Manhattan may lay claim to Edgar Allan Poe and the enduring mystery of Judge Joseph Crater, who vanished from midtown in 1930 without a trace, but Brooklyn is rich in its own eerie lore.
“We’ve got murders, scandals, suicides and one amazing case of apparent spontaneous combustion,” said Andrea Janes, who runs the Boroughs of the Dead tours.
In the annals of the macabre, one can’t forget that Brooklyn is home to a place called Gravesend, the endlessly fascinating Green-Wood Cemetery and an ongoing gentrification that to many is more terrifying than any haunted house.
Janes’ latest offering in her “murderous, morbid and macabre” list of walking tours in NYC is “Haunted Brooklyn Heights,” running Oct. 24 through Halloween. One stop will be the intersection of Court and Pacific Streets, where the Cobbleshill Fort was once located. In the 1820s, a man named Boerum was drinking with his buddies in a tavern on Red Hook Lane when the group ran out of booze. Boerum was dispatched to buy more brandy at the Brooklyn ferry but never returned.
His comrades found him near the allegedly decrepit “ghost haunted” fort “with a horrific expression on his face,” and he died a few days later after having been apparently “frightened to death,” Janes recounted.
Logic dictates poor Boerum was likely the victim of a disfiguring stroke, but Janes prefers to concentrate on the “Ichabod Crane vibe” of the unexpected and inexplicable death. Besides, learning about Boerum opens the door to the borough’s incredible history, and Janes has a “hardcore case of NYC history nerdism.”
The Big Apple in general “is not a city like Salem or New Orleans where the city is designed for atmospheric gloom,” but it a place rich in history and teeming with stories (more than 8 million, at last count), noted Janes.
For an eerie story to become part of local lore it usually must be written about first.
“If it doesn’t get transcribed, no one is ever going to know” its creepy particulars in the future, explained Janes, who relies upon accounts found in libraries and archives.
Take the tour to get the lowdown on the phantom bell ringer and the “possible case of spontaneous combustion” of a man who burned to death at the intersection of Willow and Cranberry Streets in 1875. (“There’s a fire alarm” at the corner now, Janes noted.)
Tours are $20. For more information on Haunted Brooklyn Heights, as well as other “Boroughs of the Dead” tours, check out Boroughsofthedead.com.