Updated: Feb 4
I love to travel, but one of the places I’ve always wanted to go but just never gotten around to it is New York City. With such a big city that has such a long, storied history, it shouldn’t be a surprise that hauntings have creeped up over the years. Let’s look at one of the city’s well known ghost hangouts: The House of Death.
The place known as the “House of Death” is actually a 4 story, 10 unit apartment building that sits at 14 W 10th Street in the neighborhood of Greenwich Village. From everything I’ve seen, it seems like a pretty good place to live. The website forrent.com gives it a walk score of 99, a transit score of 100, and a bike score of 94. It’s also less than a mile from NYU, Washington Square Park and Fifth Avenue. Unsurprisingly, there are no available units right now.
Some sources said the house was built in 1900, but most said it was sometime in the 1850’s. In 1900, the house welcomed arguably its most famous resident, author Mark Twain. Twain only lived in the house for a year and didn’t die until almost a decade later in an entirely different state. But apparently he likes to linger in his old New York residence even after death.
The first reported occurrence of Twain’s ghost happened in the 1930’s, where he not only appeared to the house’s residents but even talked to them! One of the residents claimed Twain’s ghost identified himself as “Clemens” — presumably referring to Twain’s real name, Samuel Clemens. Ever since, Twain has been spotted walking around on the first floor and near the staircase, wearing a white suit.
According to untappedcities.com, the building was converted from a single family home into apartments in 1937 because of growing demand for housing in the city. In 1957, former actress Jan Bryant Bartell and her husband moved into the top floor apartment, which had previously been servants’ quarters.
It didn’t take long for the strange happenings to begin. Bartell claimed a “monstrous” shadow would follow her around the house. She would feel something brush against the back of her neck even when her hair was up, smell strange rotting smells and hear footsteps following her up stairs (I assume when her husband wasn’t around). The family dog would growl at a certain chair, furniture would move seemingly on its own and other weird shadows were spotted. At one point, Bartell claimed to see a shriveled up grape show up on a dinner plate, even though there were no grapes in the house at the time.
Bartell wanted to leave just a few weeks into living there, but the housing shortage prevented the couple from doing so. They called in a medium, who told them the house was haunted by 22 spirits. The medium tried to help, but appeared to become possessed by a spirit who refused to leave. Fortunately, the couple was able to find new housing shortly after this.
In 1974, Bartell finished writing Spindrift: Spray from a Psychic Sea, which detailed the goings-on she experienced in the apartment. Just a few weeks later, she died under what The New York Post referred to as “mysterious circumstances.” Her book is pretty pricey today, even used, but you can get it here if you like.
It’s also worth noting that, according to untappedcities.com, Bartell also lived just down the road at 16 W 10 Street for awhile, where she also reported experiencing paranormal activity. Either she had an affinity for attracting ghosts, or there was something else going on that was unrelated to the paranormal.
But the most horrific thing to happen in the house involved a former resident named Joel Steinberg. Steinberg lived in the building in the 1980’s with his girlfriend, Hedda Nussbaum, and their two adopted children, 6-year-old Lisa and 18-month-old Mitchell.
On the night of November 1, 1987, Steinberg, in a cocaine fueled rage, beat 6-year-old Lisa to the point of unconsciousness. Then he went out with his friends.
Nussbaum found Lisa, still unconscious on the bathroom floor, around 6:30 the next morning and called the police. When she answered the door to let them in, she had a bruised face and a split lip. Police also found baby Mitchell tied to his playpen and covered in dirt and urine. Lisa was taken to the hospital, but died three days later.
Steinberg was convicted of first degree manslaughter and given the maximum sentence of 25 years. He was released on parole in 2004 after serving 16 years of his sentence.
It was eventually discovered that the children were illegally adopted; Steinberg had never formally filed the adoption papers. Mitchell was eventually returned to his biological mother. The case also increased the number of child abuse hotlines across the country.
After Lisa’s murder, residents claimed the hauntings slowed down quite a bit. On an entry on the blog Daytonian in Manhattan, someone in the comments section named Jason claimed he once went to a Halloween party in the Steinbergs’ old apartment. The owners reportedly believed the place was haunted, saying the bathroom where Lisa was found would be unusually cold at times. The only other related report I found was a claim that lights flicker on and off at strange times on the floor the Steinbergs lived on.
But the hauntings never fully stopped and seemingly continue to this day. One other ghost who’s been spotted is that of a woman in a long flowing gown. In one New York Post story, a musician/photographer resident named Dennis was interviewed. He claimed he was photographing a woman in his apartment one night, left the room for a second and, when he came back, the woman claimed she had seen this ghost. Dennis also claimed to have owned 10 different copies of Bartell’s book, Spindrift — he had to get new ones because they kept disappearing. Either the House of Death ghosts really like to read, or Dennis is just as bad as me at misplacing things. Other reports include a gray cat, a young child and a faceless man.
So are there really 22 ghosts that haunt the place, as Bartell’s medium once claimed? It’s never been confirmed that 22 people died in the building, but it’s not out of the realm of possibility. In the previously mentioned blog entry on Daytonian in Manhattan, blogger Tom Miller writes:
“a score of residents dying over the course of 160 years in any residence would be expected, especially considering that wealthy Victorians and Edwardians normally received medical treatment at home, rather than a hospital.”
So that’s all I have for you today on New York City’s House of Death. If you’ve ever been there and have experienced anything unusual, or even if you haven’t done either of these things, I’d love to know your thoughts in the comments below.