Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Review: NY Ghost Tours

...the one in which we go hunting for ghosts...and chance upon a strange encounter indeed.....

After finding the most Perfect Cupcake in New York City - if not The World - my life was pretty much complete. It didn't matter WHAT we did next on our schedule - fishing for subway rats, perhaps? - it wouldn't matter, because I was One. Happy. Girl.

We had about an hour or so before our Ghost Tour was to begin, so we did what anyone with extra free time in Greenwich Village does....

Okay...not THAT - we DID have a kid with us, geesh.

We decided to go to Washington Square Park and just chill...people watch...dog watch...squirrel watch...well. You get the idea.

We strolled through the winding paths, and managed to snag a prime park bench that was very near the fountain and center square....here, we just sat back, rested our feet, rested our eyes, and enjoyed the beautiful evening. It was heavenly.

All too soon, it was approaching 8:00 pm - and time for our Ghost Tour of Greenwich Village....I had discovered during my pre-trip research that the Village has an interesting haunted history, and thinking it might be fun to explore the paranormal, I had booked a 2-hour tour with a company called NYC Ghost Tours back in March. I was now a little concerned...I had paid in advance ($20 each), and I had received a conformation email - but the website for NYC Ghost Tours was now...gone. Like a ghost - it had disappeared. Would our Ghost Guide be waiting for us at the Arch, as promised in the email? Or would our tour be nothing but an apparition?

We strolled over to the Washington Arch, which had been designated our meeting point, and I was relieved to see a guy, dressed in Victorian-period black garb, holding a Victorian lamp...just standing there. And although you DO certainly see strangely-dressed people in NYC - especially in Greenwich Village - this guy stood out, indeed. He was either our guide, or he was very, very creepy.

Taking a HUGE chance, I approached him and asked, "Are you our Ghost Guide?"

I certainly hoped that he would answer in the affirmative, because if he wasn't, I'm sure he would be calling the cops on me and having me committed or something. Because, really, what would YOU do if someone walked up and asked if you were their "Ghost Guide"???!! Not to mention that I would be considering having HIM committed, because of his odd appearance and behavior.

To both of our relief, he was, indeed, our guide....Whew. He introduced himself as David, an actor by day and Ghost Guide by night. David told us that we were the only participants this evening, so we'd be getting a very private and personal haunted tour of the Village, and so off we went on our ghost hunt.

We initially strolled through Washington Square Park itself, as the twilight encroached and the darkness enveloped us. David explained that the park was built on a former Potter's Field...a place where unknown or indigent people were buried. Some estimate that more than 20,000 souls rest under the park - many of them slaves, as well as victims of the 19th-century yellow fever epidemic. Over the last two centuries, bone fragments and actual bodies have been found in the grounds when construction in the park has occurred....Some people claim that the park is haunted to this day of some of these poor souls....

I looked over at Daughter to see how she was taking all of this in, and she was completely engrossed in the story...her eyes widened as she looked around the park, perhaps imagining she was seeing the spirits of 20,000 ghosts....

In the northeast corner of the park sits the oldest tree in New York City - an estimated 334 years old. Legend has it that this tree, known as Hangman's Elm, was used over the years for public executions...with stories that traitors from the American Revolutionary War hung from its branches. Historians, however, state that no public records of hangings exist....

We walked out of the park and began walking down some of the surrounding streets, where David led us to our next destination - the site of the infamous Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire.

One of the saddest stories in New York's history involved this building, now known as the Brown Building. Back in 1911, a fire broke out in this clothing factory after a worker put out a cigarette. The fire spread quickly, and the tragedy took 141 lives, many of them forced to jump to their death from the 10th floor of the building. To this day, some people claim that they can hear moans on the top floors of this building, especially around the anniversary each year of the fire.

The building today...it's now part of the NYU campus....

I had read numerous books about this tragedy, and so this was an especially poignant stop for me...as well as Daughter, as she had heard about this fire and was curious about it.

There are two plaques on the building now to remember the tragedy:

Moving on, we walked further through the campus of NYU, stopping at the Bobst Library building. David wanted us to see the atrium...which has been the location of at least nine suicides since 2002, as NYU students plunge to their deaths. Eventually, NYU installed some pretty funky barriers to prevent further people from jumping to the marble floors below:

The atrium...before the barriers....

Hmmm...definitely different....

An interesting news article that describes this can be found HERE. Because this library sits atop part of the Potter's Field, that I talked about before, some people believe it is haunted by the souls that were disturbed during the construction of the library and have come back to seek revenge. I'm not sure what's going on - but NINE suicides? That is indeed tragic, no matter how you spin it.

We then strolled down 3rd Street, where we stopped at the Edgar Allen Poe "house" at 85 West 3rd Street.

Edgar Allen Poe spent eight months at this address between 1845 and 1846, churning out "The Cask of Amontillado", as well as a bit of "The Raven." The original house was demolished to make way for NYU dormitories, but some people claim to have seen Poe's ghost climbing the banister - which is the only original part of the building that remains.

David tells the story behind the house.....

Directly across the street is Fire Patrol Station #2, which is now the current residence of hunky Anderson Cooper (yes, I have a slight crush on him).

Back in the 1880's, this building was a brothel; later, it turned into a boardinghouse, where a young kitchen maid was murdered by her jealous lover. David then told us the story of Firefighter Schwartz, who hung himself from the ceiling rafters in the attic after discovering his wife had cheated on him. Supposedly, former firefighters have reported not only hearing strange noises, but to also have seen the shape of Schwartz suspended in mid-air. Anderson Cooper recently purchased the fire station, did some extensive remodeling, and talked about it's paranormal reputation on his talk show's Halloween episode.

We were soon at the last - and most notorious - house on the tour, the "House of Death" - located at 14 West 10th Street.

Why the "House of Death"? Because no less than 22 people have died in this house.


Mark Twain lived here from 1900 to 1901, and supposedly haunts the stairwell. This is also the location where attorney Joel Steinburg, in 1987, was accused and later convicted of beating his 6-year old adopted daughter Jessica Steinberg to death.

It was here, at this house, that things got...rather...weird.

As we were standing on the sidewalk, while David spun the haunted history, a man came walking down the street, with plastic bags of groceries and a briefcase draped over his arms. He gave us a passing glance as he approached the House of Death, and then went down the steps, where he began to insert his key in the front door.

Well. This is rather awkward. I mean, obviously this guy LIVES at this house, and here are four strangers - one of which is dressed in black Victorian clothing - standing on his sidewalk, talking about murder and mayhem that took place in the house. David, being an actor, has a rather booming voice, and he was in his element...he had just got to the part where he dramatically, and LOUDLY, says,

"THIS, folks, is why THIS house is known as...{dramatic pause for effect}...THE HOUSE OF DEATH."

He then pauses dramatically again...waiting for his audience - us - to be appropriately shocked. Which we were.

However - so was the guy at the front door.

Mr. Grocery Guy literally stops in his tracks...slowly turns around...eyes wide...and then walks back up the steps...and approaches us.

Uh oh. This can't be good.

I'm now pretty sure the guy is not only going to throw us off his property, he's probably going to have us arrested or something. I'm beginning to think of how I'm going to plead innocent here - we were just out for an innocent ghost hunt, is all....

"What did you just say????" he asks...a bit incredulous.

I'm now backing up a bit...grabbing Daughter's hand, in case we have to make a run for it. I don't know where we'll run - Greenwich Village is a confusing place, especially at night, in the dark - but hey. Desperate times call for desperate measures.

David says, "Well, I called it the House of Death." And even David looks a bit...pale.

"Do you live here?" I ask, trying to act all innocent....

Mr. Grocery Guy answers, "Yes. Well. I'm temporarily renting it. I just moved in, actually."

"Oh," I say, "then you probably know all about the history behind the house, right?"

He looks stunned...and says, "No. No, I don't. But I want to. Tell me...tell me more, why this is the House of Death."

So, David retells the story - and history - of the house, as the guy listens, wide-eyed and fascinated.

David...reenacting the story...you can see the groceries & briefcase on the sidewalk....

When David had finished telling the story, the guy reaches in and hands us all a business card, explaining, "Here's my card. If anything should happen to me - in the next few weeks while I'm here - you'll know why."

Mr. Grocery Guy has a name...Dr. Samuel Shem....

Mr. Grocery Guy....

Dr. Shem then goes on, saying, "I'm here in town because I've written a play...it's about to open over in SoHo. So, if my name makes the headlines - because of this house - you'll know what happened."

David takes a look at Dr. Shem's card...and then has a total freak out.

"OH MY GOD!!!!!!! YOU WROTE 'BILL W AND DR. BOB'????!!!!!" David's looking at Dr. Shem now in awe.

"Yes, I did...why? Do you know the play?" Dr. Shem asks.

David answers, "YESSSSSSSSS!!!!!! I've been auditioning for that play forever - I just purchased it off Amazon, and I absolutely LOVE it!"

Our family has been pretty much forgotten at this point...which is okay. The three of us are now just watching this transpire on the sidewalks of The Village - and it's better than any Broadway play. This is just totally bizarre...not only meeting the guy who is now living (albeit temporarily) in The House of Death, but now watching David, the actor, have a total freak-out at meeting the playwright of the play that he's been desperately trying to get a part in.....

The play....

Are we being punk'd???

Seriously. I can't make this crap up.

So...ultimately, our Ghost Tour of Greenwich has pretty much become a lesson in networking between an actor and a playwright...and that's okay. We're all about flexibility. We listen as the two discuss business, with Dr. Shem telling David to give him a call, and David profusely thanking him...as we finally say our goodbyes to Dr. Shem, David walks away...visibly shaken, and yet excited.

Ghosts are forgotten. We now talk about what a small world it is, and how everything happens for a reason.

Before getting us to our subway station, David has one more stop - just for fun. He takes us to The Cube - an outdoor sculpture that can be spun around. Mikayla recruits some international friends on the street, and they give it a spin:

It was time to say goodbye to David...we wished him well, and hopes he gets a part in the play. And we also hope nothing happens to the delightful - and personable - Dr. Shem, during his stay in the House of Death:



kimrye said...

Your writing about your travels is fanastic. Love the CruiseCritic and this blog. What happened to the Food Cruise? Can't find that review. The only thing I would like with this NY review is a map, because I am old school and like real paper maps to track my steps. IS there one I could get ahold of that you would recommend? Looking forward to more of your travel. I retire at the end of the year and I may be following in your footsteps.

The Boss Lady said...

I have loved all of your New York posts so far, but this one made me chuckle.