Posted on: May 28, 2015

I’ve never been to New York, which is a shame, as it does seem to have it’s fair share of intriguing ghostly legends.  Probably one of the most famous haunted buildings is the Dakota, the apartment block where John Lennon was assassinated , and which was also used for the exterior shots in ‘Rosemary’s Baby’.  Melrose Hall, Brooklyn, is no longer there, but in the 19th century it became legendary for it’s gothic rumours of hidden rooms and staircases, and tales of a woman starving to death. The Chelsea Hotel, immortalised in the Joni Mitchell song lyrics “I woke up it was a Chelsea morning”has a legion of famous ghosts,  including Welsh poet Dylan Thomas, and punk legend Sid Vicious.  Sid described the hotel as “a vortex … an artistic tornado of death and destruction and love and broken dreams”.

One house which usually appears on lists of New York’s haunted houses though is 14 West 10th Street, Greenwich Village.  It is often referred to as New York’s House Of Death.  The house, an elegant brownstone, was built in 1854/5 by Clinton Gilbert, and for the rest of the 19th century it became the home of members of New York high society.  Set on a leafy street, it must have been a halcyon existence for the well-heeled.  It’s most famous resident was Mark Twain, and a plaque there marks this fact.

Twain – real name Samuel Clemens – lived at No.14 from 1900-1901.   Mr Twain may have only been in residence for a short while, but he seems to have left a lasting impression on the house, let alone the one it left on him.  He was an arch-skeptic about anything paranormal, and would always try to find a rational explanation.  One night he saw a piece of kindling wood move by itself.  Twain shot at it, saying he believed it was a rat, and the kindling fell to the floor, accompanied by a few drops of blood.

It’s interesting to speculate what Mr Twain would have said if he’d been told he would later be spotted as a ghost in the house, but that’s what happened.  The house was converted into apartments in 1937, and soon after a widow and her daughter sighted him sitting near a window.  “My name is Clemens”, he told them “And I have a problem here I gotta settle”.  Mr Twain, wearing a white suit, has also been sighted on the first floor and near the staircase.

The haunting really seemed to take off in the 1950s though when an actress, Jan Bryant Bartell, moved into the old servants’ quarters on the top floor in 1957.  She said she saw “a monstrous moving shadow” almost immediately on moving in.  Jan was to live there for 7 years, and became fascinated by the spectral happenings in her home.  She would even go on to write a book about her experiences there.  She reported hearing footsteps following her upstairs, a strange rotting smell, and seeing an apparition of a man.  When she reached out to touch him, she felt it to be “as diaphanous as marsh mist or a cloud of ether”.

Horror more dreadful than any ghost story would occur in the 1980s though, when the house became a crime scene. On the surface Joel Steinberg seemed to be a respected defence lawyer, living in an apartment here with his wife, who worked for a publisher.  Their facade was shattered in November 1987 though when he beat his 6-year-old daughter, Lisa, to death in a coke-filled rage.  When police broke into the apartment they found the poor little girl covered in filth and tied to a playpen.  Steinberg was jailed for her murder, and released in 2004.

That should have been more than enough horror for anyone, and there does seem to have been an attempt in recent years to down-play the house’s dark reputation.  It hasn’t stopped the house appearing on New York ghost tours though, and people claiming to have sighted a phantom grey cat, and a woman in a long gown walking through doors here.  An anonymous neighbour, living in the building next door, claimed he had seen “women in long gowns” going from room to room and lights flickering randomly.  Another nearby resident has said “there’s something evil there”.

Skeptics have pointed out – with plenty of justification, it must be said – that 22 deaths in over 150 years is scarcely an extraordinary amount for any house, let alone to merit it being called The House Of Death, but I doubt the fascination for 14 West 10th Street will disappear any time soon.



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