Whether or not you’re afraid of the dark, you might be spooked to learn that Brooklyn-based writer L.V. Salazar has recently published a book that chronicles the borough’s haunted history. In The Ghosts of Brooklyn: Thrilling Accounts of Souls Spirits and Ghosts, Salazar has compiled thirty-six accounts featuring ghosts, gargoyles, witches, and suicides, all of which offer readers an alarming glimpse into Brooklyn’s mysterious past.
If your curiosity trumps your fear, feel free to take a self-guided tour through some of Brooklyn’s spookiest spots. Salazar organizes his stories by neighborhood, offering maps and photos to guide his fearless readers.
Salazar will be appearing next month for a reception and book signing at Escondido, a shop in DUMBO (located at 145 Front St.) Stay tuned for details.
Q&A with L. V. Salazar
Originally published by Hispanic Economics, Inc.
1) How did this book come about?
I’ve lived in Brooklyn since 1999 and during that time I have come to love this place. I’ve seen it change and become arguably one of the more dynamic and exciting places in New York City. I love the “culinary revolution” here, and the revival of many of its neighborhoods. The gentrification, for the most part, has emboldened creativity and it’s wonderful to see the diversity of the people who live here, from uber-hip hipsters to the demur Hasidic families, from Park Slope young urbanites to immigrants from all over the world. It’s an exciting place. I wanted to give back to Brooklyn, and this book is my gift to everyone who lives here simply by compiling and telling some of the great ghost stories about Brooklyn.
2) Why did you write this book?
I wrote this book because there is so much material. A friend of mine, Roberto Lopez, who is from Mexico, is the owner of El Milagro, a gift and jewelry shop on 7th Avenue. He was also the owner of Artesana and Chiles & Chocolate. In visiting his places of business, I kept encountering people who told me about this ghost story or that ghost story. Tourists would stop and ask if I knew exactly where this place was or the other, and it occurred to me that there was an unusual amount of “paranormal” activity here. I wanted to collect the stories and legends, and to research their histories. What made it easy was the wonderful resources available in the form of historical records. It’s possible to find, for example, newspaper stories of hauntings that date back to the 19th century, and public records document who lived at what address and when. This is important because it made it easier to understand the nature of a presence, and it made it possible to write this book in an authoritative manner. For example, it’s in the public record that Sallie Coop and Herman Coop, brother and sister, both lived at 144 Montague, and both committed suicide. That gives credible, factual evidence and basis for the “haunting” at this address – known as The House of the Sibling Suicides. Another example is the disappearance of Emerald Dixon, a Jamaican nanny believed to have been abducted malevolent spirits, and who is credited with creating the “ghost strollers” that periodically appear on the streets of Park Slope. Well, when the New York Times itself writes a story about the “ghost stroller,” there you have something to go on and find out more about this peculiar haunting. Another example is the story o f the Civil War soldier Augustin Vigil. Once a name was associated with this ghost, then it becomes a matter of researching the Civil War files. Did a man from Brooklyn by that name volunteer to serve in the Civil War? What regiment was he in? How did he die? Once all those facts are assembled, then there are grounds for “confirming” the ghost’s identity, his presence in Brooklyn Heights, and the messages he conveys to those who reach out to him. It is the richness of the historical record that made this possible.
3) How many ghosts are there in Brooklyn?
There are hundreds of reported ghost sightings and encounters. That is why it was such a difficult task to select only 36 stories for this book. But I wanted to be representative of the community, and of history. The oldest ghost included dates back to when Brooklyn was New Netherland in the 17th century and the most recent one is that of a man who died this year. The entire process took just over 2 years of research and investigation. There are almost 40 additional stories in various stage of “final review.”
4) Is there a message that unites these stories?
First of all, I want to be clear that these stories are not malevolent. By that I mean that no haunting poses a danger to the living. That said, it is clear that many of these ghosts have a story to tell, and advice to the living: Seize this time to do good! Do not live with regret! Take the initiative to pursue your dream! Time and again the ghosts convey the message of their own regret or to embolden you to act while blood runs through your veins. The ghost of Mrs. Julia Osborne, for instance, haunts in regret for never having confessed her love for Russell Sage. How tragic. The ghost of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, an early suffragette, urges the living to continue to work for social justice for all people. The ghost of Bertrand Alexis exhorts us with the fear of “lost time” – why are you squandering so much time on idiotic video games on your cell phone when you could be doing productive things? In short, the ghosts warn the living that life is short and they should do today what they will regret not having done once they are relegated to the eternity of the afterlife!
5) How do the “ghosts” feel about having their stories told?
I think they love it. I think this book does a remarkable thing: it rescues people from oblivion. I’m willing to bet you a million dollars that you had no idea who Alfred P. Clark, who died on June 27, 1889, was. But now you know that he built model yachts for the rich and powerful of his era, that lived to the ripe old age of 76, and that he danced on the decks of luxury vessels drinking champagne. He himself doesn’t understand why he is confined to the darkness of the BAM Harvey Theater in the afterlife, but now you know who he is. I’ll bet you had no idea who Henry Luchsenger, an 11-year-old boy found dead on July 1, 1882 was, but now you know he is largely credited with being instrumental in allowing the hedonism one finds in Bococa to take place now. Watch out for the residents of Union Street – they are a decadent bunch. Of course not every ghost wants to reveal his name, as is the case with the Ravenous Cannibal, who is ashamed of having consumed human flesh, but at least his story rescues him from oblivion.
6) What have you found surprising in collecting these stories?
I’m surprised – delighted, actually – that so many people know bits and pieces. For example, many people know the story of Mrs. Julia Osborne. And when I went to Barnes & Nobel on 7th Avenue, the gentleman working the Information Desk, Dick, knew about Stephen L. Baltz, the one surviving passenger from United Airlines flight 826 that crashed in Park Slope on December 16, 1960. He was here in Brooklyn when it happened, and after 52 years, not only did Dick remember, but he remembered one poignant fact: Stephen L. Baltz had 65 cents on him when the crash took place, and those coins are kept at Methodist Hospital, across the street from Barnes & Nobel! What memory, and how it lingers. I was also taken aback by the number of people in Vinegar Hill who recalled the legend of the young man killed by witches. In fact, there’s a house right on Hudson Street that has a sign that reads, “Witches Parking Only.” What are the chances?
7) How are people in Brooklyn reacting to these stories
I think they are charmed. I think it makes them realize just how special this place is. This is one of the oldest communities in the United States and it makes sense that the “paranormal” life of the borough goes back centuries. For most of the 19th century the Brooklyn Eagle regularly reported on ghosts and haunted sightings – the ghost of Melrose Hall being the more notorious. But whether it a story that honors those who died during the Great Brooklyn Theater Fire of 1876, or recounting the anguished women who held séances in order to reach their fathers, husbands, brothers and sons who died during the Civil War and World War I, there is a recognition that these stories give voice to history. This is a community that has a history across the centuries, and these are stories that unite those of us alive today with the human stories of those who lived here before us. Long after we too pass from this world, these stories will continue to inform the “afterlife” of the borough, and will delight future generations.