In the 1850's a huge mansion was built at 14 W. 10th Street, off Fifth Avenue in an area now known as Washington Square Park. In 1957, Jan Bryant Bartell moved into the 100-year-old brownstone, and it was not long before she realized she was never alone within those walls. She eventually wrote a book about her experiences titled, Spindrift: Spray from a Psychic Sea, describing how she felt monstrous moving shadows that would loom up behind her, but would find nothing when she turned around.
This type of incident was one of many that took place there during a seven-year stretch of psychological and sometimes physical torment. She claimed icy hands of the house’s former inhabitants, were reaching out from the afterlife to grab her.
Bartell’s story of torment is just one of the documented legends swirling around the abutting numbers 16 and 14 on 10th Street in Greenwich Village. The block, an otherwise picture-book New York byway that’s home to writers and actors, is so dripping with tales of death and hauntings, No. 14 has earned the nickname "The House of Death."
Residents have reported seeing the ghost of Mark Twain walking about in white suit and hair, along with a spectral cat waving its tail and a woman in a long flowing gown passing through doorways.
But some say there’s a curse that touches people who live there. Bartell described where nine persons from ten families in the East Wing of the building had died -- and she was the tenth. She died two weeks after presenting the manuscript under mysterious circumstances.
Most notoriously, No. 14 was the site of a grisly murder in 1987 when former criminal defense attorney Joel Steinberg beat a 6-year-old girl to death.
No. 14, considered a classic brownstone, was built sometime in the 1850s, right before the Civil War, when the area around Washington Square was booming. It was originally one house, but is now split into 10 different apartments, at least nine of which had names on the buzzers and mailboxes.
Legend has it the house witnessed 22 deaths — not terribly unusual for a century-and-a-half-old home, except some of those spirits never left. The most famous was Twain, who lived there for a year in 1900; a plaque outside the door brags of his tenure there. Though he died in Connecticut, one resident reported seeing a specter resembling the author saying “My name is Clemens, and I has a problem here I gotta settle,” before disappearing.
Not all the ghosts have been like kindly old Sam Clemens, however. Residents have reported sightings as recently as a few years ago, and some of them have been chilling enough to scare people away from the building forever.
Dennis, a musician and photo buff, has lived on the third floor in No. 16 for more than 20 years. He didn’t want to give his last name because he was embarrassed to be sharing ghost stories, but he says he has seen “little clips and visions of women in long gowns going from room to room,” as well experiencing seemingly random flickering of lights.
Does he think he’s seeing the same ghosts from next door, the House of Death? "Walls don’t stop them from doing anything," he says.
He recalled one night many years ago when he was photographing a dancer in his living room. He left her alone in the room for a minute, or so he thought. His guest was startled to see a lady in a long flowing gown, followed by a cat, walking into the room. The dancer picked up her stuff and ran out.
She wasn’t the first female visitor who fled his apartment after being spooked. "I have girls that would never come back," Dennis says.
The most detailed account of life in the possessed buildings comes from Bartell’s memoir, Spindrift: Spray from a Psychic Sea, written in 1974 just before she died.
From the first day Bartell and her husband Fred moved into the top floor that was once the servants’ quarters, she felt the strange chill of the house closing in around her. But, due to a housing shortage at the time, she had little choice but to stick it out.
The strange occurrences started out small: a sound of footsteps following her up the stairs, a brush against the back of her neck even when her hair was tied up, a strange rotting smell that would seemingly come and go like wispy smoke.
Things got darker. Shadows that no light would touch, a mysterious chair their dog would snarl and growl at, as if it contained some invisible enemy. Then a phantom, shriveled grape that appeared in the dead center of a clean dinner plate, even though the couple hadn’t bought grapes in months. She found furniture inexplicably moved from its usual place. The sound of crashing glass chased her around the building.
Most unsettling was the odors that appeared out of nowhere: one fragrant, like ancient perfume, the other a “rotting miasma” that was offensive. Then one day, a vision of a man appeared. Bartell reached out to touch it.
“What was it I touched?” she wrote. “A substance without substance. Chilly, damp. Diaphanous as marsh mist or a cloud of ether. I could feel my fingers freeze at the tips. They were numb, and yet they tingled. In the split second between contact and recoil, the scent came. Fragile and languorous. And sweet; unbearably, cloyingly sweet.”
Finally, Bartell and her husband decided to fight back. They called in a paranormal expert and a medium to see if they could help. Immediately the medium felt a presence. There was something dead under the floorboards, three things maybe: a young girl with curly hair, blue eyes and a tiny nose, an aborted child and, of course, a small gray cat.
Suddenly, the medium snapped into a trance and was possessed with the spirit of Reenie Mallison, a 19-year-old who said she was born in 1848. She blamed President Lincoln for killing her husband, Henry McDermot, by making him fight in the Civil War. She wailed over her aborted child.
The paranormal expert had heard enough. He told the spirits to vacate the premises immediately because the Bartells were the rightful occupants.
“Go — and leave these people in peace!” he said.
The medium’s voice shot back like an explosion. “Never! I will never leave here!” Bartell recalled her saying. “They will have to go. This is my home. I will never leave!”
After that, the Bartells didn’t feel safe. They moved away shortly after, though Bartell herself could never shake the feeling that the house had poisoned her.
Dennis, who lives a floor down from where Bartell lived, says he believes the accounts in “Spindrift.” The first copy he got was from a girl he met browsing the Strand for books about the occult. A copy of the book fell off the shelf and into her hands. He’s owned the book about 10 times now. For some reason, the copies keep disappearing.
THE STEINBERG CASE
Fifteen years after Bartell died, a much more shocking, real-life tragedy occurred at the house next door to her old home.
At No. 14, Joel Steinberg, a well-heeled lawyer, and his girlfriend Hedda Nussbaum, an editor of children’s books at Random House, appeared to be a prototypical professional couple. They were well liked on 10th Street, and told friends and neighbors that they had adopted two children, 6-year-old Lisa and toddler Mitchell, 18 months. But their middle-class facade crumbled in November of 1987, revealing a drug-fueled den of horror and abuse.
After freebasing cocaine, Steinberg beat Lisa, leaving her bruised and broken on the bathroom floor. He went out to meet friends, leaving Nussbaum, too frightened of Steinberg’s wrath to help Lisa in the next room.
Steinberg returned home late that night. He and Nussbaum freebased more cocaine until around 4 a.m. with Lisa still unconscious in the bathroom. It wasn’t until 6:30 a.m. that Nussbaum finally called authorities.
When police arrived, the second-floor apartment was in eerie disarray. Nussbaum answered the door with her face bruised and battered, her lip split open. She wandered the apartment hiding behind doors while the medics attended to Lisa.
Mitchell, soaked in urine and covered with dirt, was tied to a playpen with a length of rope around his waist. Lisa died three days later in the hospital.
Residents of the building had reported Steinberg before, on suspicions of abusing Nussbaum and Lisa. Dennis, next door, remembers seeing Joel in a tender moment; carrying the girl on his shoulders. Steinberg was convicted of first-degree manslaughter and served 16 years in prison. The investigation revealed that he had never legally adopted either child.
Since Steinberg’s horrific crime, 10th Street has been relatively placid. “They’ve been kind of quiet lately,” Dennis says of the ghosts.
Philip Ernest Schoenberg, author of “Ghosts of Manhattan,” who also runs the Ghosts of New York tours, says the houses are hardly the most haunted in the city — that distinction might belong to the Merchant’s House Museum.
But the block itself may be more imbued with a spectral history of New York than people think, he says. The spirit of Emma Lazarus, who wrote “The New Colossus,” the poem on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty, has been spotted still lurking around her old house at No. 18. Mystery writer Dashiell Hammett and romantic partner Lilly Hellman, who wrote the play “Little Foxes,” among others, also once lived on the block. Edgar Allan Poe’s last known residence in New York was at No. 17, where a woman rejected his marriage proposal.
“His heart was broken there,” Schoenberg says.
Maybe the ghosts are just being patient?
Jason Weingarten, who used to walk dogs five days a week for a tenant in No. 14, says the inside of the house definitely feels very old, but it doesn’t seem haunted; although he notes author Emily Post also lived next door.
“So maybe,” Weingarten says, “they have proper etiquette.”
Source - NY Post
Stranger Than Fiction Stories by Marlene Pardo Pellicer