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5 haunted (and free!) New York City spots

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green-wood cemetery
Many spirits lurk in the spooky and beautiful Green-Wood Cemetery. Photo: lostinbrooklyn.

I’m not one to run out and see the latest horror movie, and screaming my way through a haunted house isn’t really my thing. But I do consider myself something of an amateur ghost hunter. I’m not talking seances and paranormal equipment. It’s just that I dig ghost stories—their history, their lore, the cool places that go along with them.

And after so many years of kooky characters living virtually on top of one another, New York‘s streets and buildings and parks have their share of chilling or amusing ghost stories. Here, I present my own personal brand of the Halloween treat: five New York places to get your fright on (for free).

Central Park Pond
59th Street

Sunk in between trees at the base of Central Park, the 59th Street Pond feels secret and serene. It can also function as a haven, as it must have for Victorian-era sisters Janet and Rosetta Van Der Voort. Growing up in a wealthy household on Central Park South, the girls were prohibited by their over protective father to venture anywhere unaccompanied, with the exception of the pond.

It was perhaps for this reason that the sisters seemed to fuse together over the years. Neither married, and they died within two months of each other in 1880. Today, their spirits live on and can sometimes be seen, all done up in their bustles, skating infinite figure eights over the pond’s smooth surface.

Green-Wood Cemetery
500 25th Street, Brooklyn

Don’t let its pretty park feel deceive you. The Battle of Brooklyn, one of the biggest of the Revolutionary War, was fought on this hilly outcrop, and now some of New York’s most fashionable reside here for eternity. The spirits are almost palpable as you wander among the trees and ornate crypts here, and you can visit everyone from tortured artist Jean-Michel Basquiat to Boss Tweed.

public theater

Ghosts have been spotted in the Astor Library building since the early 1800s. Photo: edenpictures.

12 Gay Street
West Village

There’s a ghost party going on at this elegant 19th-century townhouse. The building once housed a speakeasy, and has been home to Frank Paris, creator of Howdy Doody, and the mistress of New York mayor Jimmy Walker, among many others. Over the years, myriad ghost sightings have been reported from this dwelling, the most famous being a regal man wearing top hat and opera cape.

St. Paul’s Chapel and Churchyard
209 Broadway

The churchyard behind St. Paul’s Chapel has sunken headstones dating back to 1704, but there is one ghost in particular that makes people, ahem, lose their heads. The extravagant and alcoholic British actor George Frederick Cooke was buried here in 1812. His head was not buried with him. Mr. Cooke had donated it to science as a means of settling some his debt. His skull is said to have appeared as a prop in a few Hamlet productions, so you might say the actor went on working. The rest of him, though, is said to wander the cemetery in search of his lost noggin.

The Public Theater (Astor Library Building)
425 Lafayette Street

Best known for bringing free Shakespeare in the Park to New York each summer, the Public Theater is based year-round in a glorious red-brick building in the East Village. Said building originally housed the Astor Library, which opened in 1849 and was the foundation of the New York Public Library.

It wasn’t long after the opening that ghosts were reported at the library. In 1860, the New York Evening Post reported that Library Director Dr. Joseph Cogswell, encountered a wealthy, recently deceased neighbor three nights in a row. Today, the architectural gem is said to be haunted by literary icon Washington Irving and Public Theater founder Joseph Papp. The latter is said to have a protective presence over his legacy.

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If you’re heading to New York (for a haunting or just a visit), be sure to swing by our Cheapo guide to New York, with hotel recommendations and much more budget advice.

About the author

Suzanne Russo

About the author: Suzanne Russo thinks of herself as equal parts California Girl and New Yorker. She moved from San Francisco to New York four years ago to pursue her MA in English, and her obsession with all things New York life and history hasn’t dwindled yet. She is a freelance writer, director of the San Francisco-sponsored, New York literary pub crawl, Lit Crawl, and constant wanderer.

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