Thursday, October 30, 2014

Ghost Bluster: Arthur Conan Doyle and his wacky ectoplasm

A flyer for one of the author's many Carnegie Hall lectures. (Courtesy Carnegie Hall archives)

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle made a startling announcement in April 1922. Known for his beliefs in communicating with the afterlife, the famed creator of Sherlock Holmes announced an extraordinary discovery -- the existence of ectoplasm, the ghostly goo that emits from mediums possessed with the spirits of the dead.

"Ectoplasm is a thick, vapory, slightly luminous substance which exudes from some materializing mediums," Conan Doyle told the author Marguerite Mooers Marshall in an interview with the New York Evening World. "Immediately there comes from her body this vaperous substance which surrounds her like a fog. As the ectoplasm increases it becomes more dense. It coalesces, becomes sticky. It can be felt. It can be photographed."

 To prove the existence of this viscous residue, the Evening World published photographs of alleged ectoplasmic events on April 26, 1922.





The root of all this sudden interest in bizarre supernatural events during the spring of 1922 was a series of lectures Conan Doyle gave at Carnegie Hall and the Brooklyn Academy of Music, shaking proper society to the core with Spiritualist talk of mediums and psychic planes far outside those commonly prescribed by Western religion. 

Among the spirit photography he displayed in the legendary Carnegie stage were several examples of ectoplasmic events, thick wisps of ghostly material issuing from the bodies of entranced mediums. 

His lectures were received with great interest and much mockery. In reference to the author's peculiar views of the afterlife and days before run the odd photography posted above, the Evening World intoned in a headline, "ALL WOMEN PRETTY AND 25, MEN 30, IN DOYLE'S HEAVEN."

Others blamed a series of mysterious murders and suicides in New York City during this time period on Conan Doyle's disturbing lectures.

It was in May of that year that Conan Doyle met with Harry Houdini, magician and famous spiritualist skeptic.  (We speak of the results of this encounter in our podcast Mysteries and Magicians of New York.) Among their lengthy debates regarding the spiritual realm were discussions on the existence of ectoplasm.

Below are some of the more disturbing photographs of alleged ectoplasmic activity.  It was similar photos to that that Conan Doyle displayed at Carnegie Hall in 1922.

1913 -- The medium Stanislawa emitting ghostly ectoplasm (Courtesy Univ of Sydney)




Katherine Goligher, subject of the Evening World photographs, issuing ectoplasm that looks suspiciously like regular fabric

Sometimes the ectoplasm came out in the form of little people, as in this photo of Annie Mellon and an entity named 'Cissy', c. 1890 (Univ. of Sydney)



Conan Doyle himself could even expel ectoplasm, especially in front of a camera!  This was taken in 1922, possibly while he was in New York




Below: Video evidence of ectoplasm and creatures made from the substance 


(If you're in a Ghostbusters mood, read my exhaustive breakdown from last year of all the fun New York trivia from the 1984 film classic.)

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

History in the Making 10/29: Gilded Age Gothic Edition




-- Death Becomes Her: A Century of Mourning Attire, the morbidly elegant new show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, looks at 19th century customs of grief through public fashion.  These garments, from 1815-1915, exhibit an undeniable grace and serenity, but they also signal more concrete associations to the recently passed. Some gowns were specifically for 'half-mourning', or light mourning, as though they were illustrative of the person's inner feelings.  Not everything's a Goth's perfect closet; later dresses in shimmering beads or purple infer wearers with more complicated relationships to society and the deceased.

The show runs through February 1. 2015. Downton Abbey fans should consider this a pilgrimage. [Metropolitan Museum of Art]

You can look a little deeper at this curious subject over at Brooklyn's Morbid Anatomy Museum which is also looking at the objects of grief in its new show The Art of Mourning. [Morbid Anatomy Museum]

-- New York's Year-Round  Haunted House:  I was recently interviewed by the New York Post for their Halloween round-up of famous urban legends. My this be the first of many interviews about alligators in the sewer for me! I also chat about Captain Kidd's alleged treasure on Liberty Island. Read the article here: [New York Post]

-- Welcome to New York:  Meanwhile, over at the Daily News, Jeremiah Moss (from Vanishing New York) welcomes Taylor Swift to New York in his own unique way. It's surprisingly welcoming!  [New York Daily News]

-- Hello Cruel World:  Long-time friend of the podcast Joe Angio has directed the new documentary Revenge of the Mekons about the strange and ragged journey of the British rock band the Mekons.  This isn't really New York based, but if you're a fan of good rock docs, please check this one out. The New York Times loved it! [New York Times]

-- Beautiful Beulah:  The History Chicks have a terrific show this month on the biography of stage and film star Hattie McDaniel.  She's more than just an actress from Gone With The Wind!  You'll find her early years with Ziegfield particularly interesting. [The History Chicks]

-- Last Call: Smith's Bar in Midtown, with its beautiful neon sign, is closing its doors after 60 years.  This calls for some serious mourning attire. [Gothamist]

Below: From Harper's Bazaar, 1891: Crêpe hat ; Mourning bonnet ; Mourning wrap ; Mourning cap for elderly lady ; Coat-basque for costume, back and front. [NYPL]



Monday, October 27, 2014

The New York City subway system opened 110 years ago today; An interview with The Race Underground author Doug Most


Crowds at the now-defunct City Hall Station of the brand new New York subway system. (NYPL)

One hundred and ten years ago today, the first train of the New York City subway system began its first trip underneath the city, filled with eager and excited passengers.  Thousands lined up to take this revolutionary new ride, promising a jaunt from City Hall to Harlem in under 30 minutes. At the helm of the very first subway ride was the mayor himself, George B McClellan Jr., refusing to relinquish the wheel until he had completed most of the distance.

The subway is one of the defining creations of New York's Gilded Age, but it was hardly a foregone conclusion.  Early attempts at underground transportation by innovators like Alfred Ely Beach were waylaid by political corruption.  Elevated railroad and streetcar companies were hardly enthusiastic about it. Even the idea of going below disturbed and frightened some people.  Proponents of the subway in New York must have grimaced when Boston beat them to the punch in the late 1890s.

Both the Boston and New York subway systems benefited from great genius and even greater wealth. As Boston Globe editor Doug Most notes in his terrific book The Race Underground: Boston: New York and the Incredible Rivalry that Built America's First Subway, the systems even shared wealthy benefactors -- the brothers Henry and William Whitney, one in each city, negotiating a  host of political and technical speed bumps on their quest to build the country's first subterranean route.

At right: Subway riders, painting by F. Luis Mora, 1914 (NYPL)

Most's story is especially fascinating in outlining the difficulties of these ambitious projects.  What seems an absolutely sound decision today was deemed highly risky and politically fraught in its day.  On this important anniversary, I thought I'd ask the author to elaborate on the significance of this day and the spectacular achievements of these two rival cities. (And I highly recommend picking up his book this week. After all, has there ever been reading material better suited to commute reading?)


 The final chapter of The Race Underground is actually titled “October 27, 1904 “? This is obviously an important date for New Yorkers, but what is it about the events of that particular day that make this a milestone in American (and even world) history?

Doug Most: ​Well, first I loved the contrast between how Boston celebrated opening its subway and New York celebrated its subway opening. Boston opened in the morning and just treated it like any other day. Here it is, we built it. New York celebrated like New Yorkers, they made it a spectacle, a party, and all the politicians and key figures wanted to play their part. Very different openings.

New York's subway was a huge achievement for many reasons. That it was built, tunneling through the ​Manhattan schist, using dynamite where needed, was incredible. Many workers died during the construction and my book tells the dramatic story of how they worked, dug, and died tragically. But that's how society makes progress, right? We have to learn through tragedy. The New York subway was a great example of that.



The newly completed subway tunnel in 1904, before the big inaugural ride on October 27, 1904 (Library of Congress)

The greatest obstacle for the creation of the subway wasn't merely physical or political; it was convincing people that travelling underground could be a clean and safe experience. What were a few of the beliefs or superstitions people held in the early days?

DM:  ​It's something we take for granted today. We bound downstairs staring at our phones and tablets and papers, and don't give a second though to the underground. But back then in the 19th century, the underground was terrifying for people. It was where Lucifer lived! The Devil! Where vermin made their home.

People needed to be convinced subways could be clean, safe, dry and healthy, that the air would not be poisonous and kill them. I love the story of London opening a pedestrian tunnel around 1840, and thousands of people taking one look down that tunnel and going right back up to the street, refusing to walk through it. That was 1840! In terms of history, not that long ago. It took a long time for society to accept the underground as a safe place to travel.​

Under Tremont Station in Boston (courtesy nycsubway.org)

Your story is framed as the glorious rivalry between two brothers – Henry and William Whitney – and two rival cities, Boston and New York. But Boston really manages to pull ahead for much of the story. Was this because the needs of the city were easier to accomplish or was it because of New York’s corrupt political system at this time?

DM:  I think it's both. New York struggled politically with some big decisions and some key characters stood in the way of progress, including of course Boss Tweed. New York absolutely should have been ahead of Boston; they were talking about a subway in New York in the mid 1800s, but it didn't get built until 1900.

Boston didn't start thinking subway until 1887 and then moved very quickly. New Yorkers were not happy to see that little podunk city to the north making so much progress while their city kept getting bogged down in politics.​


Digging up Union Square to lay cable-car lines, 1891. (New York Public Library)

The story of The Race Underground features an extraordinary build-up of transportation technologies, from noble but failed technologies (the pneumatic tube) to others that led to the birth of the subway (like electric streetcars). What do you personally consider the most interesting or surprising development in transportation prior to the birth of the subway?

DM:  Well the story of the cable car was fascinating, because it seemed like for a few years that was the future of urban transportation. It was cleaner and faster and smoother than the horse-pulled carriage, and people enjoyed riding them and it really looked like it might take off. San Francisco gave birth to it, and other cities, including New York, experimented with it.

But as cities quickly learned, the cable car had a big problem. Those cables could twist and snap and fixing them was slow and expensive. And when a cable snapped, the entire system ground to a halt. Plus, cables were only effective in cities with lots of long straight roads like New York. But in smaller cities, like Boston, with twists and turns and narrow streets, cable cars just didn't make sense. I love the story of how the cable car was almost our future, and then suddenly, it was gone!​

Now speaking of that pneumatic tube, here’s a what if? – say Beach faced no opposition from Boss Tweed and the elevated railroads. Could New York have actually built a viable transportation system using this method? After all, people are looking into pneumatic systems for possible high-speed travel today!

DM:  No. Chapter One in my book, the story of Alfred Beach and Boss Tweed, is really my favorite chapter for so many reasons. And the great fan he used, the Western Tornado, to blow his subway car down the tracks. But was a fan really going to blow subway cars all over the island of Manhattan? No it wasn't. The technology being talked about today is so sophisticated, involving electromagnetic charges and other methods far beyond basic pneumatic tubes. ​But Beach was a dreamer, a lot like Elon Musk of Tesla, and we need dreamers like that to push us forward as a society. So that's why I love his story so much.

What features of the modern New York City subway system are you the most impressed by today? And what could use some serious improvement?

DM:  The speed is impressive and so is the reach of it -- how you truly can reach almost every corner of the five boroughs on the subway. That's so different than other cities, especially Boston and Washington, for starters, where the transit systems are much smaller and harder to survive on without a car. I am not sure I have any great suggestion for New York's subway. I'm a big fan of it, and loved riding it when I lived at 80th and Broadway, and love taking my kids on it today when we come back to visit. It's a treat and it's a part of history I hope people appreciate.​

Below: New York's distinctive subway entrances, inspired by the subway system in Budapest, 1905 (New York Public Library)





Back in 2010, the Bowery Boys did an entire series on the history of New York City transportation.  In honor of this great day in New York City history, why not check out one of these shows which traces the history of getting around the city -- from the first ferries in the 18th century to the struggles of maintaining a modern subway system into the 21st.  You can find these episodes on iTunes or download them directly from the links below:

Part One: Staten Island Ferry
A look at the earliest forms of transportation in New York harbor, with a focus on the early ferry services from Staten Island
Blog: Staten Island Ferry, its story, from sail to steam
Download here

Part Two: New York's Elevated Railroads
Starting with the introduction of horse-drawn streetcars and omnibuses to the innovation of elevated trains running along four avenues in Manhattan and in various parts of Brooklyn
Blog: New York's Elevated Railroads; Journey to a spectacular world of steam trains along the avenues
Download here

Part Three: Cable Cars, Trolleys and Monorails
Electrified trolley cars became the most common form of travel in New York starting in the 1890s and into the new century. Find out why they succeeded and why two other forms -- cable cars and monorails -- did not.
Blog: Cable cars, trolleys and monorails; Moving around on New York's transportation options
Download here

Part Four: New York City Subway, Part 1: Birth of the IRT
The story of the very first subway which went nowhere (Alfred Ely Beach and his pneumatic tube train) and the one that eventually did (August Belmont and the Interborough Rapid Transit).
Blog: The New York City Subway and the Creation of the IRT
Download here

Part Five: New York City Subway, Part 2: By The Numbers (And Letters)
The surprisingly difficult attempt to expand the subway system and the curious public/private partnership which got it done. Plus: the history of the future of the Second Avenue subway line
Blog: Modern history of the New York Subway: Expansion from the 1-2-3, A-B-C, Second Avenue and beyond
Download here

Post-Script: Subway Graffiti 1970-1989
Art. Vandalism. Freedom. Blight. Creativity. Crime. Graffiti has divided New Yorkers since it first appeared on walls, signs and lampposts in the late 1960s. This is a history of the battle between graffiti and City Hall. And a look at the aftermath which spawned today's tough city laws and a former warehouse space in Queens.
Blog:  The wild times of the subway graffiti era 1970-1989: At the city's worst, an art form flourishes along transit lines
Download here




Friday, October 24, 2014

Podcast rewind: the New York City Marathon, a brisk history of the five-borough race and the amazing athlete who created it

Above: The 1971 marathon. That's Fred Lebow on the far right (#24). Pic courtesy TCS NYC Marathon

Next week (November 2, 2014) brings the TCS New York City Marathon so I thought I'd dust off an older podcast on its funky, fascinating and furious history.

The New York City Marathon hosts thousands of runners from all over the world, the dream project of the New York Road Runners and in particular one Fred Lebow, an employee of the Fashion District turned athletic icon. Find out how he launched a massive race in the midst of bankrupt 1970s New York.

ALSO: our guest host Tanya Bielski-Braham takes us on a speedy tour of the course, from the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge to Tavern on the Green.


A special illustrated version of the podcast on the New York City Marathon (Episode #68) is now available on our NYC History Archive feed, via Stitcher streaming service and of course on iTunes.  Chapter headings with images have been embedded in this show, so if your listening device is compatible, just hit play and a variety of pictures should pop up.  The audio is superior than the original as well.

There's also a map included in the enhanced features of this show from the current 2014 race. Please consult www.nyrr.org for more information.


NOTE: This show was originally recorded in October 2008.  George W. Bush was still president! I even make a reference to the election.  However, as a result.....

1)  The cancellation of the New York City Marathon in 2012 due to Hurricane Sandy -- and the controversy surrounding that -- is not mentioned in this show. Hopefully one day soon I'll get to officially amend this episode with recent history.

2) The race is now sponsored by TCS.  When this show was recorded, the sponsor was ING and we make mention to that.

3)  Thanks again to Tanya Bielski-Braham for helping me out with this show. She performed admirably in the marathon that year and has since moved to Pittsburgh.  Come back to New York, Bowery girl!  You're truly missed.

For this and our older episodes (Episodes #3-#65, subscribe to The Bowery Boys: NYC History Archive feed, on iTunes, directly from our host page, or directly via our RSS feed.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The story of 'Painters On The Brooklyn Bridge', a classic photograph taken 100 years ago this month



The photograph above (officially called "Brooklyn Bridge showing painters on suspenders") is perhaps the best-known image taken by Eugene de Salignac, a city employee who took municipal photography of most major New York structures during the early 20th century.

His work had never appeared in a gallery until 2007, almost 65 years after his death.  His exquisite eye rendered otherwise ordinary shots with a captivating grandeur; this was certainly beyond the call of duty of his responsibilities for the Department of Bridges (later named the Department of Plant and Structures) for which he worked from 1906 to 1934.  In all, it's estimated the city owns about 20,000 glass-plate negatives taken by de Salignac.

On September 22, 1914, de Salignac headed to the Brooklyn Bridge to observe workers painting the bridge's steel-wire suspension.  Perhaps a bit inspired by modern artistic photography of the day, the normally workaday photographer returned to the bridge a couple weeks later, on October 7.

To quote Aperture:  "The image was obviously planned, as evidenced by the relaxed nature of these fearless men who appear without their equipment and are joined, uncustomarily, by their supervisor."

It was, generally speaking, an unspectacular day for the 31-year-old bridge.  It's believed that the original color of the Brooklyn Bridge was 'Rawlins Red' although by this time, the vibrant color might have been replaced with the less dramatic 'Brooklyn Bridge Tan.'  Can you imagine what this image would have looked like in color?

I would like to think de Salignac took some inspiration from photographers like Paul Strand who were beginning to see New York City as a set of geometric abstracts.  The spirit of this photograph echoes into the work of Berenice Abbott and especially Lewis Hine.  In 1932, while de Salignac was still employed by the city, Hine was hired to document the construction of the RCA Building. In one photo, workers were posed in a way that eventually became quite iconic**:


Most likely, none of those other photographers saw de Salignac's Brooklyn Bridge picture.  It was essentially lost among the thousands of archives pictures until the 1980s.  For his first film for PBS, Ken Burns used the photograph  in his Brooklyn Bridge documentary which went on to snag an Academy Award nomination.  In 2007, de Salignac was belatedly honored with an exhibition at the Museum of the City of New York.

 De Salignac returned to the bridge to several times to catch more workers in the act of maintaining the bridge. Such as this photograph the following year:


Want to get lost for an hour or so? Check on the New York Municipal Archives vast trove of Eugene de Salignac photographs directly.

**This famous picture was attributed first to Lewis Hine, then to Charles C Ebbets.  Corbis officially lists the photographer as 'unknown'.  Thank you to Michael Lorenzini for pointing this out!


Top photo courtesy New York Municipal Archives. Hine photo courtesy the George Eastman House

Monday, October 20, 2014

Please support our sponsors!

The Bowery Boys podcast is brought to you by....



Squarespace, the all-in-one platform that makes it fast and easy to create your own professional website, portfolio, and online store. For a free trial and 10% off, visit Squarespace.com and enter offer code BOWERY at checkout. A better web starts with your website.

 and by...

 

Audible, the premier provider of digital audiobooks.  Over 150,000 titles to choose from for your iPhone, Android, Kindle or mp3 player Audible titles play on iPhone, Kindle, Android and more than 500 devices for listening anytime, anywhere.  Get a FREE audiobook download and 30 day free trial by trying them out at this address:  www.audibletrial.com/boweryboys.



We thank both Squarespace and Audible for providing sponsorship for the Bowery Boys: New York City History.


Thursday, October 16, 2014

Haunted Hipsters: Four Ghost Stories of Brooklyn


Dark skies over the Brooklyn Bridge, from a 1905 postcard (courtesy MCNY)

PODCAST  Brooklyn is the setting for this quartet of classic ghost stories, all set before the independent city was an official borough of New York City.  This is a Brooklyn of old stately mansions and farms, with railroad tracks laid through forests and large tracks of land carved up, awaiting development.  These stories also have another curious resemblance -- they all come from local newspapers of the day, reporting on ghost stories with amusement and more than a little skepticism.

1)  The Coney Island and Sea Beach Railroad took passengers to and from Brooklyn's amusement district.  But nobody was particularly amused one evening to be stopped by a horrific, gangly ghost upon the tracks near Mapleton.

2)  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.

At right: Death will not deter this Brooklynite from ordering a great craft beer. (courtesy Powerhouse Museum)

3)  The Oceanic Hotel was one of Coney Island's first great hotels, an accommodation for almost 500 near the increasingly popular beaches of Brighton Beach.  But in 1894, the hotel was virtually emptied out and reportedly haunted.  Did it have something to do with the murder upstairs in Room 30?

4) And finally, the area of Bushwick nearest the Queens border are populated with various burial grounds like the Evergreens Cemetery, borne of the rural cemetery movement which transplanted thousands of previously buried bodies from Manhattan to Brooklyn.

In 1894, with Bushwick prepared for a spate of new development, the sudden appearance of an oddly dressed spirit threatens to disrupt the entire neighborhood.  During one evening, a drunken party of 300 ghost hunters, brandishing swords and revolvers, come across one terror that proved to be very real indeed.

ALSO: Secrets of The Sentinel, a 1977 horror film set in an old house along the Brooklyn Promenade.

To get this week's episode, simply download it for FREE from iTunes or other podcasting services, subscribe to our RSS feed or get it straight from our satellite site.

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

Or listen to it straight from here:
The Bowery Boys #172: Ghost Stories of Brooklyn
___________________________________________________________________

And we would like to thank our sponsors:

--  Squarespace, the all-in-one platform that makes it fast and easy to create your own professional website or online portfolio.  For a free trial and 10% off (your first purchase), go to squarespace.com and use offer code BOWERY.


-- Audible, the premier provider of digital audiobooks. Get a FREE audiobook download and 30 day free trial at www.audibletrial.com/boweryboys. Over 150,000 titles to choose from for your iPhone, Android, Kindle or mp3 player Audible titles play on iPhone, Kindle, Android and more than 500 devices for listening anytime, anywhere.
 ____________________________________________________________________

10 Montague Terrace, setting for the 1970s horror film The Sentinel, sits at the end of this elegant block on the Brooklyn Promenade.

[Looking west from Brooklyn Bridge Park to the houses on Montague Terrace.]

The theatrical trailer to The Sentinel



1) MIDNIGHT TRAIN TO TERROR
Phenomena reported August 1894 in several publications, including the New York Evening World

The incident in question occurred near the Mapleton station along the Coney Island and Sea Beach Railroad (Map of Brooklyn railroad lines courtesy The Weekly Nabe who has more information on the early days of Mapleton.)



2) WHO'S KNOCKING AT MY DOOR?
Phenomena reported December 1878 in several publications, including the New York Sun

A view of Wallabout Bay and the land which became the Brooklyn Navy Yard, circa 1830s.  That would appear to 136 Clinton Avenue (the oldest house in the area) however the general proportion of the region looks a bit off.  Below it, two pictures of the house on Clinton Avenue, including a close-up of the infamous door. (Pics courtesy Flickr/sjcny and Long Island Historical Society)




3) THE GHOSTLY GUEST IN ROOM 30
Phenomena reported August 1892 in several publications, including the Brooklyn Daily Eagle

The haunted Oceanic Hotel, located at Neptune Avenue and W. 6th Street. Perhaps this looks surprising for a 500-room hotel, but out of frame are bungalows and other adjoined buildings.  But you can see how this sort of accommodation went out of fashion rather quickly.

[First hotel at Coney Island, Oceanic Hotel.]
http://timesmachine.nytimes.com/timesmachine/1930/07/01/98307449.html?pageNumber=18


4) THE GHOST OF KNICKERBOCKER AVENUE
Phenomena reported November 1894 in several publications, including the New York Times

1924 -- A view of the tracks which separate Bushwick from a cluster of cemeteries. Buildings to the left sit in the vacant lots which were mentioned in this story.  The cemetery nearest this photograph is Most Holy Trinity Cemetery.  You may remember the name Most Holy Trinity for it was this Bushwick congregation that was featured in a ghost story a couple years ago in the show 'Haunted Histories of New York.'

Opposite Trinity Cemetery.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

For Whom The Ghost Tolls: A Haunting in Bedford-Stuyvesant


The corner of Stuyvesant and Jefferson in 1900, looking much the way it does today.  The haunted house in question is a half a block south of this photo. (Courtesy the site Save Bedford Stuyvesant)

More Brooklyn-themed ghost stories coming your way tomorrow.  But here's an unusual tale I stumbled across while researching for this show.  Brownstone Detectives has also written about this particular event so check out their page for more information. 

The Brooklyn neighborhood of Bedford-Stuyvesant is defined by its architectural character, rows of impressive brownstones and ornate apartment buildings which trace back to the late 19th century.  It was once two separate villages -- Bedford and Stuyvesant Heights -- combined to appeal to new residents in the ever-expanding city of Brooklyn.  The Bed-Stuy of the 20th century was the heart of African-American residential life; gentrification may alter that definition in the 21st.

Another feature of the neighborhood that may have passed down through the decades are its ghosts.

Simply mix a neighborhood of families full of imaginative children with severe and dramatic old architecture, and voila! You've got ghost stories.  Anybody born and raised in Bed-Stuy probably has one story of a purported haunted house, either a structure uninhabited and boarded up or an old home with a single unseen resident, the yard out front overtaken with neglect.

But perhaps one of Bed-Stuy's most interesting ghost stories comes not from legend but from an actual newspaper report -- the haunting of 281 Stuyvesant Avenue in Stuyvesant Heights.

The four-floor building was originally built in 1897 as a small apartment house. Although included in the Stuyvesant Heights Historic District, its modest apperance pales next to its neighbor, Grace Presbyterian Church (today's Bridge Street AME Church).

Below: Bridge Street AME Church.  The haunted house in question is the white structure to the far right in this photograph. (Courtesy flickr/Matthew X Kiernan)



On October 23, 1901, the Brooklyn Daily Eagle reported on a disturbing and frankly stressful time had by the building's first-floor newlyweds Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Griffin.

The school teacher and his wife moved into the flat in July and immediately experienced some truly unusual phenomenon.  At precisely 2 pm every afternoon the new electric doorbell stationed in the vestibule would ring, prompting the lady of the house to open the door.  But nobody would be there.

After a few days of this activity, Joseph naturally assumed it was troublesome kids.  However one day, Griffin stood in the vestibule at precisely 2 pm.  To his astonishment, the bell ring with no human agency present.

This was only the beginning.  The ghost continued to torment the Griffins with "hollow groans, creepy sidesteps on the staircase and unexpected trips from room to room by articles of furniture."

A haunting so close to Grace Presbyterian were particularly unsettling. "His temerity in operating in a flat, the windows of which look right out on the stained glass panes of a church, is especially startling."

The Griffins, more irritated than frightened, could not take this disturbing presence in their home any further and immediately moved out.  The skeptical reporter, of course, took note of the fact that nobody else in the building had experienced any particular supernatural phenomenon.

The upstairs neighbor complained of rats and mice and wind gusts with the strength to swing open doors.

The neighbor added, "The pipes groan and the plumbing rattles too, and my husband says its the spookiest house he was ever lived in, but ghosts! -- nonsense."

Autumn attire : Get a Bowery Boys T-Shirt!


Here's your new look for the fall! Proclaim your love of New York history and the Bowery Boys podcast and blog with these two new exclusive T-shirts.  

The gold-on-black model is called The Boss Tweed, great for either a night out on the town at Delmonico's or an all-nighter at a Five Points stale beer dive.  


The red-on-white model is called The Stuyvesant, perfect for any budding director-general looking for something fashionable to wear to the beach, gym or rowdy Dutch port town.  




The shirts are $20 apiece (XL and larger $25) plus shipping.  You can purchase them here: the official Bowery Boys Shopify store.

This pricing is for a limited time only so buy shirts for you and your gang today!  All profits go back into the improvement of the podcast and blog, so you'll even be helping make our show better than ever.  In a few months we hope to have a couple more items to choose from.

TO NEW YORKERS: The shirts are being shipped from outside New York from Texas which explains the shipping price. We would appreciate any suggestions about how to get them made more cheaply here for locals. Email us and let us know.

Thanks for shopping and supporting the Bowery Boys! We tip our hat to you.

NOTE: The Boss Tweed is unisex while the Stuyvesant is in both unisex and women's sizes.

Shirts and logo designed by Thomas Cabus.  Thanks to Shahar Shamir for modeling.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The Bowery Boys 8th Annual New York Ghost Stories Podcast rises from the grave this Thursday



It's our favorite time of year -- time for the annual Bowery Boys New York ghost stories podcast. The new show -- featuring four more frightening tales -- will be available this Thursday.

Our new show will feature an otherworldly spirit from a Brooklyn cemetery, an apparition on the train tracks, a purportedly haunted hotel in Coney Island and the tormented haunting of a curious 1830s home so famous that it was covered by every major New York newspaper of the day.

Catch up on the tradition by listening in to our last seven ghost story shows. You can listen at the links below, download them from iTunes or find them anywhere you listen to podcasts:

Ghost Stories of Old New York (2013) [download] [iTunes]
Four stories set mostly before the 1840s featuring sinister stories of murder, shipwreck and death by fright!  Up in the Bronx, the 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.

Mysteries and Magicians of New York (2012) [download] [iTunes]
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. [original blog post]



Haunted Histories of New York (2011) [download] [iTunes]
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? [original blog post]

Supernatural Stories of New York (2010) [download] [iTunes]
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. [original blog post]



Haunted Tales of New York (2009) [download] [iTunes]
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. [original blog post]

Spooky Stories of New York (2008) [download] [iTunes]
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'. [original blog post]

Ghost Stories of New York (2007) [download] [iTunes]
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. [original blog post]


Top photo: from the book 'The Oracle' (1919) Internet Archive Book Images
Second photo: from the book "Rhyme and Reason" (1901) Internet Archive Book Images
Third photo: "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