Long Island City is really a confederation of small villages and hamlets along the northwestern shore of Long Island. The name began essentially as a re-branding of Hunter’s Point then grew to eventually include Astoria, Ravenswood, Sunnyside, Blissville and other communities after the development of the Long Island Railroad improved its land value.
“Fifteen years ago, outside of the village of Astoria, there was not a house in the limits of Long Island City, except the dwellings of half a dozen farmers and a line of palatial mansions fronting on the East River, from Hunter’s Point to Hell Gate,” said the New York Times in 1870 at the time of Long Island City’s charter.
It was an area of great change that still retained a rural character, even as two of America’s greatest cities rose to its south. The perfect setting — for a ghost story!
Haunted houses as often simply old mansions that look out of place on a changing landscape. By that definition, Long Island City in transition would have had its share of these. Interspersed within this article are a few old homes and mansions of northwestern Queens. Haunted or not, but still captivating!
I was looking through some newspaper archives looking for some old stories about Long Island when these two spooky stories popped up. Almost as if they wanted to be found and retold! Both are based on newspaper reporting of the day and were reported (albeit with a touch of skepticism) as fact:
Below: Bodine Castle at 4316 Vernon Boulevard
A Ghost In Long Island City
January 29, 1874 [source]
There once was a home at Jackson Avenue and Dutch Kills Road that was quite haunted, so haunted that its landlord was unable to rent it out. Soon a fearless family with the last name of Daly decided to rent the house.
“They were informed that there would be other occupants besides themselves in the house, but that did not deter them.”
They were in the house for a week until one night they heard moans coming from the hallway. The father investigated the hall, then the kitchen. The sound seem to move away from him — into the parlor, then into dank cellar. But there was no evidence of any intruder, no reason for the noise.
“Shortly after this as if some heavy body were falling downstairs were heard. Mrs. Daly, upon being interrogated, affirmed that the crockery in the cupboard was thrown down and broken, and declared the door was unopened.”
With a disturbing lack of empathy the newspaper then reports, “One child was so thoroughly frightened that it was thrown into violent convulsions and has since died.”
They stayed in the home the following evening to be awakened by horrific cries of ‘Murder! Murder!’ at midnight. The following day the family finally moved out of this haunted house. “Today a rigid investigation will take place, and the hoax, if it is one, will probably be ventilated.”
No further information was found about this house.
Below: Vernon Boulevard, at the S.E. corner of Astoria Boulevard, showing the Cornelius Rapelye House, built about 1780. A garage was later erected on the site. Eugene L. Arabruster Collection 1922
A Red-Haired, Blue-Eyed Ghost
The Stoutest Hearted Citizens of Blissville Filled With Fear
March 10, 1884 [source]
“All the hair in Blissville, Long Island, is on end with terror and excitement, and even the stoutest-hearted citizens feared to sleep until they got to church yesterday, because the ghost cries “Oh, ho!” and “Ah, ha!“ and likewise “Humph, humph” still haunted the Calvary Cemetery, and all Saturday night gave vent to weird and mysterious moans and sighs.”
A hotel proprietor names John Powers was stumbling home at night — almost midnight — in some presumed state of inebriation. On the road he passed a very short woman dressed entirely in black, “mov[ing] along in a strange manner, looking neither to the right nor to the left.”
The little woman did not respond when Powers wished her good night. Finally, “filled with strange forebodings,” he decided to look at the woman. But she had completely vanished.
“There were no houses, trees, nor fences near, nothing that even a cat could have concealed itself behind, and yet the weird apparition had disappeared and left not the slightest indication of its presence.”
Below: The old Payxtar Homestead, area of today’s Jackson Ave. and Queensboro Bridge Plaza, Long Island City
Another man named Thomas Culvert told a similar story that same evening. His description of the spirit is quite bizarre. “She was not more than three feet tall and had red hair, he said, and long curls hung down her back.”
His eyes lingered upon the woman a bit too long for she gazed up at him, making eye contact. “[H]er eyes were of a stony blue that chilled his very blood as she fixed them upon him for a single instant.” Culvert scurried immediately home and locked the door.
Throughout the night the townspeople of Blissville heard a series of shrieks and cries in the vicinity of an abandoned house. “Numbers of persons, made brave by the daylight, visited the haunted house and locality yesterday afternoon, but shrank away when the shadows began to deepen.”
Efforts were made to disprove these spooky tales but no source was ever found. Thus the residents of Blissville lost many hours of rest. “There will be no peace until the grisly secret is explained.”
Below: 27th Avenue, no. 805, Astoria, taken in 1937