What is it about the story of a haunting that appeals to our nature? What is it about Brooklyn—with its history dating back to the mid-17th century when this was New Netherland—that offers a rich history from which to draw out the ghosts that live here? There is a natural fascination with ghost stories. In this collection of ghost stories, the author has assembled some of the more thrilling accounts of the ghosts, spirits and souls that inhabit Brooklyn. Ghost stories ignite the reader’s imagination. A place as compelling as Brooklyn deserves that the stories of its ghosts be told, and this collection does a splendid job at telling the stories of their lives—and afterlives!
|The Demonic Possession of Villa Litchfield|
It can be said with certainty that trouble began within a decade after the Italianate mansion was built in 1854 on an estate Edwin Clark Litchfield owned. The Villa, now part of Prospect Park, was designed by Alexander Jackson Davis, and it entered the National Register of Historic Places in 1977.
The Villa Litchfield, however, is noted—and notorious—as a place of demonic possession. Its top floors are said to be occupied by diabolic familiars. It is said that these appear as gargoyles, peering out the windows, their eyes glowing green and their tongues a luminescent red. It is believed the demonic possession occurred in the course of a séance that went wrong in 1864.
Legend tells of a certain Mrs. Margaret Cahill, who, distraught over the death of her son on the battlefields of the Civil War, refused to believe she would never see him again in life. She became an enthusiastic follower of spiritualists who believed it was possible to receive messages from the souls of the dead. She desperately wanted to reach out to her son. She wanted to rest her mind that he was not suffering in the hereafter and that he had forgiven the world for his having been killed at such a tender age.
It was well-known among the public that Mary Todd Lincoln organized séances at the White House, she so grieved the death of her son. It was also well-known that president Abraham Lincoln attended a few of these sessions at the request of the First Lady. It was a common pursuit among women who had lost their fathers, husbands, brothers, or sons to the carnage of war to want to reach out to those lost. In the second half of the 19th century Americans were exhausted and distraught at the loss of life that resulted from the Civil War. They desperately wanted to use mystics and clairvoyants to make contact with the dead.
Mrs. Cahill, who was a friend of Edwin Clark Litchfield, enlisted his permission to arrange for a séance at his home. This session to contact her son’s soul proved successful—or at least entertaining enough. In consequence, several other séances were held.
In the course of conducting one such séance, however, something went wrong. Some say her son was confined in Hell, and in communicating with him, demons entered our world. Others believe the séance itself was conducted improperly and that a vortex was opened allowing for the demonic possession of Villa Litchfield. A few claim that one of the participants was already possessed by a demon and that the séance released the demonic presence within her.
It was scandalous. Two authorities on séances claim that spiritualism can release demonic possession into this world. The Bible was often cited as proof. Back in 1864 Mrs. Cahill believed the gospel according to Luke, which tells the story of Jesus Christ freeing a woman of demonic possession.
Luke 13:10-17 reads:
And he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath.
And, behold, there was a woman which had a spirit of infirmity eighteen years, and was bowed together, and could in no wise lift up herself.
And when Jesus saw her, he called her to him, and said unto her, Woman, thou art loosed from thine infirmity.
And he laid his hands on her: and immediately she was made straight, and glorified God.
And the ruler of the synagogue answered with indignation, because that Jesus had healed on the sabbath day, and said unto the people, There are six days in which men ought to work: in them therefore come and be healed, and not on the sabbath day.
The Lord then answered him, and said, Thou hypocrite, doth not each one of you on the sabbath loose his ox or his ass from the stall, and lead him away to watering?
And ought not this woman, being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan hath bound, lo, these eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the sabbath day?
And when he had said these things, all his adversaries were ashamed: and all the people rejoiced for all the glorious things that were done by him.
Thus emboldened and with complete confidence and faith in the Bible, Mrs. Cahill soldiered on.
Mrs. Cahill was, in fact, so taken aback by the frenzied nature of the sessions held at Villa Litchfield that they gained notoriety among nearby residents. During the séance in question, the table vibrated, the lights flickered. There was a low rumbling and the air whirled in an inexplicable manner. The shaking intensified to the point that porcelain plates fell to the floor and the framed pictures crashed to the ground.
One of the participants—Mrs. Margaret Rossiter—collapsed at the terror of the proceedings. Two others present fled the scene, running from the mansion, screaming in horror. One was almost trampled by a horse-drawn carriage. It is said that the room went completely dark and that demons appeared, instantaneously vanishing through the ceiling and into the upper floors.
Then, as suddenly as it began, it ended.
The lights came back on. The shaking stopped. The scent of sulfur dissipated. It was as if nothing had occurred. Mrs. Rossiter was revived, and the episode was dismissed as a brief fainting spell preciptated by the emotions of the moment.
The events proved unnerving, however, and the séance came to an abrupt and inconclusive end. In her journal, Mrs. Cahill noted that oftentimes “the grotesque coexists in disharmony with the divine.”
Those present claimed that no further contact of any spiritual kind was detected … until dusk the next day. That is when the haunting was first noted. That is when the demons resembling gargoyles first appeared in the windows of the Villa Litchfield.
Of the five individuals present that evening for Mrs. Cahill’s séance, one, a Mr. William Woodruff, vanishes from the historical record completely. (It is said he was seized by the Fallen Angel Lucifer and taken to Hell.) The other four individuals present at the séance died within a year. Mr. William Brownell would die from injuries sustained from an accidental fall. Mr. George Vonderlin would die of a nervous attack. Both Mrs. Cahill and Mrs. Rossiter also died in 1865, and the cause of death for each woman is listed as consumption, a euphemism for untreated tuberculosis.
It is claimed that Edwin Clark Litchfield never sensed the presence of the demonic possession, but that a good number of other people in his household did. It is said he was happy to dispose of the property in 1868 when he sold it to the Brooklyn Parks Commission. (The building is currently occupied by New York City Department of Parks and the offices of the Prospect Park Alliance.) It is said the building remains possessed by demons in the guise of gargoyles, which appear in the windows of the top floors.
It is said that spiritualists are drawn to the area and that residents in the buildings along Prospect Park West between 3rd and 6th Streets include a good number of women who hold séances to this day. It is said that when a séance is held, the demons become more active and agitated, their gargoyle forms are seen casting shadows from the windows.
The demonic possession unleashed by a séance so many decades ago is still very much in evidence.
Do you believe this? Do you see them? Do you sense the demons that occupy the upper floors of the Villa Litchfield?
Do they appear as the grotesque gargoyles they are said to be?
|The Soul of the Jamaican Nanny|
For years there has been speculation. For years people in Park Slope debated what it meant. There was a stroller. There were flowers. The stroller had been abandoned. It was an odd sight, and this in a neighborhood where the odd coexists with the pedestrian without much comment. It was christened “The Ghost Stroller.”
The stroller first appeared on the corner of Union Street and 6th Avenue. Then it was moved one block away to Berkely Street and 6th Avenue. It even garnered the interest of the New York Times. “Sometimes the passers-by look curious; sometimes they are distraught, concerned by the three plastic roses—peach, pink and red—tucked behind the straps, which give the stroller the distinct look of a memorial commemorating some grim accident,” reporter Susan Dominus wrote back in 2010.
The stroller was. The stroller is.
The stroller is a reminder of the Ghost of the Jamaican Nanny’s presence in Park Slope. The stroller was created by the Ghost of the Jamaican Nanny to honor the child in her care at the time of her abduction. The stroller is a memento mori of a promise broken, but only because she could not keep the promise made.
The soul of the Jamaican Nanny is Emerald Dixon, a young Jamaican woman who arrived in Brooklyn in 2004, at the age of 23. Her dream was to complete her studies and become a licensed nurse in the United States. She supported herself by taking care of the white and biracial children of privileged families of Park Slope. She studied at night. She was a full-time nanny and a part-time student.
She was also bewitched. A spell had been cast on her by a jealous sister, one who was enraged that she had been unable to journey to the United States to conclude her own studies. Her sister resented that she remained in Kingston. It is one thing to cast a spell, however, and it is another thing to unleash malevolent spirits upon one’s sibling.
Without realizing it, Emerald Dixon’s own sister unleashed Duppies into Brooklyn!
What is a Duppy, you ask?
If you have to ask, then there is a tremendous gap in your knowledge of Caribbean folklore and the religious traditions of the African diaspora in the Caribbean, gentle reader. Not to worry, however. This is an opportune moment to remedy that situation. In Jamaican Patois, Duppy, a word derived from the languages spoken in northwest Africa, is the name for a malevolent spirit that haunts and torments the living.
In the Obea religion, a common faith popular among the African diaspora throughout the Caribbean nations that were under English colonial rule, it is believed that humans possess two souls. (In the Lesser Antilles, Duppies are Jumbies.) There is the heavenly soul, which ascends to heaven upon death to be judged by God. There is also an earthly soul, one that remains on Earth for three days with the body. If care is not taken, it is this soul that can escape one’s coffin, and wander the Earth as a Duppy.
Duppies are thus the malevolent souls of the recently-dead that escaped unguarded coffins. In casting her spell, Emerald Dixon’s sister unwittingly allowed three Duppies to escape the funeral home where she worked in Kingston as an administrative assistant.
These Duppies, set loose upon the world, were caught in the spiritual vortex of the spell cast on Emerald Dixon. They were transported to Brooklyn. They appeared one evening while Emerald Dixon was with the young child in her charge. These Duppies descended upon the Jamaican nanny and tore her to pieces, devouring her limbs with voracious hunger. There was nothing left of Emerald Dixon, except for her soul, which managed to ascend to heaven.
Her earthly soul, on the hand, the one that never received a proper funeral and burial escaped into Park Slope. It is this soul that painted the stroller white and placed the plastic flowers in it. The white represents the color of a nurse’s uniform. The roses are the flowers no one ever placed on her own tomb. The intersection is one that, in life, she crossed every day in the course of her being a nanny to a child born into a family of privilege.
From time to time the soul of the Jamaican Nanny will leave a stroller in Park Slope to remind the people of Brooklyn of her dedication to children for whom she cared.
Do you see that other nanny pushing a stroller with a child not her own? If she is taking care of your child, who is taking care of hers? Does she remind you of somebody that you used to know? Does she remind you of the love, loyalty and dedication of Emerald Dixon?
Is that stroller there to remind you that you can’t pretend that it never happened?
Does the soul of the Jamaican Nanny want to warn you of the Duppies now set loose in Park Slope?
|The Ghost at Mrs. Maxwell’s House of English Vices|
Along the streets of Park Slope, not far from Prospect Park, on 2nd Street between 8th Avenue and Prospect Park West, is a most intriguing haunting. It is a haunting more of a sensory experience than of a spiritual essence. It is one of energy, sensuality and life that is so thrilling that the current residents have requested that the exact street address not be published. They do not want to be inundated—even more than they already are—by those seeking the titillation and exhilaration of the English vice.
What is the English vice you ask?
If you have to ask, then it probably is not one of your … sexual desires. Then again, it might just be, but you just don’t know it yet.
That’s often the case in life, isn’t it? You don’t know you will like something until you try it. Didn’t your mother use to say that? Of course she was probably referring to eating broccoli and not … sexual fetishes.
“Now dear, how do you know you don’t like broccoli unless you try it?” is more often heard coming out of the mouths of mothers than, “Now dear, how do you know you won’t achieve spontaneous orgasm during a round of vigorous bare-ass spanking until you try it.”
That’s the English vice! Spanking for sexual pleasure!
Mrs. Maxwell is the name of the woman who satisfied the Victorian and Edwardian demand for discretion when indulging the English vice.
“He delicately edged her knickers down using the tips of his thumb and forefinger,” Jenny Diski wrote in her novel, Nothing Natural, published in 1986.
There is something to be said for certain cravings, distinct desires, and longings that linger in the mind. Silver screen images flickered with visions of a deeply pleasurable sense of exposure and humiliation at the prospect of a strong slap across an ass. How many films portrayed John Wayne smacking some actress across the ass by way of establishing the terms of their relationship? More than Netflix can keep on hand.
If you imagine these kinds of dreams … then you are on the right street in Brooklyn.
“There is a deep arousing sensation that wells up inside my entire body when you firmly tell me you are going to spank me,” one man wrote to Mrs. Maxwell in 1905. “It is as much sexual in origin, as it is emotional, I’m afraid. Yes, my mistress, the sexual aspect of the encounter has as much to do with being naked before you, lying prostate over your knee, the scent of your perfumed dress filling my head as I await the pleasurable pain you are about to deliver. I confess it is thrilling to know you are admiring my bare bottom and I am vulnerable before you, as it is about the anticipation of the spanking itself. There is also the knowledge that your firm hands will touch my bare-ass, that the back of your brush will smack my buttocks as you hold me firmly down. I know that we shall share loving feelings towards each other when the session is over.”
In his book, Confessions, Jean-Jacques Rousseau similarly described his pleasure at being spanked. In more recent times, Peter Lawford, the actor and brother-in-law of John F. Kennedy, shared similar fetishes. Lawford regaled with his tales of the arousal he derived when he was spanked, and he boasted of the sexual habits of his Hollywood friends. “The burning on my ass is pleasant when I am spanked properly,” he said. “If it is tender the next day, then I will be happy. If I see redness on my buttocks when I look in the mirror, that alone I find arousing. I enjoy looking at the redness, and I enjoy it when I am spanked again. It seldom hurts the second time; my ass is numb to the touch but the second spanking keeps my ass warm.” (Lawford recounted that, then-B-movie actress, Nancy Davis was renowned for giving among the best blowjobs in Hollywood after she was subjected to a vigorous round of bare-ass spanking.) Andy Warhol claims that the sexual pleasure he most enjoyed was watching a man being spanked by a drag queen, while both were high on speed. The English vice has many adherents.
Mrs. Maxwell, a proper Edwardian woman, whose given name was Mayyada, which in Arabic means a woman who walks with a proud strut, understood the nature of this fetish. She understood the psychological desire that was self-evident when hand met the bare flesh of a grown man’s or grown woman’s buttocks.
“It cannot be denied that these desires are simply the stating and restating, in an adult arena, of the emotionally vulnerable condition of childhood,” she wrote one supplicant who stated she would pay any price for being brutalized the way her husband refused ever to do. “It is a perfectly acceptable vanity, my dear. It is the reality that, at times, under certain circumstances, the emotional condition of childhood is accepting conditional pain as the price for unconditional love. I shall be delighted to indulge your wish to be loved through the pain of the English vice, and in the process I have no doubt you shall enjoy vigorous orgasms that approximate spiritual ecstasy. Present yourself with this letter at my House of English Vices on the 30th of June and expect to remain here until the 2nd of July.”
These are the kinds of notes, letters and journal entries that were located in the attic of the residence in question in the 1960s.
There was also an invitation that was sent to 35 individuals for a fete she hosted in 1910. The engraved invitation reads: “Mrs. Maxwell’s House of English Vices: A Dispirited and Distasteful Diversion for Christmas.” If this sounds familiar, it should: decades later Edward Gorey wrote a book, The Haunted Tea-Cosy: A Dispirited and Distasteful Diversion for Christmas, after he found one invitation (used as a bookmark) in a book he shoplifted from the Strand Book Store.
With this background, we can now proceed to the nature of this haunting.
For decades, some individuals have reported that, when lingering in front of the houses numbering between 630 and 640 of that block, they have felt a slight burning sensation on their buttocks. Others note that, when returning home, they undress and, upon examination, see the slight outline of a handprint on their buttocks. A few women report, usually aged between 24 and 35, spontaneous orgasms if they stand and linger on the sidewalk for more than a few minutes.
There are those who see the apparition of a woman who bears a striking resemblance to John Singer Sargent’s portrait of Madame X. Everyone knows Madame X was, in fact, Madame Pierre Gautreau. Psychics who have attempted to make contact with the ghost at Mrs. Maxwell’s House of English Vices insist that the apparition claims that she is Mayyada Maxwell. She claims that it was none other Madame Pierre Gautreau who adopted her style as her own—after the latter traveled to New York to be spanked! Madame Pierre Gautreau was Virginie Amélie Avegno Gautreau, an American socialite born in New Orleans, whose family fled to France to escape the American Civil War. (Her father, Anatole Placide Avegno, died in 1862 of wounds sustained during the Battle of Shiloh.) Madame X grew to loathe the country of her birth for what it did to her father.
Did Mrs. Maxwell spank Madame X? There is no known record of her having traveled to New York to indulge in the English vice.
Neighbors say that those who desire to indulge the English vice are drawn to the neighborhood. There are those who claim that visitors to this street are disproportionately inclined to indulge in this fetish. There are some who say that the street is filled with sexual fantasists.
One woman wrote Mrs. Maxwell the following letter after a summer-long retreat at Mrs. Maxwell’s House of English Vices, a summer that was characterized by nightly spankings. The year was 1908. “I need your touch,” the grateful woman wrote. “I recognize total surrender leaves me vulnerable, but it is a vulnerability that leaves me tender. I want you to hold me tightly, my precious Mrs. Maxwell. I long for the embrace of your arms around me. The thought of your hands on my waist brings me to tears, and I feel a spiritual connection to you. After you spank me and I stand naked before you, I am at peace and I am calm and I am freed of the hysterics that otherwise overpower me. It is only then that I experience calm and I can radiate a joyful existence. I do not know if you have saved my soul, but you have indeed saved my life by giving me sanity.”
Is a sound spanking a cure for modern neurosis?
Are you prepared? Are you willing to submit yourself to the hand that strikes a bare-ass? Are you prepared to walk down this street and run the risk of a spontaneous orgasm that often accompanies one of Mrs. Maxwell’s vigorous spankings?
Is that her by the window? Does she resemble a John Singer Sargent portrait? Is she slowly moving the curtains to gaze upon you, spanking submissive? Are you among those willing to submit to the pleasures contained within Mrs. Maxwell’s House of English Vices?
If not, then why are you walking down her street?
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The Spirit of Augustín Vigil
The Soul of the Man Who Died of Spontaneous Human Combustion
The Dutch Ghost of the Tulips
The Spirit of the Foot Fetishist
The Soul from September 11
The House of the Sibling Suicides
The Ghosts of Innocents Consumed by Fire
The Ghost of the Bewildered Belgian Woman
The Ghost of the Lost Girl
The Ghosts of the Lynched Mexicans
The Soul of the Falling Jew
The Ghost of the Semen Donor
The Spirit of the Slave Miranda
The Ghost Restorer of BAM Harvey Theater
The Ghost of the Boy Who Fell from the Sky
The Ghost of the Withering Oasis of Lost Time
The Ghost of Mrs. Osborne
The Soul of the Jamaican Nanny
The Soul in Search of His Twin
The Ghost of the Suffragette
The Mischievous Leprechauns of Montauk Club
The Ghost at Mrs. Maxwell’s House of English Vices
The Soul of the Cross Dressing Bon Vivant
The Demonic Possession of Villa Litchfield
The Ghost of Girl Who Wanted to Go to the Moon
The Demonic Wolves of Prospect Park
The Germanic Spirits of Columbia and Union Streets
The Ghost of the Cat Killer of Columbia Street
The Spirits of the Naked Hirsute Dancing Men
The Soul of the Submissive Muslim
A Ghost’s Prayers to Saint Apollonia
The Catatonic Gargoyles of Green-Wood Cemetery
The Murder of Ghost Crows
The Ghost of the Widow of Windsor Terrace
The Ghost of the Ravenous Cannibal
The Ghost of the Melrose Hall