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Spooky Spots in Manhattan

08/14/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Warn your dog walker not to take your pooch to the Central Park Ramble. Advise your (depressed) friends not to stay at the Hotel Chelsea. And whether or not you have smallpox, steer clear of the abandoned smallpox hospital on Roosevelt Island. These scary places are among five haunted locations in Manhattan:

Renwick, Roosevelt Island's abandoned smallpox hospital

Floodlit after dark, the ruins of the hospital can be seen from the FDR Drive, looming across the East River. Roosevelt Island, formerly Blackwell's Island, was also home to the Octagon Women's Lunatic Asylum (where early 1900's rebel journalist Nellie Bly went undercover); a penitentiary whose inmates often worked as smallpox hospital nurses; and to the Strecker Laboratory for bacteriological research and autopsy-performing.

After it was abandoned in the 1950's, Renwick entered New York lore as a haunted place. If you visit, you'll see signs warning that it is in danger of caving in completely. It is currently being restored, and nighttime guards prevent people from going near.

Old St. Patrick's Cathedral, 263 Mulberry St.

The haunting at Old St. Patrick's Cathedral is subtle and benevolent, maybe even beneficial. It comes in part from the cathedral's cemetery, hidden from Mulberry Street view by a tall brick wall built in the 1800's to ward off rock-throwing Protestants during New York's gang wars.

Inside the Cathedral, echoes makes motorcycles outside sound like banshees. When there aren't motorcycles, the silence is eerie, and if you have a stuffed nose, your echoing breath will make you sound like Darth Vader. If it seems no more haunted than any other old cathedral, that's because you don't know about the church's secret catacombs. Underneath the church lies a crypt opened only once a year, the resting place of many former St. Patrick's Cathedral bishops and Tammany Hall politicians.

Most famously, runaway-slave-turned-hairdresser Pierre Touissant (recently ordained a saint) was interred there before being moved to St. Patrick's Cathedral on 5th Avenue. .. According to Long Island Paranormal Investigators, the ghosts of Pierre Touissant and one Bishop DuBois loiter in the cemetery on a regular basis.

Morris-Jumel Mansion, Harlem


Built in 1764, the Morris-Jumel Mansion is the oldest house in New York City and is listed on the National Register of Historic Haunted Places. Its main ghost is that of Eliza Jumel, who lived there from 1810 until her death in 1865. This wraith of a colonial babe has no qualms about scaring even innocent schoolchildren. The story goes that in January 1964, kids on a class trip to the mansion were waiting outside to enter, when a purple-gowned lady appeared on the balcony and told them to "shush!"

The woman then went off in a huff, straight through a solid wood wall. Before she was a ghost, Eliza Jumel was a prostitute and actress. She partied with powerful white-wigged men like Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, and Aaron Burr, who she married after her first husband's death. Burr supposedly helps her haunt the mansion.

The Hotel Chelsea

This place is so haunted that bassist Dee Dee Ramone (of the Ramones) wrote a novel called Chelsea Horror Hotel, in which the hotel's resident demons, including punk ghosts and Satanists in the basement, literally annoy the narrator to death. The Hotel Chelsea is where Nancy Spungen, Sex Pistol front man Sid Vicious' girlfriend, was found dead of knife wounds; where poet Dylan Thomas died of alcohol poisoning; and where writer Charles Jackson committed suicide. The elevator is said to often break down on the first floor, thanks to the ghosts of Sid and Nancy.

The Ramble at Night

The Ramble is the densely wooded area of Central Park around 77th Street, near Belvedere Castle. Come nightfall, it goes from being the city's top bird-watching destination to one of its most haunted places. The Ramble at night is poorly lit and the paths are narrow and often flanked by swamp mud. In high school, cops rescued two of my friends found roaming the Ramble after dark, telling them a restaurant delivery man had his fingernails yanked out there a week before. The cops took them home in a patrol car.