Sometimes, writing has its perks. A couple of months ago, I was asked to be on a radio show (Working Things Out hosted by the lovely Diana Navarro) that usually broadcasts out of a midtown Manhattan restaurant. For my interview, the venue was moved to Soho in a place called The Manhattan Bistro. What’s so special about the Manhattan Bistro? The small restaurant houses a well that dates back to the 1700’s and has been reportedly haunted since 1800. My perk? The owner gave us rare permission to go down after the show to see the well and do a little paranormal investigation!
Right from the get-go, the Manhattan Bistro looked like a place out of time. The structure is far older and smaller than all the other surrounding buildings and stores. You can tell that the entire neighborhood has grown up around it. When I first stood across the street, it made me think of the Little Red Lighthouse living under the shadow of the George Washington Bridge.
A little on the background of the well: The unhappy ghost of Elma Sands has been seen and heard in and around the old, deteriorating well ever since her murder in 1800. It’s believed the 21 year old was killed by her well-to-do fiancé and stuffed in the well and was the scene of the city’s first murder trial. The fiancé was defended by Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton and the prosecution never had a chance.
So now we have the perfect locale for a haunting. A woman violently slaughtered and a crime without a punishment. People have been seeing her ghost rising from the well, ala The Ring, for centuries.
Three of us walked into the cramped basement to see the well. I’m not a tall guy, and my head almost touched the ceiling as we shuffled down the tight corridor that was straight out of The Amityville Horror.
I was shocked to see that the well itself rose well over six feet out of the ground. The sandy stone has crumbled in some spots but carries the weight of history. We turned out all the lights. It was as dark as a tomb. After asking a few questions, we just let the silence take over. Pictures were flashing and my audio recorder was placed on the lip of the well. I didn’t feel anything supernatural around the well. Not even one tiny goosebump.
I asked, “Do you want us down here? Would you like us to stay or leave?”
We waited expectantly, the darkness covering us like a burial shroud. There was a knock on the ceiling, but I quickly realized someone had dropped something upstairs.
All and all, we left feeling that the well, this night, was benign. Poor Elma Sands was elsewhere, hopefully with her family or maybe out enjoying the sights.
Later in the night, I slipped back down to the well. This time, I didn’t feel alone, though whether it was due to the paranormal or just human nature when one finds oneself in a dark room standing next to a well that everyone has said is haunted is highly debatable. No matter the cause for my discomfort, it was worth it for the chill that danced down my spine.
And that is why I write about ghosts, and why I run to the things that go bump in the night. Ghost hunting is an extreme sport, with one difference; the payoff is beyond comprehension. Affirming there are ghosts in our midst is proving the eternal nature of the soul, thus eradicating the fear of death. There aren’t many other human endeavors greater than that.
Hungry for more? Check out this video of the most haunted buildings in New York City.