This story appeared in the October 27th edition of the New York Post. Yours truly was interviewed about my paranormal group, the New York Paranormal Society, as well as hauntings in and around New York City. A big thanks to Emily Nonko and Jordan Amchin for the great write-up!
The homes with the scariest ghost and murder stories in NYC
Because Brooklynite Brian Hartig delves into the history of old New York homes every day, he comes across a few ghost stories.
The founder of The Brownstone Detectives, a for-hire research team that focuses on the back stories of properties, knows that many of the city’s townhouses are inextricably linked to the dead. It was common, he says, for townhouse inhabitants to hold funerals inside their homes, placing caskets near the window on the parlor floor — as late as the 1950s.
Hartig’s own Bedford-Stuyvesant townhouse hosted three funerals; he uncovered details from newspaper announcements. His home also has its own ghost story. Although Hartig is quick to note he doesn’t believe in ghosts, he admits this is one creepy coincidence.
As the story goes, a friend was staying in his upper-floor guest room and reported the apparition of a woman standing in an adjacent bathroom, near the bathtub. His friend sensed she was there due to alcohol and a drowning.
Upon hearing the story, Hartig contacted a previous resident of his house, whose family lived there through the ’70s. Without revealing his friend’s harrowing tale, he asked if she had ever felt scared inside the home. The woman recalled, as a child, going upstairs and overhearing a conversation between her aunt and grandmother. They were pointing to the upper-floor bathtub. “That’s where it happened,” she overheard them saying, and sensed they were speaking of something ominous. Too afraid to ask for details, she stayed away from that bathroom as long as she lived inside the home.
“We’ve heard noises in the house but always figured it was the cat,” Hartig says. When he told his visiting friend he never spotted or felt anything suspicious, “He told me it was because I didn’t believe that [the ghosts] don’t present themselves to you.”
But for believers, there is no shortage of ghosts to be summoned in 400-year-old New York. Perhaps nobody knows this better than Jason Stroming, who founded the New York Paranormal Society (NYPS) with five other partners in 2012. Think of it as the city’s real-life Ghostbusters: Its members answers the call of New Yorkers who feel their house may be haunted — which is more city dwellers than you might think. As Stroming puts it, “We stay pretty busy.”
“We’re a fairly skeptical group,” Stroming says. “Our approach is that 99.9 percent of things out there can be explained by rational means.” The NYPS uses scientific methods — like the measurement of electromagnetic currents from ordinary objects like fuse boxes and alarm clocks, which can cause sensations or even hallucinations — to explain, and usually debunk, “that feeling of being watched,” as Stroming calls it.
Still, he was attracted to the society after his own childhood experience hearing unexplainable knocking and voices at his grandparents’ Brooklyn apartment.
Despite the fact many suspected hauntings get debunked by the society, Stroming has to admit New York is an interesting city to do this work. “There’s so much history, so much to feed on,” he says.
Ghost stories can be found in any neighborhood, and in many of the city’s homes and apartment buildings. Some buildings, like the Upper West Side’s Dakota, are famously haunted, but the NYPS has dealt with calls from “a healthy mix of people.” And every once in awhile, the team comes across something truly spooky.
In one instance, the team worked with a Murray Hill couple who awoke in the middle of the night to see the apparition of a little girl standing in their room. The team didn’t pick up on odd readings that would have debunked their ghost sighting. (“Hmmm,” say the believers.)
The team also heard unexplainable footsteps — on two different occasions — coming up a staircase at the Matron’s Cottage, which sits on the grounds of Sailor’s Snug Harbor, on Staten Island. In 1833, the site opened as an institution for “aged, decrepit and worn-out” seamen; the Matron’s Cottage was where the female staff lived.
As rumor has it, the matron, who ran a very strict household, had an affair that resulted in an illegitimate son. To keep it secret, she kept her son in the basement, in chains, until he was 13. At that age, the son supposedly escaped and killed her, trying to hide in the woods behind Snug Harbor. He was found by members of the community and reportedly hanged on a tree behind the Matron’s House.
If your skin is crawling, know that New Yorkers are surrounded by gruesome tales of death, crime and murder. Philip Schoenberg — who goes by Dr. Phil — hosts haunted walks through his tour company Ghosts of New York. He’s able to rattle off a long list of historic city homes with mysterious, alluring and dark pasts.
In the Village, Mark Twain’s former home and the site of a grisly 1987 murder at 14 W. 10th St. has been the site of so many ghost sightings — including Twain’s — that it’s nicknamed the “House of Death,” Schoenberg says.
The historic Merchant’s House at 29 E. Fourth St., now a museum, is an 1800s townhouse occupied by the same family for nearly 100 years. “Five of the daughters all haunt the home separately,” Schoenberg says. “There are reports of the daughters playing piano and showing up in the mirror.”
Most ghost stories, however, do not dissuade buyers in this red-hot real estate market — and there are several opportunities to buy into a so-called haunted building. The Dakota, where residents have reported sightings of John Lennon (who was shot outside the building) and an unnamed little girl, has seven listings on the market between $1.6 and $39 million.
Renters currently occupy the Octagon on Roosevelt Island, the former NYC Lunatic Asylum. Residents have reported baffling incidents, finding that pets sometimes refuse to walk up the stairs of the building. If you dare, there are a number of apartments available asking between $2,299 and $5,433 a month. You could even buy your own haunted house: 136 Clinton Ave., in Brooklyn, is a freestanding Greek Revival home on the market for $4.4 million. It’s all your — if you don’t mind reports of hauntings dating back to the 1870s.
And then there are homes with such horrific stories or gruesome pasts that people actually do avoid living in them. Randall Bell, director of the California-based Landmark Research Group, has made a name for himself appraising so-called “stigmatized properties” — homes associated with violent, highly publicized crimes. He says natural deaths and suicides don’t greatly affect property value, but episodes like homicides or serial killer visits definitely do. While a middle-class suburban property could lose up to 20 percent of its value in those cases, “urban areas are more forgiving,” Bell says. “Crime rates are typically higher there than more rural areas.”
Each state has different disclosure laws when it comes to stigmatized properties. In New York, a seller or broker does not have to disclose information about a death or notorious crime that has occurred on the property, and a recent buyer won’t have grounds to sue if they find ou after the sale goes through that one occurred.
For some, stigmatized properties offer an opportunity to buy at a discount. In Long Island, the Amityville Horror House — the site of a tragic mass murder in 1974 — was listed this summer for $850,000, much less than when it last sold in 2010 for $950,000. (It’s still on the market.)
Upstate, Casey Cook nabbed an abandoned Victorian — known as the WH Dorrance House — in the town of Camden after it hit the auction block. The abandoned home gained notoriety online after Google Maps captured a photo with mysterious handprints in the window. (Turns out they were caused by kids who broke into the house and left the handprints with paint.) When she won the auction, “it looked like a haunted house,” Cook says. “It was creepy, old, smelly and dirty.” She is currently restoring it to its original grandeur, with no sites of ghosts yet.
In Hinsdale, NY, Dan Klaes snatched up a haunted property that fell into foreclosure and was slated to be torn down. Known as the Hinsdale House, countless residents moved out after paranormal experiences and failed exorcisms. Klaes is renovating it to host paranormal research teams, who have already documented strange noises as well as recorded the appearance of a little girl and a boy around 16 years old.
Some homes, it turns out, are just too haunted to move into.
Klaes readily admits, “I would never bring my family to live there.”