The House of Death

Posted on November 1, 2015

The House of Death – Greenwich Village

Unassuming brownstone in the heart of Greenwich hides a dark and scary past.

The House of Death, located on 14 West 10th Street. The House of Death, located on 14 West 10th Street.

Image Source: Daytoninmanhanttan.blogspot.com

When a property is deemed “The House of Death,” you know there’s bound to be at least one gut-wrenching story attached to it!

This beautiful, Greek Revivalist brownstone is located in one of New York’s most picturesque neighborhoods, Greenwich Village. Built in 1856, The House of Death was the home to many of the city’s elite, including the wife of James Boorman Johnston, the founder of the Metropolitan Underground Railroad and the Broadway Underground Railroad. James Boorman Johnston also helped to establish a library, reading room, and gallery of art in New York City. After he died, his wealthy widow1 moved their daughters into The House of Death in the 1880s.

The eye-catching, red exterior of the house. The eye-catching, red exterior of the house.

Image Source: TimeOut

Many other famous aristocrats would live at 14t West 10th Street after it left the hands of the Boorman family. In 1897, cyclist Fred H. Andrew became its new owner. Bad luck for the home seems to begin with Andrew’s residency. A moment of “reckless bicycle riding2 caused him to collide with an eight-year old boy. The poor lad broke his leg, and Andrew was arrested. The house was deemed cursed a few years later.

But the house’s most famous tenant was Mark Twain. The acclaimed American author, whose real name is Samuel Clemens, moved into The House of Death three years after Andrew did. Twain lived at the house for one year. During his stay, Twain battled financial troubles and depression. Local lore tells of Twain, a die-hard ghost skeptic, having a very paranormal experience in his new home. One night, he saw a piece of kindling move by itself. Thinking it was a rat, he shot at the piece of wood. It promptly dropped to the floor, along with a few drops of blood. Though there were no signs of rats in the building, Twain insisted that the blood was from a rodent, and not from a ghost.

Mark Twain, aka Samuel L. Clemens. Mark Twain, aka Samuel L. Clemens.

Image Source: Wikipedia

Ironically, Twain is said to still roam The House of Death. Residents have reported seeing his apparition walking up and down the stairwell, which is considered to be the most haunted portion of the home. Disembodied footsteps are also heard throughout other vacant portions of the house.

One famous Twain encounter happened in the 1930s. In 1937, the home was renovated and turned into a co-op consisting of ten apartments. Shortly after the building’s transformation, a mother and her daughter came across Twain’s ghost sitting by a window. He approached the two, saying “My name is Clemens, and I has a problem here I gotta settle.3 He disappeared into thin air moments later. What he needed to settle, no one knows. Why Twain, who did not die in the house, appears so frequently there in spirit form also remains a mystery. Not having died in The House of Death, why his spirit appeared there remains a mystery.

The famous American author in 1909. The famous American author in 1909.

Image Source: Wikipedia

In 1957, actress, writer, and psychic Jan Bryant Bartell and her daughter moved into the apartment on the house’s top floor, which was once the servants’ quarters. According to Bartell, “a monstrous moving shadow4 would always follow her around the house. She also once reported of seeing a spectral figure of a man in the hallway. When she reached out to touch him, she felt this figure was, as she described, “A substance without substance. Chilly, damp. Diaphanous as marsh mist or a cloud of ether. I could feel my fingers freeze at the tips. They were numb, and yet they tingled. In the split second between contact and recoil, the scent came. Fragile and languorous. And sweet; unbearably, cloyingly sweet.5 This strange scent would was among the many pungent odors the Bartell family would smell during their time at The House of Death. Rotten food not purchased by them would spontaneously appear at the dinner table. Their pets would also often growl at invisible enemies in the building.

Bartell hired a “paranormal expert6 to look into what could be behind these terrifying experiences. The investigator confirmed what many had believed all along. He said that there were some twenty-two ghosts presiding at The House of Death. Besides Mark Twain, these included a woman dressed in white, a young girl, and a gray cat. After learning about all of this, Bartell decided to pen a manuscript documenting her experiences with the paranormal at 14 West 10th Street. In Spindrift: Spray from a Psychic Sea, she recounts what it’s like to live in a possessed house.

Spindrift ("The Most Terrifying Book You Will Ever Read!") Spindrift (“A Spinechiller!”)

Image Source: Flickr

Besides being followed by a “monstrous moving shadow,” Bartell also experienced strange visions and heard many unexplained noises in the house. Here’s a piece from the jacket of Spindrift:

Like a game of Ten Little Indians, deaths began to occur in the house. The first to die was a dog, Jan’s own beloved Penelope. But within twenty-four hours, she was to learn of the death of the first human tenant. Whether by heart attacks, suicide or murder, the deaths came in rapid succession…. In terror, with nine little Indians gone, the Bartells moved far away from Greenwich Village. But the haunting followed them. After the completion of Spindrift, Jan Bartell became the tenth.”7

Mere weeks after writing the original manuscript, Bartell died under what are still considered mysterious circumstances. Her unexplained death further supported that The House of Death was cursed. But many people were still skeptical – deaths go unsolved all the time. But after 1987, few doubters remained. On November 2, 1987, New York City’s experienced its own Amityville Horror-like story at The House of Death. Indeed, the murder of Lisa Nussbaum has a plot more twisted than some of Hollywood’s most acclaimed horror flicks.

"The House of Terror" made headlines. “The House of Terror” made headlines.

Image Source: NY Daily News

Around 6:40 AM, 9-11 operators got a pressing phone call from children’s author and editor, Hedda Nussbaum. She said that her six-year old8 daughter, Lisa, wasn’t breathing, so an ambulance was sent to her Greenwich residence right away. When the paramedics arrived, they were greeted by a very disturbing scene. They found Lisa lying naked and unresponsive on the kitchen floor, and her brother, Mitchell, tied to a playpen and soaked in his own urine. Nussbaum herself was covered with bruises and had several broken bones. Investigators also discovered9 marijuana, cocaine, hashish, over twenty crack pipes, and $25,000 in cash at the apartment.

Little Lisa Steinberg, who died at just six years of age. Little Lisa Steinberg.

Image Source: MoviePilot

Unfortunately, they were unable to revive little Lisa at the hospital. An autopsy revealed that she had died from repeated blunt-force trauma to the head. Nussbaum and Lisa’s father, lawyer Joel Steinberg, were arrested and charged with murder. It is believed that after a cocaine binge, Steinberg abused both his wife and Lisa. He was found guilty of second-degree manslaughter and sent to prison. His wife was able to avoid conviction in exchange for her testimony against Steinberg. After he was released in 200410, Steinberg took up jobs in construction. Like the haunted mansion in the infamous Amityville Horror film, The House of Death has been the home of a real-life monster!

The events in The House of Death soon seeped into a neighboring home as well. In this complex, people have noticed flickering lights, as well as a spectral female figure in a long gown. One resident, a photographer, had seen her float through doors for twenty years. He says that ghosts have scared away subjects for his work.

The House of Death and its surrounding buildings. The House of Death and its surrounding buildings.

Image Source: Flavor Pill

This unassuming, classic brownstone, situated near beautiful Washington Square in Greenwich Village with scary, and sometimes sad, stories revolving around the House of Death only prove you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover.

The building is currently under private ownership, and legends of paranormal activity continue to circulate about The House of Death. The most haunted part of the house is said to be the stairwell, where many of the ghosts make an appearance.  Indeed, this unassuming, classic brownstone proves that you should never judge a book by its cover!

Works Cited

1. “Mark Twain, Tragedy and Ghosts – No. 14 West 10th Street.” Daytoninmanhattan.blogspot.com. 15 April 2011. Web. 31 October 2015. Para. 4.

2. “Mark Twain, Tragedy and Ghosts – No. 14 West 10th Street.” Daytoninmanhattan.blogspot.com.15 April 2011. Web. 31 October 2015. Para. 6.

3. Donnelly, Tim. “Terror on 10th street.” New York Post. 28 October 2012. Web. 31 October 2015. Para. 7.

4. Donnelly, Tim. “Terror on 10th street.” New York Post. 28 October 2012. Web. 31 October 2015. Para. 1.

5. Donnelly, Tim. “Terror on 10th street.” New York Post. 28 October 2012. Web. 31 October 2015. Para. 20.

6. Donnelly, Tim. “Terror on 10th street.” New York Post. 28 October 2012. Web. 31 October 2015. Para. 21.

7. Janes, Andrea. “The weirdest *$%#-ing book EVER.” Spinster Aunt, “I Medicate With Fiction.” Bourbonandtea.blogspot.com. 16 November 2009. Web. 31 October 2015. Para. 2.

8. Mehren, Elizabeth. “A 6-Year-Old’s Tragic Death.” Los Angeles Times. 25 November 1987. Web. 31 October 2015. Para. 2.

9. Mehren, Elizabeth. “A 6-Year-Old’s Tragic Death.” Los Angeles Times. 25 November 1987. Web. 31 October 2015. Para. 6.

10. “NEW YORK’S HOUSE OF DEATH.” Sjhstrangetales.wordpress.com. 28 May 2015. Web. 31 October 2015. Para. 6.