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After Work: New York Ghosts

…I’ve come to a conclusion. Ghosts lack imagination. They seem to manifest themselves in the same way. If they’re friendly little girls, laughter is heard. If they’ve been brutally murdered, they scream. If they’ve been killed in a car crash, they wander along the highway. They like to swing lanterns. They like to stand backlit in windows. They have a fondness for rocking chairs. They love to turn lights on and off….

Dona Gibbs tells of ghostly goings-on in the big bold city of New York.

To read more of Dona’s hauntingly enjoyable columns please click on http://www.openwriting.com/archives/after_work/

…I’ve come to a conclusion. Ghosts lack imagination. They seem to manifest themselves in the same way. If they’re friendly little girls, laughter is heard. If they’ve been brutally murdered, they scream. If they’ve been killed in a car crash, they wander along the highway. They like to swing lanterns. They like to stand backlit in windows. They have a fondness for rocking chairs. They love to turn lights on and off….

Dona Gibbs tells of ghostly goings-on in the big bold city of New York.

To read more of Dona’s hauntingly enjoyable columns please click on http://www.openwriting.com/archives/after_work/


After Work: New York Ghosts

There’s no shortage of museums in New York City. Besides the obvious ones like the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the kid-pleasing Museum of Natural History and the Museum of Modern Art, there are small ones that just might escape the casual tourist.

One recent Sunday I dropped in at The Merchant’s House Museum. This is a Greek revival gem of a townhouse in what in now called Noho, North of Houston, but what used to be known as the Bond Street area. In the 1830s and 40s when New York was beginning to make a name for itself as a world class seaport, the area was the chic address for the up and coming merchants.

Henry James remarked in Washington Square, “ This portion of New York appears to many persons the most delectable. It has a kind of established repose…”

Number 29, East 4th Street was where Seabury Tredwell moved his wife, two boys, five girls and four servant girls when his hardware importing business on Pearl Street proved profitable. The house was built in 1832.

Today, both inside and outside, the house remains remarkably intact, Out of the three hundred or so Federal houses still standing in New York, it is the best preserved. From the twin black and gold marble fireplaces to the bells that summoned the maids, the house is a glimpse into what life was like for the Tredwells.

The seven Tredwell children were joined by an eighth, Gertrude, in 1840. Gertrude lived in the house until her death in 1933. And since Halloween is upon us, I must tell you, some say she never left.

Gertrude never married. The story is that her father forbade her only suitor and she withdrew from society. She turned inward, hardly ever leaving the house, surrounded by the thousand of things her family had amassed over the years. The neighborhood, once elegant, turned shabby as the wealthy moved further uptown. When she died, a distant relative bought the house and in 1936 turned it into a museum.

She is still seen, briefly of course. Once she was reported to tell a visitor that the museum was closed that day. Occasionally, she’s been heard tinkling away at the piano. And she’s been felt: the old ghostly cold spot routine.

She, or someone or something, has even been photographed. The pictures are just what you might imagine, blobs of white light.

Last year the executive director Margaret Halsey Gardiner told a New York Times reporter, “For months, I just couldn’t make it all the way up the stairs to turn on the lights in the morning, Finally I told them, I come in peace.”

Another museum employee reported that the computer would freeze when she attempted to type “Tredwell.”

The only problem I’m having is that Spell Check refuses to recognize “Tredwell” as a word.

Owned and operated by the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation, the museum has obviously decided to capitalize on the spooky reputation. Around Halloween, a 19th century funeral of Seabury Tredwell is staged, complete with dramatic deathbed scene.

The twin parlors are filled with lilies to mask any whiff of decay. No embalming in those days, I learned. Special biscuits are baked. And the mourners (museum visitors) are encouraged to wear 19th century garb, black of course. Black armbands are handed out. The casket is carried out the front door up the street to Marble Cemetery, much to the surprise of 21st century pedestrians. Since this is a popular event for the museum, the funeral is enacted twice, once each day on the two days following Halloween.

There are scores of small museums dotting New York City. Each has its own character. But as far as I know, only this one has ghosts.

I did a little poking around the Internet looking for more New York ghosts. My favorite site seems to be manned by whom I’d guess is a teenager who only has a bare grasp of grammar and is confused about their and they’re.

This site by kids and for kids is filled with ghost stories from around the state. I read one after another, an altogether wonderful pursuit on a chilly, dark day

I’ve come to a conclusion. Ghosts lack imagination. They seem to manifest themselves in the same way. If they’re friendly little girls, laughter is heard. If they’ve been brutally murdered, they scream. If they’ve been killed in a car crash, they wander along the highway. They like to swing lanterns. They like to stand backlit in windows. They have a fondness for rocking chairs. They love to turn lights on and off.

While cemeteries, old insane asylums and poor houses are popular haunts; they also frequent inns and taverns, especially ones that date from colonial times. Good for atmosphere, I suspect.

Ghosts certainly seem to have a collegiate bent; almost every college and university is reported to have ghosts. The causes for haunting usually involve love affairs gone bad followed by defenestration or hazing gone wrong.

I’ve read about several brides wandering around and even a ghostly African American security guard who hangs out in Queens. And there are a lot of janitors doing all kinds of haunting, none of it seems to involve a mop and pail.

I did find one unique ghost story. It concerns a suburban multiplex theater. Doorknobs turn on their own and lockers open and close with no human intervention. Now here’s the scary part. “Brand new glass counters at the concession stand have scratches on them when nothing has touched them and no customers have been in the theater”. Woooo.

In the interests of full disclosure I’d like to report a strange occurrence. As I work on this article, I notice that empty candy wrappers are surrounding me. The Trick or Treat bowl also shows signs of having been riffled. Hmmm. Must be the work of a ghost.


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