Uptown Haunts: Ghosts Stories of Inwood and Washington Heights

By Lindsey Wagner and Sandra Ifraimova on Oct 27th, 2011

Trinity Cemetery is one of Uptown's famous haunts. (Photo by Lindsey Wagner)

Every town has its ghost stories. Legends about grim and ghostly events from long ago that haunt the minds of believers and skeptics alike.

Paranormal investigators, like Dan Sturges and his team, investigate eerie experiences that people can’t explain. “Sometimes, more often than not, there’s a rational explanation,” he says.

But, other times, could that tingling feeling that makes your hair stand on end or those footsteps you hear when you’re all alone at night, be caused by the alleged souls of the dead?

New York has many places with haunted stigmas. Here are a few for you to enjoy this Halloween.

HOUDINI’S HOUSE

Harry Houdini, the magician known for his Chinese Water Torture Cell trick and for being buried alive, died on Halloween in 1926.

His wife, Bess, refused to accept that her husband was no longer going to “magically” appear in her life. After selling their home on the Upper West Side, Bess moved to Inwood.

According to Cole Thompson, founder of MyInwood.net and member of Volunteers for Isham Park, just before Houdini left his wife for the afterlife, the couple decided on one thing: For the next decade, on the anniversary of his death, Bess would take part in a séance where Houdini would appear and produce a secret code that only she would know.

“Every Sunday, at the hour of Harry’s death, Bess would lock herself in a room of her Payson Avenue home with a photograph of her dead husband and wait for a sign,” Thompson said.

For 10 years, Bess continued to hold a séance every Halloween until the final one in 1936 on the rooftop of the Knickerbocker Hotel in Hollywood. This was broadcast over the radio. She never heard from her beloved, and gave up.

To this day, Houdini séances are held on the anniversary of his death. The Houdini Museum, in Scranton, Pa., asks believers and skeptics alike to hold séances. “We are asking everyone on the web to attempt to contact Harry Houdini sometime during Halloween for the 24 hours of October 31st and email us with any results and lack of results,” it says. “No kooks please, this is a serious séance test and séance tribute.”

THE MORRIS-JUMEL MANSION

Inside the corridor of the Morris-Jumel Mansion. (Photo by Sandra Ifraimova)

The oldest standing house in Manhattan, the Morris-Jumel Mansion, in Washington Heights, is said to have at least four ghosts roaming it’s 246-year-old creaky halls. Legend has it that the angry ghosts of Stephen Jumel, a woman in a purple dress, a housemaid that committed suicide and a Hessian soldier still live at 65 Jumel Terrace.

“It’s on the register of the National Haunted Houses in America,” said James Reener, a Community District 12 historian.

Built in 1765, as a summer home for British Col. Roger Morris, the house has an extensive history. It was used by Gen. George Washington and his senior officers to make plans for the Battle of Harlem Heights in 1776. It was then occupied by a British general followed by a Hessian commander.

After the war ended in 1783, the occupants changed frequently. In 1810, Stephen Jumel bought the property that contained the mansion and lived there with his wife, Madame Eliza Bowen Jumel, originally his mistress. After he died, she married Aaron Burr.

About 17,000 people visit the mansion annually, mostly for historical reasons, except for the last two weeks in October, said Ken Moss, director of the Morris Jumel Mansion. Moss, who has worked there for 12 years and had many overnight stays, has never seen a ghost.

“It’s not that I’m a non-believer entirely,” Moss said. “I’m a skeptic. The thing is, just because it’s an old house, people assume that it’s haunted, and there are old houses everywhere.”

He added, “The titillating story of ghosts detracts from the significance of the house.”

In 1964, students from a nearby school visited the mansion. It is said that a woman dressed in purple, stood on the balcony and yelled at the children, telling them to shut up. She then turned around and walked through a solid, wood door. It is said that this was Madame Jumel, who had been dead for almost 100 years.

View of the balcony where the ghost of Eliza Jumel has been seen. (Photo by Lindsey Wagner)

The third floor servants’ quarters are said to be haunted by a maid that threw herself out of a window after an unhappy love affair. The spirit of Stephen Jumel, Eliza’s first husband, has allegedly made his presence known during séances. His ghost claimed that after he fell on a pitchfork, his wife ripped off his bandages and watched him bleed to death in the mansion.

Sturges and his team went to the mansion two years ago. “I spoke to a couple of people who worked there and they said they hear footsteps all the time, they see things from the corner of their eye”, he said. “They feel like they are not alone in the room. Others saw Eliza Jumel standing on the balcony screaming at people.”

TRINITY CEMETERY

Trinity Cemetery, located in Washington Heights, may be the final resting place for many New York notables, but certain ghosts are said to lurk around its grounds.

The site dates to 1776 when the Battle of Fort Washington was fought there. The actual cemetery was established in 1842 by the parish of Trinity Church after burials were prohibited in lower Manhattan because of disease outbreaks.

Trinity Cemetery is believed to be haunted by many New York notables. (Photo by Sandra Ifraimova)

“Originally extending from 153rd to 155th Streets and from Amsterdam to Riverside Drive, the cemetery exhumed many graves after Broadway expanded,” said Raul Serrano, assistant manager at Trinity Church Cemetery and Mausoleum. The graves were moved to the other side of Broadway, separating the cemetery into a western and eastern division.

Many people that visit the Morris-Jumel Mansion make a stop at Trinity to see the hillside vault of Eliza Jumel, who allegedly haunts her nearby mansion.

Several Astor family mausoleums are spread throughout the grounds. John J. Astor, considered the first millionaire in the United States, is interred, in a vault at Trinity as well as his great grandson, John Jacob Astor IV, who died on the Titanic.

Julian Sepulveda, 19, a Manhattan College student, was visiting Trinity on a tour, and hoped to catch a glimpse of a ghost. “My old house was haunted, we’d find stuff scattered around,” he said. “I’m totally a believer that we’ll see something.”

Allegedly, the laughter of a young woman can be heard throughout the cemetery grounds, but it is unclear exactly which gravesite it comes from.

“I personally haven’t seen a ghost, but some of the staff think that they have seen them,” Serrano said.

 

More stories on Halloween Uptown:

What Lies Beneath: Harlem’s Crypt Chapel

El Barrio Celebrates Dia De Los Muertos

 

1 Response for “Uptown Haunts: Ghosts Stories of Inwood and Washington Heights”

  1. Who knew there were so many spooky sightings in Washington Heights?! Guess we know where to stay clear of when a black cat crosses our path!

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