Real Hauntings in Our Backyard


The infamous penthouse on 57 W 57th Street where paranormal activity is reported to have occurred. (JON BJORNSON/THE OBSERVER)


October, otherwise known as the month of dropping temperatures and everything pumpkin spice, is the time of a major holiday: Halloween. This time of the year, everyone can dig deep and come up with a costume near and dear to them, and all scare enthusiasts can openly enjoy the October fright. Luckily, Manhattan caters to every taste, and when it comes to scares, there are plenty for everyone to enjoy. For those who want to explore somewhere spooky this Halloween, here are four places in Manhattan famously known for their hauntings. Peek across the veil at your own risk.

House of Death

(14 W. 10th St.)

This brownstone, nicknamed the House of Death, is notorious for the 22 deaths that have occurred there since 1850. Paranormal sightings include an unidentified lady in white and the ghost of Samuel Clemens, more commonly known as Mark Twain. Twain was not one of the 22 individuals to die there—he merely occupied the house from 1900 to 1901. Spotted by a young girl and her mother in 1930, a voice was reported saying, “My name is Clemens and I has a problem here I gotta settle.” The house gained fame after Jan Bryant Bartell came in contact with a ghost of a Civil War widow, Reenie Mallison, during a séance. Her notes on what she encountered in the house before and after the séance can be found in her book “Spindrift: Spray from a Psychic Sea.”

The House of Death also has an eerie connection to Fordham University. In 1987, Joel Steinberg, Fordham College at Rose Hill (FCRH) ’62, beat his illegally adopted daughter into a coma in the house. Several days later, she was declared brain dead and was taken off life support.

Petrifying Penthouse

(57 West 57th St.)

The penthouse in this medical center is said to be haunted by the ghosts of two lovers in a very unhealthy relationship. In 1922, Edna Crawford Champion married Albert Champion, the French cyclist who had come into money after founding a spark plug company. After the initial fascination with his wealth wore off, she took on Charles Brazelle as a lover. Five years into the affair, Brazelle allegedly beat Albert Champion to death in a hotel in France— Edna Crawford claimed he died of a heart attack. Having taken his fortune, she and Brazelle travelled to New York, bought the whole building at 57 W. 57th St. and moved in immediately. Brazelle turned out to be prone to jealousy—he used to lock Crawford up in the penthouse. One day after a big fight, he hit her with a telephone, after which the bodyguards, hired by Crawford’s worried family, threw him from the window. She died right away and he died soon after.

Later, Carlton Alsop, a radio and film producer, bought the penthouse. He found that his four dogs started suffering from nervous breakdowns, while he and his wife heard muffled arguing and clicking of high heels when they were alone. Soon, his wife grew disturbed and moved out. Alsop threw parties that filled the penthouse with people, but some of the guests noticed something was not quite right with the house; a woman reportedly noticing that something was following her on the stairs and commenting that she “disliked practical jokes.” No one at the party owned up to setting that up. Eventually, driven to desperation by the unexplainable happenings, Alsop committed himself to the mental institution on the lower floors of the same house.

The Spooky Speakeasy

(12 Gay St.)

During the Roaring Twenties, this elegant townhouse was a speakeasy run by the mayor, Jimmy Walker himself. Later on, Frank Paris, a puppeteer who created the Howdy Doody puppet, acquired the house with his friend Ted Lewis and they noticed things they couldn’t quite explain. They could hear someone go up and down the stairs, yet they couldn’t find anyone in the house. There were at least two sightings of the haunting. First, Alice May Hall, a guest of Paris and Lewis, claimed that she had seen a gentleman in evening clothes and a coat who vanished as soon as she tried to tell Paris about him. Paris was reluctant to believe Hall, but about a week later he himself saw the same ghost.

It has since been found that Walter Gibson wrote some of his detective novels about “The Shadow” in the same townhouse shortly after Jimmy Walker lived there. He claimed that the “ghost” the residents saw was actually a psychic projection of The Shadow’s secret identity, Lamont Cranston.

SoHo’s Creepy Collection

(129 Spring St.)

This Collection of Style (COS) store in SoHo doesn’t seem out of the ordinary until you stumble upon an authentic centuries-old well in the men’s department. This well was involved in one of the biggest unsolved murders in New York history. The story states that Gulielma Stands and Levi Weeks were planning to elope on Dec. 22, 1799. Yet 11 days later, Stands’ body was found in this well with marks around her neck suggesting she had been strangled. Weeks was tried for her murder, but was eventually acquitted, some say only due to his defense team comprised of Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr. Throughout the years, strange happenings have been reported in the building, and some believe Stands’ ghost still haunts the property.  

Remember to stay safe on Halloween, Samhain or anything else you choose to celebrate at the end of October! While fall is a fine time to acknowledge death and transitional states of the seasons and of the soul, don’t let mortality bring you down and keep yourself positive. Be it a cup of hot chocolate, a movie marathon or a walk in the park, take advantage of these fall thrills before taking Halloween to celebrate the frightening and the fascinating.