There are more than just dust balls lurking in the shadows of these Harlem spaces — there are also ghosts and spirits who, for one reason or another, never wanted to leave the place they frequented most before death. As fall approaches — prime haunting time in Harlem — think twice before walking past these seemingly innocent venues. These are the places that could never quite shake some of their reputations.
Skip the simulated scares and strangers groping you in the dark. Conduct a self-guided tour through the city that never sleeps using our list of Harlem establishments that offer true terror (and, bonus, no entrance fees!).
Jumel Manion, 65 Jumel Terrace
Manhattan’s oldest home is haunted by five separate ghosts, but the most commonly seen ghoul is that of Eliza Jumel. After Jumel’s husband passed in 1832, she found a new suitor in Alexander Hamilton’s assassin, Aaron Burr. After they divorced, Jumel’s appearance became unsightly and frightening, and she died alone. One account claims that a medium contacted the spirit of her first husband, Stephen, who claimed that Jumel murdered him by burying him alive. Because of her guilt, she can find no peace. Her most notable appearance came in 1964, when a group of schoolchildren toured the home, and her ghost appeared in a violet dress, telling them all to “shut up.” When she appears, she is disoriented and delusional, symptomatic of the dementia she suffered from at the end of her life.
James Bailey House, 10 St. Nicholas Place
The James Bailey House on St. Nicholas Place at 150th Street. Call it the house the circus built: it’s the castle-like residence of James Bailey, of Barnum & Bailey Circus fame. Bailey had the 12,000-foot Romanesque Revival the limestone castle “with turrets, porches, balconies and no fewer than 66 windows” (left, in a 1930s NYPL photo) built in 1888. Some think this nine bedroom mansion is haunted because in 1951, it had been a funeral home and that it was “overrun by a pack of wild dogs,” has something to do with it.
Harlem Gatehouse, 130 Convent Avenue
The 1895 shows the Gatehouse as it stood when it was a water pumping station for the Croton water supply system that was the central water source for the city. The notable landmark at 135th Street and Convent Avenue is an amazing space. This area of land on the City College campus used to have a neo-classical Greek stadium nearby for over 70 years until it was torn down to make way for a larger modern building for the local college and for many locals rowing up it was a very scary place to live near.
Harry Houdini’s House, 278 west 113 Street
Harry Houdini, the magician known for his Chinese Water Torture Cell trick and for being buried alive, died on Halloween in 1926. His wife, Bess, refused to accept that her husband was no longer going to “magically” appear in her life. After selling their home on the Upper West Side, Bess moved to Inwood. Story goes that before Houdini left his wife for the afterlife, the couple decided on one thing: For the next decade, on the anniversary of his death, Bess would take part in a séance where Houdini would appear and produce a secret code that only she would know. Every Sunday, at the hour of Harry’s death, Bess would lock herself in a room of her Payson Avenue home with a photograph of her dead husband and wait for a sign. For 10 years, Bess continued to hold a séance every Halloween until the final one in 1936 on the rooftop of the Knickerbocker Hotel in Hollywood. She never heard from her beloved, and gave up. To this day, Houdini séances are held on the anniversary of his death.
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