Haunted New York

by Laura Kusnyer, 10/26/2010

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  • Washington Square Park
    Greenwich Village, Manhattan
    Tell a New Yorker that Washington Square Park is plagued by, ahem, mysterious sightings and unusual behavior and most likely she'll just laugh at your naïveté. But to jewelry designer and park vendor Nancy Valentine, one particular incident was no laughing matter. "About 30 years ago, my friends and I were standing by the arch, and all of a sudden my one friend felt something like a hand grazing over her back, then her knees went out, and she fell to the ground," Valentine relates earnestly. "I'll never go under there again. When I do the outdoor fairs, I make them put my tent on the other end of the park." She's not the only one who's experienced supernatural forces there; it's rumored that if you walk by the park late at night, you'll see ghosts hanging from trees—which isn't terribly far-fetched, if you're familiar with the park's history. Al Rosario, doorman at 29 Washington Square West, explains, "The policy was to hang criminals, then bury them. Later, when they did the construction and opened up the park, guess what they found? Bones. Then the construction of the park went on." The public hangings described by Rosario (who, for the record, has never had an unearthly experience while on the job) took place at a particular tree known as Hangman's Elm, at the northwest corner of the park, a stone's throw from Rosario's building. Between the criminals dispatched at the tree and the victims from the yellow fever epidemics of the early 19th century, who were also buried in the park, there are an estimated 20,000 bodies under Washington Square. Chew on that the next time you go for a picnic.

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