Landmarks Mysterious Stories

New York City’s Most Famous Haunted Houses

For fifteen years now, The Bowery Boys: New York City History podcast has featured a special Halloween show focusing on some of New York City’s scariest tales. You can find our back catalog of ghost story podcasts here

Here’s a little tribute to some of our favorite haunted homes — which also just happen to be fascinating historic sites. (After all, isn’t that what we’re here for?)

NOTE: This article is an extensively updated version of a piece I wrote for Huffington Post back in 2012.

New York is a city of eight million stories, and many of them are about ghosts.

You can’t stroll down a sidewalk in New York without tripping over an old ghost story, whether it be the restless spirit of Peter Stuyvesant over at St. Mark’s Church-In-The-Bowery, Gilded Age-era spirits roaming the halls of the Dakota Apartments or even the apparitions of suicide victims at the Empire State Building.

If you are attuned to such things, our parks are haunted, our bars and restaurants, our churches and theaters. Some even claim the Brooklyn Bridge is haunted, although I pity that mournful apparition on a crowded Saturday afternoon. 

Old places generally accumulate their share of ghost tales, and New York is certainly old indeed — over 400 years old. But that’s not the only reason the Big Apple is so frightfully haunted. 

The city’s first great writer, Washington Irving, both popularized and satirized urban legends, spinning his most famous yarn The Legend of Sleepy Hollow out of the misty superstitions of Westchester County. 

With the dawning of second Great Awakening — centered in western New York state — the American religious experience became deeply personalized, revising views on the afterlife.

New Yorkers of the late 19th century became entranced by the tools of spiritualism — mediums, magicians, séances, even Ouija boards.

Other realms became accessible, and it seemed believable for some that those who had died might have left unfinished business behind. 

The Headless Horseman Pursuing Ichabod Crane (1858) by American artist John Quidor

The preservation of old historic structures — on streets named for the long-dead — has given certain areas of New York a sense of being trapped in time, ample setting for a spooky story about the people who once inhabited these places. 

Many parks were once cemeteries. Yes, below that bench you’re sitting on? Very often a grave.

Washington Square Park may still have many thousands of bodies potentially buried underneath it. In knowing the history of a place, our minds sometimes draw artificial conclusions. If the bodies are there, could their spirits still be hanging around?

But mostly, ghost stories are generally good for business. When has saying some famous landmark was haunted ever driven anybody away from it? In the end, we all fashion ourselves ghost hunters.

Washington Square Parks’ charming vista holds a surprising history.

Even though New York City has very few free-standing spooky mansions in the traditional horror-movie vein, the city nevertheless possesses a disturbing variety of haunted private residences.

Here are a few of our favorite haunted houses — haunted, that is, according to legend. We’ve limited this list to free-standing homes and townhouses, not apartment towers — many still standing and many still used as private homes and businesses.

If you ever get a chance to stay in any of these places overnight, my advice would be — don’t.

136 Clinton Avenue in Brooklyn back when it was very, very close to the shoreline.
The Bell Ringer
136 Clinton Avenue, Brooklyn

In Clinton Hill, a plantation-style house built in the early years of the Brooklyn Navy Yard has survived hundreds of unusual tenants over the years, but certainly the scariest days in this historic home occurred in 1878 with a relentless, invisible hand that would not stop knocking.

Featured in the new podcast Gotham’s Greatest Ghost Stories

Courtesy Time Out New York
The ‘House of Death’
14 West 10th Street, Manhattan

This simple brownstone is often considered the MOST haunted place in Manhattan, as a variety of spirits have appeared in the building’s stairwells, including that of a former inhabitant — Mark Twain!

Featured in the podcast Spooky Stories of New York

Photo by Greg Young, from 2019
The Ghost In The Attic
226 Fifth Avenue, Manhattan

Near Madison Square Park, an eccentric writer posts a classified ad, hoping to rent out an attic room to a prospective subletter. Unfortunately the room already an occupant — a greenish ghost with a troubling Civil War history.

Featured in the podcast Haunted Houses of Old New York

Courtesy New York Public Library
The Phantom of Gay Street
12 Gay Street, Manhattan

This charming home on quiet, curvy Gay Street in the West Village was a former speakeasy and the home to Mayor Jimmy Walker‘s mistress. The creator of Howdy Doody even lived here. But many believe the party never truly stopped, as ghostly revelers have been seen and heard, including a spirit in an opera cloak affectionately known as ‘the Gay Street phantom’. 

For more information listen to the podcast Haunted Tales of New York

Courtesy Municipal Art Society
James Brown House
326 Spring St, Manhattan 

This former home of a Revolutionary War veteran is most famous for the taverns that have occupied its ground floor, including today’s jovial Ear Inn. But several decades ago, a sailor named Mickey was killed in an accident in front of the building, and many believe his mischievous spirit still harasses patrons to this day.

Featured in the new podcast Gotham’s Greatest Ghost Stories

The Possessed Townhouse
1 East 62nd Street

On the Upper East Side, a lavish penthouse ballroom may be permanently vexed with the ghost of a testy spirit named Mrs. Spencer. Can legendary funny lady Joan Rivers and a Vodou priestess manage to keep the ghoul under control?

For more information: the podcast Haunted Houses of Old New York 

Courtesy New York Public Library
Morris-Jumel Mansion
65 Jumel Terrace, Manhattan

This lovely home, open to visitors, also has Revolutionary War connections – George Washington even slept here — but it’s the ghost of the scary old lady Eliza Jumel that frightens children today with her occasional appearance.

For more information: our very first ghost story podcast Ghost Stories of New York

The Haunted Hollywood Star
 428 West 44th Street, Manhattan 

The glamorous TV and film star June Havoc kept a gorgeous home in Hell’s Kitchen that was unfortunately haunted by a very tormented ghost named Lucy — a ghost that needed to feed.

Featured in the new podcast Gotham’s Greatest Ghost Stories

Courtesy New York Public Library
The Merchant’s House
29 E. 4th Street, Manhattan

Poor Gertrude Tredwell. A long-time resident of the neighborhood now called NoHo, she lived her entire life here and may still haunt this museum which exhibits many of her original possessions. Trust me, she doesn’t like it when you rearrange things. 

For more information: the podcast Haunted Houses of Old New York 

Photo by Greg Young
The Revolutionary Spirit
Van Cortlandt House, The Bronx

Van Cortlandt Park has several haunted legends accorded to it. And inside the Colonial-era Van Cortlandt House, whispers abound of a forlorn servant girl, still looking for her master’s silver. 

For more information: the podcast Haunted Houses of Old New York 

Courtesy Staten Island Museum
Kreischer Mansion
4500 Arthur Kill Road, Charleston, Staten Island

The Kreischer Mansion was once mirrored by a twin house that stood next door, both constructed by a brick manufacturer for his sons. One burned down several decades later, but the remaining manor is notorious for its many ghostly apparitions. A bloody, mob-related murder in the past decade further lends to the house’s devilish reputation.

For more information: the podcast Haunted Histories of New York

Photo by Tom Meyers
Conference House
7455 Hylan Blvd, Staten Island

The Conference House in Staten Island played an interesting role in the Revolutionary War, and some residents from that period may still wander its ancient hallways.

For more information: the podcast Haunted Houses of Old New York 

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