Washington Square’s Latest “Ghost”

5 11 2009

All this talk of ghost stories and history seems to be (pardon the pun) haunting me. After thinking, just two days ago, upon the literal layers of a historic house in New Hope, this morning I read in New York Magazine about the headstone unearthed last week in Washington Square Park. It’s no secret that the lively park has had many incarnations in its long history, one of which as a “potter’s field.” Last year, the first phase of a renovation project led to the discovery of intact skeletons.

The second phase is now under way, and last week a neighborhood resident reported seeing a crew dusting off a headstone. The stone dates back to 1799 and marked the grave of James Jackson, a grocer who died at the age of 28. Now the quest is on to figure out who James Jackson was. Given that the park was a Potter’s Field, there would not have been headstones in it, but there was also a church cemetery in the park at one time, or, as this blog suggests, some rare yellow fever victims did have tombstones.

Whatever the case, I will be following it, not only because it’s a fascinating sliver of New York history, but because, yet again, it underlines my vision of the city as palimpsest (which, it turns out, is not a vision unique to me), where life and stories are layered upon one another, like the paint covering John Pickett’s landscapes in New Hope or the park covering a former resting place for the city’s poor.

 

 





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.