By Suzanne Russo in New York—
Autumn is in the air, and that means as many pumpkin-flavored taste treats as there are colors of falling leaves. But it also means one of my favorite holidays of the year. No, I don’t just love Halloween for the costume parties, I’m also partial to the scarier, haunted side of this city. New York’s long history makes it the perfect place to find a ghost or two come Hallowed Eve. (Bonus: Some thrills are even free!)
Get spooked, Cheapos. Here’s how:
Spooky Staten Island
Believe it or not, Staten Island is considered one of the most haunted places in the northeast. It’s worth the ferry ride (a great free way to get close to Lady Liberty!) to visit the Conference House, a simple stone building from 1680 that does not have a simple history.
It was here in 1776 that the Americans and British tried to reach an agreement that would have prevented the Revolutionary War. Several spirits are said the lurk about the place, including a few redcoats who may have been buried near the house during the war, the jilted fiancé of Captain Billopp, the original owner of the house, and a servant girl later killed by Colonel Billopp (his great-grandson). And that is only the beginning. Prepare for shivers.
Note: Admission is free to the house, $3 to enter the on-site museum.
Ghosts of Manhattan
Back in Manhattan, there are a host of ghosts and haunted spots to choose from. Start off your tour of ghoulish New York with a courage-building tipple at Bridge Cafe (279 Water St), one of the few remaining wooden buildings left in Manhattan. Built in 1794, it’s taken turns as a general store, brothel, and a bar frequented by pirates, some of whom are said to, uh, return for Halloween tricks.
But the most colorful ghost here is said to be that of Gallus Mag. Remember that fight scene in Scorsese’s Gangs of New York that took place in a tavern decorated with jars of pickled body parts? It’s an homage to the garishly tall Irish (female) bouncer who ruled Bridge Café’s former incarnation, Hole in the Wall, with iron teeth. Don’t worry, Gallus can no longer bite off your ear, but you may just hear her heavy footsteps.
Onward, take a walk north through the West Village’s Washington Square Park, well-known for its iconic arch and its role as a favorite—dare we say—haunt of folk singers and hippies. But this happening park in the middle of New York University-land was once a potter’s field where the poor were buried, and then a parade ground and gallows where criminals were executed. Just last year, in fact, a headstone of one James Jackson (died 1799) was unearthed during a renovation project. Think that the 20,000 or so people whose remains are still under the park come back for a stroll every now and then? I do.
Moving east, take a trip through Old St. Patrick’s Cathedral (263 Mulberry St.), New York City’s oldest church. Bishop John DuBois, founder of Mt. St. Mary’s College in Maryland, was buried under the front entrance in 1842 and has been “spotted” by visitors from time to time. Also occupying the church cemetery—in spirit, at least—is Pierre Toussaint, a freed slave-cum-hairdresser who helped raise funds for the building of Old St. Pat’s and attended daily Mass for 60 years. Toussaint’s remains were moved to the new St. Patrick’s Cathedral, but the spirit of the man who may soon be America’s first black saint have stayed close to his old haunt in Nolita.
Next up? The (in)famous Hotel Chelsea (222 W. 23rd St.) is frequented by decidedly less saintly spirits, like Sid Vicious of the Sex Pistols, who was accused in 1978 of killing his girlfriend Nancy in room 100 (also known as the “Sid and Nancy Room”). He can still sometimes be seen near the elevator doors. This bohemian mecca was built in 1883 and became a hotel in 1905. Over the course of its long history it’s played home to such creatives as Dylan Thomas, Janis Joplin, Eugene O’Neill, and Thomas Wolfe. Many of whom never really moved out…
Trick or treat or tour?
As for spooky stories, we’ve just hit the tip of the island. If you’re as obsessed as I am, you could shell out some cash and try out a guided ghost tour of New York. Ghosts of New York allows thrill seekers to track down the spirit of Edgar Allen Poe and Eleanor Roosevelt in Greenwich Village, or commune with John Lennon near his old home on the Upper West Side. Tours are $20 each, or $33 for two tours in the same night. Or for $15, join historian Joyce Gold for stories of hangings, murders, and the day the music died in Macabre Greenwich Village.
Some freakish history
Can’t make it to New York this Halloween? Never fear! Tune in to The Bowery Boys, a free New York City history podcast hosted by Greg Young and Tom Meyers. (Full, eerie disclaimer: Tom is also the editor of EuroCheapo.) Every year the Boys give us chills with their “spooky stories” podcast. You can download three past Halloween podcasts or read about other spooky tours here, if you dare…