When it comes to Spooky Season, places like Salem, Sleepy Hollow, New Orleans, and Savannah normally get the most attention as Halloween Towns, but the Big Apple has its own caramel-coating of creepiness.
The rich history of New York — which includes Algonquin Native Americans before European colonists arrived and the Dutch settled in 1624 — a melting pot where people come to pursue dreams gives it an undeniable charge. From a paranormal theory perspective, that lays the foundation for a whole lot of weirdness.
With that in mind, let’s take a brief look at a few of my favorite landmarks that make up NYC’s paranormal personality.
Hans Holzer & the Morris-Jumel Mansion Ghosts
65 Jumel Terrace (Washington Heights, Manhattan)
Built in 1765, the Morris-Jumel Mansion is the oldest house in Manhattan and is commonly referred to as one of the most haunted locations in NYC. It briefly served as George Washington’s HQ during the Revolutionary War before becoming home to Stephen Jumel and wife Eliza (who reportedly had an affair with, then later married, former veep and Alexander Hamilton slayer, Aaron Burr). Rumors abounded that Eliza, or “Betsy,” arranged for Stephen’s death. As a result, the house is supposedly haunted by the Jumels, Burr, a servant girl, and a soldier. In May 1964, The New York Times reported on a paranormal investigation on the 132nd anniversary of Stephen’s death, led by famed ghost hunter Hans Holzer. In the article “2 Uptown ‘Ghosts’ Get Eviction Call,” the paper reported Holzer and medium Ethel Johnson Meyers communicated with the ghosts of Stephen — who accused his wife of burying him alive — and Eliza, who he thought would continue to haunt the mansion.
John Lennon’s UFO Sighting
434 East 52nd Street (Upper East Side, Manhattan)
During his 18-month separation from Yoko Ono, dubbed the “Lost Weekend,” the former Beatle dated assistant May Pang and split time between Los Angeles and New York City from summer 1973 through 1974. On August 23, 1974, at 9 p.m., he and Pang said they saw a UFO from the penthouse apartment they shared. famously referenced in “Nobody Told Me,” from his final album Milk and Honey: “There’s UFOs over New York and I ain’t too surprised.” The moment was so significant he wrote about it in his self-interview for Andy Warhol’s Interview magazine in 1974, describing it as only 100 feet away, hovering near another building and moving slowly, “with ordinary electric light bulbs flashing on and off round the bottom, one non-blinking red light on top.” Lennon said the police told photographer Bob Gruen at least two other people reported the sighting.
Litchfield Villa Demons
95 Prospect Park West (Park Slope, Brooklyn)
Though it is now the Brooklyn borough HQ for NYC’s Parks and Rec department, the Litchfield Villa, aka Grace Hill, is an Italianate mansion built in 1854 as a private residence for Edwin Clark Litchfield — and the site of a séance gone horribly wrong. According to lore and written about in Allison Huntington Chase’s book Bizarre Brooklyn: Stories of the Tragic, Macabre and Ghostly, in 1864, Litchfield allowed Margaret Cahill to hold a séance for her son who died in a Civil War battle. The practice took a bad turn when lights flickered, paintings fell from walls, and gusts of wind blew through the mansion. Amongst a smell of sulfur, two demons with red tongues and glowing green eyes emerged. They flew through the ceiling to the second floor, where people report seeing them to this day. Believers thought the son had been doomed to Hell and that the séance opened a portal, allowing the creatures to enter. Curiously, four of the people who attended the séance died within the year, and one man, William Woodruff, vanished completely from historical records. The tale goes that the Devil pulled him into Hell.