister than the Satanic coven in Rosemary’s Baby, and of course, the Elmos in Times Square who pervert our childhood heroes more effectively than the clown from It.
These scenarios, however spine-chilling, are child’s play compared to the grim stories hiding on the city’s darkest streets. You name it, we’ve got it: showgirl ghouls, cursed mansions, and apartments plagued with paranormal activity. New York, New York is a Hell of a town—literally. Visit these thirteen haunted sites to see for yourself.
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Merchant's House Museum
WHERE: 29 East 4th Street, NoHo
The wealthy Tredwell family bought this five-story Federal-Greek Revival home in 1835 for a whopping $18,000. Gertrude Tredwell, the last descendant in residence, died in an upstairs bedroom as a penniless spinster in 1933. Rumor has it she never left. You can’t blame her—even in the afterlife, New York real estate is usually a hot commodity. The immaculately preserved house opened as a museum in 1936, and since then, visitors have reported strange smells, unexplained noises, and sightings of a woman in a brown gown gliding down the halls. Check out the candle-lit ghost tour hosted (currently being done virtually) for a chance encounter with the lady of the house. Even if Gertie doesn’t come out for a ghoulish game of peek-a-boo, the Merchant’s House Museum is still very much alive with her family’s spirit.
INSIDER TIPA five-minute walk away, you’ll find one of the city’s oldest bars—McSorley’s Old Ale House (1854). Harry Houdini supposedly haunts the establishment; a pair of handcuffs from one of his shows is hooked to the bar’s foot rail.
New Amsterdam Theatre
WHERE: 214 West 42nd St., Midtown
It’s a nightmare working with the infamous chorus girl-in-residence at Broadway’s New Amsterdam Theatre. Her name’s Olive Thomas, and she’s a genuine triple threat—she sings, dances, and she’s totally dead. A Ziegfeld Follies showgirl who once performed in this theatre, Thomas died in 1920 after drinking mercury bichloride at the age of 25. Her death was a scandal. Although ruled an accident, some called it suicide; others speculated murder at the hands of her husband, Jack Pickford. Regardless, Thomas had some unfinished business concerning that which we call “show.” She’s been spotted sauntering across the stage, sitting in the audience, and causing a general ruckus behind the scenes. Her portrait hangs at two entrances to the theatre, and superstitious cast and crew always pay their respects. Legend says that giving Olive’s portrait attention helps manage her mischief. A needy actress, you say? Groundbreaking!
Washington Square Park
WHERE: 5th Avenue between Waverly Place and 4th Street, Greenwich Village
In pre-COVID days, this playground for NYU undergrads was perpetually abuzz with folk singers and four-legged furballs, but for centuries, something seedier has lurked beneath the pavement. Between 1797 and 1825, Washington Square Park was a burial ground for criminals, poor people, and epidemic victims. When yellow fever outbreaks decimated underprivileged communities during the late 18th and early 19th centuries, the graveyard became overcrowded, and city officials were forced to look elsewhere to inter the dead. Plans were eventually hatched to drive up nearby property values and attract the city’s elite by transforming the mass graveyard into a public square. Wealthy tenants were quick to take up residence. It turns out there’s nothing nicer than dead-quiet neighbors—even if there are an estimated 20,000 of them.
INSIDER TIPCheck out the 110-foot-tall English Elm on the Northwest corner of the park, commonly referred to as “The Hanging Tree,” where traitors met their demise during the Revolutionary War.
St. Mark's Church-in-the-Bowery
WHERE: 131 East 10th Street, at 2nd Avenue, East Village
Peter Stuyvesant (1592–1672) was a peg-legged Dutch curmudgeon who didn’t like change. Unfortunately for him, he’s spending his afterlife in a city where change is the only constant. After New Amsterdam became New York under British rule in 1664, the former director-general receded from politics to live his final years in solitude on his farmland. Stuyvesant’s tomb, initially located underneath a chapel constructed on his property, is the only recognizable marker from the 17th century. In 1799, St. Mark’s Church was built to replace the old chapel, and Pete’s land is now the epicenter of the bustling East Village. No wonder the church’s parishioners occasionally receive a “get off my lawn!” ghosting from the old man. Just like everyone else, Peg Leg Pete can’t believe what’s happened to the old neighborhood.
WHERE: Access the Manhattan side from the Brooklyn Bridge Promenade on Centre Street.
Between the neo-Gothic passageways and strands of steel cables, the Brooklyn Bridge is one of New York’s most iconic architectural triumphs, making it easy to forget the tragedies surrounding this tourist-packed site. Over 20 men, including designer John A. Roebling, lost their lives during construction between 1869 and 1883. Only a few days after the bridge’s opening, a stampede of pedestrians trampled and killed twelve people. Since then, countless numbers of suicide jumpers have ended their lives in the murky waters below. Visitors occasionally report screams and shouts materializing from nowhere. Others claim a headless construction worker chases taxi cabs across the bridge. Whether or not these accounts are real, it’s best to remain alert—bikes zipping by the pedestrian walkways are liable to take your life if you don’t watch where you’re going.
WHERE: 222 West 23rd Street, Chelsea
The Chelsea Hotel is famous for the extensive list of artistic luminaries who’ve checked in over the past 135 years, including Bob Dylan, Jack Kerouac, Janis Joplin, and Patti Smith. It’s also infamous for the sad souls who never checked out. There’s Mary, a Titanic survivor who lost her husband in the 1912 disaster and hanged herself on the hotel’s fifth floor. She’s rumored to walk the building’s west end, searching in vain for her reflection in the hallway’s mirrors. After Nancy Spungen was stabbed to death in 1978 by her boyfriend, Sex Pistols bassist Sid Vicious, she also decided to take up permanent residence. Unexplained temperature fluctuations and unsettling noises have been reported near the room where she died. Living rent-free for over forty years as a ghost? That’s what we call punk rock.
INSIDER TIPThe Chelsea Hotel is closed for renovations, but the McKittrick Hotel (530 West 27th Street) offers an unforgettably haunting experience nearby. Though currently closed due to the pandemic, Sleep No More, the hotel’s immersive theater piece, is a must-see.
White Horse Tavern
WHERE: 567 Hudson Street, West Village
This historic West Village watering hole has been a drink-slinging staple since 1880. In the 1950s, it became a favorite haunt for Welsh poet Dylan Thomas, who allegedly tossed back 18 whiskey shots on the night of his death. After leaving, he collapsed at the nearby Chelsea Hotel and was pronounced dead on November 9, 1953, at St. Vincent’s Hospital. His portrait now hangs over his favorite table, where staff says he likes to wait for one final whiskey so he can, as he wrote, “Rage, rage against the dying of the light.” While this is definitely the spot to enjoy some libations, it’s recommended to rage a little less hard than Mr. Thomas while paying your respects.
WHERE: 500 25th Street, Brooklyn
Considering there are 560,000 people buried at Brooklyn’s Green-Wood Cemetery, it’s surprising there aren’t more reported hauntings. But then again, this pristinely maintained 478-acre plot is a pretty sweet place to rest your head. Footpaths, forests, and lakes snake around the many tombs, mausoleums, and memorials in a sanctuary too peaceful for spooky stuff. After its opening in 1838, it quickly became popular with New York’s upper crust, and in 1866 the New York Times said, “It is the ambition of the New Yorker to live upon Fifth Avenue, to take his airings in the [Central] Park, and to sleep with his fathers in Green-Wood.” If you want to spend your eternal life rubbing shoulders with the likes of Louis Tiffany and Leonard Bernstein, a single grave costs nearly $20,000. If the rent is too damn high, don’t worry—it’s best to enjoy this place while you’re still alive.
INSIDER TIPCheck out the Green-Wood at Night Tour for a two-hour guided stroll through the graveyard after dark.
WHERE: 65 Jumel Terrace, Harlem
If walls could talk, the creaky boards of this palatial hilltop home might clear up a few mysteries. The house, built in 1765, was abandoned by its original owners at the onset of the American Revolution, occupied by troops until the war’s end, and eventually bought in 1810 by Stephen Jumel. Some say Eliza, Jumel’s wife (and the house’s longest resident), watched him bleed to death after he fell on a pitchfork. Only months later, she remarried to Aaron Burr, America’s controversial ex-Vice President. Eliza was a cunning social climber who managed to make her way from a Rhode Island brothel to one of New York’s finest properties. Did she let her husband die so she could climb even higher? You could ask Eliza herself, but whenever she’s haunting the home, it’s usually to shush guests. Even as a ghost, she hates the gossip.
WHERE: 4500 Arthur Kill Road, Staten Island
Balthasar Kreischer, a German immigrant who made a fortune in the brick fabricating business, was a lucky man in his lifetime. Unfortunately, the two Victorian mansions he built on Staten Island’s Arthur Kill Road (1885) were destined for disaster. One burned down, and the other, occupied by Balthasar’s son Edward, became the site of ominous events. Edward died by suicide in 1894, and locals say he, his wife, and a host of the Kreischer’s unlucky offspring haunt the family fortress. Isaac Yomtovian bought the house in 1998 with the intent to restore and sell the property, but to no avail. Things got even creepier in 2005 when the property’s caretaker, a mob hitman, brutally murdered mafioso Robert Mckelvey. Mckelvey was stabbed, strangled, and drowned before being cut into pieces and burned in the basement furnace.
The Manhattan Murder Well
WHERE: 129 Spring Street, SoHo
In the winter of 1799, Gulielma Elmore Sands disappeared from her Greenwich Village boarding house to elope with her lover, Levi Weeks. Eleven days later, she was found dead inside a well in Lispenard’s Meadow with strangulation marks on her neck. Papers dubbed the site the “Manhattan Murder Well,” and Weeks was tried for the crime. After being acquitted, Weeks fled the city—but the ghost of Gulielma remains. The well is still around, too, only now it’s the site of COS, a chic Scandinavian clothing store at 129 Spring Street. You can see the well’s remnants in the basement, where the only thing more frightening than Gulielma’s ghost are the ridiculous prices for a tee-shirt.
INSIDER TIPFive years before Aaron Burr killed Alexander Hamilton, they worked together to represent Levi Weeks in court. Hamilton is buried in Trinity Church Cemetery at Broadway and Wall Street, another ghostly Manhattan destination.
McCarren Park Pool
WHERE: 776 Lorimer Street, Brooklyn
If you hear a child screaming at this public pool in Greenpoint, it may signify one of two things: there’s a mystery poo floating in the shallow section, or the ghost of a girl who drowned here in the 1930s is shouting for your help. If you still need to beat New York’s stifling summer heat and aren’t perturbed by disembodied screams, the presence of ghosts may be beneficial. Paranormal investigators recorded a 50-degree drop in temperature at certain spots around the pool, meaning a dip in this ghost tub will offer a refreshing chill down your spine.
INSIDER TIPIf swimming isn’t your specialty, McCarren Park has 35 acres of fields for all kinds of sports. The park also hosts free film screenings every Wednesday night in July and August.
123 On The Park
WHERE: 12 St. Pauls Place, Brooklyn
Renters may not have to deal with unwanted guests like bed bugs, cockroaches, or mice in this swanky apartment complex, but there’s an insidious infestation of another kind at 123 On The Park—ghosts. The building operated as a hospital between 1910 and 2003, and it appears the old patients aren’t too happy about recent changes. Some say wealthy new tenants have sparked outrage among the dead and attribute the building’s paranormal activity to spirits attempting to halt gentrification. Even so, with unobstructed views of Prospect Park, a doorman, and a gym on-site, it seems a few slamming doors and strange noises are small prices to pay for renters looking to live in the lap of (haunted) luxury.