The Merchant’s House Museum, where I worked for almost 20 years, has a reputation for being the most haunted house in New York City. There are several things about this historic house museum that distinguish it from other historic houses that encourage the ghosts to make their presence known.
First of all, only one family lived there for almost 100 years. The baby born in the house in 1840 died in an upstairs bedroom in 1933. Thus there is no confusion caused by a lot of unrelated departed individuals vying for attention.
And this is key—the house is still furnished with their furniture and decorative objects. Their personal possessions are still there, including their clothing. Even the textiles—the draperies, the upholstery, the carpet, are exact reproductions of what was there at mid nineteenth century.
And sometimes strange things happen
Visitors and staff have over the years reported inexplicable events. Apparitions in 19th century costume and hair styles appear suddenly. Objects are moved from their accustomed places without the intervention of a living person. Footsteps are heard on the stairs by an office worker working late, although no one else is in the house.
However, I am a ghost skeptic.
I am not too vocal about my misgivings because I realize that many people find it entertaining and exciting to think that the house is haunted and I don’t want to spoil the fun. It’s not that I don’t believe these strange events have happened; I just believe there is an alternative explanation.
When visitors ask if there are ghosts
My standard reply when I used to give tours was “Of course, that is the whole point.” The Merchant’s House offers guided tours, but visitors are also free to explore the house on their own for as long as they like with a self-guided tour book. It is then, in my opinion, that the real ghosts are likely to emerge. They are not scary; they are not even particularly mysterious. But if you just stand quietly and stare at their things, you will feel their presence beside you.
Here is the coal grate they stood before to warm themselves.
Here are the chairs they sat in.
Here is the table they sat around.
And as you climb the very stairway they climbed to make their way to bed, with your hand touching the stair rail their hands touched, one of them leads the way.
Here are the beds where they rested—and sometimes died.
Here is the window they looked out of.
Here are the mirrors that reflected their faces.
Of course you can never completely pierce the veil, but you will never come closer to knowing what life was like in the nineteenth century than you do at the Merchant’s House, and that is because, as they say, it is the most haunted house in New York City.
Unfortunately, this year because of COVID-19. the Merchant’s House has had to cancel their in-person ghost events and the popular candlelit ghost tours. But if you like to ruminate about ghostly happenings, go here and you will find several virtual events you might be interested in, including a summary of the paranormal studies of the House that are now taking place.