The Spirit of Halloween: A Candlelit Ghost Tour of Manhattan’s Most Haunted House

New York City is full of ghost stories. During the month of October, the city’s dead come alive through countless ghostly attractions. The nighttime streets of the Village are crowded with walking ghost tours, Brooklynites can hop Madame Morbid’s incredible Ghost Trolley Tour, and you can even take a Haunted Broadway Walking Tour (if you’re able to get into an otherworldly headspace while bodychecking your way through Times Square, more power to you). Yet as much fun as these tours are, the event that drew me more than all the others this October was Merchant’s House Museum.

The New York Times called Merchant’s House, “Manhattan’s Most Haunted House” and TimeOut New York dubbed the museum the, “#1 Most Haunted Place in NYC.” What paranormal enthusiast could resist credentials like that? Certainly not me, and when I discovered that the museum offers nightly small-group ghost tours by candlelight during the month of October, I was sold.

Upon arriving at the museum, guests are directed to a small front parlor where you watch a short video documenting the recorded history of the haunting. Though I don’t want to delve too deeply into my own personal perspectives and experiences here, I do want to mention that there was definitely a specific feeling in that space. I experienced a sense of heaviness in my chest and throat as I entered the museum, despite the laughing and chattering of the crowd of guests around me.

At this point we were introduced to a museum employee who had had his own encounter with one of the spirits in the house. He would be our guide, and began the tour by explaining that there would be no costumed staff lurking in closets or jump scares in stairwells that night. No, there would be no gimmicks, because they did not need them. This was the real thing. This was the story of the Tredwell family, who had lived in this house for nearly 100 years, and apparently never left.

The star of this ghost story is a woman named Gertrude Tredwell. She was born in this house and lived within its walls for over 90 years, when she died in the very same bed she was born in. Gertrude’s story is a tragic one–the youngest of 8 children, her elderly father Seabury Tredwell disapproved of the man she intended to marry, ending the relationship and leaving Gertrude alone in that house until the end of her 93 years. Many believe that she lingers on in the house, heartbroken and unable to move on. She is the most commonly sighted apparition, both as a beautiful young woman and the elderly woman she became.

Though Gertrude is the most famous specter of Merchant’s House, she is not the only one. Many guests and employees (including our guide) have also sighted a Woman in White descending the stairwell. She is believed to be Elizabeth Tredwell, Gertrude’s sister. Other visitors have encountered Seabury himself, often in the bedroom that was once his, and later belonged to Gertrude.

The tour itself spans the entirety of the five-story museum, with stops in the rooms with the most documented activity. Each stop is a fascinating and chilling experience, as the guests are regaled with personal anecdotes from the guide, recordings of EVP captured during the ongoing paranormal investigation, and photographs containing inexplicable light flares and shadows.

The final stop on the tour takes place in the kitchen, where EVPs credited to servants and children have been recorded. This room is also where I had my own personal unexpected experience. As the tour concluded and the group began to file outside, Andy and I lingered a bit to take a closer look at the kitchen. As we did so, I was suddenly overwhelmed by the scent of mothballs and old perfume. I had not smelled that scent since I was a little girl at my great-grandmothers house, and I was instantly transported back to her bedroom. At this point no other guests were in the room, and as I turned to Andy to remark upon the smell, he grabbed my arm and whispered, “Do you smell that?” In an instant the scent was gone, and though we walked around the space smelling every corner (probably looking absolutely ridiculous in the process), I was unable to find anything like it.

I can’t tell you for sure that Merchant’s House Museum is haunted, but I also can’t tell you that it isn’t. I know what I believe, but I encourage you to go see for yourself.

Ghosts aside, if you have any interest in the history of New York City, Merchant’s House is an unmissable museum. I also want to mention that this incredible landmark is constantly fighting developers to keep its doors open. All of the generous staff working this tour were volunteering their time in order to allow the ticket sales to function entirely as donations. If you have a chance to visit, your ticket price or donation could make the difference in keeping Merchant’s House going. If you’re in the Bowery area stop by sometime, and say hello to Gertrude for me.

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