October is traditionally a time for ghoulish family fun. As one of the oldest cities in the United States, New York has seen hundreds of years worth of tragedy and triumph. The city has inspired many to create art as well as mayhem. October is a great time to learn about its history while at the same time getting shivers down your spine.
NYC has many Halloween-inspired events with costumes and candy for families throughout the month. But there are also many places where kids can learn about history and art along with a little haunted fun. Here are some of my favorites:
1. Metropolitan Museum of Art – Rooftop Garden
The large-scale sculpture of the Bates iconic mansion from Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 film, Psycho, might be more recognizable to parents, but hanging out at the MET’s rooftop garden is fun for the whole family.
Appropriately titled Psycho Barn, the sculpture was created by British artist Cornelia Parker, who was inspired by American culture. The house is constructed using reclaimed wood from a classic red barn, an icon of the American countryside. The eerie dichotomy of the decrepit Bates house and the NYC skyline is a marvelous photo-op. The sculpture will be on view until October 31st.
While at the museum be sure to see the exhibit P.S. Art, created by New York City public school children. The museum is also a great place to get ideas for historic Halloween costumes!
2. Brooklyn Green-Wood Cemetery
You’d never think of a cemetery as a family-oriented tourist attraction but at the Brooklyn’s historic Green-Wood Cemetery there is always something going on. Established in 1838, the cemetery was a favorite place for 19th century families to take a stroll.
Throughout the year it has a number of family and adults events. In the autumn, the Spirited Stroll is a favorite event where a local historian leads a tour through the colorful fall foliage with tales of murder, mayhem, spirits and the bizarre. The brave can tour the cemetery’s catacombs, which is usually closed to the public.
Among the famous spirits that may or may not haunt the graveyard are actors, artists, politicians and even George Washington’s dentist. The cemetery is also the site of the historic Battle of Brooklyn, in the War of Independence.
Aside from the dead bodies and tales of loss, the cemetery has a lot of pleasant pathways, ponds and a tranquility garden to meander through. Look out for surprises that you wouldn’t expect to see in a cemetery. Be sure to get a free map at the entrance because with 478 acres it is easy to get lost.
3. Morbid Anatomy Museum
This museum, located in the Gowanus neighborhood of Brooklyn, does not disappoint those looking for something a little out of the ordinary. There are a number of classes and events in October including a workshop where you can make your own Day of the Dead creation. A current exhibit features a taxidermy kitten wedding! Admission is $12 for adults and teens and children 12 and under are free. There is also a coffee shop and a gift store where you can purchase a taxidermy mouse.
4. Edgar Allan Poe Cottage
Not much is creepier than an Edgar Allan Poe story. Did you know that Poe spent the last years of his life in a small wooden farmhouse in the Bronx, New York?
Now located in Poe Park between tall apartment buildings and busy streets at Kingsbridge Road and the Grand Concourse, it’s hard to believe the cottage once had unobstructed views of rolling hills clear to the shores of Long Island.
Ironically, it was at this tranquil setting where he wrote about romantic death in Annabel Lee, horror in The Cask of Amontillado and the onomatopoeic (and bizarre) poem also about death, The Bells.
5. The Merchant’s House Museum
The Merchant’s House Museum has a reputation for being Manhattan’s most haunted house (that is open to the public). Two generations of the Tredwell family lived there and eight family members have died in the house so it is easy to figure out whose ghosts walk the halls at night. The classic late-Federal and Greek Revival period style of the house is reason enough to visit.
Located in the fashionable Noho neighborhood of Manhattan, it’s been a museum for nearly 80 years. Gertrude Tredwell, born in the house in 1840, never married. She was the last to die there unmarried at the age of 93. A relative later opened the house as a museum so no other earthly inhabitants have called it home. Historically, it is an authentic example of what life was like for the upper-middle class in the late 1800’s.
The museum has loads of events in October including candlelight tours, seminars on the paranormal and even a séance (adults only). There is an ongoing exhibit until the end of the month called, “Truly We Live in a Dying World: A 19th Century Home in Mourning” that features some mourning clothes from the Tredwell family.
6. The Blackwell’s Island Asylum – Roosevelt Island
This two mile-long island has a history of human despair and ghostly wanderers. Once called Blackwell Island after its owner, Robert Blackwell, the island has been home to prisons, almshouses, hospitals, asylums and schools over the last century.
It was also the island that the characters in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby passed over in their elegant automobiles from Manhattan to Long Island’s north shore to Gatsby’s mansion.
The island housed the first lunatic asylum in New York City and the first municipal mental hospital in the country. The asylum’s most famous resident, however, was not insane. At 23, newspaper reporter Nellie Bly went undercover as a patient to learn what life was like for women living in an asylum. Her exposé called Ten Days in a Madhouse was featured in The World newspaper and was the impetus for legislation to protect the mentally ill in institutions.
There are many great books about Nellie Bly for young readers to learn about investigative journalism and women living and working in the 19th century. Nellie paved the way for women in journalism and she was also one of the first travel writers. She made a sensation when she traveled the world in 72 days to beat Jules Verne’s fictional character Phileas Fogg.
The island is now mostly residential apartment buildings but there are still haunting reminders of its past. Architectural ruins of the small-pox hospital remain as well as the octagonal main entrance to the Blackwell Lunatic Asylum (now the entrance to a condo complex). The lighthouse, built by convict laborers in 1872, still stands in the aptly named Lighthouse Park. So yeah, lots of potential hauntings here!