Haunted Haunts

31 10 2008

Halloween is here again. Every year it seems to sneak up on me, and every year it finds me with neither the costume nor the will to come up with one. Perhaps it stems from growing up, when my mother, who also never had the drive or passion for creating costumes, always “nudged” me toward costumes that were easy for her to create: the PG&E linesman (my father could get the hard hat from work), the cheerleader (my sister wasn’t wearing that uniform any more), and even Jane Fonda (yes. Jane Fonda). Somehow, save for the year I wreaked havoc on the house by insisting on being a pumpkin, I was amenable to her suggestions, however odd or non-age-appropriate (what other six year old was Jane Fonda?).

Anyhow, to this day my Halloween costumes typically involve minimal creativity and minimal effort, and I’m just fine with that. However, I do enjoy the holiday. Who wouldn’t love a holiday that’s based around candy? And here in New York, I love it even more for the ghostly aspect of it. Being obsessed with history as I am, I am fond of ghost stories and their ability to transmit our past and keep it alive in the future. And so, without further ado, a list of some of my favorite New York “haunts,” in no particular order:

  • Bridge Cafe. (279 Water St) The building itself dates back to 1794 and is said to have been home to Irish prostitutes. It’s been a bar since 1847, making it New York’s oldest continually running bar, haunted, they say, by pirates who frequented the place before the Brooklyn Bridge (in whose shadow it lies) was even a thought.
  • The Chelsea Hotel. (222 W. 23rd St.) Sid Vicious of the Sex Pistols was living at the hotel when accused of his girlfriend’s murder and overdosed before his trial ended. He can still sometimes be seen near the elevator doors.
  • Ear Inn. (326 Spring St.) This place has a long history, starting as the home of James Brown, aide to Washington in the Revolution. Since then it’s had various incarnations, from brewery to speakeasy, to boarding house and brothel. It is haunted by Mickey, a sailor who died out front.
  • White Horse Tavern. (567 Hudson St.) This place dates from the 19th Century but it’s more famous for being the place where bohemian writer Dylan Thomas drank himself to death (read: 18 beers) in 1953 and is still said to return from time to time.
  • Algonquin Hotel. (59 West 44th St.) This elegant hotel was the regular lunch spot where Dorothy Parker held court for the Round Table, her 1920s group of literati, who joined her for lunch and literature. Parker seems to come back for a visit from time to time…
  • St. Mark’s Church. (131 E 10th St.) The historic church was erected in 1799, and before that it was the private “Bouwerie Chapel” of early New York leader, Peter Stuyvesant. Though the church itself was built after Stuyvesant’s death, it is considered one of the most haunted places in the city, mainly by Peg-leg Peter, Stuyvesant’s ghost, whose distinct wooden leg footsteps can sometimes be heard wandering the grounds.

Art: The Real Story

6 03 2008

I met up with some friends last night and told them about my evening at the Armory. The art part they enjoyed, but the real thrill was the party, which, who are we kidding, is the real story anyhow. No?

After all, the Biennial is as much about the social aspect as it is about the art. So now to tell, in true New York fashion, about the party, an event to see and be seen in its truest form. Celebrity sightings were limited, although Julia Stiles was about. As for the rest of the crowd? You don’t get more “artsy” than this, folks.

I saw men in top hats, men in tie dye, men in dresses. Berets were definitely a popular choice, and I think there were several young Allen Ginsberg types, and possibly one ghost of Edgar Allen Poe. My favorite was the man with the pink sport coat and matching pink head band a la Jane Fonda Sweatin’ to the Eighties.

As for the females, black was definitely the color of choice, and ranged in style from the tasteful black dress to the sparkly black cat hat. Yes, I said sparkly black cat hat (complete with ears). I didn’t see her talking to the woman in the dress made of feathers, but I expect if they didn’t know each other they became lifelong friends that evening.

Oh, and did I mention what the most popular installation was? I’ll give a hint: it was perhaps the most interactive room of all and its contents burn the throat a tad.

Interactive Art

5 03 2008

Tomorrow the Whitney Biennial opens to the public. In the event’s 74th year, the Whitney is trying something new. The museum has collaborated with the Park Avenue Armory and Art Production Fund (APF) to extend the event to a second venue.

Built from 1877-1881, the historic Park Avenue Armory is one of New York’s most beautiful (and important historic edifices). It originally housed the prestigious Seventh Regiment from which originated the National Guard. Its elaborate interior is the product of the 19th Century Aesthetic Movement, incorporating various historical styles and visual complexity.

From March 6-23, it will host will host Bienniel installations, many of which were designed specifically for this magnificent space. At their party last night I got a sneak preview. Aside from the ornate decor of the building itself (which includes mosaics and fireplaces designed by Tiffany and Co.), there were a few standouts. On the back wall of the massive drill hall hang facadeless neon signs, Gretchen Skogerson‘s examination of the “aesthetic paradox of disaster” in response to Hurricane Katrina desrtuction. Perhaps most poignant, however, is MK Guth‘s Ties of Protection and Safekeeping. Strung across and looped around the ornate Library/Silver Room are yards of yellow hair, with strips of red flannel hanging from them. Upon closer look each strip of flannel contains words: Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness; My family, my body, my freedom; Polar Ice Caps… The question all are answering? “What is worth protecting?” Guth braid’s the answers into the artificial hair, creating one long Rapunzel-style braid of dreams. The effect is nothing short of captivating.

Throughout the next couple weeks a series special events will take place at the Armory, some separate and many in tandem with the installations. The lineup includes run of the mill music performances and film screenings, and a variety of less than ordinary experiences. DJ Olive, for example, will be hosting Slumber Party 2008 to present his Sleeping Pill series which he calls “a balm for troubled times,” and Agathe Snow will hold Stamina: Gloria et Patria, dance marathon in the Armory’s drill hall. Did I mention the tequila tasting, hosted by Eduardo Sarabia? Talk about some potent art.