Haunting NYC: The Annals of Aaron Burr

Aaron Burr Aaron Burr

When it comes to the ghosts of New York, Aaron Burr could lay claim to the title of Mayor of Manifestations. The third Vice President, an accomplished trial lawyer perhaps best known for killing Alexander Hamilton in a duel, once held enviable status, but you know the old adage, “…the harder they fall.” Now Burr is entangled in the stories behind three of the city’s landmark haunts.

Elma Sands and Manhattan Bistro

On December 22, 1799, Elma Sands left the Rings’ Boardinghouse and never returned. That evening while getting dressed, Sands let slip that she and fellow tenant Levi Weeks planned to marry in a secret ceremony. When Sands cousin and landlady Catherine Ring heard the door close she assumed Sands had gone out with Weeks. However, Weeks returned that night alone.

Sands' bloated body was discovered in a neighborhood well 11 days later. Weeks, allegedly the last person to see her alive, was accused of murder. Due to a defense from the first legal dream team of Burr & Co. he was deemed not guilty on the first day of April (no joke).

Sands is said to haunt Manhattan Bistro, where the well that concealed her body for weeks is tucked in the basement office. Strange occurrences abound there, though some are attributed to the tenant who hung himself in the upstairs apartment.

The Lady of Barrow Street

Theodosia Burr Alston by John Vanderlyn,1802 Theodosia Burr Alston by John Vanderlyn,1802

One if by Land, Two if by Sea is an eatery of great distinction. The West Village boutique restaurant has been deemed both the most romantic and most haunted spot to dine in New York. Theodosia Burr Alston, daughter of Aaron Burr, set sail on the Patriot New Year’s Eve 1812 and under unclear circumstances neither she nor her ship were ever seen again.

That is until patrons and staff of One if by Land attributed to her name to a woman in white who is sometimes seen milling about to collect ladies’ earrings. Rumor has it that after being made to walk the plank  (or run into the sea in a mad state of distress) Burr Alston found her way to the site of her father’s carriage house. Desperate as they were for that ill-advised reunion, it’s no wonder Burr visits his dear daughter at the eatery where relics of 19th century help them feel welcome.

Madam J Prefers the Quiet

Aaron Burr's Bed Chamber at the Morris Jumel Mansion Aaron Burr's Bed Chamber at the Morris Jumel Mansion

When Burr grew tired of terrorizing Lower Manhattan, he headed uptown to resume his practice and begin a new romance with Eliza Jumel. The recently widowed Jumel, who once was a courtesan before marrying up, fell quickly for Burr and they were married in the front parlor of her home, the Morris-Jumel Mansion.

Due to the rapid courting of his new bride, some suspected that the elderly Burr was after the widow’s fortune. When Burr’s land speculation began to take a noticeable toll on her estate, she had second thoughts and they were separated. The marriage was fully dissolved September 14, 1836, the date of Burr’s death.

The madam remained in the country house until her death in 1865. Jumel and many of the home’s other former occupants have since made appearances around the mansion. Jumel, perhaps the feistiest of the ghosts, roams the halls most frequently. Her most famous sighting was in 1964, when she reprimanded a group of rowdy schoolchildren. The mistress can be glimpsed knocking around, often in an eggshell-blue dress, in what is now Manhattan’s oldest still-standing residence.

- Lauryn Stallings

Visit the ghosts:

Manhattan Bistro
129 Spring Street
New York, NY 10012

One if by Land, Two if by Sea
17 Barrow St
New York, NY 10014

Morris-Jumel Mansion
65 Jumel Terrace
New York, NY 10032

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