For this month’s haunting, we will be travelling to the New York City Neighborhood of Greenwich Village. According to legend, 22 spirits take residence in Greek Revival brownstone. What is it about this specific residence that seems to attract misfortune and death? Let’s explore.
New York’s “House of Death” was built in 1856. The Greek Revival Brownstone sits at 14 West 10th Street in Greenwich Village. The building itself is beautiful – iconic reddish-brown bricks, incredibly maintained windows, and greenery behind a small iron fence out front. It’s the type of residence you always see on TV or in movies set in New York. James Boorman Johnston was a well known man in New York – he founded the Metropolitan Underground Railway, which is an ancestor of the modern-day subway system. After Johnston died, his widow and their children moved into the House of Death. To my knowledge, they did not experience any ill fate or haunting phenomena during their stay.
The string of unfortunate events that took place within its walls began with Fred Andrew, who was a well-known cyclist in the late 1800s. The event took place on August 9, 1897. Andrew was out cycling and struck a young boy. The boy broke his leg in the collision, and Andrew was subsequently arrested for reckless behavior. This event was recorded in a contemporary issue of the New York Times. This accident is often noted as the starting point for the house negatively affecting its residents.
The most famous resident of 14 West 10th Street was Mark Twain, who resided there from1900 to 1901. The historical marker on the building boasts this fact. During his time at the home, Twain did nothing but write – he was desperate to make money, as he was edging closer and closer to bankruptcy. It is possibly due to his financial struggles that he was also dealing with depression. Twain wrote of a possibly paranormal experience during his time at the home as well. One night, Twain noticed a piece of firewood moving on its own. He pulled out his gun and shot it, assuming the wood was being moved by a rat. The shot procured drops of blood, which Twain assumed was rat blood. No other tenants of the home reported issues with rats.
The home was occupied on and off in the convening years. In 1937, the Brownstone was converted from a single home into apartments which allowed for many more residents to move in and potentially experience the phenomena. Jan Bryant Bartell was one of those apartment tenants. Along with her daughter, she moved into a unit on the top floor in 1957. Jan Bryant Bartell is a very interesting person – not only was she an actress and writer, she also allegedly had psychic powers. It’s no wonder she tapped into the reputation of the home (regardless of whether her abilities were truly psychic in nature). Bartell had many spiritual encounters while living in the home. As a writer, she decided to record every instance. That recording was eventually published as a book titled Spindrift: Spray from a Psychic Sea. Bartell died in 1973, which some believers were quick to attribute to the cursed home.
The last notable resident of 14 West 10th Street was named Joel Steinberg. Trigger warning for child abuse and death ahead. Steinberg lived in the home in the 80s with his wife, Hedda Nussbaum, daughter, Lisa Nussbaum, and son Mitchell Steinberg. Hedda called 911 on November 2, 1987, after finding Lisa unbreathing in the kitchen. When the authorities arrived, Lisa was found nude on the kitchen floor. Mitchell was restrained in his playpen in a soiled diaper. Hedda was covered in bruises as well. An insane amount of drugs were also found, including pot, cocaine, and crack pipes. Lisa was taken to a nearby hospital, but would never regain consciousness. She was taken off of life support after three days. Her cause of death was ruled to be blunt-force trauma to the head.
The investigation uncovered a tale of horrific abuse. Joel would abuse his wife, daughter, and son often, and Lisa’s murder came after a cocaine binge. The investigation also uncovered that Lisa was illegally adopted by Hedda and Joel after her biological mother paid Joel to find Lisa an adoptive family. Mitchell was also illegally adopted. Hedda agreed to testify against Joel in exchange for charges against her being dropped. Joel was convicted of second degree manslaughter, though he is now out of jail. Gotta love the American Justice System.
Many residents of 14 West 10th Street claim that Mark Twain returned to the home in death, despite the fact that he spent a very small amount of time there in life. He is often cited walking up and down the stairs. Additionally, a woman and her daughter who resided at the home in the 30s claimed to have seen a spirit who introduced himself as “Clemens” – Mark Twain’s real last name. According to the witnesses, the spirit was sitting on a window seat as he told them he had “a problem here that I gotta settle.” I have been unable to find any accounts of issues in Twain’s life that would have kept him tied to Greenwich Village.
Jan Bryant Bartell had extensive experiences in the home as well. She would feel eyes on her when she was alone in rooms. She would feel something brush against her neck when nothing was there. She would also smell a rotting stench intermittently – it would apparently appear and dissipate unnaturally quickly. Bartell would also find rotting food that did not belong to the couple. Their dog would act aggressive towards a single chair in the home, which Bartell suspected was because a spirit favored sitting in it. Bartell also claimed to have seen the full-bodied apparition, which she touched. She explained the sensation as being damp and cold, like moving through fog or a cloud.
Eventually, Bartell was disturbed enough to enlist the help of both a spirit medium and a paranormal investigator. This spirit medium claimed to have felt a presence beneath the floorboards in the home. He claimed to feel three distinct presences – a young girl, a cat, and an “aborted baby.” Partway into the investigative session, the medium was allegedly taken over by the spirit of a young woman. While in this trance, the spirit came through to tell the Bartells that she had been born in 1848, and her husband had died in the civil war. She also lamented the loss of her child, which was apparently the “aborted baby” the medium had sensed. As the medium was still overtaken by the spirit of the young woman, the paranormal investigator ordered the spirits to leave the residence. The spirit overtaking the medium refused. The Bartells apparently continued to experience paranormal phenomena until they moved out.
By far, the most reported phenomena in the so-called “House of Death” is a woman in white. This spirit’s description varies slightly between accounts – some people say she wears a nightgown, and some say it is an actual dress. Bartell’s visiting medium even mentioned sensing a woman in white. The spirit wanders through the halls, walking through doors. Lights often flicker with no concrete source of the disturbance, which some attribute to the woman in white. There are seemingly no specific identities tied to the woman in white, though this is not surprising to me, as many of the alleged spirits are unidentified.