Most people don’t associate the Bronx as a place connected to paranormal activity, having haunted houses, or deep and dark secrets connected to the supernatural. But there are plenty of old estates built on vast landscapes that were once farmland during the Colonial or industrial age, and plenty of places where tragedies have fostered apparitions who cannot gain closure and remain in a state of purgatory. We’ll visit a few of these places and discuss how these locations became haunted and the scary things that take place there, and who—or what—still walks those grounds today (and we’re not talking about the current tenants or groundskeepers).
Jonas Bronck—the namesake of the region—arrived in the so-called ‘New World’ from the Netherlands in 1638 and established his farm and estate in the region near 132nd Street and Lincoln Avenue. But long before his boots hit these shores, Native Americans had already settled and carved out a homeland here, and it wouldn’t be long before the immigrants and natives clashed with the eventual bloody takeover of native lands by the new settlers. But things would never be the same in the Bronx as the karma of those times continue to echo today in strange and unexplained ways. Here are a few horrific tidbits to whet your Halloween season whistle:
Van Cortlandt Park This vast public parkland has long been a site where ongoing supernatural activity has been reported for centuries. The land was once inhabited by the Wiechquaskeck Lenapes (AKA Delaware Indians). The region was later owned by Jacobus Van Cortlandt, who utilized the 1,146-acres as a grain plantation and grist mill and gained great wealth as a result. Van Cortlandt also served as the 30th and 33rd Mayor of New York City (1710-1711 / 1719-1720, respectively). On August 31, 1774, at the height of the American Revolutionary War, over 40 Indians and 17 other Stockbridge natives were slaughtered in an ambush in what has come to be known as The Stockbridge Massacre. The atrocity was committed by the Queen’s Rangers, a military unit loyal to Britain, on the Van Cortlandt homestead. The bodies were subsequently buried in the northwest corner of the park, and many believe that the relentless paranormal activity taking place on these wooded grounds is a result of this massacre. The Van Cortlandt House proper is also said to be an active hotbed of ghost activity, where dolls in the children’s room move or are frequently found in another part of the estate although no one has moved them. Whispering voices and repetitive melodic chants are also heard speaking in a language that cannot be made out.
Fordham University (Various Halls) The Bronx’s largest college campus. Built on grounds of old Rose Hill Manor, and a former hospital torn down in the 1830s, where ghostly paranormal activity has been frequently reported by the students and faculty of the prestigious college over the years. Many disused tunnels still connect buildings. The paranormal activity there is off-the-hook and includes (as reported):
At O’Hare Hall Students and faculty have reported seeing the ghost that is believed to be a worker who was killed during the building’s construction and is said to walk the halls and bang on the walls.
Keating Hall This portion of the University has seen a lot of activity. In the basement, thought to be built over an old morgue’s tunnels, a security guard witnessed doors slam shut by themselves and chairs hurl themselves against a wall. On the first floor, which has a display of historical items, witnesses have reported cold spots, shadowy figures and a feeling of being watched. On the third floor, folks have been touched on their shoulder and have seen an apparition. And at the Keating Hall Auditorium, there are unaccounted for cold spots that send shivers up visitor’s spines. These chill zones are not the result of in-house ventilation or air-conditioning.
In the Administration Building The ongoing “phantom” smell of cigar smoke has been noted in the halls although none of the staff smoke cigars.
At Collins Auditorium A ghostly man has been seen walking the balconies above the stage, and whispers and cold spots also have been detected.
Finlay Hall (formerly a medical school) Students awoken screaming as they’ve felt unseen hands clutching their throats.
Hughes Hall Locked doors swing open and the apparition of a boy suddenly appears in students’ rooms in the middle of the night.
Martyr’s Court Dormitory The ghost of a young blonde girl has been seen in the shower, and the apparition of a man was spotted walking in the halls. A child’s laughter has been heard in this section as well.
TRIVIA Portions of the horror classic ‘The Exorcist’ were filmed on the grounds of Fordham University: Father Damien Karras’ (Jason Miller) scenes in his room at Georgetown were filmed in Fordham’s freshman residence, Hughes Hall (formerly the site of Fordham Preparatory School), in room 215. The language lab scenes were also filmed in the University’s Keating Hall. In addition, Father Dyer, the young Catholic priest who administers the last rites to a dying Karras, was played by real-life priest William O’Malley, who worked for Fordham prep until June 2012. A tradition has evolved of O’Malley returning to the University to screen ‘The Exorcist’ to students and faculty—in the location where it was filmed—to discuss his experiences on the project.
Strawberry Fields of Silverlake Beach Gardens In the 1950s, this quiet and picturesque inlet in the southeastern edge of Throgs Neck that overlooks the Long Island Sound became entirely blemished with an incident that would forever mark it as a haunted locale. Today, there remains a dilapidated farmhouse by the edge of the water that marks the location where a wealthy family’s lives ended at the hands of jealous neighbors, who burned down their mansion (completely destroyed) and killing most of the family. The only survivor was their young daughter, who reports claim committed suicide the following day. Now, every year on Halloween, her ghost returns to prowl the property in search of her family. Spared by the fire, she searches in vain for her loved ones in a painful state of purgatory, eternally too young to comprehend her predicament or find closure.
Van Nest Street House – Legend has it that there was once a cemetery before the community was developed during the 1920s. Physical contact in the bathroom has been reported, as well as banging on the walls. During the early-mid 2000s there have been voices heard in the afternoon, banging noises in the kitchen late at night, ghostly orbs recorded in photos, and knocking from inside the walls. People have reported being touched while in the bathroom. One report states that two witnesses saw a large glass vase moving from a bedroom to the kitchen, where the second witness stood.
Whitlock’s Folly (AKA “The Casanova Mansion”) Located in the Hunts Point section of the Bronx near Tiffany Street, the mansion was owned by Benjamin Morris Whitlock, a powerful cigar maker and land prospector. The 50-acre estate was considered to be one of the most luxurious homes in the country and visitors were greeted by a large bronze door with gold door knobs emblazoned with “Soyez le Bienvenue” (“Be thee welcomed”). A drawbridge was built to approach the estate as it was entirely cut off during high-tide, adding a Gothic accent to the mansion’s allure. The mansion contained a labyrinth of underground tunnels and three wells that supplied water for the home’s residents and guests.
There is documentation of a secret chapel or ballroom in the upper most section of the house that was never open to the public or even to close allies or family members, despite its owner’s penchant for hosting spectacular parties. Whitlock was a staunch supporter of slavery, and many believed him to be an extreme sadist with a taste for blood, and there are rumors that both passions may have come together in that chamber in the attic.
The land is believed to be haunted with the spirits of those who were tortured and killed there, and the sound of screams and metal shackles is still reported in the vicinity today. Whitlock lost his fortune and estate during the Civil War due to his South-leaning tendencies, and over the years Whitlock’s Folly fell into abandonment and decay. A wealthy Cuban nationalist would later purchase the mansion, rename it “The Casanova Mansion,” and used it as a safe house for members of the Cuban revolution.
A 1902 New York Times article contains the following: “Bereft of Its Beauty, Forced to Give Way to the Encroachments of Business — Plaster Mill Instead of Park.” What else is new?
One more for fun:
1857 Anthony Avenue (Mt. Hope Avenue) is an ornate house built in 1896 that is said to have been ferreted by paranormal activity for decades. This home still exists intact and is the visual epitome of a Gothic haunted house, à la 1313 Mockingbird Lane. The perfect place to take your kids for a gander (and ghost story), and is ready-made for a “selfie” or two. But please do not disturb its current owner or attempt to go inside. Note the “Beware of Dog” sign.
Make sure to keep a keen eye out for the structure as several large trees disguise its presence during the summer and early fall and you may mistake it for park grounds on the approach, especially if you’re driving.
By the way: Jonas Bronck died at age 43 in 1643 of mysterious and unexplained causes, not having fostered any heirs to his fortune. His wife eventually remarried and moved to Fort Orange. Such is life… 😉