A look at the elements of high strangeness in the 1893 story of a strange, acrobatic ghost in Woodside, Queens.

This episode delves into the Snake Woods and Rattlesnake Spring, the now-vanished wilderness of the New York City neighborhood of Woodside, and looks at the odd parts of the news reports of a ghostly figure. Though it’s possible that the entity was just an unhomed person wandering the dangerous, snake-infested woods, there are enough unusual elements in the story to bear looking at from a perspective of high strangeness.

Highlights include:
• Bigfoot
• Women in White
• Creepy reptiles

 

Episode Script for An Acrobatic Ghost in Woodside: Part 2

DISCLAIMER: I’m providing this version of the script for accessibility purposes. It hasn’t been proofread, so please excuse typos. There are also some things that may differ between the final episode and this draft script. Please treat the episode audio as the final product. 

  • I left off last time talking about St. Sebastian’s Church, the catholic church in Woodside that was located nean of this weird ghost story.
    • As a refresher, this was a story from July 1893, about an acrobatic ghost, or maybe an unhomed person, dressed in white and/or wearing a sheet. I’m really torn about whether I think this entity is a ghost or not, and I’m not totally convinced that it was, but I want to explore this topic some more and also go down a bit of a wormhole in terms of whether this ghost fits into the wild man archetype, etc.
    • As a reminder, here’s the description of the ghost from The evening world (New York, N.Y.), July 28, 1893:
      • “our ghost turns handsprings and cart-wheels, and it is very long and slender and white, and it makes no noise among the brittle sticks in the woods, except that it screeches with a blood-chilling unearthly, piercing yell that makes our knees shake and our hair to stand up”
    • The article also talks about the ghost running around on all fours.
  • Another reminder from last time is that there were some more recent ghost stories online about the same area where this ghost had been sighted back in the 19th century, and one of which was right near St. Sebastian’s Rectory. The recent sighting (when I say recent, I mean in the last decade or so), described seeing a girl in the empty field near the rectory: “She had a blank stare on her face; she was really pale with long black hair, and her dress looked like it was from the 1800s.” There was also someone online who encountered a UFO type sighting, also possibly in the same area, though it’s a little harder for me to pinpoint that location. St. Sebastian’s Church was founded the year after the ghost was sighted, in 1894, right around where the ghost was seen as well.
  • I was reading about the history of St. Sebastian’s Church on their website, and it mentioned that in the early days of colonial Woodside, there was a location called “Rattlesnake Spring” near 58th Street in Woodside, which was located either in or near “Snake Woods”.
    • Obviously I found that interesting, since the article about the Woodside ghost mentioned that “this old spring dates back beyond the recollection of the oldest inhabitants.”
    • So I searched Rattlesnake Spring Woodside and it turns out the Wikipedia page for Woodside mentions this place, so I wanted to read a paragraph from wikipedia about the early years of Woodside:
      • “”For two centuries following the arrival of settlers from England and the Netherlands, the area where the village of Woodside would be established was sparsely populated. The land was fertile, but also wet. Its Native American inhabitants called it a place of “bad waters” and it was known to early European settlers as a place of “marshes, muddy flats and bogs,” where “wooded swamps” and “flaggy pools” were fed by flowing springs.” Until drained in the nineteenth century, one of these wet woodlands was called Wolf Swamp after the predators that infested it. This swamp was not the only place where settlers might fear for the safety of their livestock, and even themselves. One of the oldest recorded locations in Woodside was called Rattlesnake Spring on the property of a Captain Bryan Newton. The vicinity came to be called Snake Woods and one source maintains that “during New York’s colonial period, the area was known as ‘suicide’s paradise,’ as it was largely snake-infested swamps and wolf-ridden woodlands.”””
    • More info in another book: https://www.google.com/books/edition/Historical_Guide_to_the_City_of_New_York/v4cGmMe6_okC?hl=en&gbpv=1&dq=Captain+Bryan+Newton+woodside&pg=PA292&printsec=frontcover
    • So . . . Sounds like snake woods is not really somewhere you’d want to be hanging out, and it makes sense that the townspeople of Woodside only resorted to returning to the spring during a drought. Also, one thing worth mentioning: I’ve never seen a snake in NYC, but just the other day I was at Mt. Zion Cemetery in Maspeth, which is close to Woodside, and I encountered a family of lizards that lived in a grave and were slithering in and out. So the snakes may be gone, but there are still reptiles around there.
  • Alright, so I’ve managed to say a lot of weird stuff about this possible haunting, and now I want to stretch your credulity a little further. So, first, I feel like it’s not too much of a stretch to say that this ghost, entity, or person in the woods fits into the wild man archetype.
  • From wikipedia, here’s the definition of a wild man:
    • “The wild man or wild man of the woods is a mythical figure that appears in the artwork and literature of medieval Europe, comparable to the satyr or faun type in classical mythology and to Silvanus, the Roman god of the woodlands.”
  • There’s also a link between the wild man archetype and bigfoot. So, I’ve mentioned Timothy Renner’s work on this podcast before, but it’s been a while. He’s the host of the podcast Strange Familiars, which if you’re listening to this, you probably already listen to, and he’s also the author of a number of really great books, some of which are about bigfoot.
    • I’m going to be honest, bigfoot and cryptids in general aren’t my favorite topic–I’m much more interested in ghosts, for example–but the way Timothy Renner talks about bigfoot is really fascinating. There’re several schools of thought when it comes to bigfoot, and the dominant one, for a long time, was the “flesh and blood” bigfoot hypothesis, basically the idea that there’s an animal living out in the woods, and that animal is what people are seeing during bigfoot encounters. However, there’s also a school of thought that ties bigfoot into high strangeness and that links it to all sorts of paranormal phenomena, including poltergeists, fairies, ghosts, magic, witches, women in white, etc. And Timothy Renner’s work is focused in that second school, and boy does he have some interesting stuff to say about all of that.
    • He cowrote two books about this with Joshua Cutchin, called Where the Footprints End: High Strangeness and the Bigfoot Phenomenon, Volumes I and II, and if any of this sounds even remotely to you, you should buy them and read them, they’re great.
    • But when I was thinking about this ghost story, something sort of rang a bell for me, and I thought it was making me think of some anecdotes from these books.
    • First, there’s a term that Joshua Cutchin has coined called the wildnesgeist, or basically a wilderness poltergeist, so poltergeist activity out in the woods. In his chapter about the wildnesgeist in Volume I, he quotes a definition of poltergeist activity that paranormal investigator and author once wrote: “rock-and-dirt throwing, flying objects, loud noises, strange lights, and other apparitions, terrible smells, rapping, physical and sexual assaults, and shrieks.”
      • I think it’s worth nothing that the Woodside entity shrieked (and his shrieks maybe had an affect on people’s ability to run away or run after him), and, interestingly, years later in the 2010s, we have that random account of the UFO type lights seen somewhere nearby, as well as some other haunting stories, one of which sounds poltergeist-y. I’m not really trying to make a solid connection between these things, they could just be coincidence and mean nothing. But they’re interesting b/c they fit into a possible pattern and make me wonder if there’s something odd over in that part of Woodside.
    • The chapter also talks about how poltergeist “infestations typically begin and end abruptly, rarely exceeding a few months.”
      • We don’t know for sure when the interactions with the entity ended, but they certainly started suddenly, and had only been going on for a few days at the time that they were reported.
    • Also, I think most people know that poltergeists are often associated with adolescent girls, or kids going through puberty in general. To read from the wildnesgeist chapter: “Typical poltergeist agents” (people who poltergeists are attracted to) “are young and female, a data point resonant with bigfoot lore. Legends universally describe the creature’s keen interest in young women and children. . . . Poltergeists attach to female youths; youth and females attract bigfoot.”
      • One thing worth noting is that our Woodside wild man attacked children and women, but ran from men. In particular, we know that two 14-year-old girls, Annie Robinson, the daughter of a grocer, and her friend Josie Canton, were chased by the ghost. It seemed like a lot of the kids who the entity scared were around that age or a little younger.
    • Volume I has a whole chapter on women and white and white bigfoot sightings, so kinda an intersection between the woman and white and wild man archetypes. So I reread the chapter and wanted to share a few passages. This story about two brothers who’d experienced bigfoot sightings was first recounted on the podcast Sasquatch Chronicles , so to read from the book (258-259):
      • “The brothers lived near each other, in a wooded section of Tennessee. . . . Mick and Matt believed the bigfoot inhabited a wooded ridge line behind their homes. . . .”
    • One thing worth noting: a lot of bigfoot sightings happen in kinda small woods near where people live, so not necessarily in the deep darkness away from civilization. That made me think of Snake Woods in Woodside.
    • To continue reading:

“‘the two brothers’. . . Had been seeing an old woman in the neighborhood who they thought to be homeless. The brothers described this woman as appearing to be in her 60s, very tall, about 6’5″, and dressed in ragged, dirty white clothes that appeared too small for her frame; and old white shoes that appeared much too big . . . On one particular evening the brothers could hear the bigfoot creatures screaming on the ridge and they saw the old woman crossing their property, heading in the direction of the screaming sasquatches. They assumed the woman was insane and would be killed or injured by the creatures. In the morning, however, they saw the old woman heading back from the ridge. One of the brothers approached her, curiously, and asked her to stop. He wanted to ask her some questions and see if she needed help. The woman ignored him, so he asked again, but she still did not respond. He repeated his request multiple times, raising his voice: ‘Stop! Stop! Stop!’ but the old woman walked on as if he was not there. Finally, the brother said ‘I command you to stop!” At this, the old woman stopped, turned to the brother, cracked a sinister, evil grin, and disappeared into thin air. Both brothers witnessed the old woman vanish. The brothers consulted a medium and asked about the old woman. The medium said that the woman was not human, but an entity that appears human. The medium said that the bigfoot creatures were coming out of the earth and that this entity, which appears as an old woman, has control over the bigfoot creatures.”

  • So, I’m not saying that this man in white is exactly like the archetypal woman in white, or like the archetypal wild man.
  • There are a lot of standard bigfoot things, like wood knocks, or wild man things, like someone being really hairy and dirty, that just don’t seem to appear in the two articles I was able to find about the topic. And at least for me, the acrobatics that this person did don’t seem to ring a bell for something bigfoot, wild man, or woman and white related to me–the acrobatics stuff seems weird and unlikely, but not definitively paranormal. But I wanted to go into all of this because for whatever reason, I couldn’t stop thinking of some of the stuff I’d read or heard about these other archetypes (even the idea of him being near a spring made me think of bigfoot sightings near running water, for example.)
  • So maybe this entity was just an ordinary unhomed person, maybe a circus or vaudeville performer who knew acrobatics. Or maybe he was something more paranormal, and had some connection to all the stuff I’ve been talking about. Like most mysteries in both history and the paranormal, I don’t really have a satisfying answer for you.
  • But I hope you enjoyed hearing about this weird ghost story as much as I enjoyed researching it. I’d thought that I’d end up talking about several different ghost stories in the area of western queens today, but I got so into this one that it became the whole episode.

Sources consulted RE: An Acrobatic Ghost in Woodside

Books consulted RE: An Acrobatic Ghost in Woodside

Articles RE: An Acrobatic Ghost in Woodside

  • Wilkes-Barre Times Leader, The Evening News (Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania) · Fri, Jul 28, 1893 · Page 4
  • Image 6 of The evening world (New York, N.Y.), July 28, 1893, (LAST EDITION)

Websites consulted 

  • http://www.ghostsofamerica.com/1/New_York_Woodside_ghost_sightings.html
  • http://www.ufosentinel.com/15/ufosighting_15001130.html
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saint_Sebastian
  • https://www.courant.com/news/connecticut/hc-xpm-1997-02-09-9702090123-story.html
  • https://occult-world.com/sebastian-st/
  • https://www.courant.com/news/connecticut/hc-xpm-2004-11-08-0411080014-story.html
  • https://forgotten-ny.com/2005/10/woodside-queens-part-1/
  • https://forgotten-ny.com/2005/10/woodside-queens-part-2/
  • http://cinematreasures.org/theaters/6406
  • http://saintsebastianwoodside.org/
  • http://saintsebastianwoodside.org/about-the-parish/https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wild_man

Don’t miss past episodes:

In 1893, a strange, acrobatic ghost dressed all in white appeared in a forest in Woodside, Queens.

The entity that was seen in the 19th century didn’t seem to communicate verbally, though he made strange, chilling sounds. He was able to move on all fours as quickly as an ordinary person could run, and had a penchant for acrobatic stunts like handsprings. It is unclear what happened to this entity, but more than 100 years later, other stories about ghosts in the Woodside seem to be centered in the same area. . . .

Highlights include:
• A UFO sighting
• Ghost hoaxes in Victorian Australia
• A creepy ghost of a 19th century child

 

Episode Script for An Acrobatic Ghost in Woodside (Haunted Queens)

DISCLAIMER: I’m providing this version of the script for accessibility purposes. It hasn’t been proofread, so please excuse typos. There are also some things that may differ between the final episode and this draft script. Please treat the episode audio as the final product. 

  • Wilkes-Barre Times Leader, The Evening News (Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania) · Fri, Jul 28, 1893 · Page 4
    • This story harkens back to an early episode of this podcast, which was about people dressing up and pretending to be ghosts in Australia, and then ppl chasing after them and trying to shoot them.
    • The headline of the article is “Hunting for a Ghost: Long Island Villagers Turn Out with Shotguns: A Gaunt Sheeted Specter Seen: This Particular Goblin Haunted an Old Spring, Where It Scared Children–If the Ghost is Caught he Will Get a Coat of Tar and Feathers”
    • It sounds like a group of people who lived in Woodside, which is a neighborhood near Astoria that I used to live in, set off to look for a ghost who had been hanging out around the old town spring and scaring children and chasing women and girls. Very similar to the stories of ppl “playing the ghost” in late 19th century Australia.
    • The location of the spring was in some woods near Betts Avenue and Greenpoint Avenue, which according to Forgotten NY, are now 58th Street and Roosevelt Avenue. (However there is still a Greenpoint Avenue near Calvary Cemetery.)
    • To read from the article:
      • “This old spring dates back beyond the recollection of the oldest inhabitants, and it is said that it never runs dry. It is the center of a network of paths that lead in from the avenues. The brush around it is taller than a man’s head. During the recent drought more than half the village of Woodside has obtained water from this spring. All day long until late at night groups of children, girls, and women could be seen in all directions with pails in their hands, going to and fro from the spring.”
    • So it’s a very old spring, but also very much in use.
    • A few days before the article was written, a group of kids were scared away from the spring; it happened a few times the next day, and the children were so frightened that they didn’t even want to go back to the spring to get their pails. A group of women were also scared away from the spring.
    • Here’s what apparently happened to everyone:
      • “While bending over drawing water they were stealthily approached from behind by a tall, gaunt individual, dressed entirely in white, who suddenly sprang upon them. The children say he got down on all fours and crawled after them like a ravenous animal. He chased 14-year-old Annie Robinson, whose father keeps a grocery store in Greenpoint avenue, more than a mile before she escaped.”
    • The article goes on to list a bunch of different people who saw this entity. One man saw him and chased after him, but, according to the article,
      • “he was not fleetfooted enough and in the dense woods he lost the trail. A search was made by some of the men that night. They discovered a sort of bed and shelter constructed deep in the woods, which was thought to be the rendezvous of the person they were hunting. A watch was left at the place, but no one came.”
    • One man from the neighborhood was walking home around midnight and “saw a figure sheeted like a ghost float out of a clump of brush and cut fantastic capers in the road, moving about as silently as a shadow. [The man’s] heart came up in his throat. He says he didn’t make any outcry, but every now and then the ghostly dancer would give utterance to an unearthly shriek that caused his hair to stand on end and made the cold sweat trickle down his back. Then the dogs began to bark, and persons disturbed by the shrieks came to their doors, and the phantom turned a few handsprings and disappeared as suddenly as he came.”
    • The article then says that the residents of Woodside were determined to hunt down this person or entity, because the wouldn’t feel safe otherwise. The idea was that they were going to shoot him, or coat him with tar and feathers and beat him.
    • There’s also an article headlined “This Ghost is an Acrobat” in The evening world (New York, N.Y.), July 28, 1893, (LAST EDITION) about the Woodside ghost, which calls it “the ghost of the spring.” It quotes people from the neighborhood as saying:
      • “Our ghost turns handsprings and cart-wheels, and it is very long and slender and white, and it makes no noise among the brittle sticks in the woods, except that it screeches with a blood-chilling, unearthly, piercing yell that makes our knees shake and our hair to stand up.”
      • It also talks about the girl who the ghost chased on all fours, and the article says that the entity was almost as fast on all fours as a 14-year-old girl was running, which is odd.
      • It also mentions the man who chased him, and it says that when the ghost screeched while it was running away, the sound momentarily paralyzed the man’s legs so he couldn’t chase it, and then it disappeared into the woods. Maybe that was just out of fear, but is it possible that something else was going on there, something paranormal?
    • I didn’t find other articles about the story, though I’m saying this with the caveat that I guess within the last day or two, my NYPL library card expired, which means I couldn’t access the different newspaper databases I usually search. So I searched the LOC newspaper archives, which aren’t as extensive, but they’ll have to do till I can go to Manhattan next to renew my card in person.
    • So, a couple things for this story. First, it’s possible that this is the story of an unhomed person who took up residence in the woods. That’s probably the most likely explanation, especially bc they found where this person was apparently living. But there’s some weird stuff in here too, and some aspects of the story that make me think that it’s fairly possible that it could have been something supernatural.
      • For example, why would a random unhomed person be dressed all in white? It doesn’t seem like the most practical color for a person who lives in the woods to be wearing, especially if he’s crawling around and doing handsprings, and if this person was wearing white but covered in mud, I kinda feel like the article may have mentioned that the man’s clothes was filthy, or something similar.
      • Also, why on earth would this person be doing handsprings? That’s a difficult move for anyone but a gymnast to be doing. Like I do a lot of yoga and stuff and can’t even do a cartwheel. Could this person be someone who once worked at the circus? Or was the person who wrote the article just exaggerating, and did this person not do any feat of acrobatics.
    • It’s maybe a long stretch to try to claim that this person was actually some sort of supernatural entity, but there were a few interesting things about this story that kinda light some lightbulbs in my mind that I thought might be interesting to talk about.
    • One interesting thing is that, like I mentioned, this wood was near present day 58th street and Roosevelt Avenue. There’s a church called Saint Sebastian Roman Catholic Church at Roosevelt Avenue and 58th Street, and the church’s rectory is a block or so away from there. This is just some rando on the internet, but a commentor at ghostsofamerica.com recounts a story about something that happened there, which I wanted to read:

Does anybody know any history background on the field that is near the Saint Sebastian Rectory on 57th Street? There used to be a house, but now it’s just an open field. Many years my sister and I were passing by and we saw a girl standing there. She had a blank stare on her face; she was really pale with long black hair, and her dress looked like it was from the 1800s.

She was there for a second and the she disappeared.

  • There wasn’t anyone saying anything about the history of the spot, but one commenter said:

Say what you will but I live on 58th and I have a ghost. This ghost has an obsession with ornaments. Every time I come home from work I find ornaments rearranged. It’s like this ghost just wants me to know he or she is there.

I have been trying to figure out if the ghost is trying to tell me something. Is there a way to communicate with this entity. Is there a way I can do this on my own or should I get a hold of an expert. Are there any ghost experts in this area.

I’ll be checking this site for a reply. Thanks.

  • Again, these are random people on the internet. But there weren’t other accounts of hauntings in Woodside on the site, though there was a link to UFOsentinel.com which has a one story from Woodside, which was an October 2014 UFO sighting. The entry reads:

I have lived here in Woodside on 61st Street since 2000 and have never witnessed anything like I did in October last year. I was with a brother and our dog Jenny. As we were near a church Jenny stopped frozen for about almost a minute.

Then she started to run around my brother like crazy. Then she stopped and stared at these 4 balls of lights. They were flashing yellow and blue and were flying or actually hovering on top of the empty field right by the church.

They were looping around the field for almost 5 minutes. My brother and I (and Jenny) were in shock. We didn’t know what to do. We didn’t have our phone with us, otherwise we would have taken some pictures to prove that theses lights were there for real.

  • This story leaves a lot of questions hanging: one, while the person lives on 61st street, what street was the empty field on? Could it have been the field by Saint Sebastian’s Rectory? Could the person have mistaken the rectory for a church? (If this is a young person especially, they may not know the difference between a rectory and a church.)
    • I couldn’t remember churches near fields in Woodside, since there aren’t many empty fields in Woodside, but I did a google maps search of churches in Woodside, and was’t seeing other church buildings near empty fields, so it seems likely to me that it was the rectory of ST. Sebastian’s church.
    • I did look up St. Sebastian to see if he has any relevant associations, and the answer is not really. He’s a pretty famous saint who’s often depicted as being tied to a tree and shot full of arrows. One interesting thing I saw online was a Hartford Currant article from 1997 that told the story of the Sicilian population of Middletown, Ct, who come from a town in Sicily with a real devotion to St. Sebastian, and who have a custom tied to wearing white when honoring St. Sebastian:
      • “Hundreds of men and women dressed in white, called “e nuri” or “the nude” for their bare or sock- covered feet, run through downtown Middletown before the Sunday Mass to thank and honor St. Sebastian for answering their prayers.”
    • I only mention that detail because I try to point out coincidences, and I thought the parallel between the white clothes of entity seen in 1893, near the site of today’s ST. Sebastian’s Church, and the present-day devotees of St. Sebastian wearing white and walking around barefoot, was interesting. The barefoot aspect especially interests me, because that’s a very back-to-nature type of thing to do, and we’re talking about a person or entity who lived in the woods. All that being said, there’s likely no connection between the two, aside from the idea that some people wear all white for religious reasons, so that feels like one possibility for why a person might run off to the woods and live alone and dress all in white–could it be a religious thing?
    • Oh, also, in case you’re wondering: St. Sebastian’s church was founded in 1894, the year after this article, though it’s only been in its current building since 1952 (the current building apparently used to be the Loew’s Woodside theater, which I wouldn’t have guessed from looking at it.)
  • So that’s some paranormal stories about Woodside centering around St. Sebastian Church. I’ll pick up next week to talk about some of my more outlandish theories about this Woodside ghost story.

 

Sources consulted RE: An Acrobatic Ghost in Woodside

Books consulted RE: An Acrobatic Ghost in Woodside

Articles RE: An Acrobatic Ghost in Woodside

  • Wilkes-Barre Times Leader, The Evening News (Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania) · Fri, Jul 28, 1893 · Page 4
  • Image 6 of The evening world (New York, N.Y.), July 28, 1893, (LAST EDITION)

Websites consulted 

  • http://www.ghostsofamerica.com/1/New_York_Woodside_ghost_sightings.html
  • http://www.ufosentinel.com/15/ufosighting_15001130.html
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saint_Sebastian
  • https://www.courant.com/news/connecticut/hc-xpm-1997-02-09-9702090123-story.html
  • https://occult-world.com/sebastian-st/
  • https://www.courant.com/news/connecticut/hc-xpm-2004-11-08-0411080014-story.html
  • https://forgotten-ny.com/2005/10/woodside-queens-part-1/
  • https://forgotten-ny.com/2005/10/woodside-queens-part-2/
  • http://cinematreasures.org/theaters/6406
  • http://saintsebastianwoodside.org/
  • http://saintsebastianwoodside.org/about-the-parish/https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wild_man

Don’t miss past episodes:

When a series of dangerous paranormal events plagues a home, famed psychical researcher and author Hereward Carrington is called in to investigate the “Gold and Ghost” haunted house in Astoria

In 1934, a 30-year-old man and his 80-year-old housekeeper supposedly experienced a series of paranormal events at their home in Astoria, NY. One of their tenants was strangled (non-fatally) in bed, the housekeeper and her German Shepherd were thrown to the ground hard enough to break limbs, and the man was visited in the night by a shadow person-type ghost who told him that there was gold buried underneath his basement. The story just gets weirder from there, and even famed researcher Hereward Carrington wasn’t able to untangle the details. To this day, questions remain about this story full of strange contradictions and puzzling details.

Highlights include:
• An abandoned secret passageway
• Psychics confirming a ghost’s claim
• A stumped paranormal investigator
• Buried treasure

Episode Script The Gold and Ghost Haunted House in Astoria (Haunted Astoria)

DISCLAIMER: I’m providing this version of the script for accessibility purposes. It hasn’t been proofread, so please excuse typos. There are also some things that may differ between the final episode and this draft script. Please treat the episode audio as the final product. 

  • This is probably most famous haunted house type case in Astoria, which actually involved famous psychical researcher Hereward Carrington coming to Astoria.  He was actually the head of the American Psychical Research Institute.
  • I read an article in The Brooklyn Daily Eagle (Brooklyn, New York) · Sun, Jul 11, 1937 that had more background info on him. This article, funnily enough, was printed right next to a huge advertisement for a chain of funeral homes in Brooklyn.
  • It had a striking description of him:
    • Dr. Hereward Carrington . . . A keenly intent man with magnetic gray eyes and a shock of graying hair, leaned forward it his chair and revealed fascinating ghostly data. He believes in ghosts, though he has exposed as many fraudulent spirits as he has made friends with honest-to-goodness spooks in years of psychical research.
  • It goes on to talk about how he’s been doing a survey of haunted houses, and “The search for haunted houses gravitated Dr. Carrington towards Astoria some time ago, where he spent considerable time in the famous ghost and gold house. Even now, three years later, he is reluctant to speak much about that adventure. He is inclined to be modest about frauds he has shown up and more reticent to boast about the ghosts who are his friends. There is too much of this tongue-in-your-cheek attitude about ghostly things in this country, he feels. Whereas abroad, especially in his native England, the subject of psychic phenomena is taken seriously.”
  • The article goes on to say that Carrington was born in England, but went to the university of Iowa. He got interested in the paranormal bc of his interest in amateur stage magic. He said that he wasn’t a spiritualist, and was a normal person who liked to play bridge and tennis. His interest in the paranormal came from scientific interest rather than an emotional loss.
  • Here’s what he was quoted to say about the paranormal:
  • “[I] don’t believe there is any such thing as the supernatural. Rather it is the supernormal. There are countless sources of nature that have not yet been discovered and every now and then give some indications of their being. In England, for instance, the subject of psychic phenomena is respectable. Groups study it at Oxford and Cambridge. But that is not so, here.”
  • The article goes on to describe his philosophy: “People who don’t believe in ghosts, he admitted, are afraid of them. People who do believe, are actually fond of their ghostly friends. At least, they are interested in them. He will scoff down traditional ghost stories that crop up and point out how the power of suggestion has worked.”
  • I kind agree with that. The article also says:
    • “No astronomical genius has ever seen Mars with the naked eye, yet science readily accepts Mars as something that actually exists.”
  • Then the article turns back to the Astoria story:
    • “But that Astoria ghost story was just the old power of suggestion theory, Dr. Carrington revealed. A young Sicilian and his housekeeper, an elderly Irish woman, reported to Dr. Carrington that they heard footsteps on the Astoria shack they wished to fix up for renting purposes. A woman tenant in the house was strangled one night in bed. The misty figure on the stairway appeared one night and admonished them: “Don’t be afraid; there’s a fortune buried in the cellar.'”
  • The Sicilian man apparently used to own a beauty parlor, and apparently his las name was Basulca.
  • A NYT article from 1934 said that the woman who was strangled–who did not die, btw–had fingerprints on her throat after. The article also claimed that the original owner of the house had supposedly strangled his daughter in the room where the boarder lived.
    • “One night, as the Italian beauty specialist lay asleep, something awakened him. Sitting on his bed was an indistinguishable shape–not the conventional ghost of fiction, all draped in white–but something dark. He knew from its voice that it was the shade of the woman who had been murdered.
    • “‘Do not be afraid of me,’ it said. ‘Go on with our digging. There will be no rest for me until you find what you seek.'”
  • That detail is interesting. Doesn’t it sound like maybe her body was buried in the basement, and that was why she couldn’t get rest until the “treasure” in the basement was found? Wouldn’t you lie to someone to get them to dig up your body, if you were a ghost who was concerned with that sort of thing.
  • To go back to the Brooklyn Daily eagle article, the man dug a lot:
  • “He dug and dug so deep that the dirt completely filled the cellar. He struck a cement wall, broke through that, but found no treasure. Dr. Carrington brought three mediums to the scene and each one told of the buried treasure. Then the ghost story really became exciting. A big dog was picked up and thrown down, one day, and limped forever after. The elderly housekeeper was knocked down by the ghostly body.”
  • “‘As events finally turned out,’ Dr. Carrington said, ‘the ghost proved to be a myth. The building department made the young man stop digging. He eventually moved away and the house was done over and there haven’t been any tales of ghosts lately.'”
    • I don’t understand what “done over” means in this context, but I think it must mean examined, because according to tax records from 1940, the building that stood there had been there since 1908.
    • Also, the article doesn’t explain why Carrington thought this story was fake. It doesn’t refute the things that happened, it just ends. And Carrington said some things that made it seem like he thought the haunting might be real. So let’s get into it.
  • This story supposedly takes place at 30-35 31st Street in Astoria, though I’ll talk a bit about how descriptions of the home make it seem like maybe it happened elsewhere. However, articles in both The Brooklyn Daily Eagle and Brooklyn Times Union published on Nov 22, 1934, which were written after police visited the home and gave the address, both say that’s the address, so I’m inclined to believe t.
  •  Today, the N/W trains run on an aboveground track right on 31st street, and the elevated train was there back in the 1930s as well. The building was off of 30th avenue (as you can tell by the 30 before the dash in its address)
    • Nowadays, there’s a decent sized apartment building there that was constructed in 2006, where you can currently rent a 1 bedroom apt there for $1,750/month, with the first month free. That’s a pretty middle of the road price for the neighborhood these days, though it’s pretty cheap by NYC standards. I think the interior of the apartment is not the best looking, but it’s in a big building and they allow pets.
    • I did find an old 1939-1941 tax photo of the building that used to be there, which was built in 1901.
      • The old building looks like it was 2 stories, with a basement with windows that start at the level of the sidewalk. There’s a brick stoop of 3 steps that leads up to the front door, which looks really cool: it’s like a double door that opens in the center, has windows inset in them, and some nice octagonal  molding. There’s a driveway in the side, with a garage behind it, which I suspect maybe held carriages or horses or something before cars were popular.
      • The building is continually described as a shack, but it looks nice in the 1940 picture. I think that they likely added the details of it being rundown to add to the ambiance of the ghost story.
    • So let’s go back to 1934, when this story took place.
  • There’s a book called New York City Ghost Stories by Charles J. Adams III, which was published in 1996, that has a chapter on this story. He seems to draw mostly from the NYT’s accounts of the hauntings.
  • I found the two November 1934 articles that it cites:
    • POLICEMEN’S QUEST FOR GHOSTS FUTILE: Three Carloads Go to Astoria’s ‘Haunting House’ Only to Get a Cold Reception. New York Times (1923-Current file); Nov 22, 1934; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times with Index
  • GOLD GHOST WALKS IN ASTORIA HOUSE: Psychic Expert, Called to Old … New York Times (1923-Current file); Nov 21, 1934; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times with Index pg. 21
  • The articles are written somewhat sensationally, and it talks about the woman’s “police dog” which NYC Ghost Stories says was a German shepherd.
  • NYC Ghost Stories says a NYT article that I couldn’t find described the house as “huddled in the growing dark like some sinister prehistoric monster.” However, I found part of that article paraphrased in a syndicated piece printed in the January 1, 1940, issue of the Standard-Speaker in Hazleton, PA.
    • This article is interesting to me because it shows the sensationalism that crept into the story to make it interesting news copy. After all, supposedly in 1937, Carrington disavowed the haunting, and here a news service is digging up the story again and embellishing it. The article says:
    • “In a certain street in the Borough of Queens in the City of New York, there is a century-old house reputed to be haunted by poltergeists–the German name for ghosts with a mean disposition and a bad temper; spooks that would just as soon crown you with a flat-iron as look at you.”
    • So, first, that’s kinda a funny description of poltergeists. Second, it says the house is a century-old, which is not true. Since it was built in 1908, it was only 32 years old in 1940.
    • Then it describes a reporter being sent to “this house in Queens, haunted by such totalitarian spooks. He arrived just at dusk. The setting was perfect for a ghost story. Sagging and weather beaten, badly in need of paint, it huddled in the growing dark like some sinister prehistoric monster. The porch was warped. Loose boards creaked under the tread. The Bell sounded deep and hollow somewhere inside. The door opened about two inches and a gray old face, barely distinguishable in the old gloom, and partly hidden by tangled gray hair, peered out. A big shepherd dog growled somewhere behind the old woman’s skirt. When the reporter said he had come from Dr. Carrington, the door opened a little wider and he was admitted into a dark hall. No lights anywhere. He was led into the front room, where furniture, oddly shaped and grotesque in deep shadow, seemed to crowd in upon him and the old woman.”
    • The woman then begs the reporter not to use her name or mention the street name, and the reporter asks her if the story is true, and then the woman nods, “her old eyes wild with fear.” Then, basically, it gets dark, she doesn’t turn on the lights, and the reporter leaves and the woman locks the door after him. But it’s written in a way to sound really sinister.
    • So there are a few things wrong with this story. One is that the building, based on the 1940 tax photo, looks like it’s a sturdy brick building, like many buildings around here built around that time are. It looks not unlike a building I used to live in that was about the same size and built in the early 1910s, which is has a brick exterior that is in great condition today. So if it’s brick, how can it be sagging and in need of paint? Also, the tax photo shows a stoop, but no porch. Either 1) the address I found in an article for this house is incorrect, or 2) the house’s appearance was made up and exaggerated for effect. My guess is that the second is more likely.
    • The article also had a very dramatic description of what happened in the house: “the little old woman was going about her affairs on the lower floor of the house, her big German shepherd dog at her heels. All at once something–something–lifted the dog six or seven feet in the air and slammed it back to the floor with terrible force. As it lay there whimpering, unable to get up, the old woman knelt down on her knees by its side. She found that both its hindlegs were broken. Six weeks later an invsible malevolence lifted the little old woman off her feet and violently hurled her to the floor, breaking her left leg and left arm.”
    • The article doesn’t mention the Sicilian man at all, the gold in the cellar, or other parts of the haunting that other articles mention, which makes me think even more that this one is mostly highly embellished/somewhat fictional.
  • But to return to the 1934 NYT article I was able to find, that described three carloads of cops showing up at the house at 9 am. It also mentions that the house was “an ancient mansion” and it mentions the “sagging boards of the porch” though the article is embellished enough that it seems like that could just be a creative flourish. Though in another 1934 NYT article, I also saw the house described as a 100 year old frame house.
    • But basically, the cops said they’d read about the case in the newspaper, and had heard that she dug up the cellar. NYC Ghost Stories claims that the cops visited not to investigate the ghost story, but because they didn’t have a permit to dig for gold in the cellar.
    • The cops asked about the pit, which had supposedly been dug 20 feet deep and 10 feet wide, in the search for gold. The old woman denied everything and said there had been no ghost, and Carrington had never visited. She said she had the hole dug to have a cool place to store vegetables during the summer.
    • They went to the basement and “encountered great mounds of earth that had been taken out of the pit. There were large boulders that had obviously been lifted out with back-breaking effort. And then, finally, there was the pit itself, a deep, yawning hole. All around the inner walls of it were huge plants, apparently used for shoring. Near by was a pail and a shovel, as if the digging were either still in progress or only recently abandoned.”
    • Then it describes how a reporter who had come along with the cops “stopped dead in his tracks, startled. ‘There’s a man hanging from that beam,’ he said, pointing.”
    • Apparently “‘the man’ was only a curious mannikin made of accordion tissue. No one explained THAT, not even the woman proprietor. She and the growling dog stayed upstairs.”
    • The cops continued going through the basement, and encountered a tunnel, obviously of great antiquity. This, it is understood, was originally a passageway leading from the old house to a near-by church which has long since been torn down.”
    • That detail is really interesting to me, because if there was supposedly gold hidden in your basement, you’d probably think it’d be hidden in the already existing tunnel, not randomly under the floor?
    • The cops questioned the woman some more, and she eventually admitted that Carrington had visited, but she claimed there were no ghosts. The cops then demanded that she have the hole filled in, because it could damage the foundation of the house.
    • When the NYT contacted Carrington for a statement, he said that the American Psychical Research Institute had no connection to the investigation–he said it was a personal investigation. The way he said it made it sound like the investigation had happened a while before, maybe even years before? So that’s sort of interesting. I guess the story took a while to get out.
      • Carrington basically then said that he wasn’t able  to do a proper investigation because the owners wanted it to be conducted under “absolute secrecy” so it sounds like he wasn’t able to confirm or deny the hauntings. He did mention that several mediums who he brought, who hadn’t been told about the supposed gold in the basement, all confirmed that there was gold buried beneath the house.
    • But apparently Carrington and his wife had visited the home 3 times to investigate, and at least according to the NYT, “Nothing that occurred during the visits of the Carringtons indicated that the forces behind the tricks that disturbed the household were of human origin. They were unable to explain the happenings.”
  • The closing line of The Brooklyn Times Union (Brooklyn, New York) · Thu, Nov 22, 1934 · Page 8 says: “Whether there is gold or ghosts in the Astoria home will probably remain a mystery because Mrs. Sheehan’s big police dog does not like visitors.”

Sources consulted RE: Haunted House in Astoria (and the Haunted Astoria series)

Books consulted RE: Haunted Houses in Astoria

Articles RE: Haunted House in Astoria

  • POLICEMEN’S QUEST FOR GHOSTS FUTILE: Three Carloads Go to Astoria’s … New York Times (1923-Current file); Nov 22, 1934; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times with Index pg. 12
  • GOLD GHOST WALKS IN ASTORIA HOUSE: Psychic Expert, Called to Old … New York Times (1923-Current file); Nov 21, 1934; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times with Index pg. 21
  • The Brooklyn Daily Eagle (Brooklyn, New York) · Thu, Nov 22, 1934 · Page 24
  • The Brooklyn Daily Eagle (Brooklyn, New York) · Sun, Jul 11, 1937 · Page 8
  • Brooklyn Times Union (Brooklyn, New York) · Thu, Nov 22, 1934 · Page 8
  • POLICEMEN’S QUEST FOR GHOSTS FUTILE: Three Carloads Go to Astoria’s … New York Times (1923-Current file); Nov 22, 1934; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times with Index
  • Standard-Sentinel (Hazleton, Pennsylvania) · Mon, Jan 1, 1940 · Page 6
  • Mower County Transcript (Lansing, Minnesota) · Thu, Feb 12, 1874 · Page 1
  • New-York Tribune. November 23, 1858
  • “Another Hanted House in Astoria” The Evening Post.. November 23, 1858
  • “It was a White Horse And something that Looked like a Red-headed Ghost Leading it.” June 28, 1888 Brooklyn Times Union
  • New York Daily Herald (New York, New York) · Thu, Jan 29, 1874 · Page 8
  • The Brooklyn Daily Eagle (Brooklyn, New York) · Thu, Jan 29, 1874 · Page 3
  • POLICEMEN’S QUEST FOR GHOSTS FUTILE: Three Carloads Go to Astoria’s … New York Times (1923-Current file); Nov 22, 1934; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times with Index pg. 12
  • GOLD GHOST WALKS IN ASTORIA HOUSE: Psychic Expert, Called to Old … New York Times (1923-Current file); Nov 21, 1934; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times with Index pg. 21
  • The Brooklyn Daily Eagle (Brooklyn, New York) · Thu, Nov 22, 1934 · Page 24
  • The Brooklyn Daily Eagle (Brooklyn, New York) · Sun, Jul 11, 1937 · Page 8
  • Brooklyn Times Union (Brooklyn, New York) · Thu, Nov 22, 1934 · Page 8
  • Brooklyn Times Union Sat Sep 4 1869
  • Another Haunted House in Astoria. Evening Post (published as The Evening Post.) (New York, New York)November 23, 1858
  • The Brooklyn Daily Eagle Sun Jul 18 1886
  • The Brooklyn Daily Eagle Wed Dec 27 1893
  • Brooklyn Times Union Sat Mar 7 1925
  • Brooklyn Times Union Thu Nov 22 1934
  • The Brooklyn Daily Eagle Sun Jul 11 1937
  • The Brooklyn Daily Eagle Thu Nov 22 1934
  • The Courier Fri Feb 2 1900
  • Image 18 of The sun (New York [N.Y.]), January 14, 1900
    Evening Post published as The Evening Post. November 23 1858
  • New York Tribune published as New-York Tribune. November 23 1858
  • Brooklyn Times Union Mon Oct 25 1909
  • The New York herald (New York, N.Y.), February 13, 1921, (SECTION 6)
  • Brooklyn Times Union Thu Jun 28 1888
  • GOLD GHOST WALKS IN ASTORIA HOUSE: Psychic Expert, Called to Old … New York Times (1923-Current file); Nov 21, 1934; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times with Index pg. 2 
  • POLICEMEN’S QUEST FOR GHOSTS FUTILE: Three Carloads Go to Astoria’s … New York Times (1923-Current file); Nov 22, 1934; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times with Index pg. 1
  • The evening world (New York, N.Y.), December 30, 1889, (EXTRA 2 O’CLOCK)
  • The Appeal Sat Feb 24 1900
  • The Inter Ocean Sun Jan 21 1900
  • The Evening World Wed Nov 29 1893
  • The Brooklyn Daily Eagle Thu Apr 19 1928
  • The Tonganoxie Mirror Thu Jul 19 1883
  • Reading Times Mon Jan 20 1896 The Brooklyn Daily Eagle Sun Nov 8 1885 (1)
  • The evening world (New York, N.Y.), December 30, 1889, (EXTRA 2 O’CLOCK) https://www.loc.gov/resource/sn83030193/1889-12-30/ed-1/?sp=3&q=astoria+ghost&r=-0.026,0.482,0.453,0.19,0
  • The times (Washington [D.C.]), December 19, 1897: https://www.loc.gov/resource/sn85054468/1897-12-19/ed-1/?sp=8&q=astoria+ghost&r=0.109,0.598,0.884,0.371,0
  • Image 18 of The sun (New York [N.Y.]), January 14, 1900: https://www.loc.gov/resource/sn83030272/1900-01-14/ed-1/?sp=18&q=astoria+ghost&r=0.489,0.945,0.683,0.365,0
  • Image 8 of New-York tribune (New York [N.Y.]), January 7, 1919: https://www.loc.gov/resource/sn83030214/1919-01-07/ed-1/?sp=8&q=astoria+sanatorium&r=0.385,0.216,0.487,0.205,0
  • Image 7 of The sun (New York [N.Y.]), February 17, 1919: https://www.loc.gov/resource/sn83030431/1919-02-17/ed-1/?sp=7&q=astoria+sanatorium&r=0.569,0.553,0.276,0.116,0
  • Image 10 of New-York tribune (New York [N.Y.]), February 10, 1906: https://www.loc.gov/resource/sn83030214/1906-02-10/ed-1/?sp=10&q=astoria+sanatorium&r=0.719,0.853,0.417,0.223,0
  • Image 4 of New-York tribune (New York [N.Y.]), September 30, 1905
  • Image 21 of The New York herald (New York, N.Y.), May 27, 1921: https://www.loc.gov/resource/sn83045774/1921-05-27/ed-1/?sp=21&q=astoria+sanatorium&r=0.342,0.678,0.311,0.166,0
  • Image 16 of New-York tribune (New York [N.Y.]), October 5, 1904: https://www.loc.gov/resource/sn83030214/1904-10-05/ed-1/?sp=16&q=astoria+sanatorium&r=0.323,1.204,0.323,0.173,0
  • Brooklyn Times Union (Brooklyn, New York) · Thu, Nov 22, 1934 · Page 8: https://bplonsite.newspapers.com/image/576215460
  • The Brooklyn Daily Eagle (Brooklyn, New York) · Sun, Jul 11, 1937 · Page 8: https://bplonsite.newspapers.com/image/52695146
  • The Brooklyn Daily Eagle (Brooklyn, New York) · Thu, Nov 22, 1934 · Page 24: https://bplonsite.newspapers.com/image/59991092
  • https://www.qgazette.com/articles/pages-from-the-long-island-star-journal-9/
  • Image 18 of The sun (New York [N.Y.]), January 14, 1900: https://www.loc.gov/resource/sn83030272/1900-01-14/ed-1/?sp=18&q=astoria+ghost&r=0.555,0.033,0.321,0.148,0
  • Buffalo Morning Express and Illustrated Buffalo Express Tue Nov 13 1894

     

Websites consulted 

  • https://notjustopera.com/steve/vital/nyctaxphotos.php?year=1939-1941&borough=&number=30-35+&street=31st+Street&block=&lot=

  • https://nycma.lunaimaging.com/luna/servlet/detail/NYCMA~9~9~126332~953053:3035-31-Street?sort=borough%2Cblock%2Clot%2Czip_code
    https://bplonsite.newspapers.com/image/576215460 Downloaded on Jun 1, 2021

  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hereward_Carrington

  • Carrington’s Books: https://archive.org/search.php?query=creator%3A%22Hereward+Carrington%22

  • https://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/author/5832

  • https://www.dnainfo.com/new-york/20161028/prospect-lefferts-gardens/creepy-halloween-bridewell-prison-van-cortlandt-manor-astoria-willowbrook/

  • “The So-Called ‘Kidnapping Club’ Featured Cops Selling Free Black New Yorkers Into Slavery,” Smithsonian Magazine: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/so-called-kidnapping-club-featured-new-york-cops-selling-free-blacks-slavery-180976055/
  • https://crimereads.com/the-kidnapping-club-that-terrorized-african-americans-in-19th-century-new-york/
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Riker
  • https://nyslavery.commons.gc.cuny.edu/dating-the-start-and-end-of-slavery-in-new-york/
  • https://www.rikerhome.com/press/li-press-1968_large.htm
  • https://www.geni.com/people/David-Provoost-II/6000000002766404071
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Provost
  • https://nycemetery.wordpress.com/2021/01/02/jones-woods-cemeteries/
  • https://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47e1-0c20-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99
  • Los Angeles Herald, Volume 33, Number 108, 17 January 1906 https://cdnc.ucr.edu/?a=d&d=LAH19060117.2.18&e=——-en–20–1–txt-txIN——–1
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/U_Thant_Island
  • https://www.atlasobscura.com/places/u-thant-island
  • Records of enslaved people in Newtown, Queens: https://nyslavery.commons.gc.cuny.edu/search/?appSession=5MCUK448ECO579156B8UL5N69FD4FP9HR01OXX509Z67L48DL4CAXL8EEI52U669I1O38XF12FE61JXWM4Y10N2Z9JAN9LHJU8BN2285018P4549838QC2RQ2L4EH2QX
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_A._Garfield#Assassination
  • http://collections.mnhs.org/MNHistoryMagazine/articles/33/v33i01p029-034.pdf
  • https://kellykazek.com/2018/06/25/bet-you-didnt-know-about-this-haunted-american-castle/
  • https://time.com/96533/thieves-break-into-james-a-garfields-tomb/
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emanuel_Swedenborg
  • https://newtownpentacle.com/2009/06/13/a-big-dig-in-queens/
  • https://www.pbs.org/wnet/african-americans-many-rivers-to-cross/history/who-really-ran-the-underground-railroad/
  • https://www.6sqft.com/15-underground-railroad-stops-in-new-york-city/
  • https://nyslavery.commons.gc.cuny.edu/
  • https://nyslavery.commons.gc.cuny.edu/search/?appSession=1WXJ2370QHI6H9C815459UHS4F9AVG7ZNZ5RH7T39B21KWP081R95709VQVLNQPWX8M9A7IO8M3W22FY550M360BW077FZ21H52A90IQ93SZZS0A870A6XT8EJ4V78I8
  • https://www.6sqft.com/search-over-35000-records-of-slavery-in-new-york/
  • https://www.6sqft.com/before-nycs-slave-market-freedmen-from-africa-were-allowed-to-own-farmland/
  • https://www.6sqft.com/in-the-1700s-there-was-an-official-location-for-buying-selling-and-renting-slaves-on-wall-street/
  • https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/5/5e/1873_Beers_Map_of_Astoria,_Queens,_New_York_City_-_Geographicus_-_Astoria-beers-1873.jpg
  • https://oana-ny.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/old_astoria_map_1873_bg-1024×666.jpg
  • https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:1873_Beers_Map_of_Astoria,_Queens,_New_York_City_-_Geographicus_-_Astoria-beers-1873.jpg
  • https://shop.old-maps.com/new-york/towns/kings-queens-cos-ny-1859-town/astoria-new-york-1859-old-town-map-custom-print-queens-co/
  • https://cdn2.bigcommerce.com/n-zfvgw8/wkatj7/products/109812/images/126869/LongIslandCity_Astoria_MiddleVillage_1873_web__84173.1548088614.1280.1280.jpg?c=2
  • https://www.mapsofantiquity.com/store/Antique_Maps_-_United_States/Northeast/New_York/Long_Island/Astoria,_New_York,_verso_Woodside,_Maspeth,_East_Williamsburg,_Newtown/inventory.pl?id=NYO016
  • https://sourcebooks.fordham.edu/medny/astoria.jpg
  • https://sourcebooks.fordham.edu/medny/halsall7.asp
  • https://forgotten-ny.com/2002/02/astoria-necrology/
  • https://forgotten-ny.com/2002/02/astoria-necology-continued/
  • https://cdn6.picryl.com/photo/1903/12/31/queens-vol-2-double-page-plate-no-30-part-of-ward-two-newtown-trains-meadow-6c7e10-1600.jpg
  • https://www.qchron.com/qboro/stories/you-ain-t-afraid-of-no-ghost-we-ll-see-about-that/article_010ee09d-001f-5505-a643-147da790ecbf.html

Don’t miss past episodes:

A look at some 19th century tales of haunted houses in Astoria, NY.

Highlights include:
• A ghost spider
• Debunkings
• A runaway horse

Episode Script for Haunted Houses in Astoria, NY (Haunted Astoria)

DISCLAIMER: I’m providing this version of the script for accessibility purposes. It hasn’t been proofread, so please excuse typos. There are also some things that may differ between the final episode and this draft script. Please treat the episode audio as the final product. 

  • • First, let’s look at a story from Long Island City, which is adjacent to Astoria.
    • The original article was printed in New York Daily Herald (New York, New York) · Thu, Jan 29, 1874 · Page 8, but I also found parts of it reprinted in the Mower County Transcript (Lansing, Minnesota) · Thu, Feb 12, 1874 · Page 1, in an article called A Long Island Ghost.
    • Let’s get into it, I’ll read a bit of the Mower County Transcript article:
    § Long Island City has a new sensation, in the shape of a haunted house, situated on Jackson Avenue.
    • Sidenote, the Daily Herald article says that the house was on Dutch Kills road, two miles from Hunter’s point.
    § The landlord, until a couple of weeks ago, has been unable to rent the building for a nominal sum.
    • According to the herald, the family said “they were not afraid of ghosts or the Old Boy himself.” Old Boy is capitalized and I assume it means the devil. The family consisted of 5 people, and the house was small, so there were people occupying every room except the parlor and kitchen.
    • The residents heard a low moaning sound and the father, Mr. Daley, got up and went into the hall, thinking that someone had a cold because it was a bitterly cold night.
    • It seemed like the sound was in the kitchen, but when he went there, he heard it in the parlor, and when he went to the parlor, he heard it in either the kitchen or parlor.
    • It sounds like he gave up and went to bed then, since he couldn’t locate the source of the sound.
    • A little later, he heard a body fall down the stairs, and he heard “deep sepulchral groans” which apparently came from the garret and the hall. The crockery was thrown out of the cupboards, onto the floor.
    • Apparently, the next day, there were more sounds, including someone crying murder and scaring people. One dark thing that the Daily Herald article says “One of the children was so thoroughly frightened that it was thrown into spasm and its life is now despaired of,” and the Mower County Transcript article sadly says says that “One child was so frightened that it was thrown into convulsions and has since died.” WTF?
    • Then it says that the premises were “overhauled” but they couldn’t solve the mystery. The Daley family moved out on Wednesday, saying that “they weren’t afraid to stay, but they couldn’t sleep at night.”
  • New-York Tribune. November 23, 1858
    • This was a reprint from the New Jerusalem Messenger, a NYC religious newspaper of the Swedenborgian denomination.
    • That religion was started by Emanuel Swedenborg, a Swedish inventor, scientist, theologian, philosopher, and mystic who experienced dreams and visions and claimed that after a spiritual awakening, he developed the ability to visit Heaven and Hell to talk to angels, demons, and ghosts at will.
    • So with that context, let’s get to the article, which was headlined “The Haunted House in Astoria”
    • It tells the story of a haunted house that can’t be rented out because it’s so haunted. The former owner was burned to death in the house, and since then, the ghost visited the house every night, making noises opening and closing locked doors without unlocking them, opening windows and tossing plates onto the grass outside, while leaving some of the plates still in the cabinets, and scaring the watchdog so much that he would run to his owner, thinking he was in danger.
    • This has real poltergeist vibes.
    • The story was relayed by a former tenant, a military man, who had to leave because whenever he hired servants, they would quit. Though I bet he was freaked out too.
    • Over the previous summer, the house had stood empty, and the newspaper sent reporters to investigate the house. They encountered nothing, and theorized that maybe rats were making the noises.
    • Since the house was unoccupied, the owner found a poor family to live there for free. At first, housekeeper–which I assume was the wife of the family–said there was no haunting. But then she told a neighbor that “Sure enough, there is a ghost in the house.”
    § She then produced evidence by fastening strong black thread to a large needle, sewing it to a pincushion on the table, and then having both the needle and thread disappear. She looked for them, and eventually found them. I’ll read from the article which reports that she saw:
      • “high up, the needle still fastened to the thread, but suspended and hanging downwards, while the rest of the thread was most curiously woven together, and adhered to the shutter, without anything to hold it. This supernatural work could not, of course, be done by any one but a ghost. Ellen Green, an intelligent young woman, after attentively listening to her neighbor, went with her to the haunted house to examine this mysterious thread and needle. Sure enough there were the thread and needle as described. But anxious to solve the mystery, she picked up the thread from the shutter, and perceived that it had adhered by means of a spider’s web, and just above she beheld the ghost in the shape of a hideous large black spider–a most fitting representative of all ghost stories, as spiders’ webs correspond to falses and treachery.”
  • I also wanted to talk about some ghostly false alarms, as a reminder that these sorts of stories should be taken with a large grain of salt. So let’s look at a story from the same day in The Evening Post:
    • “Another Hanted House in Astoria” The_Evening_Post.___November_23_1858
      • This story begins: “Astoria seems to be full of ghosts. We yesterday published the story of the haunted house in Astoria. Today we have another from the same correspondent.
      • This article tells the story of a roadside inn, where a landlord had died. Then, if a guest tried to stay in the room where he died, his ghost would “shake him out.” Not totally sure what that means, but to read a bit of it: “Several having tried and got a good shaking, the use of the chamber had to be abandoned.”
      • But then, on one cold night, a weary traveler stayed in the room, since it was the only vacant one. I’ll read a bit more:
      • “As he was very tired, he determined that no ghost should shake him out. But he had no sooner dropped asleep than the whistling of the wind, the creaking of rusty hinges, and a violent shaking of his bed awoke him. Nothing daunted, but with the right spirit of inquiry, he concluded that the natural results must have natural causes.”
      • And to make a long story short, he decided that the shaking and creaking came from the inn’s swinging sign, which was attached to a loose beam that went into the room. And that the bed rested against. So he moved the bed to the middle of the room and wasn’t awoken again.
    • Seems like a false alarm:
      Ghost Horse
      • The June 28, 1888 issue of the Brooklyn Times Union has a story headlined “It was a White Horse And something that Looked like a Red-headed Ghost Leading it”
      • It relays the story of one John Thompson, who was apparently a well-known figure in Astoria, and who resided near “Cook’s training stables”
      • I can’t quite say where Cook’s training stables are, though I assume they’re in Astoria. I looked at a map of old Astoria in 1873, and there were several livery stables near the water, so perhaps it’s one of those, though it could also just not be on that map
      • One night, Thompson heard a horse moving around the yard, and he started to get dressed so he could catch the horse and bring it back to the stable.
      • When he went outside, he saw the horse quietly eating grass in near an Alderman Gibson’s house. He was about to lead the house away, when he heard a window open and a woman yell: “Take that horse out of this yard, sir. How dare you bring your horse in here to eat our grass?”
      • Then the horse turns around, the woman sees the man in a white robe, and supposedly yelled to her husband that “there was a red-headed ghost in the yard leading a white horse.”
      • I’m sharing this story for several reasons. One, it shows what kind of anticlimatic nonsense newspapers used to print back then. It almost feels like they were just trying to fill column inches. Two, it shows how easily people can mistake very normal things for the paranormal.
  • One thing I meant to mention last week but forgot to put in the correct section of my notes:
    Hermit Cave
    • • I found a Brooklyn Daily Eagle article from October 22, 1899, that detailed historic homes in the area of Elmhurst, which is just east of Astoria, and it mentions an old hermit cave in Trains Meadow, which was a swampy part of the area: “A near neighbor of the Morrel house is the old Sackett residence, since modernized into a mansion. It was a spacious structure and the rooms were exceedingly well finished. A circular mound in the woods opposite is, according to tradition, the remains of a hermit’s cell, whose story was the subject of a romance.”
      The article doesn’t say what this story was.

Sources consulted RE: Haunted Houses in Astoria (and the Haunted Astoria series)

Books RE: Haunted Houses in Astoria

Articles RE: Haunted Houses in Astoria

  • Mower County Transcript (Lansing, Minnesota) · Thu, Feb 12, 1874 · Page 1
  • New-York Tribune. November 23, 1858
  • “Another Hanted House in Astoria” The Evening Post.. November 23, 1858
  • “It was a White Horse And something that Looked like a Red-headed Ghost Leading it.” June 28, 1888 Brooklyn Times Union
  • New York Daily Herald (New York, New York) · Thu, Jan 29, 1874 · Page 8
  • The Brooklyn Daily Eagle (Brooklyn, New York) · Thu, Jan 29, 1874 · Page 3
  • POLICEMEN’S QUEST FOR GHOSTS FUTILE: Three Carloads Go to Astoria’s … New York Times (1923-Current file); Nov 22, 1934; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times with Index pg. 12
  • GOLD GHOST WALKS IN ASTORIA HOUSE: Psychic Expert, Called to Old … New York Times (1923-Current file); Nov 21, 1934; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times with Index pg. 21
  • The Brooklyn Daily Eagle (Brooklyn, New York) · Thu, Nov 22, 1934 · Page 24
  • The Brooklyn Daily Eagle (Brooklyn, New York) · Sun, Jul 11, 1937 · Page 8
  • Brooklyn Times Union (Brooklyn, New York) · Thu, Nov 22, 1934 · Page 8
  • Brooklyn Times Union Sat Sep 4 1869
  • Another Haunted House in Astoria. Evening Post (published as The Evening Post.) (New York, New York)November 23, 1858
  • The Brooklyn Daily Eagle Sun Jul 18 1886
  • The Brooklyn Daily Eagle Wed Dec 27 1893
  • Brooklyn Times Union Sat Mar 7 1925
  • Brooklyn Times Union Thu Nov 22 1934
  • The Brooklyn Daily Eagle Sun Jul 11 1937
  • The Brooklyn Daily Eagle Thu Nov 22 1934
  • The Courier Fri Feb 2 1900
  • Image 18 of The sun (New York [N.Y.]), January 14, 1900
    Evening Post published as The Evening Post. November 23 1858
  • New York Tribune published as New-York Tribune. November 23 1858
  • Brooklyn Times Union Mon Oct 25 1909
  • The New York herald (New York, N.Y.), February 13, 1921, (SECTION 6)
  • Brooklyn Times Union Thu Jun 28 1888
  • GOLD GHOST WALKS IN ASTORIA HOUSE: Psychic Expert, Called to Old … New York Times (1923-Current file); Nov 21, 1934; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times with Index pg. 2 
  • POLICEMEN’S QUEST FOR GHOSTS FUTILE: Three Carloads Go to Astoria’s … New York Times (1923-Current file); Nov 22, 1934; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times with Index pg. 1
  • The evening world (New York, N.Y.), December 30, 1889, (EXTRA 2 O’CLOCK)
  • The Appeal Sat Feb 24 1900
  • The Inter Ocean Sun Jan 21 1900
  • The Evening World Wed Nov 29 1893
  • The Brooklyn Daily Eagle Thu Apr 19 1928
  • The Tonganoxie Mirror Thu Jul 19 1883
  • Reading Times Mon Jan 20 1896 The Brooklyn Daily Eagle Sun Nov 8 1885 (1)
  • The evening world (New York, N.Y.), December 30, 1889, (EXTRA 2 O’CLOCK) https://www.loc.gov/resource/sn83030193/1889-12-30/ed-1/?sp=3&q=astoria+ghost&r=-0.026,0.482,0.453,0.19,0
  • The times (Washington [D.C.]), December 19, 1897: https://www.loc.gov/resource/sn85054468/1897-12-19/ed-1/?sp=8&q=astoria+ghost&r=0.109,0.598,0.884,0.371,0
  • Image 18 of The sun (New York [N.Y.]), January 14, 1900: https://www.loc.gov/resource/sn83030272/1900-01-14/ed-1/?sp=18&q=astoria+ghost&r=0.489,0.945,0.683,0.365,0
  • Image 8 of New-York tribune (New York [N.Y.]), January 7, 1919: https://www.loc.gov/resource/sn83030214/1919-01-07/ed-1/?sp=8&q=astoria+sanatorium&r=0.385,0.216,0.487,0.205,0
  • Image 7 of The sun (New York [N.Y.]), February 17, 1919: https://www.loc.gov/resource/sn83030431/1919-02-17/ed-1/?sp=7&q=astoria+sanatorium&r=0.569,0.553,0.276,0.116,0
  • Image 10 of New-York tribune (New York [N.Y.]), February 10, 1906: https://www.loc.gov/resource/sn83030214/1906-02-10/ed-1/?sp=10&q=astoria+sanatorium&r=0.719,0.853,0.417,0.223,0
  • Image 4 of New-York tribune (New York [N.Y.]), September 30, 1905
  • Image 21 of The New York herald (New York, N.Y.), May 27, 1921: https://www.loc.gov/resource/sn83045774/1921-05-27/ed-1/?sp=21&q=astoria+sanatorium&r=0.342,0.678,0.311,0.166,0
  • Image 16 of New-York tribune (New York [N.Y.]), October 5, 1904: https://www.loc.gov/resource/sn83030214/1904-10-05/ed-1/?sp=16&q=astoria+sanatorium&r=0.323,1.204,0.323,0.173,0
  • Brooklyn Times Union (Brooklyn, New York) · Thu, Nov 22, 1934 · Page 8: https://bplonsite.newspapers.com/image/576215460
  • The Brooklyn Daily Eagle (Brooklyn, New York) · Sun, Jul 11, 1937 · Page 8: https://bplonsite.newspapers.com/image/52695146
  • The Brooklyn Daily Eagle (Brooklyn, New York) · Thu, Nov 22, 1934 · Page 24: https://bplonsite.newspapers.com/image/59991092
  • https://www.qgazette.com/articles/pages-from-the-long-island-star-journal-9/
  • Image 18 of The sun (New York [N.Y.]), January 14, 1900: https://www.loc.gov/resource/sn83030272/1900-01-14/ed-1/?sp=18&q=astoria+ghost&r=0.555,0.033,0.321,0.148,0
  • Buffalo Morning Express and Illustrated Buffalo Express Tue Nov 13 1894

     

Websites consulted RE: Haunted Houses in Astoria

  • “The So-Called ‘Kidnapping Club’ Featured Cops Selling Free Black New Yorkers Into Slavery,” Smithsonian Magazine: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/so-called-kidnapping-club-featured-new-york-cops-selling-free-blacks-slavery-180976055/
  • https://crimereads.com/the-kidnapping-club-that-terrorized-african-americans-in-19th-century-new-york/
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Riker
  • https://nyslavery.commons.gc.cuny.edu/dating-the-start-and-end-of-slavery-in-new-york/
  • https://www.rikerhome.com/press/li-press-1968_large.htm
  • https://www.geni.com/people/David-Provoost-II/6000000002766404071
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Provost
  • https://nycemetery.wordpress.com/2021/01/02/jones-woods-cemeteries/
  • https://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47e1-0c20-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99
  • Los Angeles Herald, Volume 33, Number 108, 17 January 1906 https://cdnc.ucr.edu/?a=d&d=LAH19060117.2.18&e=——-en–20–1–txt-txIN——–1
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/U_Thant_Island
  • https://www.atlasobscura.com/places/u-thant-island
  • Records of enslaved people in Newtown, Queens: https://nyslavery.commons.gc.cuny.edu/search/?appSession=5MCUK448ECO579156B8UL5N69FD4FP9HR01OXX509Z67L48DL4CAXL8EEI52U669I1O38XF12FE61JXWM4Y10N2Z9JAN9LHJU8BN2285018P4549838QC2RQ2L4EH2QX
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_A._Garfield#Assassination
  • http://collections.mnhs.org/MNHistoryMagazine/articles/33/v33i01p029-034.pdf
  • https://kellykazek.com/2018/06/25/bet-you-didnt-know-about-this-haunted-american-castle/
  • https://time.com/96533/thieves-break-into-james-a-garfields-tomb/
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emanuel_Swedenborg
  • https://newtownpentacle.com/2009/06/13/a-big-dig-in-queens/
  • https://www.pbs.org/wnet/african-americans-many-rivers-to-cross/history/who-really-ran-the-underground-railroad/
  • https://www.6sqft.com/15-underground-railroad-stops-in-new-york-city/
  • https://nyslavery.commons.gc.cuny.edu/
  • https://nyslavery.commons.gc.cuny.edu/search/?appSession=1WXJ2370QHI6H9C815459UHS4F9AVG7ZNZ5RH7T39B21KWP081R95709VQVLNQPWX8M9A7IO8M3W22FY550M360BW077FZ21H52A90IQ93SZZS0A870A6XT8EJ4V78I8
  • https://www.6sqft.com/search-over-35000-records-of-slavery-in-new-york/
  • https://www.6sqft.com/before-nycs-slave-market-freedmen-from-africa-were-allowed-to-own-farmland/
  • https://www.6sqft.com/in-the-1700s-there-was-an-official-location-for-buying-selling-and-renting-slaves-on-wall-street/
  • https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/5/5e/1873_Beers_Map_of_Astoria,_Queens,_New_York_City_-_Geographicus_-_Astoria-beers-1873.jpg
  • https://oana-ny.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/old_astoria_map_1873_bg-1024×666.jpg
  • https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:1873_Beers_Map_of_Astoria,_Queens,_New_York_City_-_Geographicus_-_Astoria-beers-1873.jpg
  • https://shop.old-maps.com/new-york/towns/kings-queens-cos-ny-1859-town/astoria-new-york-1859-old-town-map-custom-print-queens-co/
  • https://cdn2.bigcommerce.com/n-zfvgw8/wkatj7/products/109812/images/126869/LongIslandCity_Astoria_MiddleVillage_1873_web__84173.1548088614.1280.1280.jpg?c=2
  • https://www.mapsofantiquity.com/store/Antique_Maps_-_United_States/Northeast/New_York/Long_Island/Astoria,_New_York,_verso_Woodside,_Maspeth,_East_Williamsburg,_Newtown/inventory.pl?id=NYO016
  • https://sourcebooks.fordham.edu/medny/astoria.jpg
  • https://sourcebooks.fordham.edu/medny/halsall7.asp
  • https://forgotten-ny.com/2002/02/astoria-necrology/
  • https://forgotten-ny.com/2002/02/astoria-necology-continued/
  • https://cdn6.picryl.com/photo/1903/12/31/queens-vol-2-double-page-plate-no-30-part-of-ward-two-newtown-trains-meadow-6c7e10-1600.jpg
  • https://www.qchron.com/qboro/stories/you-ain-t-afraid-of-no-ghost-we-ll-see-about-that/article_010ee09d-001f-5505-a643-147da790ecbf.html

Don’t miss past episodes:

A smuggler’s ghost in Astoria, NY, stories about tunnels in Astoria, NY, as well as more of the neighborhood’s grim history.

Note: There’s mention of chattel slavery around the 15 min mark, and more details after the 18 minute mark.

Highlights include:
• A haunted cave that’s disappeared
• Horrific deeds done by a famous Astorian
• Some awful deaths in a tunnel under the river
• A manmade island
• The spooky Hell Gate

Episode Script for A Smuggler’s Ghost and Tunnels in Astoria, NY

DISCLAIMER: I’m providing this version of the script for accessibility purposes. It hasn’t been proofread, so please excuse typos. There are also some things that may differ between the final episode and this draft script. Please treat the episode audio as the final product. 

Smugglers at Halletts Cove:

  • Hallets Cove is right next to the Socrates Sculpture Park, which I talked about n a hidden cemetery episode. It’s the park that has a wall made of tombstones.
  • I found some interesting stuff in the book History of Long Island City, New York. by J. S Kelsey, which was published in 1896 about a possible smuggler’s cave and who supposedly haunts Hallet’s Point. For reference, Hallet’s Point today hosts the Astoria Houses, a NYCHA building.
  • This is from the book Old roads from the heart of New York : journeys today by ways of yesterday, within thirty miles around the Battery by Sarah Comstock, and it’s talking about Jones Wood at first, which is now part of the Upper East Side of Manhattan, across the river from Astoria:
    • “Two remarkable cousins, Samuel and David Provoost, have passed into history. The former was the first bishop of New York, and the president of Columbia College. But David was famed in a widely different way. He was one of the most dare-devil smugglers known, and a rocky hole once existing on the shore of this wood was known as “The Smuggler’s Cave.” Here, and in another cave across the river at Hallett’s Point, he hid his treasure, and the boys of the early eighteen-hundreds used to shiver and tell delicious, creepy stories of the old rascal whose ghost haunted these two black caverns. Not until he was ninety years old did David yield up his law-defying, rollicking, money-scattering career.
  • I’m having trouble confirming whether there was any kind of smuggler’s tunnel or cave there for real, and haven’t found other mentions of ghost stories in that area. Though I know that when the Hallets Point reef was blown up in 1869, tunnels were dug there, radiating underneath the reef and the river, and then blown up. This was to make the area more navigable for ships, since as I’ve talked about before, the Hell Gate was extremely treacherous.
    •  I don’t know of anyone who died during that excavation, but I do think it counts as trauma to the surrounding area which is something I look at when it comes to hauntings and the paranormal:
      • History of Queens County, New York, with illustrations, portraits, & sketches of prominent families and individuals (1882):
      • https://archive.org/details/historyofqueensc00newy/page/274/mode/2up?q=belmont+tunnel
      • Hallett’s Point Reef was a particularly dangerous obstruction in the east channel, as it did not leave sufficient seaway for vessels floating down with the ebb and steer- ing clear of Flood Rock. It also created dangerous eddies at either tide. The reef was of semi-circular form, 720 feet across and extending 300 feet into the channel. Since surface blasting had proved of so little avail it was determined to sink a shaft down into the rock and cut diverging lateral tunnels that should pene- trate the rock in all directions, something like the work- ings in a coal mine. The walls of the tunnels were then to be charged with explosives, these to be connected with an electric battery, the water admitted, and the charges fired.
  • I have been able to find more information about David Provoost, however.
    • “Merchant and smuggler David ‘Money Ready’ Provoost (1691–1781). The 90 acre site, Louvre Farm, on the eastern side of Manhattan, was owned by the Provoost family and had a cave where David hid his money.[18][19][20] It was later said that David’s ghost haunted the woods.”
  • I fond a bit more in a book called A Loiterer In New York by Helen Weston Henderson, 1917:
    • “The bishop had a cousin, David Provoost, a Revolutionary solider with a rare talent for smuggling which won him the nickname of “Ready Money Provoost.” He used to hide his booty in “Smugglers’ Cave” on the shore of the bishop’s farm, or in a cave at Hallett’s Point, Astoria.”
  • Apparently the Provoots had a cemetery in Jones’ Wood, and  The book Old New York, from the Battery to Bloomingdale. by Eliza Greatorex (1875?), which is sort of a nostalgic look at disappearing landmarks in NYC, has a description of the area. It sounds like the Riker and Lawerence families had properties there in Manhattan, in addition to their Queens homesteads, which makes sense. But then it mentions the smuggler as well:

“The what walks and nutting expeditions the children remember into Jones’ Woods, whose long avenue opened to the south, and where they could visit the old tomb of the smuggler in the rocky and shady ground near the wood! But the city has destroyed the beauty of all that region; the Riker HOuse and Lawrence homestead and the lively Arch Brook are hardly to be discerened, and have all long ago passed from the possession of the families who made them such charming homes for long happy years.”

  • Then the book describes the life of David Provost, and closes with his death and what happened to his supposed tomb:

“He died in 1781, at the age of ninety years, and his name was inscribed on the tomb where Johannah, his most loving wife, had long reposed. Three-quarters of a century after his death, the tomb was opened and in it were found three or four coffins. The lid of one of these measured over seven feet, and a few vertebrae, of a size which would correspond to a frame of such magnitude, were near. A woman’s skeleton and a child’s were also discovered. Since then the tomb, or rather the place of the tomb, has been left open, empty and ruinous; but when we last saw it (October, 1875) the hill remained, and the doorway and enough of the original structure to identify it.”

  • Belmont tunnel (steinway, worker deaths, etc): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/U_Thant_Island
  • https://www.atlasobscura.com/places/u-thant-island
    • Basically, in the 1890s, William Steinway, of Steinway piano fame, whose company town was located in Astoria, wanted to build a tunnel under the east river for trolleys (the 7 train uses the tunnel now.)
    • According to an article called “Four Lose Their Lives in Tunnel Disaster” in the Los Angeles Herald, Volume 33, Number 108, 17 January 1906, there were some deaths during the construction of a tunnel under the East River.
      •  Two workers died of suffocation and caisson disease, or the bends, two drowned, and two were badly injured.
      • It sounds like all four of those workers were Black. A white foreman and assistant were also injured.
      • The accident was caused by a compressed air pipe which burst in the tunnel under the east River, beneath Man O’War Reef, which was even with 42nd Street in Manhattan. At the time that the article was written, the day after the accident, the two drowned men were still stuck underwater in the tunnel.
    • The landfill from the tunnel’s construction became a tiny island in the East River called U Thant Island, which at 100×200 feet is the smallest island in Manhattan. It has a cool little metal structure on it, and it’s closed to the public and acts as a bird sanctuary. A colony of cormorants lives there.
  • About a month ago, I was at Astoria Park, and I overheard a group of men in their 50s talking about how supposedly we were right near an area with tunnels that had been used by famous Underground Railroad conductor Harriet Tubman. I haven’t been able to confirm that, but my ears perked up because we were less than a 10 minute walk away from Halletts Cove, where I had heard about smugglers tunnels.
    • Henry Louis Gates, Jr., wrote an article that was posted on PBS and The Root debunking some myths about the Underground Railroad, and he said that there weren’t as many tunnels used as people seem to think there were:
      • “Those tunnels or secret rooms in attics, garrets, cellars or basements? Not many, I’m afraid. Most fugitive slaves spirited themselves out of towns under the cover of darkness, not through tunnels, the construction of which would have been huge undertakings and quite costly. And few homes in the North had secret passageways or hidden rooms in which slaves could be concealed.”
    • However, that being said, if there was an existing smuggler’s tunnel, it makes me wonder if it may have been used? They also could have existed but then been blown up when the Army Corps of Engineers tunneled under the East River and detonated bombs to clear out the most tretcherous parts of the Hell Gate.
      • Though sidenote, I will say that the Hell Gate is still awfully weird. The other night, my friend and I went to Astoria Park and hung out watching the Hell Gate for a while. We saw tons of whirlpools, some small, some at least several feet wide.
  • But to get back to smugglers tunnels, as I was working on this, I remembered that I read an article about the Riker-Lent-Smith homestead, which mentioned possible smugglers tunnels there.
    • After some digging through my extremely disorganized mess of sources that I used for my episode on the cemetery at the old Riker homestead, I found what I was looking for: A March 17, 1968 article in the Long Island Press called “This House May Be Haunted.” So to read from that article:
      • “There are chains in the basement that supposedly were used to imprison slaves,” said Mrs. Rica Smith with a shudder. And there’s also a rmor that a hidden passage, once used for smuggling, runs from the ancient basement to the bay.”
    • I remember at the time that I did that episode, a few months ago, I was wondering why there were a few offhanded mentions of slavery, but not details about it. To be honest, I’d read this article near the end of preparing my notes for the Riker-Lent-Smith Cemetery episode, and hadn’t had time to follow up. But last week I started to remedy that, and today I want to continue.
    • While I haven’t been able to find more information about the smuggler’s tunnels, I have found some really dark stuff about the Riker family.
  • So content warning on this, I’ll be talking about some disturbing stuff RE: chattel slavery, including stories about free black people in NYC being kidnapped and forced into slavery.
  • I was doing some more reading on John Jay College’s website about slavery in NYC, and learned something that I had no idea about regarding one of the Rikers of Newtown, Queens.
    • I wonder if this is something that people raised in New York, who I assume learn New York history in school, learned about? I can’t say since I grew up in Texas and had two years of Texas history.
    • But I was reading about the timeline of when chattel slavery ended in New York, and there was a 1799 Gradual Emancipation Law, which basically meant that current enslaved people had to remain enslaved, but the children of enslaved mothers born after the law was passed would be freed. Then in 1817, there was another emancipation law that applied to people who were still enslaved, which took effect in 1827, though apparently as late as 1830, there were still 75 enslaved people recorded in the census.
    • So while slavery in NY supposedly ended in 1827, there were still loopholes.
      • First, even after 1827, if an enslaver was visiting NY for nine months or fewer, they could bring enslaved people into NY and that was legally fine.
      • Second, slave ships were allowed to anchor and restock in NY, as long as they weren’t planning to sell any enslaved people within NY. There was even a court case in 1838 about it, which confirmed that a ship was allowed to do this in NY Harbor.
      • Third, if you’re American, I’m sure you’re somewhat familiar with the fugitive slave laws, which were really screwed up. And basically what could happen was agents representing southern slave-owning plantation owners could come to states like NY, where slavery wasn’t legal, and, to read directly from the website kidnap “black persons resembling fugitives.” While I obviously think it’s screwed up that enslaved people couldn’t come to states where slavery was illegal for safe asylum, but also, enslavers from the south could come up to the north and just kidnap random Black people, claim that they resembled a fugitive enslaved person and then bring them down south and enslave them. If they didn’t want to just spirit them away, though, they could also bring their victims to the Court of Special Sessions, which, to read again from the website, was “presided over by former slave holder Richard Riker and his associates known as the ‘Kidnapping Club.'”
        • So of course I read that and was like, yep, there’s no way that’s not one of the Newtown Rikers, and I went to wikipedia and of course saw that that was correct. He was the son of Samuel Riker, a congressman, and Anna Lawrence Riker, of the Lawrence family.
        • Richard Riker was a lawyer who had attended the College of New Jersey, now known as Princeton University, then was a NY assemblymember and district attorney. Also, and I’m reading from Wikipedia now:
          • “He served three non-consecutive terms as the Recorder of New York City between 1815 and 1838. In this position, Riker abused the Fugitive Slave Act to send free blacks to the South to be sold into slavery. By the 1830s, abolitionists considered Riker a member of the “Kidnapping Club”,[3] along with Daniel D. Nash and Tobias Boudinot, who “boasted that he could ‘arrest and send any black to the South.'””
        • I found a really good, but extremely upsetting, article in the Smithsonian Magazine, called “The So-Called ‘Kidnapping Club’ Featured Cops Selling Free Black New Yorkers Into Slavery” about the kidnapping club, that I wanted to read from:
          • “The Constitution’s Fugitive Slave Clause required northern free cities like New York to return the self-emancipated to their southern enslavers, and the NYPD and officers like Rynders were only too willing to comply, conveniently folding their hatred of black people into their reverence for the nation’s founding document. Armed with the founders’ compromise over slavery, Rynders and his fellow officers, men like Tobias Boudinot and Daniel D. Nash, terrorized New York’s black community from the 1830s up through the Civil War.
          • And, even worse, it often mattered little whether a black person was born free in New York or had in fact escaped bondage; the police, reinforced by judges like the notorious city recorder Richard Riker, sent the accused to southern plantations with little concern and often even less evidence.
          • Thanks to Rynders, Boudinot, and Nash, the New York police department had become an extension of the powerful reach of southern slavery, and each month—and often each week in the summer months—brought news of another kidnapping or capture of a supposed runaway. Black New Yorker John Thomas, for example, was claimed by an enslaver from Louisville, Kentucky. Thomas purportedly fled slavery along the Ohio River, then travelled through Canada, and ultimately found a job as a porter in a Manhattan hotel. In late 1860, Thomas was arrested as a fugitive by the Manhattan police. While in prison, Thomas hastily drafted a note, dropped it out his cell window, and asked a passing boy to give the note to his employer, who submitted a writ of habeas corpus.
          • Unfortunately, the marshal on duty was none other than Rynders, who produced a different black man in response to the writ, and the judge declared the writ satisfied. In the meantime, Thomas’ employer and friends learned, too late, that one of Rynders’ deputies had taken the real John Thomas to Richmond, where he would be transported to Kentucky, lost in the darkness of American slavery, like untold numbers of other kidnapping victims.”
  • The article also talks about about what happened after the Civil War:
    • “Boudinot became a captain in one of the city’s main wards and Rynders became a Democratic elder statesman during and after the war. In fact, New York City, always ready to defend the cotton trade with the South, voted against Lincoln in 1860 and harbored racial conservatives like Wood during the war and after. Embodied by newspapers like The New York Weekly Caucasian, one of the nation’s most prominent promulgators of white supremacist ideology, the city remained an unfriendly place for African Americans.”
  • There’s a book that came out last year called The Kidnapping Club: Wall Street, Slavery, and Resistance on the Eve of the Civil War by Jonathan Daniel Wells, which I’m reading right now. But I wanted to read an excerpt of it that was published on crimereads.com, which relates to Riker, and some of the people he harmed, or tried to harm.
    • On a Saturday in March 1834, seven-year-old Henry Scott sat at his desk in the African Free School on Duane Street in Manhattan, practicing his letters as his teacher Mrs. Miller watched. African Free School Number 5 had just opened in 1832 under the direction of African American teacher Jane Parker, and like the other Black schools Number 5 had been absorbed into the public school system. Abruptly the classroom door opened and in walked two men Henry had never seen before. One was a well-dressed southerner, the other a New York sheriff, and they had come for Henry.
    • Richmond industrialist Richard Haxall had built a fortune in the 1820s and 1830s by serving as the president of railroads and other businesses, including running his family-owned flour and milling operation, and like other southern businessmen he traveled frequently to New York. Haxall’s daughter would marry the youngest son of Robert E. Lee, connecting one of the region’s most prominent merchant families to one of its leading military families. But the blood and business ties between Wall Street and slavery were too intertwined to untangle. In fact, Haxall’s brother made the city his home, and on this March morning he had come to the school for Black children on family business: he claimed that Henry was Haxall family property, and he intended to take Henry back to slavery.
    • Announcing to the teacher and school superintendent that Haxall and the New York sheriff would be arresting Henry as a runaway, the school immediately erupted in chaos. Henry screamed and cried, while his young classmates shouted, “Kidnappers!” and “Let him alone!” and tripped over each other to run out of the school. Some children ran to their parents, while others chased Haxall and his police escort as they left the school with Henry. Pandemonium and disbelief at the brazen arrest of a schoolchild created enough chaos that Haxall could make off with his prey.
    • The Black and white abolitionist community in New York sounded the alarm bells and mobilized for the legal battle that everyone knew would now ensue. Haxall and the sheriff dragged Henry before New York City recorder Richard Riker, who sat on the bench in City Hall just blocks from the Duane Street school where Henry had been studying. Black activists like David Ruggles came into all-too-frequent contact with Riker because, as the city recorder, Riker also served as the main judge in the Court of Common Pleas.
    • Just blocks removed from Ruggles’s home on Lispenard Street in the middle of Lower Manhattan, but a world away in terms of wealth and privilege, Riker presided over criminal cases in a stately judicial building. The son of a US congressman and the descendant of a prominent Dutch family, Riker had been a district attorney, a second in a number of duels, a member of the New York State Assembly, and a prominent Democratic lawyer in a long and distinguished career. Bald except for a fringe of hair around his ears, with a pointed nose and small chin, “Dickey” Riker as he was known looked more like a clerk or bookkeeper than a distinguished politician. In his early days, he had fought a duel on the shores of Weehawken, just months before Alexander Hamilton would be killed in a duel with Aaron Burr on the same spot. Shot in the leg during the duel, Riker was taken to his home on Wall Street where a surgeon gave him only a one-in-ten chance of saving the leg. “I accept the chance cheerfully . . . do what you can, and by the aid of the Almighty and a fine constitution I may yet save both limb and life.” Though he walked with a limp for the rest of his life, Riker went on to serve the city and the state in a number of important political and legal roles, from a committee on the completion of the Erie Canal to the position of recorder.
    • By the time Henry Scott appeared before him, Riker had already been serving as the city’s recorder for more than five years. Unfortunately for the city’s Black residents, one of the chief responsibilities of the recorder’s office was to hear cases of people accused of being runaways from southern slavery. Dragged before Riker at all hours of the day and night, accused runaways found themselves before a judge known to sympathize with the South and slaveholders. In fact, Ruggles had publicly named Riker as a key cog in what Ruggles had branded the New York Kidnapping Club in a newspaper editorial. With little more than the word of a white person, and with little concern as to whether the accused was actually a runaway or had been born free, New York’s Black men, women, and children fell prey to kidnapping.
    • Riker served his southern masters well, always eager to promote the Union by reaffirming New York’s willing participation in the return of suspected runaways. He was well aware that the Fugitive Slave Clause of the Constitution required so-called fugitives from service (which could only mean escaped slaves) to be handed over to their owners. Many northern states and cities acquiesced reluctantly to the constitutional compromise over slavery, returning runaways only after every attempt to keep them free had been exhausted. Not so in New York City. Although a dedicated band of Black and white activists, lawyers, and politicians stood ready to join the fight to keep an accused fugitive from being returned, the city’s legal and political system was rigged against them.
    • Riker made his pro-South stance clear toward the end of one cold November day in 1836 when an alleged runaway was brought before him. An agent representing a southern slave owner had claimed a fugitive and appeared before Riker to make his case. The recorder had a message for the southern agent: “Tell your southern citizens that we Northern Judges damn the Abolitionists—we are sworn to abide by the Constitution. Tell your Southern citizens that the great body of the northern people are all right.” As Riker knew, the city teamed with pro-South and even proslavery Democrats, many of them Wall Street merchants, Irish laborers, members of Tammany Hall, and others who actively sought ways to entrap Black residents in the web of the kidnapping club. Riker unabashedly positioned himself near the center of the web. . . .
    • As a sobbing and terrified Henry sat before Riker at the start of the hearing, it became quite clear that Riker intended to live up to his reputation as the friend of southern masters. Richard Haxall claimed that Henry actually belonged to his mother, Clara Haxall, and that he had entered the courtroom to claim Henry on her behalf. New York law required that agents acting on behalf of owners had to present proof that they were an official and documented representative of the slave owner, but Haxall had no such proof. Riker could have released Henry then and there, but instead, unsure about what course to take since he was convinced that Henry was in fact a fugitive, he ordered the young child to jail while Haxall was given time to produce his father’s will. In the meantime, Henry’s classmates had begun raising money for his legal defense. By gathering pennies from parents and the Black community, the children in the city’s public schools helped to release Henry from the clutches of the New York Kidnapping Club, one of the few to escape from the long and powerful reach of Boudinot, Nash, and Riker.

Sources consulted RE: Smuggler’s Ghost and Tunnels in Astoria, NY

Books RE: 

Articles RE: Smuggler’s Ghost Astoria

  • Brooklyn Times Union Sat Sep 4 1869
  • Another Haunted House in Astoria. Evening Post (published as The Evening Post.) (New York, New York)November 23, 1858
  • The Brooklyn Daily Eagle Sun Jul 18 1886
  • The Brooklyn Daily Eagle Wed Dec 27 1893
  • Brooklyn Times Union Sat Mar 7 1925
  • Brooklyn Times Union Thu Nov 22 1934
  • The Brooklyn Daily Eagle Sun Jul 11 1937
  • The Brooklyn Daily Eagle Thu Nov 22 1934
  • The Courier Fri Feb 2 1900
  • Image 18 of The sun (New York [N.Y.]), January 14, 1900
    Evening Post published as The Evening Post. November 23 1858
  • New York Tribune published as New-York Tribune. November 23 1858
  • Brooklyn Times Union Mon Oct 25 1909
  • The New York herald (New York, N.Y.), February 13, 1921, (SECTION 6)
  • Brooklyn Times Union Thu Jun 28 1888
  • GOLD GHOST WALKS IN ASTORIA HOUSE: Psychic Expert, Called to Old … New York Times (1923-Current file); Nov 21, 1934; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times with Index pg. 2 
  • POLICEMEN’S QUEST FOR GHOSTS FUTILE: Three Carloads Go to Astoria’s … New York Times (1923-Current file); Nov 22, 1934; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times with Index pg. 1
  • The evening world (New York, N.Y.), December 30, 1889, (EXTRA 2 O’CLOCK)
  • The Appeal Sat Feb 24 1900
  • The Inter Ocean Sun Jan 21 1900
  • The Evening World Wed Nov 29 1893
  • The Brooklyn Daily Eagle Thu Apr 19 1928
  • The Tonganoxie Mirror Thu Jul 19 1883
  • Reading Times Mon Jan 20 1896 The Brooklyn Daily Eagle Sun Nov 8 1885 (1)
  • The evening world (New York, N.Y.), December 30, 1889, (EXTRA 2 O’CLOCK) https://www.loc.gov/resource/sn83030193/1889-12-30/ed-1/?sp=3&q=astoria+ghost&r=-0.026,0.482,0.453,0.19,0
  • The times (Washington [D.C.]), December 19, 1897: https://www.loc.gov/resource/sn85054468/1897-12-19/ed-1/?sp=8&q=astoria+ghost&r=0.109,0.598,0.884,0.371,0
  • Image 18 of The sun (New York [N.Y.]), January 14, 1900: https://www.loc.gov/resource/sn83030272/1900-01-14/ed-1/?sp=18&q=astoria+ghost&r=0.489,0.945,0.683,0.365,0
  • Image 8 of New-York tribune (New York [N.Y.]), January 7, 1919: https://www.loc.gov/resource/sn83030214/1919-01-07/ed-1/?sp=8&q=astoria+sanatorium&r=0.385,0.216,0.487,0.205,0
  • Image 7 of The sun (New York [N.Y.]), February 17, 1919: https://www.loc.gov/resource/sn83030431/1919-02-17/ed-1/?sp=7&q=astoria+sanatorium&r=0.569,0.553,0.276,0.116,0
  • Image 10 of New-York tribune (New York [N.Y.]), February 10, 1906: https://www.loc.gov/resource/sn83030214/1906-02-10/ed-1/?sp=10&q=astoria+sanatorium&r=0.719,0.853,0.417,0.223,0
  • Image 4 of New-York tribune (New York [N.Y.]), September 30, 1905
  • Image 21 of The New York herald (New York, N.Y.), May 27, 1921: https://www.loc.gov/resource/sn83045774/1921-05-27/ed-1/?sp=21&q=astoria+sanatorium&r=0.342,0.678,0.311,0.166,0
  • Image 16 of New-York tribune (New York [N.Y.]), October 5, 1904: https://www.loc.gov/resource/sn83030214/1904-10-05/ed-1/?sp=16&q=astoria+sanatorium&r=0.323,1.204,0.323,0.173,0
  • Brooklyn Times Union (Brooklyn, New York) · Thu, Nov 22, 1934 · Page 8: https://bplonsite.newspapers.com/image/576215460
  • The Brooklyn Daily Eagle (Brooklyn, New York) · Sun, Jul 11, 1937 · Page 8: https://bplonsite.newspapers.com/image/52695146
  • The Brooklyn Daily Eagle (Brooklyn, New York) · Thu, Nov 22, 1934 · Page 24: https://bplonsite.newspapers.com/image/59991092
  • https://www.qgazette.com/articles/pages-from-the-long-island-star-journal-9/
  • Image 18 of The sun (New York [N.Y.]), January 14, 1900: https://www.loc.gov/resource/sn83030272/1900-01-14/ed-1/?sp=18&q=astoria+ghost&r=0.555,0.033,0.321,0.148,0
  • Buffalo Morning Express and Illustrated Buffalo Express Tue Nov 13 1894

     

Websites consulted RE: Smuggler’s Ghost Astoria

  • “The So-Called ‘Kidnapping Club’ Featured Cops Selling Free Black New Yorkers Into Slavery,” Smithsonian Magazine: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/so-called-kidnapping-club-featured-new-york-cops-selling-free-blacks-slavery-180976055/
  • https://crimereads.com/the-kidnapping-club-that-terrorized-african-americans-in-19th-century-new-york/
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Riker
  • https://nyslavery.commons.gc.cuny.edu/dating-the-start-and-end-of-slavery-in-new-york/
  • https://www.rikerhome.com/press/li-press-1968_large.htm
  • https://www.geni.com/people/David-Provoost-II/6000000002766404071
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Provost
  • https://nycemetery.wordpress.com/2021/01/02/jones-woods-cemeteries/
  • https://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47e1-0c20-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99
  • Los Angeles Herald, Volume 33, Number 108, 17 January 1906 https://cdnc.ucr.edu/?a=d&d=LAH19060117.2.18&e=——-en–20–1–txt-txIN——–1
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/U_Thant_Island
  • https://www.atlasobscura.com/places/u-thant-island
  • Records of enslaved people in Newtown, Queens: https://nyslavery.commons.gc.cuny.edu/search/?appSession=5MCUK448ECO579156B8UL5N69FD4FP9HR01OXX509Z67L48DL4CAXL8EEI52U669I1O38XF12FE61JXWM4Y10N2Z9JAN9LHJU8BN2285018P4549838QC2RQ2L4EH2QX
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_A._Garfield#Assassination
  • http://collections.mnhs.org/MNHistoryMagazine/articles/33/v33i01p029-034.pdf
  • https://kellykazek.com/2018/06/25/bet-you-didnt-know-about-this-haunted-american-castle/
  • https://time.com/96533/thieves-break-into-james-a-garfields-tomb/
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emanuel_Swedenborg
  • https://newtownpentacle.com/2009/06/13/a-big-dig-in-queens/
  • https://www.pbs.org/wnet/african-americans-many-rivers-to-cross/history/who-really-ran-the-underground-railroad/
  • https://www.6sqft.com/15-underground-railroad-stops-in-new-york-city/
  • https://nyslavery.commons.gc.cuny.edu/
  • https://nyslavery.commons.gc.cuny.edu/search/?appSession=1WXJ2370QHI6H9C815459UHS4F9AVG7ZNZ5RH7T39B21KWP081R95709VQVLNQPWX8M9A7IO8M3W22FY550M360BW077FZ21H52A90IQ93SZZS0A870A6XT8EJ4V78I8
  • https://www.6sqft.com/search-over-35000-records-of-slavery-in-new-york/
  • https://www.6sqft.com/before-nycs-slave-market-freedmen-from-africa-were-allowed-to-own-farmland/
  • https://www.6sqft.com/in-the-1700s-there-was-an-official-location-for-buying-selling-and-renting-slaves-on-wall-street/
  • https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/5/5e/1873_Beers_Map_of_Astoria,_Queens,_New_York_City_-_Geographicus_-_Astoria-beers-1873.jpg
  • https://oana-ny.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/old_astoria_map_1873_bg-1024×666.jpg
  • https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:1873_Beers_Map_of_Astoria,_Queens,_New_York_City_-_Geographicus_-_Astoria-beers-1873.jpg
  • https://shop.old-maps.com/new-york/towns/kings-queens-cos-ny-1859-town/astoria-new-york-1859-old-town-map-custom-print-queens-co/
  • https://cdn2.bigcommerce.com/n-zfvgw8/wkatj7/products/109812/images/126869/LongIslandCity_Astoria_MiddleVillage_1873_web__84173.1548088614.1280.1280.jpg?c=2
  • https://www.mapsofantiquity.com/store/Antique_Maps_-_United_States/Northeast/New_York/Long_Island/Astoria,_New_York,_verso_Woodside,_Maspeth,_East_Williamsburg,_Newtown/inventory.pl?id=NYO016
  • https://sourcebooks.fordham.edu/medny/astoria.jpg
  • https://sourcebooks.fordham.edu/medny/halsall7.asp
  • https://forgotten-ny.com/2002/02/astoria-necrology/
  • https://forgotten-ny.com/2002/02/astoria-necology-continued/
  • https://cdn6.picryl.com/photo/1903/12/31/queens-vol-2-double-page-plate-no-30-part-of-ward-two-newtown-trains-meadow-6c7e10-1600.jpg
  • https://www.qchron.com/qboro/stories/you-ain-t-afraid-of-no-ghost-we-ll-see-about-that/article_010ee09d-001f-5505-a643-147da790ecbf.html

Don’t miss past episodes:

A look at some female ghosts of Astoria, Queens, in New York City.

Note: There’s discussion of chattel slavery after the 26 minute mark.

Highlights include:
• The American president who was supposedly shot on his way to see a haunting
• A ghost who disappears if she stops knitting
• A lady in white and a hag who haunt the same block
• A shameful side of Astoria’s history

Episode Script

DISCLAIMER: I’m providing this version of the script for accessibility purposes. It hasn’t been proofread, so please excuse typos. There are also some things that may differ between the final episode and this draft script. Please treat the episode audio as the final product. 

Garfield Ghost

  • “Garfield’s Ghost Hunt: Was About to Visit a Haunted House When Shot” The sun (New York [N.Y.]), January 14, 1900:
    • So, for a bit of background, for those of you who, like me, forgot what president James A. Garfield’s deal was: he was the president who was shot by an assassin 4 months after his inauguration in 1881, and died 2 months later.
      • I’m not gonna get into a ton of detail about his assassination, though one fun fact is that the gunman purchased the gun specifically because he thought it’d look good in a museum. Back then, presidents weren’t guarded, so Garfield was taking the train to NJ from DC, so  the assassin shot him in the train station in FC.
    • Let’s get into this article. Basically, there once was a newspaperman name Eugene Virgil Smalley, who was notable because he looked exactly like Garfield and had lots of similar interests. The two of them became friends.
    • To read from the article:
      • But the resemblance was not merely physical. They had many habits of mind and sympathies in common, a circumstance, among others, which made them warm friends. There was in Garfield’s rather poetic temperament a strong vein of mysticism, a fondness for the occult which needed little cultivation to have led Guiteau’s victim into paths which other men of great talent and strong imagination have followed until led by them into strange faiths and delusions. Theophile Gautier says there is in every man’s mind a certain dark chamber where bats of superstition lurk, only needing the right kind of prod to set them fluttering their uncanny wings, obscuring the reason with all sorts of dark shadows and queer phantoms.
      • In the case of Garfield this dark chamber was large and the door was easily opened, if a discreet and sympathetic hand touched the spring.
      • . . . At about the time of Gen. Garfield’s inauguration there was much stir among New York spiritualists over certain strange occurrences said to be taking place in a house in Astoria. The owner of this, a hard-headed business man who had amassed a large fortune in the distinctly material occupation of making pig iron, had had the misfortune the winter before to lose a very beautiful daughter whom he idolized. She died in Florida after a lingering illness. The shock utterly shattered her father’s nerves. He brooded upon his loss until it became the fixed idea of his life.
    • The article goes on to say that the man tried to distract himself with work, but as soon as he got home every day, he felt devastated again.
    • However, one day, he was absorbed in thinking about something work-related, and for once didn’t have his daughter on his mind when he got home. I’ll read some more of the article:
      • She was quite out of his mind when he walked into the large front parlor and started to go through the open sliding doors to the rear parlor, the windows of which overlooked the lawn reaching down to the river.
      • And by one of those windows in her favorite nook sat his daughter. So real, so true to life, in every detail of feature and pose was the vision, that, with his mind for the moment unburdened as it was from the sense of his loss, he for an instant felt no surprise at seeing her where he had seen her hundreds of times before. He advanced a step toward her, whereat she looked laughingly and brightly at him, but held up a warning finger which brought him to a standstill with, fr the first time, a realization of all that had befallen.
    • The article continues, saying he told himself he must have imagined it. He closed his eyes, rubbed them, opened them again, but his daughter was still there. However, she was doing something strange:
      • “both her hands [were] now busy weaving a curious filmy lace which rolled slowly to her feet in a sort of fleecy spray which dimmed and melted out of sight.”
    • I don’t know if this is ectoplasm or what?
    • He tried to come closer, his daughter raised a finger in warning, and then kept creating this “ghostly lace” and it seemed like whenever she stopped making the lace, she started to dim, and when she restarted making it, she became more solid.
    • So then word of this apparition got out, and Smalley heard of it, as did a bunch of spiritualist mediums. Tons of them came. To read from the article:
      • “Every night, there were seances at the Astoria house. Mr. Smalley was present at nearly all of them for several weeks. . . . He wrote column after column in his New York paper concerning the events at the Astoria house–each story very striking in its minute simplicity of detail and quite like a chapter out of “Spirite” in the delicate beauty of the manifestations.”
    • Smalley became more and more interested, so of course he mentioned this ghost to his friend, Garfield.
    • Garfield wanted to see the ghost, but now that he was president, there was no real way for him to visit. But Garfield was about to give a commencement speech at Williams College, and Smalley said that on his way back to DC, he could spend a night in NYC and come to the Astoria house in secret.
    • So all the arrangements were made. A famous medium was hired for the evening, and supposedly Garfield was really looking forward to the visit. But on his way out of DC, at the train station, he was shot, and that led to his death.
    • It was said that the haunted house in Astoria continued to be haunted. But now it was haunted not just by the daughter. There were supposed sightings of Napoleon, Shakespeare, and other famous people who fraudulent mediums tended to claim to see. But now the host of ghosts was joined by Garfield’s spirit.
    • The man who lived there believed in the ghosts, who supposedly comforted him and made him feel less alone, until his eventual death.
  • I looked for the articles that Smalley wrote about this haunting, but couldn’t find anything after searching through multiple archives. However, I did find that there’s a lot of stuff about places that Garfield supposedly haunts, including the gothic castle that houses his remains in Cleveland, Ohio.

The White Lady of Astoria

  • First, a woman in white definition: White Lady – Wikipedia
  • The Newtown Pentacle, a great blog run by Mitch Waxman, reports stories of hauntings here in Astoria at 44th street between Broadway and 34th avenue. Here are some of the stories he’s documented:
    • “My former neighbor, a sensitive “lifer”, when confronted with “Have you ever seen a Ghost?” related that there was an apparition on the entire block. A lady in white who moved from house to house. He continued on, saying that his mother, himself- and his tenants- had experienced apparitions. Indeed, the subject was well known amongst the generations of children that had grown up here, and that the phantom was called “The White Lady”. The following text is used with permission, and comes from that stalwart friend…
    • My mother’s story is this:
    • When my brother and I were very small, around 2 and 5 or 3 and 6 respectively, we both had high fevers and were sleeping in my mother’s bed. My mother said she heard someone walk down our hallway, and she assumed it was my father, as he worked late into the night.  She then says she smelled very sweet perfume, and felt someone sit down on the edge of the bed (she was sitting with us, watching over us).
    • She never saw anybody, but rather felt a presence.  She said she knew it was the presence of a ‘lady’—with the resonance of the word being someone higher in society, graceful and composed. The presence let it be known to her–how I dont know– that she was there for a good reason; that she was there because she was worried about my brother and I, and would watch over us and protect us.  My mother added that she thought the ‘lady’ was the wife of the person who owned the land way before our house was built, but Im not sure if that was heresay she might have picked up on in future years.”
    • “My tenant’s  story:
    • My tenant stopped and asked me one day in front of the house. He asked me if we had a ghost  living there, and before I told him, I asked him what he meant.  He said he dreamt about a ‘lady’.  I asked him to describe her, and he said her hair was done up in an old fashioned bun, she was older, her hair was white, and she wore a dress that was cinched around the neck, the way they wore in earlier years.
    • He also said that he had once peered outside the backyard window, and saw someone looking up at him intently. He said that it was a spirit guide.
    • My tenant has told me he is sensitive to phenomenon.  He even described meeting a woman and immediately ‘knowing’ that the woman was pregnant.  He in fact asked her, and she said yes.”
    • “My ghostly experience, front bedroom 1st floor.
    • Well, it was the first night staying in that apartment. I spent the day helping my girlfriend move the rest of her stuff in. And put a large mirror up at the foot of the bed facing north (toward broadway).
    • So anyway, somehow I awoke between 2 and 3am (at least I feel like I was awake), and saw a kind of a dark shadowy figure move/walk from one side of the room toward the foot of the bed staring at me. Seemed like an older women or a deadly looking middle-aged women with long hair past shoulders staring me down as she crept toward the foot of the bed. She lowered down slowly as if she was going to go under the bed but went out of sight at my feet. Almost instantly I felt my feet tingle and begin to shake like I was shivering and then both legs entirely.
    • I tried to kick my legs to make it stop but it only made it worse as my legs were basically shaking out of control and woosh it went up my trunk to my neck and my whole body was shaking and my head flexed backward hard into the pillow. I called out for my girlfriend, but my face muscles were very tight – “help… help… me…” which felt like I was wide awake- I know I was.
    • I began to also feel a pull toward the bottom the bed and toward the wall that the mirror was on. And as soon as it felt like it was going to throw my body off the bed or across the room or through into the mirror, whoosh it left down through my body and out my feet and was standing at the foot of the bed staring at me smiling/kind of laughing at me, and turned toward the mirror and walked through.
    • That’s it, I was wide awake for 2 hours trying to contemplate if that really happened or what. Nothing like that has ever happend before or since.
    • The only other thing that happened was a couple of weeks later- a glass picture frame seemed to jump off the wall and shattered on the ground in the middle of the night at 3 or 4 am. The same day I put a 2nd mirror up in that bedroom.”
  • The Queens Chronicle reported the supposed explanation for this:
    • “On this eastern Astoria stretch, several residents have reported spotting a woman wearing a high-collared dress with her white hair in a bun — she’s known as the White Lady of Astoria. Sometimes, according to those who have spotted her, she appears with a sick child, and witnesses often smell lavender when she’s spotted.
    • The White Lady, Carter says, is believed to be Elizabeth Hallet.
    • William Hallet, Hallet’s third husband, purchased land in Astoria after he and Elizabeth fled from Connecticut because she had divorced her second husband due to his being insane. Insanity, though, wasn’t a legal excuse for separation back then so Elizabeth was technically guilty of polygamy, which was punishable by death.
    • Hallet’s descendants were later killed by slaves who were not allowed to go to church — it’s believed the slayings were Queens’ first capital murders.”
  • DoNYC has this claim about the white lady:
    • ” This spirit, known as “White Lady of Astoria” was killed by her two slaves around 1705. Her ghost is said to haunt the 44th Street block to this day, and can sometimes be spotted with another ghost-like figure of a small child.”
  • The NY post did a writeup of the White Lady as well, based on Mitch Waxman’s research:
    • According to Andrea Janes, founder of the Boroughs of the Dead walking tours, the “White Lady of Astoria” is a Mrs. Hallet, whose family was killed by their two slaves around 1705. The pregnant mother, after finding her husband and two children murdered, ran away and ended up drowning while trying to cross a marsh.
    • While the Hallet farmhouse is long gone, her ghost is said to haunt the row houses that were erected on a 44th Street block in the early 20th century — though she’s seen as a benevolent spirit.
    • “One friend, who described [the ghost] sitting with her and her brother when they were ill, described it as a comforting experience,” said Waxman, who runs the history Web site the Newtown Pentacle and lives a block away from the homes. Waxman said that residing in a haunted neighborhood is preferable to living on top of a chemical factory. “I’d rather have the White Lady of Astoria than benzine.”
  • I’ve talked before about the dark history of slavery in NYC. I think I talked about that in the episode I did talking about Trinity Church and St. Paul’s Chapel, and their hauntings. And the reason why I felt it was important to talk about it was that it’s essential context when thinking about the history of an area from a paranormal perspective. NYC–the city, its wealth, etc–was built by enslaved people.
  • Slavery existed in NYC until 1827, which is way longer than many other places in the northeast. There was even a literal slave market in the financial district, at Wall Street and Pearl Street, which was open for 51 years and which sold black people and indigenous people of all genders and ages.
    • History of Long Island City, New York by J. S Kelsey; 1896:
      • “Negro whippers were appointed in various towns. April 4, 1729, the town of Newtown appointed William Tallier “general whipper ” for the town. Besides being whipped, slaves were often branded in the forehead with a hot iron. On the night of Januarj’ 24, 170S, William Hallett, jr., wife, and five children were murdered by an Indian named “Sam” and a negress, who were slaves of the family. The motive was to secure possession of the land. This extraordinary tragedy absorbed popular attention for a long time, and was influential in legislation for the suppression of slave conspiracies. Speedy, though terrible, punishment awaited the perpetrators of the crime, who were burned at the stake at Jamaica, February 2, 1708. The Hallett home was in the vicinity of what is now known as the “German Settlements.”
      • January 27, 1753, three children and a negro of John Parcells were drowned in the East River.
      • . . . It was many a day after the English and Dutch had selected new homes in a new world — in fact generations passed, before there was a store within the present precincts of this city. Domestic wants were simple and few, and were readily supplied by industry. What was desired beyond home production was found across the river in New York. Purchasers thither went without money, and in place thereof took along for exchange produce, tobacco, beer and negro boys.”
  • John Jay college has a database you can search to find records of enslaved people and enslavers. I looked up records for Newtown, Queens, which is pretty much present day Astoria, and found 11 pages of results, featuring a bunch of familiar names who I’ve talked about before. I will say, too: not all the records are tagged with Newtown, and some may have been tagged with typos, so these numbers are actually artificially under-representing the number of people these families enslaved.
    • Also, as a sidenote: I wish that I could highlight the stories of the enslaved people, rather than just ordering this as a inventory of enslavers and the numbers of humans they owned. However, the records of people who were enslaved are extremely incomplete. For example, when I search for enslaved people’s records in Newtown, Queens, I only get 4 results, and only three of them have names attached: Tom, born in 1754 and enslaved by a man named Charles grant; Nero, no birth year listed, enslaved by a man named William Garden, and Andrew, no birth year, enslaved by a man named Andrew Springsteen. They have no last names. Andrew’s information comes from the records of the New-York Manumission Society, and while I can’t read the manuscript (because it’s handwritten and crossed, which makes it illegible to me), I’m hoping that means that he may have been freed, since that’s what the society’s goals were.
  • The records I found started in 1735, with the record of an unnamed enslaved person who was owned by one Paul Burtus. In most of these records, only the enslavers names are listed.
  • So I wanted to talk about some of the families I’ve discussed who were enslavers.
    • First up, we’ve got a 1790 record of Abigail Alsop, who owned 8 humans. It sounds like the household was made up of 10 non-enslaved people and 8 enslaved people, though it’s unclear to me how many, if any, of the non-enslaved people may have been household servants rather than enslavers.
    • In the 1810 census, John Alsop is listed as owning 4 enslaved people.
      • You may recognize the Alsop name from the episodes about Calvary Cemetery, because the family once had a farm where Calvary Cemetery stands today. And their family cemetery is actually inside Calvary Cemetery. I actually found it a month or so ago–it’s a weird little family cemetery tucked into a chain link fence in the middle of the separate, larger, Catholic Calvary Cemetery. From what I could tell, the headstones in the cemetery only marked the graves of the slave owning family members. I’m not sure where the enslaved people in the household were buried.
    • In the 1810 census, there’s an entry for Cornelious Berrien, who owned 4 enslaved people.
      • I’ve talked about the Berrien family cemeteries, which have been demolished, and then the Berriens also had an island named after them, which is now connected to the mainland and the site of a Con Edison power plant.
    • In 1810, there’s a record of two Blackwell households, enslaving one person per household.
      • You’ll recognize the Blackwells from many episodes–the used to own Blackwell’s Island, now called Roosevelt Island, the former site of the NY Lunatic Asylum, and the current site of the ruins of the old Renwick Smallpox Hospital.
    • Next up, there’s the Hallet family.
      • I couldn’t find the numbers from the early 1700s, when Elizabeth Hallet was supposedly killed, but I found some later census numbers.
      • The 1790 census shows 7 Hallet households, owning between one and 8 enslaved people each, for a total of 21 people who were enslaved by the Hallets of Newtown, Queens.
      • In 1810, there was one Hallett household listed, which enslaved 2 people.
      • You’ll recognize the Hallet family from Hallet’s Cove and Hallet’s Point, which I’ve mentioned many times.
    • Now we’ve got the Lawrence family, of Sarah Lawerence fame. I talked about their family cemetery, which still stands near the north shore of Astoria.
      • According to the 1790 census, their households housed between 1-9 enslaved people each.
      • In 1810, there were 3 Lawrence households, each enslaving between 2-4 people.
    • Now we’ve got the Moore family, who enslaved between 1-8 people per household in 1790.
      • In 1810, there were 6 Moore households, each enslaving between 1-6 people.
      • I talked about the Moore family in the Moore-Jackson Cemetery episode.
    • Next up is the Rapelje family, who I’ve mentioned in a bunch of my episodes focused on local history. The Rapeljes enslaved between 1-7 people per household in 1790.
      • In 1810, there were 7 Rapelye households, each enslaving 1-5 people
  • Then there’s the Riker family. I talked about them in the Riker-Lent-Smith cemetery episodes. In 1790, Jacobus Rycker owned 7 enslaved people.
    • In 1810, there were two Riker households, one which enslaved 3 people, and one which enslaved 5 people.
    • Sidenote, there was also a 1790 entry for a enslaving Lint, though the name was spelled differently, so not sure if it was the same Lent or not. However, in 1810, there’s a correctly spelled entry for a Lent household that enslaved 3 people.

Sources consulted RE: Ghosts of Astoria

Books RE: Ghosts of Astoria

Articles RE: Ghosts of Astoria

  • Brooklyn Times Union Sat Sep 4 1869
  • Another Haunted House in Astoria. Evening Post (published as The Evening Post.) (New York, New York)November 23, 1858
  • The Brooklyn Daily Eagle Sun Jul 18 1886
  • The Brooklyn Daily Eagle Wed Dec 27 1893
  • Brooklyn Times Union Sat Mar 7 1925
  • Brooklyn Times Union Thu Nov 22 1934
  • The Brooklyn Daily Eagle Sun Jul 11 1937
  • The Brooklyn Daily Eagle Thu Nov 22 1934
  • The Courier Fri Feb 2 1900
  • Image 18 of The sun (New York [N.Y.]), January 14, 1900
    Evening Post published as The Evening Post. November 23 1858
  • New York Tribune published as New-York Tribune. November 23 1858
  • Brooklyn Times Union Mon Oct 25 1909
  • The New York herald (New York, N.Y.), February 13, 1921, (SECTION 6)
  • Brooklyn Times Union Thu Jun 28 1888
  • GOLD GHOST WALKS IN ASTORIA HOUSE: Psychic Expert, Called to Old … New York Times (1923-Current file); Nov 21, 1934; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times with Index pg. 2 
  • POLICEMEN’S QUEST FOR GHOSTS FUTILE: Three Carloads Go to Astoria’s … New York Times (1923-Current file); Nov 22, 1934; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times with Index pg. 1
  • The evening world (New York, N.Y.), December 30, 1889, (EXTRA 2 O’CLOCK)
  • The Appeal Sat Feb 24 1900
  • The Inter Ocean Sun Jan 21 1900
  • The Evening World Wed Nov 29 1893
  • The Brooklyn Daily Eagle Thu Apr 19 1928
  • The Tonganoxie Mirror Thu Jul 19 1883
  • Reading Times Mon Jan 20 1896 The Brooklyn Daily Eagle Sun Nov 8 1885 (1)
  • The evening world (New York, N.Y.), December 30, 1889, (EXTRA 2 O’CLOCK) https://www.loc.gov/resource/sn83030193/1889-12-30/ed-1/?sp=3&q=astoria+ghost&r=-0.026,0.482,0.453,0.19,0
  • The times (Washington [D.C.]), December 19, 1897: https://www.loc.gov/resource/sn85054468/1897-12-19/ed-1/?sp=8&q=astoria+ghost&r=0.109,0.598,0.884,0.371,0
  • Image 18 of The sun (New York [N.Y.]), January 14, 1900: https://www.loc.gov/resource/sn83030272/1900-01-14/ed-1/?sp=18&q=astoria+ghost&r=0.489,0.945,0.683,0.365,0
  • Image 8 of New-York tribune (New York [N.Y.]), January 7, 1919: https://www.loc.gov/resource/sn83030214/1919-01-07/ed-1/?sp=8&q=astoria+sanatorium&r=0.385,0.216,0.487,0.205,0
  • Image 7 of The sun (New York [N.Y.]), February 17, 1919: https://www.loc.gov/resource/sn83030431/1919-02-17/ed-1/?sp=7&q=astoria+sanatorium&r=0.569,0.553,0.276,0.116,0
  • Image 10 of New-York tribune (New York [N.Y.]), February 10, 1906: https://www.loc.gov/resource/sn83030214/1906-02-10/ed-1/?sp=10&q=astoria+sanatorium&r=0.719,0.853,0.417,0.223,0
  • Image 4 of New-York tribune (New York [N.Y.]), September 30, 1905
  • Image 21 of The New York herald (New York, N.Y.), May 27, 1921: https://www.loc.gov/resource/sn83045774/1921-05-27/ed-1/?sp=21&q=astoria+sanatorium&r=0.342,0.678,0.311,0.166,0
  • Image 16 of New-York tribune (New York [N.Y.]), October 5, 1904: https://www.loc.gov/resource/sn83030214/1904-10-05/ed-1/?sp=16&q=astoria+sanatorium&r=0.323,1.204,0.323,0.173,0
  • Brooklyn Times Union (Brooklyn, New York) · Thu, Nov 22, 1934 · Page 8: https://bplonsite.newspapers.com/image/576215460
  • The Brooklyn Daily Eagle (Brooklyn, New York) · Sun, Jul 11, 1937 · Page 8: https://bplonsite.newspapers.com/image/52695146
  • The Brooklyn Daily Eagle (Brooklyn, New York) · Thu, Nov 22, 1934 · Page 24: https://bplonsite.newspapers.com/image/59991092
  • https://www.qgazette.com/articles/pages-from-the-long-island-star-journal-9/
  • Image 18 of The sun (New York [N.Y.]), January 14, 1900: https://www.loc.gov/resource/sn83030272/1900-01-14/ed-1/?sp=18&q=astoria+ghost&r=0.555,0.033,0.321,0.148,0
  • Buffalo Morning Express and Illustrated Buffalo Express Tue Nov 13 1894

     

Websites

  • Records of enslaved people in Newtown, Queens: https://nyslavery.commons.gc.cuny.edu/search/?appSession=5MCUK448ECO579156B8UL5N69FD4FP9HR01OXX509Z67L48DL4CAXL8EEI52U669I1O38XF12FE61JXWM4Y10N2Z9JAN9LHJU8BN2285018P4549838QC2RQ2L4EH2QX
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_A._Garfield#Assassination
  • http://collections.mnhs.org/MNHistoryMagazine/articles/33/v33i01p029-034.pdf
  • https://kellykazek.com/2018/06/25/bet-you-didnt-know-about-this-haunted-american-castle/
  • https://time.com/96533/thieves-break-into-james-a-garfields-tomb/
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emanuel_Swedenborg
  • https://newtownpentacle.com/2009/06/13/a-big-dig-in-queens/
  • https://www.pbs.org/wnet/african-americans-many-rivers-to-cross/history/who-really-ran-the-underground-railroad/
  • https://www.6sqft.com/15-underground-railroad-stops-in-new-york-city/
  • https://nyslavery.commons.gc.cuny.edu/
  • https://nyslavery.commons.gc.cuny.edu/search/?appSession=1WXJ2370QHI6H9C815459UHS4F9AVG7ZNZ5RH7T39B21KWP081R95709VQVLNQPWX8M9A7IO8M3W22FY550M360BW077FZ21H52A90IQ93SZZS0A870A6XT8EJ4V78I8
  • https://www.6sqft.com/search-over-35000-records-of-slavery-in-new-york/
  • https://www.6sqft.com/before-nycs-slave-market-freedmen-from-africa-were-allowed-to-own-farmland/
  • https://www.6sqft.com/in-the-1700s-there-was-an-official-location-for-buying-selling-and-renting-slaves-on-wall-street/
  • https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/5/5e/1873_Beers_Map_of_Astoria,_Queens,_New_York_City_-_Geographicus_-_Astoria-beers-1873.jpg
  • https://oana-ny.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/old_astoria_map_1873_bg-1024×666.jpg
  • https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:1873_Beers_Map_of_Astoria,_Queens,_New_York_City_-_Geographicus_-_Astoria-beers-1873.jpg
  • https://shop.old-maps.com/new-york/towns/kings-queens-cos-ny-1859-town/astoria-new-york-1859-old-town-map-custom-print-queens-co/
  • https://cdn2.bigcommerce.com/n-zfvgw8/wkatj7/products/109812/images/126869/LongIslandCity_Astoria_MiddleVillage_1873_web__84173.1548088614.1280.1280.jpg?c=2
  • https://www.mapsofantiquity.com/store/Antique_Maps_-_United_States/Northeast/New_York/Long_Island/Astoria,_New_York,_verso_Woodside,_Maspeth,_East_Williamsburg,_Newtown/inventory.pl?id=NYO016
  • https://sourcebooks.fordham.edu/medny/astoria.jpg
  • https://sourcebooks.fordham.edu/medny/halsall7.asp
  • https://forgotten-ny.com/2002/02/astoria-necrology/
  • https://forgotten-ny.com/2002/02/astoria-necology-continued/
  • https://cdn6.picryl.com/photo/1903/12/31/queens-vol-2-double-page-plate-no-30-part-of-ward-two-newtown-trains-meadow-6c7e10-1600.jpg
  • https://www.qchron.com/qboro/stories/you-ain-t-afraid-of-no-ghost-we-ll-see-about-that/article_010ee09d-001f-5505-a643-147da790ecbf.html

Don’t miss past episodes:

A look at the fortune telling teacups, which were popular in the early 20th century, and were adorned with symbols meant to aid in interpreting tea leaves.

Highlights include:
• The different varieties of fortune telling teacups
• An attempt at a tea leaf reading

Episode Script for Fortune Telling Teacups

DISCLAIMER: I’m providing this version of the script for accessibility purposes. It hasn’t been proofread, so please excuse typos. There are also some things that may differ between the final episode and this draft script. Please treat the episode audio as the final product. 

  • • I sort of randomly stumbled upon this topic, as I often do. I of course knew of tasseography, or fortune telling using tea leaves; I’ve known about it ever since reading the Harry Potter books back in the 1990s.
    ○ But I had never heard of using special fortune telling cups to facilitate tasseography. I’ve mentioned that I go down wormholes pretty often–I was reorganizing my tea cabinet, and realized that I wanted to buy some more empty tea tins from Harney and Sons, which is a tea company, so I go to their website, and the tea tins are sold out, but while I was clicking around their website, I saw these weird, fun, extremely expensive goth teacups produced by a company called Miss Havisham’s Curiosities. And while I wasn’t interested in buying a $65 tea cup that said witch on it, I really liked the vintage style design of the cups, so I searched for Miss Havisham’s Curiosities and clicked around on that website. And I just so happened to click on something in their menu that said “Fortune Cups,” and ended up on a page of really cool vintage and vintage-style teacups, which looked almost like normal teacups, except that their insides were covered in symbols. Those symbols included things like rings, ships, keys, eyes, wagon wheels, anchors, hearts, sunbursts, etc. Objects that could have many different symbolic meanings and resonances for different people.
    ○ So when I realized that some of these tea cups were vintage, that really got me interested. They kinda reminded me of Ouija boards, since they’re divination-related consumer products.
    ○ For whatever reason, I’ve never been super interested in tasseography, but the idea of these weird little fortune telling cups really charmed me.
    • Tea leaf reading history
    ○ Romany appropriation?
    ○ There’s a longish history to tasseography, but in the interest of time and staying on topic, I want to focus on tea-leaf reading in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In a cursory search, I saw many mentions of tea leaf reading in the 1890s, though wasn’t really seeing mention of cups specifically for that purpose.
    § Predictably, though, much like we saw with Ouija and planchette, the articles focused on women doing tasseography, and depicted women who were interested in that sort of divination as being unhinged, foolish, or frivolous. I also found a pretty racist description of a Black woman who was hired to attend a party on Long Island and read tea leaves for the rich white women there. That was in the May 17, 1890 edition of the Brooklyn Times Union.
    § The Aug 8, 1899 issue of the Wilkes Barre Semi Weekly Record ran a headline about tea leaf reading: “Fate in a Teacup: An Amusing, if Senseless, Diversion for Summer Afternoons” The article goes about how you’d think it would.
    § Basically, it sounds like tea leaf reading was popular because people sat around and talked and drank tea anyway, so why not try to interpret the leaves while you’re hanging out anyway.
    ○ According to a book called Tea-Cup Fortune Telling (author unknown), 1930, the wa that tasseography normally worked was a person would have a white teacup, and into that, they would pour coffee, or tea brewed with loose leaves that weren’t strained out. Then, you put the saucer on the cup, flip it over, drain out the liquid, and you’re left with the leaves or grounds. To read a bit from the book:
    § You must concentrate on the cup, and allow your imagination to have full play, in order to picture the leaves forming into emblems. The reader of the cup should allow her thought to rest upon the person who is waiting to hear his fortune. Do not expect the figures always to have an actual resemblance to the emblems; it is quite sufficient that the leaves suggest these things. Sometimes they are very distinct. Of course the more fertile the imagination of the person who is studying the cup the more will be discovered in it. . . .
    § It is impossible to lay down any definite rule as to interpretation; although every symbol has some general significance, it must have a particular significance in regard to each person. This is the case with regard to dreams, for instance. To dream of coal means very good luck to some people I know; while to others, even in the same family, it is quite the reverse.
    § . . . The handle of the cup represents the house, or the home. Time can be foretold more or less by the position of the leaves. Close to the brim the events are immediate; and the nearness or the distance from the home is judged according to the position of the leaves away from the handle.
    § Leaves at the bottom of the cup generally forebode ill fortune. The left of the handle can be interpreted as to events passed or opportunities thrown away; the right side of the handle as present and future, usually good, except when cloudy or thick.
    § Serpentine Lines indicate roads or ways. If they appear in the clear are sure tokens of some fortunate changes at hand; surrounded by many dots they signify the gain of money, also long life. At the bottom of the cup, or surrounded by clouds, they indicate reverses past or future.
    § Dots signify gain by money and must be interpreted by the surroundings.
    § Circles indicate completion.
    § Wavy Lines show unsettlement.
    § Straight Lines signify a straight course.
    § A Cross Within a Circle indicates imprisonment, detention, hospital or other form of enforced restraint.
    § Dashes generally indicate enterprises afoot, but time must be given for maturity.”
    ○ The book goes on to describe all sorts of symbolism related to tea leaves, and what it means when they appear in different parts of the cup. It’s all very intuitive, and kind of reminds me of dream interpretation meanings.
    ○ So that’s about fortune telling in a regular teacup. Somewhere at the very end of the 19th century, special fortune telling teacups were made, with symbols that aided in tea leaf interpretation.
    • Types of fortune telling cups
    ○ First, want to acklowledge a major source for this: the website The Mystic Tea Room, which has extensive info about fortune telling teacups
    ○ There ended up being several types of fortune telling teacups: symbol cups, astrology cups, and cups that had playing cards printed on the inside called cartomancy cups.
    ○ I wanted to talk about a selection of cups that I thought were interesting or notable.
    ○ I found an article describing one from June 3, 1899 in The Standard Union, a newspaper in Brooklyn. It speaks pretty dismissively, opening with “A new addition for the afternoon tea table where maids do congregate is the future-telling tea cup. This latest addendum to the paraphenalia of the Soothsayer is wide and deep, with its inner surface covered with a network of lines and a border of stars, fishes, scorpions, lions and other signs of the zodiac.”
    ○ in a Feb 3, 1900 edition of the Knoxville Sentinel, which was surprisingly positive, maybe because it was an article about the cup, not about women performing tasseography. It had a nice description of the cup:
    § “The cup and saucer come, packed with tissue paper daintily in a box, with an accompanying book of explanation. The saucer is worked with circles and the cup is divided by geometrical lines, diverging from the center inside, i.e. the bottom, and crossed by circles like a globe. In the spaces thus formed are stars and the signs of the zodiac. The sun is indicated in the bottom of the cup, inside to shed light on the bank of tea leaves in whatsoever square they lie.”
    § Apparently the cup also came with an instruction manual, tho the author said it was unhelpful.
    ○ I think those articles were likely talking abut the Hanley’s Fortuna Cup, which was introduced in 1898 and which I think was the second fortune telling cup patented in the US.
    § The Fortuna Fortune Telling Cup has this sort of globe-like grid of lines, and the interpretation depended on a careful study of the accompanying booklet, which would explain how different placements of the tea leaves indicated different times of year, etc. It looks like it was very complicated, tho also very innovative, and a lot of future cups took inspiration from the Fortuna.
    ○ Aynsley Cup of Fortune Nelros (1904)
    § This was a cup made from bone china, with symbols and writing in red and black paint on the cup and saucer. It feels really Edwardian, with a sort of scalloped rim, curved edges, and a sort of pedestal-style base. Most of the versions of the Nelros have really nice, ornately curved handles.
    § My favorite feature of the cup was that it had a slogan written on the outside: If thou wouldst learn thy future with thy tea, this magic cup will show it thee
    § It was popular enough that there’s a whole chapter about it in the 1946 book Telling Fortunes By Tea Leaves by Cicely Kent
    □ However, while the book included a chapter about the cup, the book recommends only the cup, not the saucer that comes with it. The first page of the chapter says “I am not suggesting the use of the Nelros saucer, for the reason that its signs are somewhat obscure, and students who have no experience in the science of astrology would find it confusing, if used in addition to the cup, in which all needful signs are illustrated.”
    □ I feel very seen in that description, because despite some very earnest efforts, especially over the last 4-5 years, I just barely grasp some astrological stuff.
    § The Nelros Cup of Fortune ended up influencing many future fortune telling cups, such as:
    □ The Taltos Fortune Telling Cup, which was released in 1975. I don’t think the Taltos is as nice looking–it’s a pretty typical 1970s teacup with straight side, rather than the nicely curved Edwardian Nelros Cup of Fortune, and the illustrations are in full color with shading, and the words on the outside are a pretty 70s feeling script font. But despite the cosmetic differences, it’s basically the same cup in terms of content.
    □ There was a 1980 version, the Taltos Fortune Telling Cup by Royal Kendal, which looks basically the same as the other Taltos Fortune Telling Cup
    □ In 1985, there was the International Collectors Guild Zarka Fortune Telling Teacup Set, which also has, in my opinion, somewhat garish colors, though for some reason I find it a bit more charming than the Taltos cups which it’s basically a clone of. This was a Japanese cup that was sold for about 10 years, and you could send off for it from ads in tabloids, womens magazines, and gift catalogs.
    □ Finally, in 2001, Barnes & Noble introduced The Cup of Destiny by Jane Lyle, which is basically a dupe of the Nelros Cup of Fortune, though it sadly does not feature the fun text on the exterior of the cup.
    ® The shape of the Cup of Destiny is more pleasing to me than the Taltos cups, because it’s curved with the little pedestal base type thing, and has the nice little scalloped edges.
    ® It also features black and red paint, with simple, outlined shapes rather than full color illustrations. As a result, it looks a lot more occult than the Taltos cups of the 70s and 80s, which kinda just reminded me of childrens book illustrations or something.
    ® Of course, instead of being made of delicate, translucent bone china from England, it’s restaurant-grade stoneware manufactured in China. But hey, it’s vegan!
    ® I started googling this and discovered, to my surprise, that the Cup of Destiny is still being manufactured and sold today. 20 years seems like a long time to be producing such a niche gift item, but it does seem to be coming back into vogue now. I found it for sale at Urban Outfitters, which really says a lot about the trendiness of divination and occult imagery right now. However, pro tip, you can find it for sale cheaper at Target. I ordered one from Target for like $19.
    ® Okay, enough about modern cups, for now. We’d been talking about the 1904 Nelros Cup of Fortune, so let’s get back to the timeline of fortune telling cups.
    ○ I saw a number of articles in society pages in the 1910s talking about fortune telling cups being used as party favors, or as placecards. This was interesting to me, because while I saw alarmist articles about women doing tasseography and that meaning they were foolish, there didn’t seem to be quite the same moral panic about these fortune telling cups as there were about ouija boards. You know, unlike Ouija boards, the Catholic church didn’t ask someone to write about how the devil works through fortune telling teacups, for example.
    § It seems like these were more of a novelty.
    ○ Aynsley also produced a Cup of Knowledge starting around 1924, it seems, and they ended up making about a zillion permutations of that cup. It differs from the Nelros Cup of Fortune in that it features playing cards on the inside, rather than symbols, and the exterior often featured more ornamental elements, like flowers, ribbons, or solid pretty colors, rather than the fortune telling slogan.
    § In 1924, an event called the British Empire Exhibition was held in Wembley, England, and at least five china manufacturers made special fortune telling cups as souvenirs of the event. Aynsley produced several versions of the Cup of Knowledge featuring roses on the sides.
    § In 1937, they produced a souvenir Cup of Fortune to commemorate the coronation of King George VI–he’s the guy who Colin Firth played in The King’s Speech
    § There was one made in 1939 for the royal visit to Canada
    § Aynsley wasn’t the only manufacturer to make these commemorative cups, but I’m using them as an example because there were SO many versions of the Cup of Knowledge
    ○ Zancigs Cup of Destiny (1926) manufactured by Anchor http://www.mystictearoom.com/wiki/Zancigs_Cup_of_Destiny
    ○ And now we get to the part where I need to give a disclaimer about cultural appropriation and racism when it comes to fortune telling cups and divination and witchy things in general.
    § This is a huge topic, one that I can’t do justice to here, but in general, if you run in occult or witchy circles at all, you know this is a big issue. And you’re probably very aware that people still constantly use the racial slur for Romani people when talking about witchy stuff–like for example, there’s plenty of that on instagram, or in etsy vendors shop names or product names, etc. It’s common enough that some people still may not be totally aware that it’s a racial slur–at least in the US, it’s considered a racial slur. I know this can vary from country to country, but there are about a million Romani people living in the US, and I live in the US, so in this context, it’s a slur. There are reasons behind that that are beyond the scope of this episode, but just google it if you want to know more.
    § Because of that, since the 19th century, the term Romani has been widely in use in English instead of the racial slur. But many people, I’d say in particular a certain type of witchy white, NON-Romani woman, still use the racial slur to describe themselves because they seem to think it means “free spirited” and “witchy” in an exotic way. You’ll also see that sort of language–either the slur, or the term Romany being used in an appropriative way, just to make a fortune telling product seem more authentic or exotic. So in a bit, I’ll talk some about the so-called “Romany” fortune telling tea cups that were produced in the 1930s.
    § Then, also, I saw this in both the Ouija board research that I did last year, and in the fortune telling cup research, but caricatures of Chinese people, and appropriations of Chinese culture, tend to be used for a similar purpose. I also saw a lot of that with Indian culture in the Ouija board. So. Not good.
    ○ I found a May 1931 article from the AP about a fortune-telling tea cup designed by a woman named Genevieve Wimsatt, the editor of one of the first English-language womens magazines in China. Her cup was adorned, supposedly, with Chinese symbols from antiquity, though I always find that kind of claim dubious. The article went on to describe how the teacup was used:
    § “When a fair bridge player drains her cup the other players look on with eager eyes to see if the tea leaves adhere to a duck, rabbit, or a piece of bamboo.”
    § I found an etsy listing for this cup, which was sold but you could look at the pictures, and it has a saucer with a yin yang in the center, where the cup goes, and then the saucer is edged with depictiosn of the animals of the chinese zodiac. The interior of the cup is covered in lots of little pictures, and the exterior shows a charactature of a chinese man holding something that looks like a narrow white flag or pennant.
    § I actually found her 1928 patent paperwork for the cup, and here’s the story behind the man on the cup:
    On the outside of the cup is the figure of Lu Tung Pin, the patron genius of fortune tellers, with his famous sword, the demon slayer,
    and his fly-whisk, the cloud sweeper, accompanied by the live red bats of happiness. The saucer is bordered with the twelve cyclical animals of Chinese geomancy.
    § The patent also explains exactly how to use the cup, which is pretty complicated, and has to do with where the leaves are, what animal on the saucer Lu Tung Pin’s fly-whisk points to, etc.
    ○ In the 1930s, there were a couple cartomancy cups called the Romany Cup of Fortune, one made in the US and one made in the UK.
    ○ In the course of researching all of this, I I ordered a fortune telling teacup, though it hasn’t arrived yet.
    § I got the Red Rose Cup of Fortune, which was made of bone china with 22K gold symbols, lettering, and trim, and was produced in England by Taylor & Kent in the 1964.
    § There are three versions of the Red Rose Cup of Fortune, which are numbered–I ordered set #1.
    § I’ve heard these cups described as promotional items, or “premiums” sold with Red Rose tea, so I’m assuming they were given away for free with some tea purchases.
    § You can find those pretty cheaply online–even with tax and shipping, the one I got was $30. As far as I can tell, these are some of the cheapest fortune telling cups you can buy these days.
    • Weird fortune telling cup stories
    Fortune telling cups today

 

Sources consulted RE: Fortune Telling Teacups

Books RE: Fortune Telling Teacups

Articles RE: Fortune Telling Teacups

  • 15 Jul 1893, Page 32 – The Railroad Telegrapher at Newspapers.com
  • Asheville Gazette News Sat Jul 16 1910
  • Baxter Springs News Thu Nov 16 1911
  • Beatrice Weekly Times Thu Nov 8 1900
  • Brooklyn Times Union Sat May 17 1890
  • Buffalo Courier Sun Mar 8 1925
  • Buffalo Courier Wed Aug 3 1910
  • Buffalo Morning Express and Illustrated Buffalo Express Sat Feb 1 1896
  • Chattanooga Daily Times Sun Jan 8 1899
  • Evening Star Sat Aug 1 1896
  • Fall River Daily Globe Tue May 23 1899
  • Great Bend Tribune Wed Mar 6 1907
  • Knoxville Sentinel Sat Feb 3 1900
  • Logansport Pharos Tribune Fri May 27 1898
  • Monrovia Daily News Fri Jan 17 1913
  • Monterey Daily Cypress Fri Aug 26 1910
  • Oakland Tribune Wed May 6 1931
  • Saskatoon Daily Star Wed Jul 5 1922
  • Star Tribune Fri Dec 1 1893
  • The Bessemer Herald Sat Feb 17 1912
  • The Daily Republican Fri Jul 26 1918
  • The Daily Telegram Sat Nov 8 1919
  • The Decatur Herald Thu Feb 1 1923
  • The Evening Herald Mon Sep 30 1912
  • The Fort Wayne Journal Gazette Thu Feb 7 1895
  • The Honolulu Advertiser Thu Jan 7 1892
  • The Morning Astorian Sun Apr 19 1896
  • The Newcastle Weekly Courant Sat Jan 4 1896
  • The Ottawa Citizen Fri Aug 2 1901
  • The Ottawa Journal Mon Oct 24 1898
  • The Ottawa Journal Sat Dec 9 1899
  • The Ottawa Journal Sat Jan 26 1924
  • The Pomona Progress Sat Jul 15 1916
  • The Record Thu Aug 18 1927
  • The Standard Union Sat Jun 3 1899
  • The Winnipeg Tribune Thu Sep 13 1928
  • The Winnipeg Tribune Wed Sep 6 1922
  • Times Herald Fri May 20 1910
  • Wilkes Barre Semi Weekly Record Tue Aug 8 1899
  • Wilkes Barre Times Leader The Evening News Fri May 22 1908

Websites

  • http://www.mystictearoom.com/wiki/The_Museum_of_Fortune_Telling_Tea_Cups_and_Saucers
  • https://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/fortune-telling-tea-cups
  • https://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/tea-room-police-raids-new-york-psychics-fortune-telling
  • https://blog.etsy.com/en/short-stories-aynsley-nelros-cup-of-fortune/
  • http://www.mystictearoom.com/wiki/Fortune_Telling_Postcards_by_Fred_C._Lounsbury
  • https://www.sipsby.com/blogs/news/the-history-of-tea-leaf-reading
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tasseography
  • Genevieve Wimsatt’s cup: https://www.etsy.com/listing/504597242/genevieve-wimsatt-chinese-fortune?show_sold_out_detail=1&ref=nla_listing_details
  • http://www.mystictearoom.com/wiki/Genevieve_B._Wimsatt
  • http://www.mystictearoom.com/wiki/Chinese_Fortune-Telling_Teacup
  • https://patents.google.com/patent/US1729235A/en
  • https://www.worthpoint.com/worthopedia/antique-1931-chinese-fortune-telling-1863286616
  • 1920 patent for fortune telling cup: https://patents.google.com/patent/US1342223A/en?q=fortune+telling+cup&oq=fortune+telling+cup&sort=old
    Patent for disposable fortune telling cup, 2007:
  • https://patents.google.com/patent/JP2007030981A/en?q=fortune+telling+cup&oq=fortune+telling+cup
  • Combination scale and fortune-telling machine patent: https://patents.google.com/patent/US1774622A/en?q=fortune+telling+cup&oq=fortune+telling+cup&sort=old&page=1
  • Fortune telling game patent 1935: https://patents.google.com/patent/US2008357A/en?q=fortune+telling+cup&oq=fortune+telling+cup&sort=old&page=1
  • https://www.grimoire.org/teacup/
  • http://www.mystictearoom.com/wiki/Cup_of_Fortune_(1964)_Red_Rose
  • Cup of Destiny: https://www.urbanoutfitters.com/shop/the-cup-of-destiny-book-teacup-set?
  • http://www.mystictearoom.com/wiki/Zancigs_Cup_of_Destiny
  • http://www.mystictearoom.com/wiki/Taltos_Fortune_Telling_Cup_(1975)_Jon_Anton
  • http://www.mystictearoom.com/wiki/Taltos_Fortune_Telling_Cup_(1980)_Royal_Kendal
  • http://www.mystictearoom.com/wiki/Cup_of_Destiny_(2001)_Jane_Lyle_/_Barnes_and_Noble
  • http://www.mystictearoom.com/wiki/Courtney_Locke
  • http://www.mystictearoom.com/wiki/Aynsley_Cup_of_Knowledge_Art_Nouveau_Roses_Small
  • http://www.mystictearoom.com/wiki/Category:Cartomancy_Cups_and_Saucers
  • http://www.mystictearoom.com/wiki/Category:Cup_of_Knowledge_(2)_Aynsley
  • https://rogueandwolf.com/products/ouija-mug
  • https://us.killstar.com/products/zodiac-cup-saucer
  • http://www.mystictearoom.com/wiki/Killstar_Zodiac
  • https://us.killstar.com/products/cosmic-tea-cup-saucer
  • http://www.mystictearoom.com/wiki/Killstar_Cosmic
  • https://www.etsy.com/search?q=fortune%20telling%20cup%20vintage
  • https://www.etsy.com/listing/1004265916/antique-aynsley-nelros-cup-of-knowledge?ga_order=most_relevant&ga_search_type=all&ga_view_type=gallery&ga_search_query=fortune+telling+cup+vintage&ref=sr_gallery-1-22&organic_search_click=1&frs=1
  • https://www.etsy.com/listing/886884943/vintage-fortune-telling-cup-and-saucer?ga_order=most_relevant&ga_search_type=all&ga_view_type=gallery&ga_search_query=fortune+telling+cup+vintage&ref=sr_gallery-1-25&organic_search_click=1&sca=1
  • https://www.etsy.com/listing/601068536/vintage-fortune-telling-cup-saucer-tarot?ga_order=most_relevant&ga_search_type=all&ga_view_type=gallery&ga_search_query=fortune+telling+cup+vintage&ref=sr_gallery-1-24&organic_search_click=1&sca=1
  • https://www.etsy.com/listing/574694054/vintage-fortune-telling-cup-saucer?ref=shop_home_recs_2
  • https://www.etsy.com/listing/611875919/vintage-royal-kendall-fortune-telling?ref=shop_home_recs_3
  • https://www.etsy.com/listing/627658306/vintage-jon-anton-fortune-telling-cup?ref=shop_home_recs_4&sca=1
  • https://www.misshavishamscuriosities.com/store/p497/Vintage_Rosebud_Fortune_Cup_and_Saucer.html#/
  • https://www.etsy.com/listing/905492926/rare-authentic-aynsley-1920s-the-nelros?ga_order=most_relevant&ga_search_type=all&ga_view_type=gallery&ga_search_query=fortune+telling+cup+vintage&ref=sr_gallery-1-49&organic_search_click=1&frs=1&cns=1

Don’t miss past episodes:

A look at the caladrius, a fancy legendary bird that could supposedly diagnose and heal illnesses. Plus weird info about medieval bestiaries, and more.

Highlights include:
• A weird supposed cure for blindness
• A visit to the Cloisters
• A video game that makes you feel like a wizard
• A bit of unicorn lore

Other stuff I mentioned:
The Last Unicorn youtube video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M57VN_b9FRM
Atlas of the Mysterious in North America by Rosemary Ellen Guiley: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/1460616.Atlas_of_the_Mysterious_in_North_America
Waltz of the Wizard: https://www.aldin.io/waltzofthewizard/

Episode Script

DISCLAIMER: I’m providing this version of the script for accessibility purposes. It hasn’t been proofread, so please excuse typos. There are also some things that may differ between the final episode and this draft script. Please treat the episode audio as the final product. 

  • Cloisters
    • Unicorn tapestries
    • Narwhal/unicorn horn cup
  • The Last Unicorn: Death and the Legacy of Fantasy youtube video by chromalore
    • Unicorn lore
    • The movie
    • 80s fantasy movies in general
    • And in speaking of unicorn lore, I read a fun little description of a unicorn in a bestiary translation I read while preparing this episode; this is from an 1887 lecture I’ll talk more about later:
      • “The unicorn is a beautiful animal, with the
      • body of a horse, the head of a stag, and the feet of an elephant, having on its forehead a straight sharp horn, four feet long. In the Psalms (Ps. cii, 10) it says, “My horn shalt thou exalt like the horn of an unicorn.” The unicorn is so fierce that the elephant hates it, but the claws on the feet of the unicorn are so sharp that it pierces the elephant’s body with them and kills it.
      • The horn of the unicorn is so powerful that the hunter dares not go near it, but the animal can be caught by stratagem in the [346] following manner. A pure virgin of great beauty is sent on alone in front of the hunters into the wood where the unicorn dwells, and as soon as it sees her immediately it runs towards her and kneels down and lays its head on her lap quite simply. Whilst the unicorn sleeps there the hunters seize it and hasten off with it to the royal palace.”
  • More about bestiaries:
    • Lecture VI: The Medieval Bestiaries from Early Christian Symbolism in Great Britain and Ireland before the Thirteenth Century (The Rhind Lectures in Archaeology for 1885) by J. Romilly Allen, 1887:
    • “It is not known who wrote the original bestiary, of which all subsequent versions are only variants. The earliest MS. copies are in Latin, and do not date back beyond the eighth century, and by far the greater proportion of the illustrated editions belong to the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. The bestiary differs fundamentally from all modern treatises on natural history, and is really more like a children’s picture-book of animals. The zoologist of the present day dissects all his specimens, and classifies them according to species, as revealed by minute investigations as to the structure of the body. The mediaeval naturalist was a theologian first, and a man of science after. His theories were founded partly on texts of Scripture, rightly or wrongly interpreted, partly on the writings of Pliny, and partly on the supposed derivations of the names, mixed up with all kinds of marvellous stories such as are found in the folk-lore of all nations . . .
    • Traces are also shown of a belief in the arts of magic, as in the story of the Woodpecker, who knows of a herb that can unlock all things closed with iron or wood, and is able to unloose all things that are bound,—recalling the legend in the Speculum Sancte Marie Virginis, of the worm whose blood has power to break glass and allow the young ostrich to escape from the vessel in which it was imprisoned by Solomon.
    •  The history of the whale in the bestiary is related in the story of Sindbad the Sailor in the Arabian Nights, and also occurs in the legend­ary Life of St. Brendan. The narratives of the Syren, the Centaur, Argus the Cowherd, with his hundred eyes, in the bestiary are of purely classical origin, adapted subsequently to Christian purposes. So much for the sources whence the writers of the bestiary drew their inspiration, now as to the book itself. The number of beasts, including birds, fish, insects, and fabulous creatures, varies from 24 to 40 in the different versions, but they are in all cases treated in a similar fashion: first, there is a miniature of the animal, then a description of its appearance, habits, stories con­nected with it, and lastly, a moral, pointing out the spiritual significance and its application to the Christian life. It must be admitted that this eternal moralising becomes extremely tedious, and the writers of the bestiaries evidently found it so them-selves, as they are continually telling their readers to pay atten­tion, and not to allow their thoughts to wander from the subject, and are never tired of insisting on the importance of the good to be derived from the concluding moral.
    •  . . . The merit of the different stories and their application varies greatly, some being extremely forcible, such as that of the whale, whose sudden plunge into the depths of the ocean is dramatic to a degree, and sends a thrill of horror through the mind. Some are very poetic and beautiful, such as the eagle flying up towards the sun; some are revolting and indecent; others far-fetched or absurd, as when one learns that the pretty little hedgehog, knocking down grapes off the vine and carrying them away on its spines, is the Devil robbing men of their souls.”
    • The lecturer goes on to say that there are two reasons why bestiaries are what they are: 1) there are animals mentioned in the bible, and there was a need to comment more on those animals, and 2) people loved moralizing.
    • Also, just for the record, I feel like half the animals in the bestiary represent Christ in some way. Like the unicorn, the phoenix, etc. A lot of creatures have myths about dying and coming back to life, or about being pure and getting killed, etc. And then the other half of animals represent the devil, like many of the deadly serpents I talked about last time.
  • The lecturer also talks about how bestiaries got so silly:
    • “The bestiary contains many mistakes, due to mistranslation, the result of sheer ignorance, or confounding together words of similar sound; (2) confusing one animal with another from want of zoological knowledge; and to a wish to identify certain animals mentioned in the Bible with fabulous creatures of classical origin, such as centaurs, syrens, dragons, etc.”
  • In this 1887 lecture, I also found a bit more fun info about the basilisk or cockatrice, which I talked about last time:
    • “The basilisk is hatched from the egg of a cock. When the cock has lived seven years an egg grows in its inside, and it suffers the greatest agony. It then scratches a hole with its feet in which to lay the egg. The toad is of such a nature that it can tell by the scent the poison which the cock carries in its inside. The toad watches the cock, so that it cannot enter its nest without the toad seeing it, and when the cock goes to lay its egg the toad follows to find [390] out whether the laying has taken place, because it is of such a nature that it takes the egg and hatches it. The animal which comes out of the egg has the head, neck, and breast of a cock, and the remainder of its body behind is like a serpent. As soon as this beast can it seeks out some secluded spot in an old cistern and hides itself so that no one can see it, for it is of such a nature that if a man sees it before it sees the man, then it will die, but if it sees the man first, then the man will die. Its poison proceeds from its eyes, and its gaze is so venomous that it kills birds who fly past it. This animal is king over all the other serpents, in the same way that the lion is king over all the other beasts. If it touches a tree it will lose its virtue and never bear fruit. If anyone wishes to kill the basilisk he must take a transparent crystal vase, and when the animal lifts its head its gaze is arrested by the crystal, and the venom thrown back, which causes its death.
    • The basilisk signifies the Devil, that same Satan who deceived Adam and Eve in Paradise, and being expelled, was cast down into hell. Thus, for 4,000 years all who came from Adam were poisoned by him, and would fall into the pit with the basilisk, that is, into hell with the Devil. The son of a king then was grieved that the beast was so venomous, and that it would kill everybody, so he determined that it should live no longer or do harm. Therefore the king placed his son in a vessel of the purest crystal, that is to say, that the Son of God entered the body of Our Lady, the Virgin Mary. When the basilisk looked on the vessel which contained the Son of God, his poison was arrested, and he became powerless to harm. When the son of the king, Jesus Christ, was laid in the sepulchre, he entered into the pit and took hence His friends whom the basilisk had fasci­nated and killed with his poison, that is to say, that God despoiled hell of those who love Him.”
  • Caladrius, aka the charadrius
    • I stumbled across this one when I was looking through the Aberdeen Bestiary, which as the name suggests, is a 12th century bestiary at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland. Finding the caladrius was actually what made me decide to do this little mini-series on medieval creatures.
    • The bestiary has a illustration of a king in bed, sort of languidly shrinking away from a slinky, large white bird with a long neck.
    • I don’t love the accompanying text in the bestiary, because it’s very religious and moralizing, which is normal for bestiaries, and also kinda anti-Semetic, but the drawing really struck me, and I looked up this weird creature, the caladrius.
    • From THE CALADRIUS AND ITS LEGEND, SCULPTURED UPON THE TWELFTH-CENTURY DOORWAY OF ALNE CHURCH, YORKSHIRE By GEORGE C. DRUCE, F.S.A. Originally published in Archaeological Journal (Royal Archaeological Institute of London) Volume 69, 1912 :
      • Latin text of MS. 12. F xiii, of the early thirteenth century, in the British Museum
      • “The Caladrius or Caradrius, as the Natural Philosopher says, is all white like the swan, and has a long neck. The dung of its inside cures blindness (caliginem oculorum). This bird is found in the courts of kings. If anyone is ill, by means of this caladrius it can be found out if he will live or die. For if the man is destined to die, it turns its face away from him, and by this sign people know that he is going to die. If he is destined to live, it directs itself towards his face, and as though it would take all the illness of the man upon itself, it flies into the air towards the sun, burning up as it were his infirmity and dispersing it; and so the sick man is cured.”
      • thirteenth-century illustrated manuscript of the first version in the British Museum (Sloane 278):
        • “If (the sick man) is destined to get better and be cured, the caladrius addresses itself intently to him, and approaching, puts its beak upon the man’s mouth, and by its breathing draws out all the man’s sickness into itself, and flying into the air towards the sun, burns up his sickness, and disperses it, and the sick man is cured.”
  • Some versions of the lore seem to suggest that sometimes the caladrius gets sick and dies instead of the human dying.
  • Picardy prose bestiary (MS. 3516) of the thirteenth century in the Arsenal Library, Paris:
    • “If a man should have his eyes running or rolling the caladrius has such a nature that it can cure the eyes by the divine virtue which it possesses; it is in its thigh, if one applies it; such virtue has the thigh of the caladrius.”
  • Philip de Thaun says:
    • “The bird has a great bone in its thigh; if the man who is blind has the marrow of it, and will anoint his eyes, he will immediately recover (his sight).”
  • Here’s what Plutarch had to say about the bird, around 80 AD:
    • “we know how often those who suffer from jaundice are healed by looking at the bird charadrius. This small animal seems to be endowed with such a nature and character, that it violently attracts to itself the disease, which slips out of the body of the sick man into its own, and draws off from his eyes as it were a stream of moisture. And this is the reason why the charadrius cannot endure to look at jaundiced persons nor help them at all, but turns itself away with closed eyes; not because it grudges the use of the remedy which is sought from it, as some consider, but because it might be wounded as by a blow.”
  • A 12th centuy author named Suidas said:
    • “They say that this is a disease [jaundice] producing paleness, which arises from anger, so that it makes the eyes of those who are overpowered by it pale and sometimes black, like (the eyes) of kites, from which also it takes its name. They say too “that those who suffer from jaundice are easily cured by looking at a bird, the charadrius.” The charadrius is a bird of such nature that if those who are suffering from jaundice look at it, as report goes, they more easily get rid of that disease. For which reason also the sellers (of the bird) hide it, lest those who are suffering from jaundice should be cured for nothing.”
  • ANother MS says:
  • “Caladrius is the name of a bird, which we find without any doubt to be entirely white: it is shaped as a seagull; in the book of Deuteronomy it is [388] said that it must not be eaten; that very dear is the bird.11 And Physiologus says that the caladrius ought to be in the court of a king, and about one thing is learned.”
  • One unusual description of the caladrius says that it has “straight horns like a goat” though it doesn’t seem that many sources say that.
  • It turns out that the caladrius came from Roman mythology, and the idea was that it was this white bird that lived in the king’s palace. When someone was sick, the caladrius could absorb the illness and fly away, which would cure the sick person, and the caladrius would be fine too–some places suggested that the illness would be burned up by the sun as the caladrius flew up high.
  • Medieval bestiaries focused not as much on the idea of the caladrius taking away sickness; instead, they talked about how the caladrius could diagnose illness. When someone was sick, the caladrius would perch on the bed, and if the bird looked at the sick person, then they would live. But if they looked away, then the person would die.
    • Oh and the caladrius was supposed to represent Christ, even thought it was also seen as an “unclean” bird
  • Some people say that the caladrius may have been inspired by a real bird, like a dove, thrush, heron, or plover. It seems that it was thought of as a sea bird, at least. Other places, it’s suggested that the caladrius maybe had curly feathers.
  • There was also a SNL sketch in the 70s called Theodoric of York, Medieval Barber that you can find on youtube, which features a caladrius.
  • Crow
  • Lion
    • I didn’t know this until reading it at the Cloisters on Friday, but apparently lions were connected with Jesus and the divine because they had three natures, one of which was that they were born dead and then came to life three days later, like Christ rising from the dead.
  • To read a bit more from the 1887 essay Lecture VI: The Medieval Bestiaries:
    • “The third nature of the lion is, that when the lioness brings forth a cub it is dead,23 and in this state she guards it until upon the third day the father comes and brings it to life by breathing in its face.”

Sources consulted RE: the Caladrius

Websites

  • https://artsandculture.google.com/exhibit/fantastic-beasts-of-the-middle-ages/xQKCn9wmjCVVJg
  • https://www.abdn.ac.uk/bestiary/ms24/f57r
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caladrius
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aberdeen_Bestiary
  • http://bestiary.ca/etexts/druce1912/druce%20-%20caladrius%20and%20its%20legend.pdf
  • http://bestiary.ca/etexts/
  • http://bestiary.ca/etexts/allen1887/allen%20-%20medieval%20bestiaries.pdf
  • http://bestiary.ca/etexts/collins1913/collins1913.htm
  • http://bestiary.ca/etexts/collins1913/symbolism%20of%20animals%20and%20birds%20-%20collins.pdf
  • http://bestiary.ca/etexts/collins1940/collins%20-%20some%2012th%20century%20animal%20carvings%20and%20their%20sources%20in%20the%20bestiaries.pdf
  • http://bestiary.ca/etexts/douglas1928/douglas%20-%20birds%20and%20beasts%20of%20the%20greek%20anthology.pdfhttp://bestiary.ca/etexts/druce1912/druce1912.htm
  • http://bestiary.ca/beasts/beast143.htm
  • http://bestiary.ca/etexts/druce1912/druce%20-%20caladrius%20and%20its%20legend.pdf
  • http://bestiary.ca/etexts/evans1896/evans1896.htm
  • http://bestiary.ca/etexts/james1931/james%20-%20bestiary%20-%20eton.pdf
  • http://bestiary.ca/etexts/james1932/james1932.htm
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charadrius
  • http://bestiary.ca/etexts/druce1912/druce%20-%20caladrius%20and%20its%20legend.pdf
  • http://bestiary.ca/beasts/beastgallery143.htm#
  • http://bestiary.ca/etexts/allen1887/allen%20-%20medieval%20bestiaries.pdf

Don’t miss past episodes:

A look at some weird medieval creatures from legend and lore. Plus some stories about some recent cemetery visits in Queens, New York, including Houdini’s grave.

Highlights include:
• An ancient, impenetrable European forest
• A magical glowing bird
• A dragon with a rooster’s head

Episode Script for Weird Medieval Creatures

DISCLAIMER: I’m providing this version of the script for accessibility purposes. It hasn’t been proofread, so please excuse typos. There are also some things that may differ between the final episode and this draft script. Please treat the episode audio as the final product. 

  • This is a just-for-fun kind of episode–to be honest, things have been really hectic at work and I’ve been too exhausted to do one of my real deep-dive episodes, even though I’ve been doing research for more cemetery episodes and also some Hellgate stuff as I have time.
  • Though in theory I took a whole semester of college just learning about medieval history, theology, art, and literature, like I’ve said before, I’m not an expert in anything, and I definitely am not very well positioned to give a very intelligent historical context for these creatures, though I’ll give whatever context I can.
    • But to be honest, I literally just love looking at old medieval bestiaries and find the animals funny. I haven’t talked a ton about medieval stuff on the podcast, but if you follow the podcast on instagram, I repost a decent number of medieval accounts on my stories, and have mentioned my love of the Met Cloisters, which is maybe my favorite museum. It’s in upper Manhattan, in the middle of a really cool park with a view of the NJ palisades and the Hudson River. It’s basically a big medieval cloister full of tapestries, stained glass, and other medieval art and artifacts, but it’s really immersive. It’s a cloister that was brought over from Europe, and they have medieval-type plants growing everywhere, including a garden of magical plants. Also, pre-pandemic, they had an annual renaissance fair that I went to once, which was really cool, it had fencing and stuff. I have my problems with the Met museum as an institution, but I can’t stop loving the cloisters, it’s just so cool.
    • So while my knowledge of actual medieval history is iffy, I have a lot of enthusiasm for the aesthetic, and a lot of the time I zone out and unwind by going through scans of medieval manuscripts on the internet and trying to find weird medieval creatures. We all have our hobbies, I guess.
  • So last weekend I was really exhausted and relaxing by going through some cool medieval manuscripts and ended up googling some animals and got wrapped up in reading about different medieval beasts. I want to go into them here.
    • But before I get into that, sidenote, if you’re into medieval stuff at all, google Black books of hours–there some medieval manuscripts where they dyed the vellum black before illuminating them. There aren’t many of them–I think there are only 7–but they look so cool. Unfortunately, I guess the ink they used to dye them was corrosive so the surviving manuscripts are in bad shape, but still, they’re wild looking/
  • The main source I used here is bestiary.ca, which lists a bunch of creatures and has information about each one.
    • I went through their list, which has a one-line description of each critter, which is very funny to me because some of them are real animals and the description is hilarious, at least to me.  So I’m gonna go through some of the animals that I found most interesting or funny.
    • And I guess a final sidenote before I get into these creatures: some of the descriptions of what these animals can do are very metal. I’ve had several people mention that sometimes they listen to this with their kids around, and this is generally a lighthearted episode, but if anyone’s listening with their kids, just make sure they aren’t scared of deadly animals.
  • Seps
    • Description: The poison of the seps consumes both body and bones
    • In Bestiary.ca, the illustration of a Seps looks like a snake with a cat, or maybe a mean looking bunny head.
    • This is a legendary, imaginary creature
    • Basically, this was a little snake with a big power: it was very deadly when it bit you, and it’s poison literally dissolve your body and bones
    • There’s this amazing description from a Roman poet named Marcus Annaeus Lucanus, or Lucan, which I wanted to read:
      • Clinging to his skin / A Seps with curving tooth, of little size, / He seized and tore away, and to the sands / Pierced with his javelin. Small the serpent’s bulk; / None deals a death more horrible in form. / For swift the flesh dissolving round the wound / Bared the pale bone; swam all his limbs in blood; / Wasted the tissue of his calves and knees: / And all the muscles of his thighs were thawed / In black distilment, and file membrane sheath / Parted, that bound his vitals, which abroad / Flowed upon earth: yet seemed it not that all / His frame was loosed, for by the venomous drop / Were all the bands that held his muscles drawn / Down to a juice; the framework of his chest / Was bare, its cavity, and all the parts / Hid by the organs of life, that make the man
  • Next up is another imaginary serpent, the Scitalis
    • Descrip: A serpent with such a marvelous appearance that it stuns the viewer
    • That reminds me a bit of  a basilisk, though for the scitalis, it’s these beautiful and strange markings that run along their back and transfix people. It was supposed to be very slow moving, so it relied on people being stupified so it could get them.
    • Also it apparently was a very warm-blooded snake, so even during the winter it had to shed its skin.
  • Wether
    • The description of this made me crack up: The wether is named from the worms in its head
    • They were supposed to stronger-than-average rams that head butted each other because they were agitating by the worms in their head, because I guess they were itchy
    • The accompanying drawing just looked like a normal ram to me.
  • Sea-pig
    • Just the name of this made me laugh
    • The description: Sea-pigs dig up the ground under water
    • The drawing is like a fish with a pig snout, and the idea was that I guess like regular pigs, they would use their snout to dig around in the sand to find food
    • There is a real animal called a sea pig that’s a deep-water sea cucumber that digs around in the sediment and eats stuff that it finds there, but I doubt the medieval people knew of it, since the real sea big is found around 1,200-5,000 meters under water
  • Cerastes
    • Description: An exceptionally flexible serpent with horns
    • These were supposed to be so flexible that they had no spine, yet they had either four horns, or two horns like a ram’s. They would bury themselves in sand, and when animals would gather around  the exposed horns, it would strike and kill them instantly.
    • They came from Greek lore, but even in the Renaissance it seems like people were still talking about them. Here’s how Leonardo da Vinci described their behavior:
      • This has four movable little horns; so, when it wants to feed, it hides under leaves all of its body except these little horns which, as they move, seem to the birds to be some small worms at play. Then they immediately swoop down to pick them and the Cerastes suddenly twines round them and encircles and devours them.
    • In the drawing that accompanies that one, it has little front feet
    • The Cerastes actually comes from Greek lore that was said to reside in the desert.
    • I guess it was supposed to be small–the largest animals they could attack were mice and small lizards
    • People suppose that this mythical creature was based on the real horned viper, which ended up with the scientific name cerastes cerastes because of the legendary creature
  • Echeneis
    • The description of this one is: This fish clings to ships and holds them back
    • The idea was that this was a 6-inch-long fish in the Indian sea that could suction onto the bottom of a boat and delay its voyage. Even storm winds couldn’t move a boat when this fish decided to anchor it in place.
    • Pliny the elder, who always has funny things to say about animals, plants, and magic, talked about some of the fish’s metaphysical properties:
      • “It is also the source of a love-charm and a spell to slow litigation in courts, and can be used to stop fluxes of the womb in pregnant women and to hold back the birth until the proper time. This fish is not eaten. Some say this fish has feet; Aristotle says it does not, but that its limbs resemble wings.”
    • This seems obviously inspired by the real-life fish the remora, and from what I can gather, it seems like Pliny the Elder uses remora and echeneis interchangeably. Pliny the Elder told stories about how the remora was responsible for Mark Antony’s death during battle, as well as Caligula’s.
    • The real fish, the remora, in case you don’t know, has a suction cup sort of thing on it, and it usually attaches to a shark, sea turtle, whale, or ray. They’re supposed to have a symbiotic relationship, where they get rid of their host’s dead skin and ectoparasites, and they’re also protected by being attached to the larger animals.
  • Hercinia
    • Description: A bird with brightly glowing feathers
    • My favorite kind of medieval critters: a bird
    • These were supposed to be found in the forests of Germany. Specifically, they lived in an ancient German forest called the Hercynian Forest (hence the name hercinia). It was a huge forest that spread across Western Central Europe, though it’s kinda unclear exactly how far it stretched. Basically, it was the northern edge of the part of Europe that writers in antiquity were aware of.
      • The forest was basically impenetrable. For example, during Julius Caesar’s time, the forest blocked the Roman Legions from going further into Germania. Caesar wrote in his book De Bello Gallico, he said that it would take more than 60 days to walk its width.
      • I guess he was fascinated by the forest, including old stories of unicorns. He also wrote about elk with no joints so to sleep they would lean against the ancient trees
      • Pliny the Elder was also fascinated by the ancient, deep forest, and its legends, and he talked about the glowing birds with feathers that “shine like fires at night”
      • The forest also contained real, though now extinct animals, the aurochs, which were huge cattle that lived in Asia, Europe, and North Africa, but which died out n the 1600s, when the last of them died in the woods
    • While this deep, dark forest doesn’t exist anymore, there are some remnants of it, like the Black Forest and some other woods in the area.
    • The idea was that they were so bright that even on the darkest night, their glowing wings would light the way ahead.
    • Some manuscripts adorned depictions of them with gold or silver leaf, since they were shiny.
    • The 7th century writer Isidore of Seville wrote a really poetic description:
      • “Their feathers sparkle so much in the shade that, however dark the night is with thick shadows, these feathers, when placed on the ground, give off light that helps to mark the way, and the sign of the glittering feathers makes clear the direction of the path.”
    • I found a poem by the 18th/19th century Irish poet Thomas Moore that had some cool glowing bird imagery. This is a bit from his poem A Dream of Antiquity:
      • “And now the fairy pathway seemed
      • To lead us through enchanted ground,
      • Where all that bard has ever dreamed
      • Of love or luxury bloomed around.
      • Oh! ’twas a bright, bewildering scene–
      • Along the alley’s deepening green
      • Soft lamps, that hung like burning flowers,
      • And scented and illumed the bowers,
      • Seemed, as to him, who darkling roves,
      • Amid the lone Hercynian groves,
      • Appear those countless birds of light,
      • That sparkle in the leaves at night,
      • And from their wings diffuse a ray
      • Along the traveller’s weary way.”
  • Apparently there’s a question of whether this creature, or a version of it, ever existed. Some birds have iridescent features that reflect moonlight, and it’s possible that people were seeing birds with bioluminescent fungi or bacteria
  • Ichneumon
    • Description: Another enemy of the dragon
    • This was a creature that, when it saw a dragon, would burrow into the mud, cover its nostrils with its tail, and then attack and kill the unaware dragon. Some people also claimed that it could also kill asps and crocodiles in the same way
    • It sounds like this was maybe a mongoose, or something rodent-like
    • One of the ichneumon’s special powers was that it could look at a medieval creature called the cockatrice without turning to stone
  • So let’s talk about the Cockatrice, also known as the basilisk
    • The description of a basilisk is: Its odor, voice and even look can kill
    • On the bestiary.ca page, the basilisk, or cockatrice, is shown a two-legged dragon with a rooster’s head. Though it can also be just a crested snake–it doesn’t necessarily need to have a rooster’s head, or be a rooster with a snake tail.
    • Pliny the Elder said that the basilisk was a foot long (though some people said 6 inches), and it had white markings on its head that looked like crown
    • The smell of the basilisk could kill snakes. It breathed fire out of its mouth, or beak, I guess, which could kill birds. Some accounts said that no matter how far away a bird was, if a basilisk looked at a bird, it would die.
    • And a human could be killed if the basilisk looked at them, or maybe if the human sees the basilisk’s eyes, depending on who’s telling the story. Pliny the Elder tells a story about the basilisk’s poison being so strong that a man speared a basilisk and then was killed when the poison travelled up his spear and got to him. The poison also killed his horse.
    • It can also kill just by hissing. So a very deadly creature.
    • The basilisk could only be killed by a weasel. You get the weasel, throw it into a basilisk’s den, and then basilisk is killed by the smell of the weasel at the same time as the weasel dies from the smell of the basilisk.
    • If you’ve ever been to Belvedere castle in Central park, there’s supposedly a cockatrice in the window over the doorway to that, though it looks more like a two-legged dragon, like a wyvern
    • some stories say that the basilsik was created by a rooster laying an egg and a toad incubating it, and it seems like they may have been seen as the same thing
    • There was also an ancient Egyptian story about how the eggs of the ibis should be destroyed because otherwise the poison of the snakes that ibis ate would create a hybrid snake-bird
    • Apparently you could prevent a cockatrice from hatching by tossing a cock’s egg over the house so it lands on the other side of the house without the egg hitting the house
    • And I looked it up, a cock egg is basically like an egg with no yolk, which younger chickens sometimes lay before they can lay normal eggs, but back in the day people assume that cocks were laying the egg
    • The cockatrice could kill people by looking at them, touching them, or breathing on them
    • Though the living basilisk is extremely deadly, the basilisk’s ashes were apparently very useful in alchemy, when transforming metals

 

 

Sources consulted RE: Weird Medieval Creatures

Websites

  • https://artsandculture.google.com/exhibit/fantastic-beasts-of-the-middle-ages/xQKCn9wmjCVVJg
  • https://www.abdn.ac.uk/bestiary/ms24/f57r
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caladrius
  • http://bestiary.ca/beasts/beast270.htm
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_books_of_hours
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_Hours,_Morgan_MS_493
    http://bestiary.ca/prisources/psdetail964.htm
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seps_(legendary_creature)
  • http://bestiary.ca/beasts/beast271.htm
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scitalis
  • http://bestiary.ca/beasts/beast552.htm
  • http://bestiary.ca/beasts/beast417.htm
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scotoplanes
  • http://bestiary.ca/beasts/beast532.htm
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cerasteshttp://bestiary.ca/beasts/beast422.htm
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Echeneis
  • https://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.02.0137%3Abook%3D9%3Achapter%3D41
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Remora#Mythologyhttp://bestiary.ca/beasts/beast539.htm
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hercinia
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hercynian_Forest
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aurochs
  • http://bestiary.ca/articles/anne_walshe/index.html
  • https://internetpoem.com/thomas-moore/a-dream-of-antiquity-poem/
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Moore
  • http://bestiary.ca/beasts/beast541.htm
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ichneumon_(medieval_zoology)
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yolkless_egg
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cockatrice
  • http://bestiary.ca/beasts/beast265.htm

Don’t miss past episodes:

The Moore-Jackson Cemetery, a colonial-era cemetery sits in a quiet residential part of Woodside, Queens, in New York City.

Forgotten for years, and even used as a dump for construction materials and other detritus, the Moore-Jackson Cemetery recently been transformed into a beautiful community garden. Here’s the story behind the cemetery and the people buried there.

Highlights include:
• Loyalists living in Revolutionary War-era Queens, NY
• The city trying to illegally seize the cemetery at the behest of a developer
• A hot-potato cemetery

Check out the Moore-Jackson Cemetery/Garden’s website for more info and historical articles: https://www.moorejacksonnyc.org/

Pictures of the Moore-Jackson Cemetery

Moore-Jackson Cemetery

Moore-Jackson Cemetery in Spring 2020

Moore-Jackson Cemetery

Moore-Jackson Cemetery in Spring 2020

Moore-Jackson Cemetery

Moore-Jackson Cemetery in Spring 2020

Moore-Jackson Cemetery

Moore-Jackson Cemetery in Spring 2020

Moore-Jackson Cemetery

Moore-Jackson Cemetery in Spring 2020

From the March 18, 1997, Landmark Preservation Commission report on Moore-Jackson Cemetery

From the March 18, 1997, Landmark Preservation Commission report on Moore-Jackson Cemetery

From the March 18, 1997, Landmark Preservation Commission report on Moore-Jackson Cemetery

From the March 18, 1997, Landmark Preservation Commission report on Moore-Jackson Cemetery

From the March 18, 1997, Landmark Preservation Commission report on Moore-Jackson Cemetery

From the March 18, 1997, Landmark Preservation Commission report on Moore-Jackson Cemetery

From the March 18, 1997, Landmark Preservation Commission report on Moore-Jackson Cemetery

From the March 18, 1997, Landmark Preservation Commission report on Moore-Jackson Cemetery

Episode Script for the Moore-Jackson Cemetery

DISCLAIMER: I’m providing this version of the script for accessibility purposes. It hasn’t been proofread, so please excuse typos. There are also some things that may differ between the final episode and this draft script. Please treat the episode audio as the final product. 

  • Back when I originally became aware of this cemetery, in 2012, this was a forgotten colonial cemetery easily mistaken for an empty lot, a few blocks away from my old apartment). Out of all of the abandoned cemeteries I’ve talked about so far for this series, this is the first one I learned about, totally by accident, and the one I spent the most time near. I walked by it twice a day 5 days a week on my way to and from the subway, since it’s on 54th street and 31st avenue in Woodside, a block or so away from the subway.
  • I remember shortly after I moved to Woodside, I was walking by what seemed like an empty lot, and then I realized there was a small sign on it that said Moore-Jackson Cemetery. It was completely overgrown, and it was really hard to see the headstones. It’s basically just sandwiched between some apartment buildings, and it’s really small, about half an acre.
  • Since then the cemetery has found a new life as a community garden and it looks really different–it’s great that it’s been cleaned up and is now both better maintained but also able to be a place for the community to have access to.
  • So let’s look at the history of this cemetery. First off, who were the Moores?
    • You will have heard of the Moores because Clement Clark Moore, a member of the family, wrote Twas the Night Before Christmas. Clement C. Moore was famous for having lived on his family estate, Chelsea, in Manhattan, though. Clement C. Moorewas not a great dude–as a professor at Columbia, he argued against abolition. He became very rich selling off parts of Chelsea, which of course became the neighborhood we now know today as Chelsea.
    • But the Moores we’re looking at today are the Queens Moores.
    • According to the 1920 book Queens Borough, New York City, 1910-1920, the Moores built a house at Broadway and what was then known as Shell Road, in 1661. I think that shell road is now 45th Avenue, according to something I read in Forgotten New York. The house was built by Captain Samuel Moore, who was the son of Reverend John Moore.
      • Reverend John Moore was the great-great-great grandfather of Clement C. Moore, btw.
      • John Moore apparently laid out the area of Newtown–when I read that, I  assumed that meant that he decided where the streets were, etc.
      • But it actually sounds like his “contribution” went beyond that. John Moore supposedly purchased the Newtown from the Mespeatches tribe, for whom the present-day neighborhood of Maspeth is named.
      • However, something to know here is that these sorts of “purchases” should be seen as very suspect. I’ve been doing some research on this and want to talk more about it on a future episode.
    • But to get back to the Moore home:
      • As of 1920, it was still standing, and still owned by the Moore family, though the Board of Transportation bought it in 1930.
      • I wanted to read a bit from a Forgotten New York article about the site:
        • “In the Dirty Thirties, NYC was relentless about bulldozing or otherwise destroying historic properties before preservation laws were on the books, and the Moore homestead didn’t survive the construction of the new IND subway under Broadway in 1933. . . . Meanwhile, two Moore burying grounds survive: a hidden one in a playground at 90th Street and 56th Avenue, and the Moore-Jackson Cemetery on 54th Street between 31st and 32nd Avenues in Woodside.”
  • Out of the two cemeteries, the one we’re interested in is the 54th street site.
    • The cemetery was established in 1733, and the final burial in the cemetery was in 1867. The Moores used to have a farm nearby, which Samuel Moore bought in 1684. The property had a farmhouse that stood from 1705-1901.
    • It’s the Moore family cemetery, but it’s called the Moore-Jackson Cemetery because a man named John Jackson married into the family. It sounds like he owned a lot of land so it really increased the family’s land holdings. Jackson wasn’t actually buried in Moore-Jackson cemetery, however: he’s buried in Elmhurst, Queens, in the churchyard of St. James Episcopal Church.
  • There’s a great Forgotten New York article from 2008 about the cemetery; I remember reading it when I first discovered this cemetery back in 2012. I wanted to read a bit from that:
    • “Moore-Jackson Cemetery’s condition has waxed and waned over the centuries. By the 1910s, Nathaniel Moore’s dictum that it not be sold was holding firm, but the burial ground had become a weed-filled dump.
    • The Queens Topographical Bureau surveyed the cemetery in 1919 and was able to locate 42 identifiable monuments, which were inscribed on a survey map that you can find reproduced in Woodside: A Historical Perspective by Catherine Gregory (Woodside on the Move, 1994). When construction of the houses you see above began in 1924 the cemetery was used as a rubbish dump. The NYC Department of Health ordered it cleaned of weeds and litter, and by then it was so overgrown that workers were amazed to discover headstones within. The chain link fence was erected in 1956, but the cemetery continued to be plagued by neglect at times. By the 1990s a more concerted effort was made and the cemetery’s condition has stabilized.”
  • There are definitely a number of recognizable names buried in this cemetery, which you may remember from previous episodes, such as members of the Rapelye family, and the Hallett family (of Hallett’s cove and Hallett’s point fame.) There are also Blackwells and Berrians buried there. Also, after  Nathaniel Moore, Jr, died in 1827, his son in law, Robert Blackwell, purchased the farm.
  • I wanted to read one inscription that I liked, from a brown stone that was listed as “poor” and “rotted” in a 1919 survey of the cemetery:
    • —YTON,—this life—1803;—4 months, 20 days.
    • Behold and see as you pass by
    • As you are now so once was I
    • As I am now so you must be
    • Prepare for death and follow me.
  • There’s a great NYT article from September 17, 2000, when Sheehan, the man who owns Lawrence Cemetery, which I talked about a few weeks ago, has some choice words to say about the Moore-Jackson Cemetery. So to read a bit from that:
    • “The Queens borough historian Stanley Cogan has a special interest in preserving family cemeteries, but he said he realized that obtaining financing for graveyard preservation was difficult. Several months ago, he got financing for a brief exploratory dig at the Jackson-Moore cemetery in Jackson Heights, which belonged to two wealthy families known for their loyalties to the English crown. When Mr. Sheehan heard about the dig, he was shocked. ”The Jackson-Moore cemetery is full of Tories,” he said. ”These people,” he added, gesturing to the tombstones in his graveyard, ”are American heroes.””
    • In fact, the house I was talking about earlier, the one that was levelled and made into a playground, was actually used as the Long Island headquarters of British General William Howe. I also read that the British General Clinton had his headquarters there, and that from there, he planned the invasion of Manhattan.
    • Also, Nathaniel Moore was accused of smuggling and stockpiling weapons that would be used against the Patriots.
    • I read somewhere that the patriots in Newtown all fled .
    • RE Maspeth (from a 1991 archaeological report prepared in order to build a sludge treatment plant in maspeth):
      • “During the Revolution considerable numbers of the people joined the loyalists, and the county was mostly in quiet possession of the enemy” (French 1860:545). “The village (of Maspeth] was of importance in the Revolutionary war; from the porch of the Old Queen’s Head tavern, which stood near the corner of Fifty-eight street and Maspeth Avenue, General Howe watched his troops embark triumphantly, after the Battle of Long Island, down Maspeth Creek for Manhattan” (WPA 1939: 579)
      •  “In summer and in winter the soldiers [British] spent their idle moments at the local tavern called the Queens Head. The Queens Head Tavern was located at the Maspeth Town Dock, on the south East corner of Maspeth Avenue and 57th Avenue, which was then Old Flushing Avenue. The tavern was built by the Township of Newtown, about 1720, and was rented to various tavern keepers over the years. During the Revolution it was owned by captain Peter Berton, who sold’ it in 1783 at the end of the British occupation. It was owned privately thereafter and survived to become an Amoco Gas Station in the 19305 before it was finally demolished” (Stankowski 1977: 29) 
  • What happened to the cemetery once the Moores abandoned it?
    • To read from another Forgotten New York article, this one from 1999:
      • Over the years, the burial ground fell into neglect. By the 1920s it was no longer maintained and was being used as a garbage dump. In the Thirties, workers from a nearby greenhouse refurbished the cemetery, restoring fallen stones and installing a chain link fence. Later that decade, though, the plot again became neglected.
  • I’d read that it was a WPA project that cleaned up the cemetery some; WPA workers tidied up the lot, arranged the headstones, etc.
  • I wanted to read some of a NEW YORK SUN article about the cemetery’s discovery, from, JULY 28, 1931:
    • “Down in an almost forgotten corner of Long Island City, overgrown with brush and tangled with ivy, William J. Reynolds of 31-18 Forty-second Street, recently uncovered a long-neglected family cemetery. The plot, which is hidden behind a greenhouse on the northwest corner of Fifty-fourth Street and Thirty-second Avenue, has lately become the receiving place for miscellaneous bits of rubbish, ranging all the way from broken flower pots to old automobile tires.
    • In all there may have been twenty stones in the little graveyard when the last member of the family was laid to rest but the years have left only have a dozen standing while a few others are half buried in the debris with their inscriptions hopelessly undecipherable.
    • The two earliest headstones, which were set in place a number of years before the signing of the Declaration of Independence see to tell a tragic story. They are two small, rough-hewn granite stones, not more than a foot high, one bearing the inscription, “A. M. Dy’d th, 23rd Nov’r, 1769” and the other, “M.W. Dy’d—1770.” Obviously the pair were children. The fact that the final initials of the names were different, and that the stones were placed side by side bespeaks romance. Unfortunately, one of the graves has recently been attacked by a ghoul.
    • . . .
    • A brown marker of more artistic workmanship than that of the Moores announces the resting place of Mary, the Wife of Abraham Berrian who departed this life the 13th of February, 1788. Below Mary begins to relate her woes. “Whereas I was blind and deaf…” Someone has broken off the bottom of the stone.
    • . . . One peculiar thing about the cemetery is that while it was a fixed custom in Colonial days to make all graves face toward the east, every grave in this plot faces the west. It is generally believed that the custom came from the Bible verse in Matthew xxiv 27 “For as the lightning cometh out of the east and shineth even to the west…so shall also the coming of the Son of Man be.”
    • All efforts to identify the Moore, Berrian, and Rapelye families have only gone to show that they came of gentleman farmer stock and were pioneers in the settlement of Long Island. It probably may be safely assumed that they were related in some way to Dr. John Berrian Riker, personal friend of George Washington and surgeon on his staff, who is buried less than two miles away in the Riker family plot on the corner of Steinway Avenue and North Beach. “
  • I gotta read from another article, which I found hilarious, which was printed in the LONG ISLAND DAILY PRESS, FRIDAY, APRIL 10, 1936. One note: Boulevard Gardens is a really nice condo complex right near the cemetery. So to read from the article:
    • “Oh yes,” say the people who live in Boulevard Gardens, the swell new Federal Housing apartments at 30th Avenue and 54th Street, Woodside. “There’s the funniest little old cemetery down the street from us. Why some of the stones are hundreds, actually HUNDREDS of years old! There’s one from 1769. Can you imagine that?”
    • That and then some!
    • The funny little cemetery is the Moore family cemetery and the first burial was probably made there before 1700!
    • It doesn’t look the way it used to look, and the 20 neat gravestones in their neat little rows certain do NOT mark the graves of the early settlers whose names they bear, but the Moore Cemetery has been luckier than most of the small family burying grounds in Queens.
      The plot was neglected for many years. The stones were snapped off. Many of them lay on their faces in the mud among the few straggly pine trees that remained to guard them. But recently, at the suggestion of the Queens Topographical Bureau, the cemetery ground has been regraded so that it is now at street level instead of several feet below it, and the stones have been repaired and set up again.
      The fact that they aren’t where they used to be shouldn’t make any difference. There’s nothing left of a body after a couple of hundred years.
      The cemetery looks bare and ugly now because the work has just been finished but grass will be planted this summer and sooner or later there will be a fence. (We hope).
      It should be saved, not only for itself but because it is the only tangible thing left in its locality to remind the world that this was one of the most important places on Long Island during the Revolution.
      The dry land around the Moore Cemetery narrowed down a few yards away (near the car barns on Northern Boulevard) to a tongue of land called the Narrow Passage.
      On either side of the Narrow Passage were almost impassable swamps and the road across it was the only north shore route between the East River and the settlements at Newtown and Jamaica. Jamaica Avenue, of course, was the other important road connecting the Queens villages with the East River.
      The Narrow Passage was well guarded by the British and the Moore homestead, which stood a stone’s throw from the cemetery, became the headquarters of Lieutenant-General Sir Henry Clinton after the Battle of Long Island.
      The old stone house was torn down some time between 1887 and the present time.
      The last time it was mentioned in local newspapers was when William O’Gorman, columnist for the Newtown Register, paid it a visit in the summer of 1887. He said: “The old house bears the pressure of the years with difficulty.”
      The farmhouse was built in 1681 by Samuel Moore, son of the Rev. John Moore, first minister of Newtown and found of the famous Long Island Moore family. It had “solid sashed” windows, double doors, fine chimney piecs, and fireplaces,” but it was already falling to pieces 49 years ago.”
  • At one point, the city tired to illegally seize the cemetery at the urging of a developer who wanted to build something on the lot. To read from a New York Daily News article from July 12, 1956:
    • “There were red faces in high places yesterday as city officials tried to explain how Pa Knick happened to take over Woodside’s historic Moore-Jackson Cemetery in a delinquent tax action on July 16, 1954. Queens records clearly show the old private burial ground has been tax exempt for more than 200 years.
    • Children now play among the weed-grown and debris-littered graves of at least 42 members of prominent early Long Island families buried in pre-Revolutionary through Civil War days.
    • Once lonely farmland carved from the wilderness, the cemetery now is highly desirable real estate in a wel-built-up area of homes and apartments.
    • . . . “You can be assured workers from Queens Borough Hall will visit the property immediately and clean it up,” he tersely stated in ending the interview.
    • Those city workers will have quite a job removing rusty cans, broken bottles and other junk, and clearing up the overgrown weeds.
    • Through the years, most of the headstones have been destroyed or stolen by vandals and eroded by weather. Only 16 broken, badly defaced markers, some mere weather-beaten fragments of fieldstone, marble or brownstone, still stand.
    • Sadly enough, even these are not above the graves they once marked. that’s because of “tidying up” done by WPA workmen in the mid-30s, according to two 30-year residents of the area.
    • Both recall the workers carefully gathered headstones knocked down or broken by storms and ghouls, and neatly arranged them upright in a section about 40 by 50 feet in the cemetery’s southeast corner, adjoining 54th Street. This is about 132 feed north of the intersection of 54th Street and 32nd Avenue.
    • . . . Several concrete posts then erected around this small section now bear traces of only a few rusty links to show they once were joined by a heavy iron chain.
    • As a result, neighborhood residents gradually have come to regard the tiny corner area as the cemetery. Only a very few remember there are graves in all parts of the cemetery, since none now are marked. “
  • “City-Owned Graveyards Get Brushoff, Not Brush” PUBLISHED BY NEW YORK DAILY NEWS, SEPTEMBER 7, 1956
    • “Pa Knickerbocker is stuck with two historic but neglected Queens cemeteries he doesn’t know whether it is the job of Sanitation or Park Department workers or perhaps highway maintenance men to clean these city-owned burying grounds. S, despite the city’s recent drive to have property owners clear rubbish and weeds from privately-owned vacant lots, the old tax-free private burial grounds seized by the city in delinquent tax actions in 1954 are eyesores today. . . .
    • Last February, when The News called the weed-grown, littered condition of Moore-Jackson Cemetery to the attention of Benjamin Cymrot, executive director of the Board of Estimates’s Bureau of Real Estate, he ordered it cleaned up by Queens Borough workers. They mowed, rakes and hauled away junk until the cemetery looked as spic and span as the public parking lot opened right next to it last fall.
    • But rumblings in Queens then indicated Cymrot might lack authority continually to assign borough workmen to care for Moore-Jackson Cemetery.
    • Today children play among high weeds hiding 16 broken, badly defaced markers, some only pathetic weather-beaten fragments of brownstone, marble or fieldstone. Standing in the southeast corner of the old graveyard, these are all vandals and weather erosion have left of 42 headstones which in 1919 marked graves in all parts of the rectangular 100×200 ft. cemetery. “
  • In the 1950s, a chain link fence was put up around the cemetery to keep vandals out; I think that’s the fence that’s still there today.
  • Who Owns the Moore Cemetery? PUBLISHED BY LONG ISLAND DAILY PRESS, JUNE 15, 1966
    • “Will the real owner of the Moore Cemetery in Woodside please stand up?
    • So far, no one is standing, not even the City of New York. The last time the city put in a claim to the history family plot was in 1954 when it took over the cemetery because of non-payment of taxes.
    • The only trouble is that taxes are not necessary on cemetery land.
    • The search for the owners of the plot, covered by dense weeds and litter on 54th Street between 31st and 32nd Avenues, was begun after Boy Scout Troop 32 in Woodside volunteered to clear th grounds of the weeds and rubbish.
    • “Look at that,” declared Troop Chairman Frank Mathieu, pointing to the land. “That should be cleared up and we would like to do it. But we first want to obtain permission and we don’t know to whom to turn.”
    • A check of the files revealed the Department of Real Estate had taken over the property after it had illegally reverted back to the city for failure to pay the taxes.
    • “But we don’t own it any more,” said a spokesman for the department. “Actually the city never took title to the property.”
    • “Who owns it now?” he was asked. “Did it revert back to the Moore family that settled on Long Island in 1652?”
    • “It’s possible,” he said, “but we really don’t know for certain.”
    • The corporation counsel’s office, we were told, “has all the records.”
    • “I’m not a walking encyclopedia,” remarked a spokesman for the corporation counsel’s office.
    • “It would be a ticklish and painstaking job to track down the owners of the land,” he said. “It might even be impossible to come to a conclusion.”
    • He said it is possible the Moore descendants now have a legal right to the land.
    • The spokesman also declared that the Boy Scouts would be taking a risk if they choose to clean up the plot without permission.
    • “They could be sued for trespassing,” he said. “They shouldn’t take that chance.”
    • A spokesman for the State Division of Cemeteries said that someone has title to the plot.
    • “But that doesn’t mean they’re identifiable,” he said. “It could be difficult tracking them down.”
    • However, he did say that the Boy Scouts should not hesitate to clean up the grounds if they wish.
    • “The risk would be minimal,” he said. Anyone wanting to sue them would have to prove that they are causing damage to the grounds,” he said. “And the only one who can chase them is the one who has a right to the cemetery.””
  • Nobody to Claim Woodside Burial Ground PUBLISHED BY LONG ISLAND PRESS, May 12, 1974
    • “How do you turn a $150,000 piece of vacant property into a money-making proposition.
    • If it’s a private cemetery, the answer is apparently you can’t.
    • That is one reason why no one can find the owners of the Moore-Jackson Cemetery in Woodside. Not even the City of New York will lay claim to the land.
    • . . . Since then, several searches and an extensive investigation by a history buff have failed to determine the record title or ownership of the property.
    • According to Irving Saltzman, assistant corporation counsel in charge of the title bureau, the Moore-Jackson Cemetery has in fact been abandoned as a cemetery.
    • The answer to what happens next to the land, however, has become lost in a morass of legal complexities.
    • . . . For years the land was covered by brush and weeds, but recently a third-grade class from nearby P.S. 151 cleaned up the area. Last week the Department of Sanitation carted away 80 bags of rubbish.
    • According to Saltzman, if a descendant of any of the persons buried there could be found and that descendant laid claim to the property, even if it was held that the descendant owned the property, it would still be for burial purposes only.
    • “It is clearly established in this state that the ownership of a burial plot carries with it merely the right of interment and certain other collateral rights arising therefrom,” he explained in a memorandum.
    • “Since the owner of a burial plot himself only takes an easement or license, and has no ownership right in the land on which the plot is located, it can hardly be argued that a descendant of the owner of such a plot can claim greater rights.”
    • . . . Since it has been established that Nathaniel Moore had been found guilty of treason during the American Revolution and his land abandoned, the Moore-Jackson Cemetery, as part of that land, would revert back to the state, Saltzman concluded.
    • “Should the state claim title to the land,” however, he added, “it would have the responsibility of maintaining the cemetery as such.”
    • So far, neither the city nor the state has show interest in the tiny strip of land. Only a history buff and a group of third-graders, on the even of their country’s bicentennial, seem to care. “
  • Amateur digs out lost title of cemetery PUBLISHED BY LONG ISLAND PRESS, May 23, 1976
    • “After almost four years of research, leg work and detecting, an amateur historian has concluded that the Penn Central Railroad most likely owns an overgrown but historic cemetery.
    • Eugene Cafaro, 39, of Corona, has conducted a title search for four years to find the owners of the Moore-Jackson Cemetery in Woodside because he wants to have the cemetery—which dates back to at least 1733 and may go as far back as the late 1600s—declared a landmark.  And according to a spokesman for the New York City Landmarks Preservation Committee, that can only be done when there is a clear title.
    • The path to the title ownership of the cemetery was a convoluted one and Cafaro said that, even now, title is not fully cleared except in a negative sense. however, that may be enough.
    • Cafaro followed several false leads before finding what now appears to be the right path. At first, he thought the property had been taken over by the state, since Nathaniel Moore, the first man who owned the property, was a notorious Tory during the Revolutionary War and much of the property held by Loyalists was confiscated following the British defeat.
    • But that lead petered out and Cafaro went to work trying to find descendants of either the Moore or Jackson families in hopes that they might have papers showing title. That also produced no results.
    • So Cafaro started the laborious process of searching through all the sales of property of the Moore farm, and found it was bought by Charles A. Kneeland. Kneeland, in turn, conveyed it to John A. Mecke in April, 1863.
    • After Mecke’s death, his widow, Julia, sold the property to Henry G. Schmidt and Co. on Sept. 18, 1867. The land deed included a reference to “the burying grounds.”
    • In 1871, the land was then conveyed to the Bricklayers Cooperative. But then came a huge gap in time.
    • Cafaro began tracing the records, and finally found a reference to the original deed in the file of Stuyvesant Real Estate, which conveyed part of the property, but not the cemetery grounds, to the N.Y. Connecting Railroad in 1947.
    • A search by the Corona man for records of the rest of the property proved futile, with no record existing that Stuyvesant ever divested themselves of the rest of the land.
    • In 1955, Stuyvesant merged with a company called Manor Real Estate. And Manor Real Estate is one of the prime real estate holding companies of Penn Central.
    • A spokesman for Penn Central said the giant railroad firm would have to conduct its own title search to determine whether it did, in fact, own title to the cemetery. The spokesman said that could take two months of more.
    • The property is tax-exempt, but the 140-by-100-foot strip of land is listed as assessed as $40,000, and is worth at least $150,000 as a piece of real estate if used for development.
    • But if Cafaro has his way, the cemetery between 51st and 54th Streets will remain a cemetery. He said that, unless otherwise prevented, the owners of the property could get permission to exhume the remains and then do whatever they wished with the land.
    • “I want to see the cemetery declared a landmark,” Cafaro said. And he is prepared to take the Landmarks Preservation Commission to court, if necessary, to get the land so designated.
    • If the cemetery is declared a landmark, by law it must be maintained in the state in which it currently exists. Responsibility for maintaining the property falls on the title-holder and if Penn Central does in fact own title it would have to take care of the cemetery.
    • The only problem the 39-year-old amateur historian and title-searcher has now is getting the Landmarks Preservation to accept the cemetery for designation.
    • Beverly Moss Spatt, chairman of the commission, said it would be happy to consider the cemetery, provided there was a clear title and it is in good condition. But the cemetery—the object of only occasional cleanups by local schools and volunteer groups—is now in a state of disrepair.
    • “In its present state, we would be unable to consider it for designation,” Mrs. Spatt said. . . .
    • Cafaro, asked why he has so singlehandedly pursued his search for the missing title holder to the cemetery for four years of his life, said, “I guess I owe the cemetery.”
    • In fact, he probably does. A high school dropout at age 15, his interest in the cemetery got him interested in history, and in further education. After becoming involved in the cemetery title search, he received a high school equivalency certificate and went on to LaGuardia Community College to study for a degree in history.
    • “It’s something I have to do,” he said. “
  • In 1997, the cemetery became a New York City landmark.
  • According to the 1997 landmark report, someone had an herb garden near the center of the cemetery in the late 90s and found tombstone fragments while creating that garden. So least in the 1990s, there were paving stones, a bird bath, and a little garden in the cemetery, but by the time I moved to the neighborhood in 2012 that seemed to be gone, or so overgrown that you couldn’t actually see it.
  • Today, the cemetery is owned by the Queens Historical Society, and it’s maintained by a grassroots group that’s turned it into a beautiful community garden in 2017-2018. I think the idea is that the growing areas are where the farmhouse once was on the property.

 

Sources consulted RE: the Moore-Jackson Cemetery

Books

Websites

  • https://www.moorejacksonnyc.org/
  • Landmark report:
    http://www.neighborhoodpreservationcenter.org/db/bb_files/1997Moore-JacksonCemetry.pdf
  • Archaeological report about Maspeth from 1991: http://s-media.nyc.gov/agencies/lpc/arch_reports/584.pdf
  • https://www.nycgovparks.org/parks/moore-homestead-playground
  • https://forgotten-ny.com/2017/08/maspeth-1852/
  • https://archive.org/details/queensboroughnew00chamrich/page/n3/mode/2up
  • https://www.shinnecocknation.com/shinnecock/
  • The archeological history of New York by Parker, Arthur Caswell, 1881-1955: https://archive.org/details/archeologicalhis02parkrich/page/476/mode/2up
  • General archaeological report page: https://www1.nyc.gov/site/lpc/about/archaeology.page
  • “A Seventeenth-Century Fireplace at Maspeth, Long Island” Solecki: https://www.jstor.org/stable/24531641?seq=1
  • https://www.nytimes.com/2000/09/17/nyregion/neighborhood-report-astoria-an-aging-custodian-worries-about-a-historic-cemetery.html
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clement_Clarke_Moore
  • https://boulevardgardens.nyc/history
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Benjamin_Moore_(bishop)
  • https://forgotten-ny.com/2008/12/moore-jackson-cemetery/
  • https://www.nycgovparks.org/parks/moore-homestead-playground/history
  • https://forgotten-ny.com/2013/03/state-historical-markers-in-new-york-city-part-2/
  • https://forgotten-ny.com/2020/09/hellgate-ferry-road-part-2/
  • https://forgotten-ny.com/2018/05/astoria-sweep/
  • https://forgotten-ny.com/2018/02/woodside-1852/
  • https://forgotten-ny.com/2018/07/maspeth-elmhurst-1852/
  • https://forgotten-ny.com/2013/06/the-old-shell-road-elmhurst/
  • https://forgotten-ny.com/2013/03/state-historical-markers-in-new-york-city-part-2/
  • https://forgotten-ny.com/2010/08/woodside-tour/
  • https://forgotten-ny.com/2009/01/broadway-in-queens-part-2/
  • https://forgotten-ny.com/1999/01/hidden-cemeteries-dead-reckoning/
  • https://sites.google.com/view/moorejacksoncemetery/home?authuser=0
  • https://queenshistoricalsociety.org/moore-jackson-cemetery/
  • https://sites.google.com/view/moorejacksoncemetery/home?authuser=0
  • https://sites.google.com/view/moorejacksoncemetery/cemetery/historical-timeline?authuser=0
  • https://sites.google.com/view/moorejacksoncemetery/cemetery/documentspublications?authuser=0#h.p_zkfUAuCmWSYE
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moore-Jackson_Cemetery
  • https://www.dnainfo.com/new-york/20171011/woodside/moore-jackson-cemetery-cleanup-queens-historical-society/
  • https://www.scoutingny.com/the-cemetery-on-the-old-farm-in-queens/
  • https://history.pmlib.org/longislandhistory/longislandindianhistory
  • https://www.newsday.com/long-island/long-island-our-story-1.27833558

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