Category Archives: Mysterious Stories

The Bowery Boys Halloween Special: Ghosts of the Gilded Age

PODCAST Four strange and spooky tales taken from New York City newspaper articles published during the Gilded Age

For this year’s 10th annual Bowery Boys Halloween special, we’re highlighting haunted tales from the period just after the Civil War when New York City became one of the richest cities in the world — rich in wealth and in ghosts!

We go to four boroughs in this one (sorry Brooklyn!):

— In the Bronx we highlight a bizarre house that once stood in the area of Hunts Point, a mansion of malevolent and disturbing mysteries

— Then we turn to Manhattan to a rambunctious poltergeist on fashionable East 27th Street

— Over in Queens, a lonely farmhouse in the area of today’s Calvary Cemetery is witness to not one, but two unsettling and confounding deaths

— Finally, in Staten Island, we take a visit to the glorious Vanderbilt Mausoleum, a historic landmark and a location with a few strange secrets of its own

PLUS: Stay tuned until the end to hear the trailer for the new Bowery Boys podcast series — The First!

 

To get this week’s episode, simply download it for FREE from iTunes or other podcasting services or get it straight from our satellite site.

You can also listen to the show on Stitcher streaming radio and TuneIn streaming radio from your mobile devices.

Or listen to it straight from here:
The Bowery Boys #215: GHOSTS OF THE GILDED AGE

___________________________________________________________________________

The Bowery Boys: New York City History podcast is brought to you …. by you!

We are now producing a new Bowery Boys podcast every two weeks.  We’re also looking to improve the show in other ways and expand in other ways as well — through publishing, social media, live events and other forms of media.  But we can only do this with your help!

We are now a member of Patreon, a patronage platform where you can support your favorite content creators for as little as a $1 a month.

Please visit our page on Patreon and watch a short video of us recording the show and talking about our expansion plans.  If you’d like to help out, there are five different pledge levels (and with clever names too — Mannahatta, New Amsterdam, Five Points, Gilded Age, Jazz Age and Empire State). Check them out and consider being a sponsor.

We greatly appreciate our listeners and readers and thank you for joining us on this journey so far. And the best is yet to come!

________________________________________________________________________

 

This is the Casanova Mansion aka “the house of many mysteries”

mny221052
Courtesy Museum of the City of New York

The subterranean tunnels under the Casanova mansion, as they appeared in 1910. Prison cells were discovered along the walls of the tunnels. What could they have been used for?

Courtesy MCNY
Courtesy MCNY

 

From the book “The borough of the Bronx, 1639-1913; its marvelous development and historical surroundings” (1913):  “Casanova Mansion were stored with powder and rifles which eventually found their way into the hands of the patriots in Havana and other Cuban cities. An underground passage had been made, running from the house to the Sound, and under cover of darkness boats, which were undoubtedly filibusters, were occasionally seen to steal into the little cove that the mansion overlooked; and, after being freighted with ammunition and other implements of war, to creep out again as mysteriously as they had entered.”

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In 1902 a young girl made the news when she by climbing the the very top of the old mansion. Note that the porch is different than the picture above. This is probably the side of the house that faced the East River.

casanova-mansion-aka-whitlocks-folly-west-farms-bronx-1897
Courtesy Stuff Nobody Cares About

The Casanova Mansion makes one of its final appearances in the newspapers. This article is from 1902 although it appears that the mansion was not completely demolished until much later (the pictures above are from a later date)

From the New York World, November 18, 1902
From the New York World, November 18, 1902

For more information on the Casanova Mansion, check out this exhaustive research from Paul DeRienzo.

 

From the New York Times, September 18, 1870, a thorough recounting of the strange story of possible ghosts on East 27th Street, with a thorough description of the police’s creative use of lighting and photography.

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A selection of houses along East 27th Street, photographs by Charles Von Urban, courtesy the Museum of the City of New York

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The spectacular Windsor Hotel on Fifth Avenue and 46th Street, pictured here in 1890, many years after the death of its proprietor John T. Daly.  For more information on this forgotten hallmark of upper-class glamour, check out this article from Daytonian In Manhattan.

Museum of the City of New York
Museum of the City of New York

 

A ‘bird’s eye’ view of Calvary Cemetery in 1855, well before its expansion. Taking from clues from various newspaper, my guess is that the ‘cursed farmhouse’ lay somewhere to the far right of this image.

MCNY
MCNY

A map from 1909 detailing the expansion of Calvary Cemetery.

Courtesy NYPL
Courtesy NYPL

 

From the New York Tribune, May 3, 1877

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A macabre diagram of the Daly crime scene at the farmhouse, published in the New York Herald, May 7, 1877.

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The Vanderbilt Mausoleum, pictured here in 1910

Museum of the City of New York
Museum of the City of New York

new-york-vanderbilt-mausoleum-2-1892-unknown

 

We hope you stuck around until the end of the show — to hear the official trailer for the new Bowery Boys podcast series called The First. Listen to it here:

 

The Bowery Boys Halloween Specials: The Complete Haunted Collection

Here is the complete collection of Bowery Boys Halloween specials. Creep yourself out while listening to these spooky legends of New York City. From the haunted woods of Van Cortlandt Park to spirits haunting Captain Kidd’s treasure on Liberty Island. Psychics at Carnegie Hall, unsettling spirits in Cobble Hill, undead party animals at Grand Central!

Download them at the links below or from these two Bowery Boys pages on iTunes: [Main feed] [Archive feed]

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2016 Ghosts of the Gilded Age

Highlighting  haunted tales from the period just after the Civil War when New York City became one of the richest cities in the world — rich in wealth and in ghosts!   In the Bronx once stood a haunted house in the area of Hunts Point, a mansion of malevolent and disturbing mysteries.  Then we turn to Manhattan to a rambunctious poltergeist on fashionable East 27th Street.  Over in Queens, a lonely farmhouse in the area of today’s Calvary Cemetery is witness to not one, but two unsettling and confounding deaths. And finally, in Staten Island, we take a visit to the glorious Vanderbilt Mausoleum, a historic landmark and a location with a few strange secrets of its own.
Episode #215 Download it here
Ghosts of the Gilded Age

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2015 Haunted Landmarks of New York
Ghost stories associated with the city’s most popular and recognizable places from baby-faced spooks at the Dakota Apartments to spirited revelers at Grand Central Terminal. What’s still lurking in the hallways of the Chelsea Hotel? And whatever you do tonight, do not linger too long on the Brooklyn Bridge at night! A figure from the bridge’s past may still be looking for his head.
Episode #192 Download it here
Haunted Landmarks of New York: Tourist Terrors In The Big Apple

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2014 Ghost Stories of Brooklyn
Four tales of spirits haunting Brooklyn back in the 19th century when it was still an independent city.  A horrific gangly ghost on the railroad tracks, a historic Clinton Hill home with an invisible hand that would not stop knocking, a Coney Island hotel in 1894 with a secret in room 30, and the wacky wraiths of Bushwick’s Evergreens Cemetery.
Episode #172: Download it here
Haunted Hipsters: Four Ghost Stories of Brooklyn blog post

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2013 Ghost Stories of Old New York
Tales set mostly before the 1840s featuring sinister stories of murder, shipwreck and death by fright!  Spirits of dead Lenape Indians may haunt the forest of Van Cortlandt Park. A romantic West Village restaurant finds its home inside the former carriage house of Aaron Burr. Might the vice president still be visiting?  We bring you the legend of an old Brooklyn fort that once sat in Cobble Hill and terrified those who traveled along on old Red Hook Lane.  And finally, over at St Paul’s Chapel,  a respected old actor wanders the churchyard, looking for his body parts.
Episode #157:  Download it here 
Ghost Stories of Old New York:  Tales From The Revolution, Restless Indians, Haunted Forts and a Headless Actor

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2012 Mysteries and Magicians of New York 
Grab a drink at the Ear Inn, one of New York’s most historically interesting bars, and you might meet Mickey, the drunken sailor-ghost.  A frightening story of secret love at old Melrose Hall conjures up one of Brooklyn’s most popular ghostly legends.  A woman is possessed through a Ouija board, but while she accept the challenge by one of New York’s first ghostbusters?  And a tale of Harry Houdini, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and the line between the supernatural and mere sleight of hand.
Episode #144:  Download it here 
Mysteries and Magicians of New York: Whimsical Spirits, Scary Legends, Strange Magic and the Original Ghost Busters

 

2011 Haunted Histories of New York 
What’s horrors are buried at the foot of the Statue of Liberty? What’s below a Brooklyn Catholic church that makes it so dreadfully haunted? What ghost performs above the heads of theatergoers at The Palace? And what is it about the Kreischer Mansion that makes it Staten Island’s most haunted home?
Episode #130: Download it here
Haunted Histories of New York: What Horrors Lie Beneath The Foundations of the City’s Treasured Landmarks?

seance

2010 Supernatural Stories of New York 
The scary revelations of a New York medium, married Midtown ghosts who fight beyond the grave, a horrific haunting at a 14th Street boardinghouse, and the creepy tale of New York’s Hart Island.
Episode #114: Download it here
Supernatural Stories of New  York: Spooky Seances, Violent Jazz Age Ghosts and an Island of Despair

 

2009 Haunted Tales of New York
The secrets of the restless spinster of the Merchants House, the jovial fright of the Gay Street Phantom, the legend of the devil at Spuyten Duyvil Creek, and the spirit of a dead folk singer.
Episode #91: Download it here
Haunted Tales of New York: Urban Phantoms

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2008 Spooky Stories of New York 
The drunken spirits of the Algonquin, the mysteries of a hidden well in SoHo, the fires of the Witch of Staten Island, and ‘the most haunted brownstone in New York’.
Episode #65: Download it here
Spooky Stories of New York

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2007 Ghost Stories of New York
The ghosts of a tragic Ziegfeld girl, a scandalous doyenne of old New York, a bossy theater impresario and the ghoulish bell-ringer of St. Mark’s-in-the-Bowery.
Episode #16: Download it here

Here are the locations mentioned in all of our ghost podcasts:

 

  1. The Haunted Castle’ attraction at the Hoppings festival in Newcastle. (Tyne and Wear Archives)

2. Mark Twain’s Sketches, New and Old, 1887 (Internet Archive Book Images)

3. The Bells, 1920 (Internet Archive Book Images)

4. Mémoires récréatifs, scientifiques et anecdotiques du physicien-aéronaute E.G. Robertson (Internet Archive Book Images)

5. “Rhyme and Reason” (1901) (Internet Archive Book Images)

6. Seance, source unknown

7. “Two of William Hope’s friends lean on their motor car whilst a figure – the couple’s deceased son – is revealed at the wheel.” Photo by William Hope (1920) (National Media Museum)

8. Ghosts, The Oracle (1919) (Internet Archive Book Images)

9. The funny side of physic : or, The mysteries of medicine, presenting the humorous and serious sides of medical practice. An exposé of medical humbugs, quacks, and charlatans in all ages and all countries” (1874) (Internet Archive Book Images)

 

 

Great Hoaxes of Old New York: Mischief from Manhattan to the Moon

PODCAST Two stories of outrageous hoaxes perpetrated upon New Yorkers in the early 19th century.

New Yorkers can be tough to crack, maneuvering through a rapidly changing, fast-paced city. But they can, at times, also be easily fooled.

In this episode, we explore two of the wackiest stories in early New York City history, two instances of tall tales that got quite out of hand. While both of these stories are almost two centuries old, they both have certain parallels to modern-day hucksterism.

In the 1820s, the Erie Canal would completely change the fortunes of the young United States, turning the port city of New York into one of the most important in the world.  But an even greater engineering challenge was necessary to prevent the entire southern part of Manhattan from sinking into the harbor! That is, if you believed a certain charlatan hanging out at the market…..

One decade later, the burgeoning penny press would give birth to another tremendous fabrication and kick off an uneasy association between the media and the truth. In the summer of 1835 the New York Sun reported on startling discoveries from one of the world’s most famous astronomers. Life on the moon! Indeed, vivid moon forests populated with a menagerie of bizarre creatures and winged men with behaviors similar those of men on Earth.

To get this week’s episode, simply download it for FREE from iTunes or other podcasting services or get it straight from our satellite site.

You can also listen to the show on Stitcher streaming radio and TuneIn streaming radio from your mobile devices.

Or listen to it straight from here:
The Bowery Boys #208: GREAT HOAXES OF OLD NEW YORK

___________________________________________________________________________

The Bowery Boys: New York City History podcast is brought to you …. by you!

We are now producing a new Bowery Boys podcast every two weeks.  We’re also looking to improve the show in other ways and expand in other ways as well — through publishing, social media, live events and other forms of media.  But we can only do this with your help!

We are now a member of Patreon, a patronage platform where you can support your favorite content creators for as little as a $1 a month.

Please visit our page on Patreon and watch a short video of us recording the show and talking about our expansion plans.  If you’d like to help out, there are five different pledge levels (and with clever names too — Mannahatta, New Amsterdam, Five Points, Gilded Age, Jazz Age and Empire State). Check them out and consider being a sponsor.

We greatly appreciate our listeners and readers and thank you for joining us on this journey so far. And the best is yet to come!

________________________________________________________________________

New York in 1823, as seen from Brooklyn. Does it look a little, uh, heavy to you, like it might be sagging into the harbor?

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The harbor in 1825, at the opening of the Erie Canal, which changed the financial fortunes of New York and America in general. If man could carve a canal into the continent, couldn’t they also just move a little part of a island and move it around?

Courtesy Museum of the City of New York
Courtesy Museum of the City of New York

 

A view of Castle Clinton and the Battery in 1825. Had the island been severed and moved around, what would have become of Manhattan’s most famous fort?

Courtesy Museum of City of New York
Courtesy Museum of City of New York

 

And here’s an illustration of Wall Street as it may have looked in 1825.

Courtesy Museum of the City of New York
Courtesy Museum of the City of New York

 

Benjamin Day, the publisher of the New York Sun, who literally opened up the pages of his newspaper to the heavens.

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The Moon Hoax articles of 1835 were reprinted in several papers, and the New York Sun even sold lithographs. Here are some images from those publications:

Animales-lunares

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A 1838 print by the Thierry Brothers

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An illustration featuring the moon bison!

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For more information on the Moon Hoax, visit the excellent presentation by the Museum of Hoaxes and of course Matthew Goodman’s The Sun and the Moon.

The Fejee Mermaid, New York’s original mermaid freak

 

Today let’s give a little love to New York original mermaid queen — the hideous Fiji (Fejee) Mermaid!

This sickening Frankenstein monster — comprising a monkey’s head sewn onto a fish torso — was displayed in  PT Barnum’s American Museum off and on for almost twenty years.  Believe it or not, Barnum actually leased it from an owner who had bought it off of sailors.  It’s actual connection to the Fiji Islands remains tenuous at best.

“[M]any naturalists and scientific men who have examined it assert that it is absolutely the work of Nature. Others however insist that its existence is a natural impossibility.  When doctors disagree, the PUBLIC must decide.”

Here’s how the mermaid was advertised in the newspapers:

This is what it actually looked like:

This was classic Barnum bait-and-switch.  In fact, he relied on the artifact’s somewhat disappointing appearance to give it a bit of authenticity. See, why would I fake something that looked like this? was the implication.

The mermaid first arrived in New York in November 1842 after a smash debut in Boston,”where her ladyship [referring to the mermaid] has astonished thousands of visitors.”  Thousands flocked to Barnum’s display at a space called Concert Hall (at 404 Broadway) to take in a glimpse of this bizarre creature.  In its first week at the American Museum, Barnum raked in three times his average revenue.

From Barnum’s autobiography: “The public appeared to be satisfied, but as some persons always will take take things literally, and make no allowances for poetic license even in mermaids, an occasional visitor, after having seen the large transparency in front of the hall, representing a beautiful creature half woman and half fish, about eight feet in length, would be slightly surprised in finding that the reality was a specimen of dried monkey and fish that a boy a few years old could easily run away with under his arm.”

So popular was the exhibit that the old museum of Rubens Peale in today’s City Hall Park debuted its own mermaid, a parody monster called the Fud-Ge Mermaid:

By the 1850s, the Fejee Mermaid was one of a cast of oddities featured at Barnum’s museum. By this point, the grotesque object was probably a commons sight for regular museum goers.  I imagine it, perhaps, with a light coating of dust, possibly a cobweb.  Below: An advertisement from the Daily Tribune, 1855:

Whatever became of the mermaid?  Some say she disappeared during a fire at the museum.  I’m not sure she was still there when Confederate spies attempted to burn down the museum on November 25, 1864.  But she lives on as an icon of fabulous hoax, “one of the most scientific fakes ever perpetrated upon the American public.” [source]

And she lives on in our hearts. How can you resist a face like that?

Top image courtesy the Lost Museum (CUNY), an excellent online resource about Barnum’s American Museum.

(This article originally ran on this blog in June 2014)

The Disappearance of Dorothy Arnold, one of New York’s strangest mysteries

PODCAST The mysterious disappearance of a young woman becomes one of the most talked-about events over one hundred years ago.

The young socialite Dorothy Arnold seemingly led a charmed and privileged life. The niece of a Supreme Court justice, Dorothy was the belle of 1900s New York, an attractive and vibrant young woman living on the Upper East Side with her family. She hoped to become a published magazine writer and perhaps someday live by herself in Greenwich Village.

But on December 12, 1910, while running errands in the neighborhood of Madison Square Park, Dorothy Arnold — simply vanished.

In this investigative new podcast, we look at the circumstances surrounding her disappearance, from the mysterious clues left in her fireplace to the suspicious behavior exhibited by her family.

This mystery captivated New Yorkers for decades as revelations and twists to the story continued to emerge. As one newspaper described it: “There is general agreement among police officials that the case is in a class by itself.”

ALSO: What secrets lurk in the infamous Pennsylvania ‘House of Mystery’? And could a sacred object found in Texas hold the key to solving the crime?

To get this week’s episode, simply download it for FREE from iTunes or other podcasting services or get it straight from our satellite site.

You can also listen to the show on Stitcher streaming radio and TuneIn streaming radio from your mobile devices.

Or listen to it straight from here:
The Bowery Boys #205: THE DISAPPEARANCE OF DOROTHY ARNOLD

___________________________________________________________________________

The Bowery Boys: New York City History podcast is brought to you …. by you!

We are now producing a new Bowery Boys podcast every two weeks.  We’re also looking to improve the show in other ways and expand in other ways as well — through publishing, social media, live events and other forms of media.  But we can only do this with your help!

We are now a member of Patreon, a patronage platform where you can support your favorite content creators for as little as a $1 a month.

Please visit our page on Patreon and watch a short video of us recording the show and talking about our expansion plans.  If you’d like to help out, there are five different pledge levels (and with clever names too — Mannahatta, New Amsterdam, Five Points, Gilded Age, Jazz Age and Empire State). Check them out and consider being a sponsor.

We greatly appreciate our listeners and readers and thank you for joining us on this journey so far. And the best is yet to come!

________________________________________________________________________

The photograph of Dorothy Arnold that was much reproduced in the press after her disappearance on December 12, 1910.

Library of Congress
Library of Congress

 

An example of a missing persons notice that was (eventually) distributed to police departments around the city.

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On the day of her disappearance, Arnold bought chocolates at the Park & Tilford candy shop.

Library of Congress
Library of Congress

 

She was last spotted at a Brentano’s Book Store on 27th Street and Fifth Avenue. Here’s the interior of a New York Brentano’s store in 1925:

Museum of the City of New York
Museum of the City of New York

 

An extraordinary front page from the January 26, 1911, edition of the New York Evening World. Please note the other unusual headlines on the page:

Courtesy the Evening World
Courtesy the Evening World

 

A close-up of the insanely detailed illustration of her wardrobe:

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From the Jan. 26, 1911, New York Tribune:  “Miss Dorothy Arnold  who has been missing from her home in this city since December 12.”

Courtesy the New York Tribune
Courtesy the New York Tribune

 

The New York Tribune, Jan 30, 1911:  “Miss Dorothy H.C. Arnold who, it is now known, was seen near the 59th Street entrance of Central Park the evening of the day she disappeared.”

Courtesy New York Tribune
Courtesy New York Tribune

 

A Dorothy Arnold related headline, sitting next to a headline involving the captain of the ill-fated General Slocum steamship, which sank in 1904.

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The event soon made newspapers across the country. This is from the front page of the Washington (D.C.) Times, January 29, 1911

Washington Times
Washington Times

 

From the Mt. Vernon Ohio newspaper, January 31, 1911

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It even made the February 3, 1911, front page of the Missoula, Montana, newspaper!image_681x648_from_1026,415_to_4616,3834

A clue that went nowhere, in the February 4, 1911, edition of the Evening World:

Courtesy New York Evening World
Courtesy New York Evening World

 

A photo illustration of Dorothy Arnold and George Griscom — accompanied by yet another speculative headline — in the February 11, 1911, edition of the New York Evening World:

Courtesy the Evening World
Courtesy the Evening World

 

Even Griscom’s family was harassed by eager reporters. Here are his parents, captured on the Atlantic City boardwalk (February 13, 1911)

Courtesy New York Tribune
Courtesy New York Tribune

 

A headline from July 31, 1911, seems to question the motivation of Dorothy’s parents:

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At other times, they went all in with unsubstantiated facts to sell newspaper such as this whopper from October 10, 1911.

Courtesy Evening World
Courtesy Evening World

 

Another false report of Dorothy found in a sanitarium, from February 7, 1912:

Courtesy New York Evening World
Courtesy New York Evening World

 

News of a blackmail from February 21, 1912, but in this case, the woman, Bessie Green, was later acquitted.

Courtesy New York Sun
Courtesy New York Sun

 

Dorothy Arnold was frequently brought up anytime a person went missing, as in this case in July 22, 1912 and another from December 8, 1913.

Courtesy Evening World
Courtesy Evening World

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Over five year after her disappearance, her name is brought up again  in a possible unfortunate event described by the Rhode Island convict Edward Glennoris.

Courtesy New York Sun
Courtesy New York Sun

 

This podcast is inspired by an old paperback I found a long time ago called They Never Came Back by Allen Churchill which features the story of Dorothy Arnold:

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The Ghost With Red Hair: Two Hauntings in Long Island City

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

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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

Courtesy New York Public Library
Courtesy New York Public Library

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.”

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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

Courtesy Library of Congress
Courtesy Library of Congress

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

Courtesy Museum of the City of New York, photo by Berenice Abbott
Courtesy Museum of the City of New York, photo by Berenice Abbott

 

The Ghost of Peter Stuyvesant May Still Haunt the East Village

St. Mark’s Church-in-the-Bowery is the oldest standing structure in the East Village.  Upon seeing it, you’re almost forced to reevaluate where you are.  It’s intriguing even to those who pass by it everyday. It’s mysterious even to those who work and worship here.

Built in 1799 by the Stuyvesant family, St. Mark’s chapel and cemetery conformed to a street grid plan unique to their farmland. Today the only street that exists from the old Stuyvesant plan is Stuyvesant Street, running diagonally through New York’s standard street grid.

The Stuyvesants planned the street on a true east-west access.  It’s the rest of the island that’s askew with the compass.

Photo by Berenice Abbott
Photo by Berenice Abbott

Buried under the church ground are vaults of some of New York’s greatest civic leaders and social notables. Daniel D Tompkins, Vice President under James Monroe, is here, although the park that bears his name Tompkins Square Park is a couple avenues over. The department store king A.T. Stewart used to be here before his remains were stolen in a bizarre ransom attempt.

Philip Hone, the so-called ‘party mayor’ of New York, is interred in a vault here. From my profile of the mayor a few years ago:  “Mostly, he’s remembered as a cultural ambassador, even commissioning artwork for City Hall, approving of a developing theater district in the not-yet-seedy Bowery and encouraging the city’s growth as an American capitol of arts and sciences.”

Courtesy Museum of the City of New York
Courtesy Museum of the City of New York

But of course the most famous individual beneath St. Mark’s is that of the original Stuyvesant — Petrus Stuyvesant, the director-general of New Amsterdam whose farms comprised much of today’s East Village and give the Bowery (Bouwerij) its name.

Stuyvesant died in 1672 in the British controlled colony of New York.  From an 1893 history on Stuyvesant: “His remains were interred in a vault beneath the chapel which he had built near his house.  When the present St. Mark’s Church was erected, on the site of the old chapel, the vault was preserved, and a commemorative stone was placed upon its wall.”

Today his vault marker can be easily seen along the side of the church, and a bust of Petrus sternly greets visitors into the church yard.

Courtesy Museum of the City of New York
Courtesy Museum of the City of New York

The bust by Dutch sculptor Toon Dupuis is 100 years old, placed at St. Mark’s on December 6, 1915. Speaking at the ceremony, oddly enough, was General Leonard Wood, chief of staff of the U.S. Army. “Peter Stuyvesant was a headstrong, positive character with intolerance of lack of interest in the welfare of his company or colony.”

So headstrong that he’s still around perhaps? Legends of the ghost of Peter Stuyvesant have been associated with St. Mark’s since the 19th century.

Courtesy New York Public Library
Courtesy New York Public Library

One version of his ghost story recounted in the 1966 children’s book The Ghost of Peg-Leg Peter by M.A. Jagendorf, with illustrations by Lino S. Lipinsky (reprinted here):

“His body had been put into a closed vault.  But that did not stop the ghost of the governor from stomping around on black or moonlit nights in his old haunts; his farm and the city hall where he had once reigned.  Folks heard his stomping peg leg with the silver band, and saw him — and ran away in fear.  That pleased him, particularly if they were English.  He wanted no one around his grave, least of all the enemy who had robbed him and the Dutch Government.”

st marks

The growth of New York up Manhattan island so that it soon included all of Stuyvesant’s farm apparently enraged his spirit to such an extent that his apparition was reported in locations surrounding the church.

One fateful night  a sexton entered the church late at night to fetch something for the rector.

The moon was only half full, but bright enough to show church, trees … and ghost.

When the ghost saw the sexton, he raised his stick threateningly. The sexton raised his eye, took one look and ran off.

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“The governor-ghost looked after the fleeing fellow with contempt and then stomped to the locked church door. He walked through it into the church and stomped up to the hanging bell rope. Taking it in his hands he began pulling it savagely. ”

Ringing a church bell two hundred years ago meant an emergency — a fire in the region, perhaps, or a major announcement. According to legend, when neighbors ran to the church to inspect the sound, they found nobody inside. The bell rope had been torn off and its lower section was completely gone.

Over the years stories of his ghost crop up, usually tied with tales of a rapidly changing city.  One can only imagine how he’s taken to the  gentrification of the East Village!

Sometimes the ghost of the governor still comes out again and looks around sadly. But he never rings the bell any more, for he knows it will be of little use.”

Courtesy Museum of the City of New York
Courtesy Museum of the City of New York

Another disturbing event occurred at the church in 1903 although the resolution to this mystery was a bit more mundane.

One day the old clock atop St Mark’s began to act very mysteriously. “Churchgoers and others noticed last Sunday that the clock was acting in a manner befitting neither its age nor its position as hour marker over the historic graveyard. Not only was its course unreliable, but its actions were positively skittish, the minute hand having been seen to wiggle in a most undignified manner.” [source]

After several days of peculiar operation, a repairman climbed to the tower to fix the clock, only to find the culprit — “a kite string and pigeon were found to be responsible for the charges of horological misconduct lodged against the ancient timepiece.”

Below: Stuyvesant Street in 1856, an aberration to the city grid plan thanks in part to the presence of St. Mark’s Church and its well-established churchyard

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For more information on St. Mark In-The-Bowery, check out our podcast on its amazing history.  And the ghost of Peter Stuyvesant pops up in our very FIRST ghost stories podcast.

Haunted Landmarks of New York : Tourist Terrors in the Big Apple

PODCAST It’s the ninth annual Bowery Boys ghost stories podcast, our seasonal twist on history, focusing on famous tales of the weird and the disturbing at some of New York’s most recognizable locations.

Don’t be frightened! We’re here to guide you through the back alleys … OF TERROR!

In this installment, we take a look at the spectral lore behind some of New York City’s most famous landmarks, buildings with great reputations as iconic architectural marvels and locations for great creativity.

But they’re also filled with ghost stories:

Who are the mysterious sisters in colorful outerwear skating on the icy pond in Central Park? And why are there so many uninvited guests at the Dakota Apartments, one of the first and finest buildings on the Upper West Side?

Meanwhile, at the Chelsea Hotel, all the intense creativity that is associated with this great and important location seems to have left an imprint of the afterworld upon its hallways.

Over at Grand Central Terminal, the Campbell Apartment serves up some cocktails — and a few unnatural encounters with Jazz Age spirits.

Finally, on the Brooklyn Bridge, a tragedy during its construction has left its shadow upon the modern tourist attraction. Who’s that up ahead on the pedestrian pathway?

A little spooky fun — mixed with a lot of interesting history — and a few cheesy sound effects!

To get this week’s episode, simply download it for FREE from iTunes or other podcasting services or get it straight from our satellite site.

You can also listen to the show on Stitcher streaming radio and TuneIn streaming radio from your mobile devices.

Or listen to it straight from here:
The Bowery Boys #192: HAUNTED LANDMARKS OF NEW YORK

___________________________________________________________________________

The Bowery Boys: New York City History podcast is brought to you …. by you!

We are now producing a new Bowery Boys podcast every two weeks.  We’re also looking to improve the show in other ways and expand in other ways as well — through publishing, social media, live events and other forms of media.  But we can only do this with your help!

We are now a member of Patreon, a patronage platform where you can support your favorite content creators for as little as a $1 a month.

Please visit our page on Patreon and watch a short video of us recording the show and talking about our expansion plans.  If you’d like to help out, there are five different pledge levels (and with clever names too — Mannahatta, New Amsterdam, Five Points, Gilded Age, Jazz Age and Empire State). Check them out and consider being a sponsor.

We greatly appreciate our listeners and readers and thank you for joining us on this journey so far. And the best is yet to come!

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Two women in fashionable skating garments 1889. Perhaps similar to the ensembles worn by Janet and Rosette Van Der Voort during their ghostly figure eights in Central Park.

New York Public Library
New York Public Library

 

A famous image of the Dakota Apartment — all alone on the Upper West Side landscape — with skaters enjoying the frozen pond on a cold winter’s day.
The_Dakota_1880s

The Dakota photographed in 1890/

Courtesy New York Public Library
Courtesy New York Public Library

 

A haunting illustration by Eliza Greatorex from 1885 showing “The Dakota behind a rock at 72nd Street and Bloomingdale Road.”

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Courtesy Museum of the City of New York

 

The Chelsea Hotel in 1903, one of the premier apartment houses in New York City which eventually became a destination (both short and long-term) for the city’s artistic circles. It also attracted its share of eccentric and even disturbed individuals over the decades.

Internet Book Archvies
Internet Book Archvies

Oh what these floors have seen! The Chelsea in 1936.

Courtesy Berenice Abbott
Courtesy Berenice Abbott

The interiors of the Campbell Apartment, back when it was an actual office. Are the ghosts of former party guests still enjoying the room’s luxurious trappings? More information at this blog post at the Museum of the City of New York. All photos, taking in 1923, by the Wurts Brothers.

Courtesy Museum of City of New York
Courtesy Museum of City of New York

 

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Courtesy Museum of City of New York

 

Courtesy Museum of the City of New York
Courtesy Museum of the City of New York

Workers upon the Brooklyn Bridge, a dangerous work environment where dozens of men were injured over the course of its construction.

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Construction of the approach to the bridge on the New  York side.

MNY146544
Courtesy Museum of the City of New York

 

From the New York Times article regarding the unfortunate tragedy on the Brooklyn Bridge. Read the whole article here.

Courtesy New York Times
Courtesy New York Times

The scene at the bridge a few months after the accident — October 1878.

Courtesy New York Times
Courtesy New York Times

 

The picture at top is a reversed negative of the Methodist publishing and mission buildings, corner of Broadway and 11th Street, New York. [source]

Nine Years of New York Ghost Stories!

Here is the complete collection of Bowery Boys Halloween specials. Creep yourself out while listening to these spooky legends of New York City. From the haunted woods of Van Cortlandt Park to spirits haunting Captain Kidd’s treasure on Liberty Island. Psychics at Carnegie Hall, unsettling spirits in Cobble Hill, undead party animals at Grand Central!

Download them at the links below or from these two Bowery Boys pages on iTunes: [Main feed] [Archive feed]

 

2015 Haunted Landmarks of New York
Ghost stories associated with the city’s most popular and recognizable places from baby-faced spooks at the Dakota Apartments to spirited revelers at Grand Central Terminal. What’s still lurking in the hallways of the Chelsea Hotel? And whatever you do tonight, do not linger too long on the Brooklyn Bridge at night! A figure from the bridge’s past may still be looking for his head.
Episode #192 Download it here
Haunted Landmarks of New York: Tourist Terrors In The Big Apple

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2014 Ghost Stories of Brooklyn
Four tales of spirits haunting Brooklyn back in the 19th century when it was still an independent city.  A horrific gangly ghost on the railroad tracks, a historic Clinton Hill home with an invisible hand that would not stop knocking, a Coney Island hotel in 1894 with a secret in room 30, and the wacky wraiths of Bushwick’s Evergreens Cemetery.
Episode #172: Download it here
Haunted Hipsters: Four Ghost Stories of Brooklyn blog post

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2013 Ghost Stories of Old New York
Tales set mostly before the 1840s featuring sinister stories of murder, shipwreck and death by fright!  Spirits of dead Lenape Indians may haunt the forest of Van Cortlandt Park. A romantic West Village restaurant finds its home inside the former carriage house of Aaron Burr. Might the vice president still be visiting?  We bring you the legend of an old Brooklyn fort that once sat in Cobble Hill and terrified those who traveled along on old Red Hook Lane.  And finally, over at St Paul’s Chapel,  a respected old actor wanders the churchyard, looking for his body parts.
Episode #157:  Download it here 
Ghost Stories of Old New York:  Tales From The Revolution, Restless Indians, Haunted Forts and a Headless Actor

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2012 Mysteries and Magicians of New York 
Grab a drink at the Ear Inn, one of New York’s most historically interesting bars, and you might meet Mickey, the drunken sailor-ghost.  A frightening story of secret love at old Melrose Hall conjures up one of Brooklyn’s most popular ghostly legends.  A woman is possessed through a Ouija board, but while she accept the challenge by one of New York’s first ghostbusters?  And a tale of Harry Houdini, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and the line between the supernatural and mere sleight of hand.
Episode #144:  Download it here 
Mysteries and Magicians of New York: Whimsical Spirits, Scary Legends, Strange Magic and the Original Ghost Busters

 

2011 Haunted Histories of New York 
What’s horrors are buried at the foot of the Statue of Liberty? What’s below a Brooklyn Catholic church that makes it so dreadfully haunted? What ghost performs above the heads of theatergoers at The Palace? And what is it about the Kreischer Mansion that makes it Staten Island’s most haunted home?
Episode #130: Download it here
Haunted Histories of New York: What Horrors Lie Beneath The Foundations of the City’s Treasured Landmarks?

seance

2010 Supernatural Stories of New York 
The scary revelations of a New York medium, married Midtown ghosts who fight beyond the grave, a horrific haunting at a 14th Street boardinghouse, and the creepy tale of New York’s Hart Island.
Episode #114: Download it here
Supernatural Stories of New  York: Spooky Seances, Violent Jazz Age Ghosts and an Island of Despair

 

2009 Haunted Tales of New York
The secrets of the restless spinster of the Merchants House, the jovial fright of the Gay Street Phantom, the legend of the devil at Spuyten Duyvil Creek, and the spirit of a dead folk singer.
Episode #91: Download it here
Haunted Tales of New York: Urban Phantoms

ghost

2008 Spooky Stories of New York 
The drunken spirits of the Algonquin, the mysteries of a hidden well in SoHo, the fires of the Witch of Staten Island, and ‘the most haunted brownstone in New York’.
Episode #65: Download it here
Spooky Stories of New York

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2007 Ghost Stories of New York
The ghosts of a tragic Ziegfeld girl, a scandalous doyenne of old New York, a bossy theater impresario and the ghoulish bell-ringer of St. Mark’s-in-the-Bowery.
Episode #16: Download it here

Here are the locations mentioned in all of our ghost podcasts:

 

 

  1. Mark Twain’s Sketches, New and Old, 1887 (Internet Archive Book Images)
  2. The Bells, 1920 (Internet Archive Book Images)
  3. Mémoires récréatifs, scientifiques et anecdotiques du physicien-aéronaute E.G. Robertson (Internet Archive Book Images)
  4. “Rhyme and Reason” (1901) (Internet Archive Book Images)
  5. Seance, source unknown
  6. “Two of William Hope’s friends lean on their motor car whilst a figure – the couple’s deceased son – is revealed at the wheel.” Photo by William Hope (1920) (National Media Museum)
  7. Ghosts, The Oracle (1919) (Internet Archive Book Images)
  8. The funny side of physic : or, The mysteries of medicine, presenting the humorous and serious sides of medical practice. An exposé of medical humbugs, quacks, and charlatans in all ages and all countries” (1874) (Internet Archive Book Images)

TOP PHOTO: Source here

 

The Mystery on North Brother Island: A story told in news clippings

A thousand unsolved mysteries live within a newspaper’s archives, little forgotten events that have faded into history. Sometimes you can search deeper, and the answers to those mysteries may emerge.

This is what happened in a series of three articles I found the other day while doing some research on North Brother Island (the fruits of which will be revealed in tomorrow’s new podcast!)

I present to you the three complete clippings as they provide a tragic tale told in a methodical manner. I have been able to find no further information about the central figure other than these three articles.

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Courtesy Museum of the City of New York

The Lighthouse

But first — Some context on North Brother Island, that little area of land (with its companion South Brother Island) between the Bronx and Riker’s Island.  The island was uninhabited until 1869 when a lighthouse was built here to help navigate the traffic of the East River and Long Island Sound past the treacherous waters known as Hell’s Gate.

According to the book Lost Lighthouses, “The square, wooden residence contained a kitchen, pantry, dining room and sitting room as well as four bedrooms and an oil storage area.  The 50-foot tower rose from the front of the building and was equipped with a fourth-order Fresnel lens.”

Courtesy Museum of the City of New York
Courtesy Museum of the City of New York

The Quarantine Station

The lonely lighthouse would soon be joined by a hospital specializing in smallpox and other serious diseases. It was to become, in essence, a quarantine station, operated by Riverside Hospital. “The reconstructed smallpox pavilion, on North Brother Island, is ready to receive about forty patients,” reported the New York Tribune in February 1881.

That August, as city officials visited the island to plan the construction, the Tribune reported on its present occupants. “[North Brother Island] has a surface area of about of about thirteen acres. It is at present occupied only by a lighthouse-keeper and his assistant, and by a woman who entertains occasional picnic parties.”

 

Courtesy Museum of the City of New York
Courtesy Museum of the City of New York

The Lighthouse Operator

Flash forward to the cold winter of 1884 — January 2, 1884, in fact. The picnic woman was undoubtedly gone, and the hospital pavilions were newly completed. Administrators and patients may  have just moved in by this time.  We do know, however, that the lighthouse operator was at his helm — a man named Robert Parker. I’ll let the news clippings now take over:

From the New York Sun, January 3, 1884:

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A MYSTERY OF THE SOUND

Finding the Body of a Woman — A Wound on the Head

“Robert Parker, a stepson of Daniel Kelly*, keeper of the lighthouse on North Brother Island, noticed a flotilla of canal boats about 8 o’clock yesterday morning in tow of one of Starin’s tugs**, going up the Sound.  Immediately in the wake of the boats he saw something bobbing up and down in the water.  He put out in a boat, and as he drew near he discovered the body of a woman.  After he took it ashore he found it was still warm.  Blood was oozing from a wound on the head.  Parker went to Long Island City*** and notified Coroner Robinson, and the body arrived at Long Island City at 6 o’clock last evening.

The woman was about 45 years old, and 5 feet 3 inches in height. She had long dark hair, and was dressed in a calico waist, black overskirt, dark underskirt, lined with red flannel, white apron, dark stockings, and black cloth gaiters.  There was a large lump under her left jaw.  A wound on top of the head had the appearance of having been inflicted by some blunt instrument.  Parker saw no attempt to rescure the woman by any one on the canal boats.”

*Not sure who this Daniel Kelly is. Any guesses?

**The tug boat concern of John Henry Starin, a “leading marine operator in the United States,” owning everything from excursion boats to industrial barges. (Pictured above)

***Still an independent city within Queens County as the Queens borough was not yet created

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Foul Play?

An article in the New York Times from the same day repeats most of the same information — including that thing about Daniel Kelly — but brings up the opinion of the coroner:

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“The Coroner thinks that it is a case of foul play, and he has ordered City Physician William Barnett to hold an autopsy.  Parker says that no attempt was made to rescue the woman by any one of the canal-boats.  At Mr. Starin’s office last night nothing was known as to the canal-boats which the tug had in tow, and no information had been received as to the woman’s death.”

The Story of Matilda

By the following day, the woman had been identified. Here is an excerpt from the article. (You can find the original here.) The entirety of the text is below.

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THE EAST RIVER MYSTERY SOLVED

IDENTIFICATION OF THE BODY FOUND FLOATING IN THE WATER

 

“The body of a woman found floating in the East River, below North Brothers Island, on Wednesday morning, proved to be that of Mrs. Matilda Meyer, wife of Charles B. Meyer, who lives at No. 219 East 75th Street.*

The woman was a mother of five children and a native of Germany.  For some time past, since the death of a son, she had suffered from melancholia, which was  aggravated by the financial troubles of her husband, who was at one time a prosperous brewer.

Mrs. Meyer left her home at 6 o’clock on Wednesday morning, without telling anyone where she was going.

Her husband instituted inquiries among her neighbors and friends when her prolonged absence aroused his fears as to her safety. He feared suicide because of signs of temporary insanity which she had shown at intervals.  Inquiries were made at the Morgue in this City., but no trace of the missing woman was found until Mr. Meyer read in yesterday morning’s papers the accounts of the finding of the body of a woman floating in the wake of a canal tow.

With a friend he went to the Long Island City Morgue, and at once identified the body as that of his wife.  To Coroner Robinson, who had summoned a jury of inquest, he told the facts recited above.

An examination of the body made by Dr. William J. Burnett revealed the fact that the wounds on the woman’s head were superficial and such as might be made by the paddle-wheel of a steamboat.  The inference is that Mrs. Meyer after leaving her home plunged into the river.  The tide was running at the flood, and was about full flood when she was discovered.

Her clothing had served to buoy her up, and so she had floated out to the point where she was discovered by Robert Parker.”

*The building at that address is no longer there.

While the story deems the ‘mystery solved’, to me it opens so many more. Did Matilda really kill herself? What were the circumstances surround her husband’s failed financial fortunes, and those of her son’s death? What of the fate of the other children?

Unfortunately, the answer of these mysteries from the tragic tale of Matilda Meyers may forever be unanswered.