Friday, July 19, 2013

Haunted Manhattan: The House of Death

I thought opening the series with The House of Death was quite appropriate because of several factors. First, this is a private residence, therefore, there's no one to interview or anywhere to eat/drink to see what happens. Just a picture from the outside and a lot of stories to tell. Also because among the ghosts that purportedly inhabit the place is Mark Twain. Why would be that of any importance, you ask? Well, last night I attended Stephen King's event promoting Joyride at the Mark Twain house in Hartford. Expect a post about that experience coming soon, but in the meantime, I really felt like that was too sweet a coincidence to let it pass.

On the subject, now. The history of number 14 of West 10th Street in Greenwich Village, better known as the House of Death, is one of both mystique and horror that stretches for over 150 years. Built on the late 1850s, the mansion was home to a long list of the who-is-who of the day. Outstanding figures, such as the founder of the Metropolitan Underground Railroad and Broadway Underground Railroad, James Boorman Johnston; famous writer, Mark Twain; and the president of the North American Company, Charles W. Wetmore. 

In 1933, the house was sold to a company that quickly turned it to a ten apartment complex. By then, stories of ghostly apparitions were quietly shared among residents of the building. It was until 1957, when writer Jan Bryant Bartell moved in, that the haunting became famous. Her experiences in her apartment of the second floor would give place to the book SPINDRIFT: SPRAY FROM A MYSTIC SEA, published in 1974. In it, she recounts her many experiences in the house during the 15 years she lived there. Among the most memorable are her accounts of seeing a woman wearing a Victorian dress, and the apparition of a child. Perhaps more eerie is her story of a withered grape, constantly materializing in the center of a plate, even when no grapes were bought for weeks.

Not paranormal, but more horrifying is the story of Lisa Steinberg's death. In the morning hours of November 2, 1987, police came in the building answering a call about a child 'not breathing'. What they found in the apartment of 14 West 10th Street rocked the city to its core. Six year old Elizabeth, Lisa, Steinberg was found unconscious lying on the floor of the bathroom. An 18 month old baby boy was also found in the house, tied to his playpen with a rope to his waist. Severely beaten and neglected, Lisa slipped into a coma and later died. Lisa's adoptive mother, editor and writer of children books Hedda Nussbaum, told a story of unspeakable abuse at the hands of Joel Steinberg. Hedda, herself had several broken ribs, a shattered nose and cheekbones, and life-threatening lesions to her legs. After the first-ever televised trial, Joel Steinberg was found guilty of manslaughter. He spent 15 years in prison and was recently released. 

Many attribute the name of House of Death to this single incident. However the case, to this day, residents of the complex report hearing strange noises, seeing an elegant, ethereal lady traversing walls, and there are a few sightings of Mark Twain on the staircase. When a woman resident asked him who he was, he answered: "My name is Clemens, and I has a problem here I gotta settle."

Legend says 22 unnamed people died in the house, among them a murder/suicide in the 1900s, which isn't an incredibly high number when one considers the scores of people that have lived in it. There's also the fact that many of its residents were famous Victorians and Edwardians who customarily received medical care in-home, rather than attending hospitals.

This city landmark is not only beautiful, but steep in history. I recommend to everyone strolling through the city to pay it a visit.


Mina Lobo said...

Holy cats, that is CRAY, girl! Makes me wanna go check it out, in a creeped out kinda way.

I certainly remember the shocking Steinberg case, though I don't remember all the details. Maybe I blocked them out...
Some Dark Romantic

Nicole said...

You always find the creepiest tales.

Georgina Morales said...

Hi Mina, I don't blame you for blocking it. I read the details as research for this and I cried. So horrible the things we do to fellow humans...

LOL. I'll take that as a compliment, Nicole. Thanks!

Michael Pierce said...

Sounds like a creepy place to live. I wonder how it's prices are with its infamy. Nice spectral history lesson.