Ah October! The month of spooks, haunts, pumpkin spice lattes and a truck ton of candies and toothaches. While the younger generation seek to satisfy their sweet tooth this season, many older New Yorkers are looking for a way to satiate their craving for a spooky, heart stopping ordeal. If you’ve ever been to any of the New York City Haunted Houses, Times Scare or Blood Manor (scary as heck!) you’ll know that at the end of every haunted house experience, you’re left scared, but for the most part, you’ve got your bearings, and know that your fright is merely due to some pretty sweet acting skills. However, what if I told you there are some seriously spooky and haunted places here in NYC? Crazy right? When one considers the extensive history of New York, it actually makes sense that there are some creepy, eerie and downright skin-crawling sites here.
#1 The House of Death
If the name isn’t enough to scare you, listen to the backstory. The House of Death, infamously named for its disturbing and brutal history of murder and haunting apparitions, was formerly owned by a monster of a man, Joel Steinberg. To his friends, family, and neighborhood acquaintances, Joel Steinberg came off as a respectable professional, with a beautiful home, wife and adopted daughter. Little did they know what transpired behind the closed walls of his home. It was November of 1987, when Steinberg, after freebasing cocaine, brutally beat his six-year old adopted step daughter, and left her broken, bruised and alone on the bathroom floor. The beating was not reported until hours later, Lisa had already died. The policeman concluded that the abuse had been going on for a while, and that Lisa had furthermore been illegally adopted. Steinberg was convicted of first-degree manslaughter and served no more than 16 measly years in prison. While Steinberg has long since passed, it seems as if the history of the house still haunts on. Once owned by Mark Twain, The House of Death is now said to be home to over 20 ghosts (eek!). Many unfortunate owners are said to have seen the ghost of Mark Twain ascending and descending the steps. An apparition by the name of Clemens constantly introduces itself to new visitors, and some say that, if on a chilly moonlit night you happen take a look down the descending stairs, you may see a women dressed in white, holding a cat.
Address: 14 West 10th Street , New York, NY 10011 [Walking Tours Offered]
#2 Melrose Hall
Melrose Hall, constructed in the 1700s, isn’t your regular manor. Behind its eerie walls lay secret dungeons, hidden stairways, and prisons. The owner of the mansion Colonial William Axtell was know for his cruel and unusual brutality toward American prisoners. Men and women who passed by Melrose Hall were said to have heard deafening cries of agony coming from within its walls. These cries usually coincided with the disappearing of prisoners, who for some reason, were never seen again. Eerily enough, time has a way of recompensing those, due penalty for what they have done, and Colonial Axtell would learn this soon enough.
Axtell although married, fell madly in love with lady Isabella, so in love that he decided to hide her in a hidden room, above the Melrose ballroom. This room could only be accessed using secret stairways and passages. The only other person who knew of Isabella was Axtell’s household maid Miranda, who was appointed to take care of Isabella. One day Colonial Axtell received a commission across the seas and charged Miranda with taking care of Isabella’s every need, which included opening the hidden room. Everything was going according to plan until Miranda immediately feel deathly ill.
Miranda, upon her death bed tried to warn those around her that Isabella was trapped within the walls, but, since no one had heard of Isabella, or a room above the ballroom, they dismissed her as being frantic and delusional. Miranda died immediately. Isabella waited and waited for Miranda to come back, but, she never did. Isabella, trapped within the walls of Melrose, died of starvation.
Legend has it that, when Colonial Axtell came back from his journey and heard the news about Miranda’s death, he feel into deep distress, he knew what her death meant. Sometime later, at a family candlelit dinner, the dining hall went frigid and cold. The candle lights all blew out instantaneously, and the windows swung violently on their hinges. The secret door above the ballroom flew open, and in the mist of all the guests stood the haunting, decaying figure of Isabella, her finger pointing first towards Axtell’s wife and then to a mark scratched into the wall, “Betrayer.” Isabella vanished after that, the secret door slammed shut, and guests all said to have heard what sounded like a cry of sheer agony and a body fall to the floor. Colonial Axtell died, shortly after that.
The house was pulled down in 1903, and in its place now stands, what we know to be Prospect Lefferts Gardens; however, Melrose remains one of the most haunted houses in American history. Some say that, on a cold and foggy October eve, you can still see the specter of Isabella, roaming around, looking for her lover Axtell.
Address: Flatbush Avenue, between Winthrop and Clarkson, Brooklyn [Not Open to the Public]
#3 The Lefferts – Laidlaw House
One chilly December night in 1878, Edward F. Smith was aroused from his undertakings by an eerie knocking at his door, when he got up to answer it, he was met with silence and darkness. No one was there. No sooner did he turn to shut the door, that the knocking came back, more violently than before. Smith tried to ignore his dark and mysterious tormentor to no avail. As the backdoor and windows were slammed and banged, Smith hurriedly decided to call the police to take a look at the disturbing site. As cops encompassed the house, a brick was thrown from the dark into the window, despite the cops being on the outside and the inside of the house.
Address: 136 Clinton Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11205 [Not Open to the Public]
Warning: Some of these houses are opened to the public by way of free to low cost walking tours. Trespassing is against the law and I do not encourage it.
On a side note – Visit at your own risk! October is a spooky month, and there have been more than one account of strange happenings at these sites. Remember…..curiosity isn’t always good. Enjoy the holidays!
Susan Spellen on Melrose Hall
Lauren Lorey on House of Death