Ghosts of the Upper West Side

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History prof. delves into haunted history of neighborhood

By Allen Houston

“This seemed like a fitting place to discuss ghosts,” Dr. Philip Ernest Schoenberg said.

The history professor, dressed in a worn top hat and rumpled coat, stood in the darkening gloom outside of the headquarters of the American Society for Psychical Research on 73rd Street across from the Dakota Building. The ASPR was founded in 1885 by a group of scientists to explore psychic and paranormal phenomena. The famous magician Harry Houdini cooperated with the organization.

“The work that they have done is fascinating,” he said. “And it’s fitting that that they’d be located next to the most haunted building on the Upper West Side.”

Schoenberg, founder of the Ghosts of New York tour and author of the recent book Ghosts of Manhattan, has been seeking out the haunted by-ways of the city for most of his life. His career as a ghost hunter was born from his love of New York’s history.

“During research into the city’s history, I discovered many stories of the unexplained,” he said. “In particular, the old newspapers from the turn of the century were full of people’s encounters with ghosts.”

Dr. Philip Ernest Schoenberg has penned a new book, Ghosts of Manhattan. He leads haunted walking tours of the city. Photo by: Daniel S. Burnstein

According to Schoenberg, that’s how it should be.

“New York is a city that’s been through a lot,” he said. “It’s a city that’s grappled with wars, massive tragedies, disease, mayhem, death and everything else that’s made this the greatest place in the world.”

And the Upper West Side has its own fair share among this city “full of ghosts,” according to Schoenberg.

The Dakota Building, built in the 1880s, is considered one of the most haunted spots on the UWS.

Among the numerous ghosts that supposedly reside there is Edward Severin Clark, who commissioned the building and lived there until his death. The ghost of Clark is most frequently spotted lurking in the basement of the building. Another ghost, that of a young girl who goes up to strangers and says, “I’m celebrating my birthday” before dissipating, has also been spotted on more than occasion. John Lennon, who was murdered in front of the building, is another figure frequently seen.

Another famous ghost on the Upper West Side is the writer Edgar Allen Poe, who lived for a short time on 84th Street near the Hudson River. Supposedly, Poe had a favorite rock that he liked to sit on while trying to draw inspiration; over the years, many people have seen him there.

Several other ghostly apparitions, including James Dean and Mae West, are also known to haunt the Upper West Side, in addition to the ghosts of the lesser known.

“I’m not sure whether it’s because they can’t move on or what causes it,” said Schoenberg.

The Vaughn College professor hasn’t witnessed any unusual phenomena, though he has encountered strange orb lights in photos taken on some of his tours.

“People tell me all kinds of things,” he said. “Two of the most frequent are that they have pets that won’t go into certain rooms of their apartments or they see weird shadows that can’t be explained inside their homes. I just try and listen and be as respectful as I can.”

tends to be the busiest time of year for him.

“There’s no resting,” he said. “I just have to keep in mind that right now, people want less history and more ghost stories during our walks.”

For more information, visit www.ghostsofny.com.

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