Capture the Friendly Ghost

The Bartow Mansion, in the early 1900s. Image courtesy of Bartow-Pell Mansion Museum

Through tours, museums tout their paranormal activity

BY SCOTT STIFFLER  | In the realm of fiction — and on so-called “Reality TV” — things rarely go well as people explore the long hallways, winding staircases and frozen-in-time rooms of a haunted house.

Literature and cinema have no shortage of mayhem unleashed when a deceased tycoon stipulates that potential heirs spend the night in a spooky mansion before they inherit — and the cable airwaves are positively flooded with jumpy investigative crews desperate to ferret out restless souls.

But not all old houses said to be occupied by spirits are foreboding destinations (or, for that matter, off-limits to all but a select few). In fact, two of them are close to home, open year-round to the public and come with the promise of a solid history lesson — along with the chance to have a genuine paranormal experience.

With its original brick and mortar construction having come to a halt in 1842, the Bartow-Pell Mansion (opened as a museum in 1947) provides visitors with an exemplary glimpse of country living in the Pelham Bay Park area during the 19th century. Tours of the mansion are given every Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday from 12-4pm, and the estate grounds are open daily until dusk.

On October 27, the museum offers an appropriately spooky “Historic Halloween” program that begins with a candlelit tour of the Pell Cemetery. Located at the end of a chestnut tree-lined walkway, it’s the final resting place of several family members, whose tombstones date from the early to late 1700s.

Once the group arrives back in the mansion (safely, we assume), veteran paranormal investigator Dan Sturges will give a lecture that’s equal parts Ghost 101 background info, tech equipment primer and overview of evidence collected at Bartow-Pell (including an audio clip which seems to indicate a give and take conversation between the investigative team and somebody from the other side). He’ll also shine some light on questions asked by staff and visitors, including speculation about the presence of angels in the north parlor and a child’s ghost on the third floor…and who keeps leaving indentations on the Lannuier bed?

Throughout the evening, keep tabs on those standing next to you and where that breeze is coming from. It will help differentiate between an earthly and an otherworldly explanation, should you (as others have in the past) feel something come in contact, get goosebumps or have the feeling you’re being watched.

Built in 1832 (and a museum since 1936), wealthy NYC hardware merchant Seabury Tredwell moved the family to this upscale Bond Street row house in 1835. For nearly a century, members of the Tredwell clan lived (and died) there. Countless servants and caretakers passed through its doors — and the fourth floor Servants’ Quarters is thought to be the oldest example of Irish cohabitation in NYC. The front second floor room is where daughter Gertrude died — in the same bed where she was born, and in which her father met his maker.

Some say the Tredwells and their servants never left. The first sighting of Gertrude took place shortly after her earthly departure, when neighbors swore they saw her open the front door and scold a group of rowdy kids — and a visitor to the museum flipping through old photos ID’d one of the Tredwell sons, who engaged her in a long, polite conversation when (uninformed about its haunted reputation) she stopped by to tour the house.

Since 2007, Dan Sturges has been the only investigator given access to what The New York Times quite accurately dubbed, “Manhattan’s Most Haunted House.” Long ago, museum staff made a conscious choice to embrace and document (though by no means exploit) their reputation as a place where unexplained things happen with unusual frequency. Having been on 14 Sturges investigations, I can vouch for that. On my first visit, in October of 2010, I felt something brush up against me and picked up audio on a device I was holding (which nobody heard as we were recording).

Throughout the year, self-guided tours let you court your own paranormal experience — and a few upcoming events up your chance for a strange encounter.

October 25-27 and  29-30, the “Candlelight Ghost Tour” takes you throughout the house — as guides play captured audio (EVP)and display unexplained photos. Many times over the years, the staff has received phone calls and emails the next day — with visitors reporting odd sightings and sensations.  On Sunday, October 28 (3-5pm), “From Parlor to Grave” finds the first floor Greek Revival parlors draped in black crape, for a recreation of Seabury Tredwell’s 1865 funeral. After the service, mourners will follow the coffin to Marble Cemetery for a graveside service and tour ($40; $10 for cemetery only). Costumed attire is encouraged on All Hallows’ Eve, as the front parlor hosts “Spine Tingling and True: Ghost Stories of the Merchant’s House Museum” (two performances, at 7 & 8:30pm; $25). Between selections from 19th century horror classics, you’ll hear stranger-than-fiction tales of supernatural occurrences at Merchant’s House (including one doozy that took place in the very room in which you’re seated).

Photo by Eva Ulz
Cradle to grave: Tredwell patriarch Seabury died in Merchant’s House. Some say he never left.

Thurs., Oct. 27 through Sun., Oct. 27
Mon., Oct. 29, Tues., Oct. 30
6pm/9:30pm tours: $40, (includesfourth floor Servants’ Quarters)
6:30pm, 7pm, 7:30pm: $25
8pm, 8:30pm, 9pm: $30
At The Merchant’s House Museum
29 E. Fourth St. (btw. Lafayette & Bowery)
To reserve, call 212-777-1089 or visit merchantshouse.org
Self-Guided Tours every Thurs.-Mon., 12-5pm (guided tours, 2pm)
Museum Admission: $10, $5 for students/seniors (over 65)
Cemetery Walk & Paranormal Talk
Sat., Oct. 27, 6:30pm
At the Bartow-Pell Mansion Museum
895 Shore Road, Pelham Bay Park,
The Bronx
$20 ($17 for seniors/students)Reservations required: call 718-885-1461
Guided Mansion Tours, every  Wed., Sat. & Sun., 12-4pm
Grounds open daily, until dusk
$5, $3 for students/seniors
For info, visit bartwopellmansionmuseum.org and sturgesparanormal.com

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