If you had a time machine, which era would you visit? Unfortunately, New York doesn’t have a time machine (yet), but The Merchant’s House comes pretty darn close! The Merchant’s House Museum formally owned by the Tredwells, is the only conserved 19th century home in New York City. The museum provides annual self-guided and group tours as well as various festive events. My sister and I were ecstatic about the visit, but little did we know how haunted the mansion really was…….
As my sister and I entered the museum I started to realize – the middle class had it real good back then! Red carpet floors, grandiose rooms, and amazing décor were everywhere. As we walked through the dimly lit corridor we reached the receptionist’s quarters. After welcoming us the greeter gave us a map of the entire house – with information about each room, and told us that we had the freedom to roam the grounds for as long as we pleased. There were four different floors and a garden. Our main goal was to get through the four floors without encountering any sort of eerie apparition.
Our first stop was the basement floor which contained the garden, kitchen, and family room. Every morning the family servants would rise before dawn and begin their work in the kitchen. The maids would dust and scrub the parlors while others would trim, clean and refill the oil lamps. Tending the fire, chopping vegetables, stirring pots and washing dishes for the family were some additional duties undertaken. The servants were on call 24 hours a day. The work was physically strenuous and they were usually not finished with their duties until after dark. The Tredwell’s kept a pie safe to the left of the kitchen in which they hid delicacies and treats from vermin. At this point in the tour I had totally forgotten about the ghost stories, but I would remember them soon enough.
After exploring the basement floor we went up to the Parlor Floor, which I basically call the party floor. The Tredwells would take their meals downstairs in the family room, but when throwing dinner parties they would use the rear parlor. The rear parlor, when not in a festive state, was used as a family room to relax, read books, or meet with close friends. When a dinner party was planned, the servants would transform the rooms into formal dining halls.
The next floor was the bedroom floor – this is where things started to get real creepy. During the 19th century it was customary for husband and wives to remain in separate rooms. The bedrooms were not only used for sleeping but were also dressing rooms. As soon as guests arrived for the Tredwell’s parties they would go straight upstairs and hang their shawls and bonnets on the mahogany four poster bed. The men would make their way up to the men’s chambers and most likely brush their hair, shine their shoes etc.
While taking a picture of the bedrooms, I stopped to play around with the mannequin of Eliza (One of the Tredwell women). I was trying to get a comical picture with her. My sister kept on beckoning me to come on because she was getting the heebie-jeebies and we were the only ones on that floor at the time. I kept on begging her, “just one more picture Camella, please!” As soon as I said that, we heard a very strange knocking in the back – it scared me half to death. I quickly agreed to move to a different room, but the spooky events didn’t end there.
On the same floor we saw the Tredwell’s various study rooms and preserved religious texts dating all the way from the 1800’s.
The last floor, the most depressing floor, had to be the servants quarters. Two servants shared this tiny bedroom. It was furnished with the families cast-off and unwanted furniture. The beds were made with iron as a precaution against bed bugs. The servants kept what little belongings they had in a trunk.
“The work of the servants was strenuous and physically demanding. Their hours were long. They were expected to rise before dawn and their work was not finished until after dark, with only one afternoon off per week.”(Knapp 39) The servants would have to travel up and down the many stairs over and over again with clean water, dirty water, clean clothes, and dirty clothes. They would have to scrub every inch of the house on their hands and knees for hours on end. Their pay consisted of a measly two to three dollars a month.
The sun had set, so the floor was sparsely lit and the atmosphere had an eerie feel to it. I tried to just brush it off, but again my sister became frightened. “Alright, time to go back down now Treasan!” My sister started down the stairs, leaving me there alone! I cried out to her “wait, come on, I just want to get these rooms at a good angle!” She came back reluctantly I picked up my camera again, not before hearing that strange knocking sound once more. I put back that camera in my pocket, pat my sister on the back and said, “yup girl! Time to go.”
We briskly walked backed down to the lobby floor and into the receptionist’s office, which I now realize was also a mini-gift shop. As we handed over our booklets and maps to her, she explained that the site hosts many Christmas and holiday centered events, and that we would be welcome to attend any of them. We thanked her for the information and left.
So, how did I feel spending a day in a 19th century haunted house? I still think their middle class had it pretty darn good, but I sure wouldn’t want to be in there after dark!
Merchant’s House Museum
29 East Fourth Street
New York, NY 10003
$13 Adult Ticket,
$8 Students (Get out those QC IDs!)
Children (Under 12) – Free
Mary Knapp. The Merchant House: Catalog. New York: Mary Knapp, n.d. Print.