Haunting Season In New York
By Robert Dominguez-Daily News Staff Writer
COPIED FROM: New York Daily News Archives - Wednesday, July 21, 1999
Haunting Season in NY/The ghosts of Gotham don't live just anywhere!
New York City can be a scary place, although most people have no idea how scary.
But investigator of the paranormal Loyd Auerbach knows just how frightening it can be, and you don't have to see this week's spooky new movie "The Haunting" to get a really good fright. New York, says Auerbach, has more ghosts per capita than any other city in America.
"New York has got more than its share of hauntings, because of its history. A lot of its old buildings and places have ghosts attached to them or contain residual memories that people pick up as ghosts."
Hauntings don't just occur in musty old houses. A bustling street in Greenwich Village - W. Third St. off Sullivan St. - is supposedly the most haunted block in the city.
Three nondescript buildings within 50 feet of each other have taken their place in American ghost lore: Poe House (83 W. Third St.), a brownstone where Edgar Allan Poe once lived and is reputed to be haunted by an insane woman; Quantum Leap Cafe, a coffee shop across the street where the ghost of infamous duelist Aaron Burr has been spotted, and Fire Station No. 2, where a suicidal fireman is said to haunt the fourth floor.
"That whole street has some really weird energy," says Dennis William Hauck, author of "Haunted Places" (Penguin), a directory of haunted houses nationwide.
Here are three of the city's better-known places that have really weird energy, with firsthand accounts of ghostly encounters:
Fire Station No. 2
It seems an unlikely place, but the restless spirit of a mustachioed firefighter is said to inhabit the vacant fourth floor of this 90-year-old firehouse.
Milton Snipes, who has worked out of the station for more than 20 years, is well-versed in the legend.
"It's supposed to be the ghost of a fireman whose wife was cheating on him, and he hanged himself on the fourth floor," the officer says.
The apparition - a middle-aged man with salt-and-pepper hair - has been seen by several firefighters over the years, and more than a few psychics and investigators of the paranormal have made the trek here in an attempt to commune with the spirit.
While the firefighters like to joke about their friendly fireghost, Snipes turns serious when he talks about it. He tells of two colleagues, now retired, who had run-ins with the spirit as recently as 1992, including one fireman who "woke up and found [the ghost] looking right down at him. The guy practically got into a boxing match with the ghost trying to get away."
Snipes and other firefighters also claim to have heard an old dolly with metal wheels being dragged across the floor late at night.
The firefighters may be open - and open-minded - about their haunting, but any requests by outsiders to see the fourth floor are quickly doused.
"You can't," says Snipes ominously. "We had the floor closed off a couple of years ago. And no one's seen the ghost since."
Over dinner one night in the mid-1960s, Broadway star June Havoc turned to fellow actress Helen Hayes and explained why she had been looking so tired lately.
"I was complaining about a headache I had because of a lack of sleep - I was hearing noises at 3 or 4 in the morning near my bed every single night," says Havoc, now 82, who at the time lived in a Victorian-stye townhouse at 428 W. 44th St.
"Someone suggested it might be a ghost, and within 24 hours Hanz Holzer and Sybil Leek appeared at my house."
Holzer is a well-known, self-proclaimed "ghost chaser" who has written dozens of books on the paranormal; Leek was a British psychic whom Holzer often used to conduct seances.
That night, says Havoc, as a film crew borrowed from her TV talk show taped the proceedings, Leek went into a hypnotic trance and contacted the spirit of a young woman who has since been nicknamed "Hungry Lucy" in ghost lore.
Speaking in an Olde English voice, Leek channeled a young woman named Lucy Ryan who died in 1792 in a field where Havoc's house was later built.
"She was a teenager waiting in this field for her lover," says Havoc. "But she was set upon by drunken soldiers. She was raped and couldn't walk from her bruises, and she died there."
The spirit of "Lucy," who complained constantly of being hungry, was finally released from her earthly bounds after several more sessions with Holzer and Leek. "Our little seance made her free to go wherever it is you go," says Havoc of the ghost.
Or so she thought. After three nights of blissful sleep, Havoc was again awakened in the middle of a night. But instead of incessant banging and tapping, "there was this hideous screaming, and this time it sounded like it was coming from within a box directly over me," says Havoc.
She immediately called Holzer, who instructed her to be harsh with the spirit. "He told me to tell [Lucy] to 'Go back!'" says Havoc. "But it came back the next night, too."
Eventually, says Havoc, Lucy's presence faded away. Yet Havoc, who moved to Connecticut a few years later, surprisingly won't accept the notion that her experience was otherworldly.
"I am still the stoutest nonbeliever," says Havoc, laughing. "Something had to be doing this, but I didn't see anything."
The beautiful courtyard in the West 40s where Tom Winberry lives with his wife, Pam, and two small children has a ghostly legend that dates back almost 200 years.
The area was once the site of a potter's field, and a mutinous black sailor hanged by the British - since nicknamed "Old Moor" - is said to haunt the area.
In the 1820s, when Winberry's converted co-op was a carriage house and stable belonging to Gov. George Clinton, Old Moor's ghost was said to have literally scared a coachman's wife to death - she was so shocked by the apparition she fell down a staircase and died.
Legend also has it that a little girl likewise fell from a balcony to her death after an encounter with Old Moor. Both the coachman's wife - and the girl - are now said to haunt Clinton Court, says Winberry, who has lived there since the early 1970s.
But they're not the only ghosts in the courtyard. Winberry says Holzer once conducted a seance there in the 1960s and contacted the spirit of a Revolutionary War soldier, among several others.
About 15 years ago, Winberry was awakened by a shadowy specter of a hooded woman who hovered over his bed.
"I was intrigued, but I didn't feel threatened. It finally dissipated after two or three minutes.
"To this day, I still don't know what it was," says Winberry. "Take your pick: It was either an optical illusion, a hallucination - or a ghost."
His wife also has seen apparitions in the house - on two occasions.
Like Havoc, the couple downplay their experiences, choosing instead to find a normal explanation for what they have seen. They also refuse to attribute to the paranormal other weird goings-on: an infestation of thousands of flying ants in the living room, red liquid that streaked down the wall and icicles that formed on the ceiling in the middle of summer. "This isn't the 'Amityville Horror,'" says Winberry with a laugh, referring to the infamous Long Island haunted house that has since been proven a hoax.
"All these other things that happened here can be explained - like the red liquid that looked like blood, but was just humidity mixing with the dye from the brick wall."
While there is no explanation for the apparitions, the Winberrys do get a kick out of living in a famous haunted house - especially since they have never felt threatened.
"If there are spirits here, they've made peace and are probably gone, especially with all the renovations," says Winberry. "We've come to learn that when you live in a haunted house, even the scurrying of mice can seem ominous."
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