Happy Halloween

by Cole Thompson

Spooky home behind Dyckman House, turn of centuryEvery Halloween ghosts and goblins haunt the streets, parks and apartment buildings of Inwood–just as they have for hundreds of years.

It is a spooky place where the spirit of a long dead magician might bump into the specter of a headless Hessian, where a Dutch trumpeter fights with the devil himself and cries from disturbed graves are heard by the living.

This October, the most frightening month of the year, MyInwood presents several scary tales from the past.

Cemetary thumbCemeteries of Yesteryear It’s hard to imagine an Inwood with mansions on the hill, a dirt road below, and just east of that cemeteries….yep….Cemeteries.
Hundreds of years of even sparse population generated numerous graves. In some lay the long forgotten members of once famous families. In other plots,the fallen dead of the Revolutionary War; even Indians.

Houdini thumb Houdini’s Ghost Every Halloween, the anniversary of Harry Houdini’s death, his widow Bess held a seance.
This Halloween, listen to a recording of the final 1936 seance and discover The Houdini Inwood Connection.  Would you believe Bess Houdini lived right here on Payson Avenue?

occult thumbA Turn of the Century School for the Occult Occultism was all the rage near the turn of the century. Join us as we explore the fascinating and macabre world of Ernest Loomis and his Inwood School of Philosophy. It is a bone chilling ride into another dimension.   His book, “Practical Occultism,” was published here in Inwood near the turn of the century.

House of Mercy ThumbThe Inwood House of Mercy Finally, choose a cell in Inwood’s haunted old House of Mercy. The institution had a past so dark and scary that the ghosts of its former residents haunt Inwood Hill Park to this very day.

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Update: Less than 24 hours after this post went on-line, Jennifer Hoppa, Administrator Northern Manhattan Parks, sent the following email:

“The Capital Contractor was directed to stop work as soon as the Capital Division was informed earlier today of possible artifacts being uncovered. 

NYC Parks director of Historic Preservation John Krawchuk is closely coordinating with the Landmarks Preservation Commission to ensure that whatever is uncovered is assessed and conserved and then to advise on construction going forward.”

Thanks to all who made this possible.

An ongoing improvement project in a city park has uncovered signs of Native American settlement on the northern tip of Manhattan.

Shells uncovered in Isham Park improvement dig.

Shells uncovered in Isham Park improvement dig.

Construction in Isham Park.

Construction in Isham Park.

Shell uncovered in Isham Park improvement dig.

Shell uncovered in Isham Park improvement dig.

Shells uncovered during Isham Park improvement dig, October 6, 2014.

Shells uncovered during Isham Park improvement dig, October 6, 2014.

Isham Park improvement project

Isham Park improvement project

Workers digging a trench for the installation of water fountains in Isham Park have unearthed a curious concentration of shells.

Could the shells be part of a larger shell midden?  Could other artifacts remain buried nearby?

Isham Park area map by Reginald Bolton, 1917.

Isham Park area map by Reginald Bolton, 1917.

The notion that important Native American artifacts lie below the carefully manicured lawn isn’t that much of a stretch.  In fact, Isham Park may be one of the few remaining sites on Manhattan where an archeological dig would still be possible.

The original owner of the park, William B. Isham, a wealthy leather merchant whose family later donated the land to the city for use as a park, was well aware of the rich Native history that lay beneath his feet.

Arrowheads found by William Isham.  Source Archeological investigations on Manhattan island, New York city  By Alanson Skinner.

Arrowheads found by William Isham. Source Archeological investigations on Manhattan island, New York city By Alanson Skinner.

Poking and prodding through the soil of upper Manhattan Isham would occasionally uncover relics left by those who came before him, including arrowheads that were later donated by the family to the Museum of the American Indian.

Turn of the century Isham Street  dig at Native American burial and shell pit. NYHS

Turn of the century Isham Street dig at Native American burial and shell pit. NYHS

Early archeologists exploring the region always kept an eye out for rich concentrations of shells, which sometimes meant other signs of Native American activity, could be found close by.

Native American skeleton found in Isham Park, New York Times, September 27, 1911

Native American skeleton found in Isham Park, New York Times, September 27, 1911

In 1911 construction workers cutting 211th Street, across from today’s park, unearthed a complete human skeleton on the Isham property.  The bones were at first believed to be those of a Revolutionary War era soldier.   They were later determined to be the remains of a Native American.

Turn of the century Inwood archeologists. NYHS

Turn of the century Inwood archeologists. NYHS

What might today’s archeologists find if they sifted through the soil left behind by the earthmovers?

Isham Park improvement dig.

Isham Park improvement dig.

Paging Indiana Jones.

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91 Payson Avenue: An Art Deco Masterpiece

In 1935 a new apartment house opened on 91 Payson Avenue in the Inwood section of Manhattan. The stunning apartment building, named “Payson House,” cost  $250,000 to erect. Today, the co-op building, across the street from Inwood Hill Park, is one of the finest examples of art deco design in northern Manhattan. Stepping into the […]

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Asylums on Inwood Hill

Asylums on Inwood Hill

A century ago  asylums and institutions lined the ridge of Inwood Hill.  Inside these fortress-like structures, all demolished by Robert Moses in the 1930′s, tortured, long-dead souls were kept under lock and key.  Some were criminals, some were inebriates and drug addicts, others had the mere misfortune of suffering from tuberculosis.   All were outcasts, banished […]

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From Dyckman Street to Treasure Island

Thumbnail image for From Dyckman Street to Treasure Island

Near the beginning of the last century, Mrs. Addison J. Rothermel faced both an agonizing loss and a difficult decision.  Tuberculosis had taken her husband and doctors warned that her two teenage boys, Addison Jr.  and Royale Valray, might also succumb to the “white plague” if they continued to live in the cramped and unventilated […]

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Isham Gardens

Building detail from Isham Gardens in Inwood, New York.

Between Seaman Avenue & Park Terrace West Designed in 1924 by the architectural team of Springsteen and Goldhammer, Isham Gardens was the brainchild of builder Conrad Glaser. Glaser envisioned an uptown utopia where middle class New Yorkers could live amidst a resort like atmosphere. And, Springsteen and Goldhammer were up to the task. They designed […]

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Paranormal Inwood: The Strange Case of Walter Francis Burns

W.F. Burns logo

As a cool autumn breeze settled in on his home among the trees on the western slope of Inwood Hill, Walter Francis Burns awoke from a terrible dream.  Lost in a chilling nightmare Burns had just witnessed his youngest son, Otway, run over by an automobile not far from the family’s northern Manhattan home. The […]

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History of Inwood’s Isham Park

Isham Park, Inwood, New York City

In 1862 a businessman named William Bradley Isham rented a summer retreat in northern Manhattan. He fell in love with the place and returned two years later to purchase the property. What follows is an exhaustive photo essay describing the origins of Isham Park.

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