Leave a light on for me

Flickr failure-most of my Merchant’s house pictures didn’t upload.  They are lost forever but I will return.  I hope.  Lovely haunted Merchant’s House was a dream of mine to visit for many years and finally the meeting of me and Gertrude Tredwell happened this past December.  The Merchant’s House is the oldest intact Greek revival home in New York or America for that matter.  It was built-in 1832.   Seabury Tredwell and his wife moved in 1835 with their seven children.   It was to later be preserved largely by Gertrude Tredwell until her death in 1933.  Gertrude was the only one of the children to be born there and remained there for the rest of her life and maybe her afterlife as well.

I have only a fuzzy picture of her death-bed. The others were lost to faulty uploading.  It was her father Seabury Tredwell’s bed in his life and there are stories of him chasing men out of his bedroom on more than one occasion well after his death.

Death bed canopy. I knelt to take the photo to perhaps to get the view of the last thing Gertrude saw before she left her body. Some claim she never left her home.

Gertrude was eventually left alone in the home as the rest of the children married and died she became increasingly obsessed with keeping her house “as Papa wanted.”  One has to wonder if  her father was present in spirit form still controlling Gertrude’s life.  Gertrude’s chance for happiness was with a medical student named Lewis Walton.  The two fell in love and Walton asked for Gertrude’s hand in marriage   Whether it was his humble income or his Catholic faith that wounded the devout Anglican and social conscience Seabury isn’t clear but he refused to let them wed.  She remained true to her true love and never pursued that happiness again.

Bed where Gertrude was born

Walking into the room where Gertrude was born was unsettling.  The closet  filled me with a strange horror.  I have no idea why as no history supports this feeling that I am aware of at any rate.  Yet it was strong even with cheerful Christmas kitsch displayed inside of it.

The children's corner of Mrs.Eliza Earle Parker-Tredwell's bedroom

Gertrude’s sisters Elizabeth and Mary Adelaide married and had their receptions in the home and many had their funerals in the downstairs parlor.  You can still have your wedding there today but burials are unlikely.   Her brother Samuel married and moved on from the home.  Horace never married but moved to his own home close by on Lafayette Place.  Gertrude, Phebe, and Julia remained at home together unwed.  Sarah too never married but moved to Hotel Cadillac in Times Square.  She is also the one, that legend has it, had a baby out-of-wedlock.  A baby that Seabury had the servants murder and bury in the backyard.  It was said to have driven Sarah mad and you can still hear her screaming, “Can’t you hear my baby crying?  You must help me find my baby!”  in the house.  I’m not convinced of the story but it’s part of the ghost lore and adds to the drama.  I hope it isn’t true.

Grave site for Sarah's baby or just a lovely place for a reception?

There is a phantom chandelier that is said to have caught on fire that one of the brothers quickly put out.  At certain times people claim to smell smoke in that spot where the light fixture burned.  Phebe fell down the stairs in 1907 and died shortly after.  All my good stair pictures are lost though.  Boo.  Julia died in 1909 leaving Gertrude on her own for twenty-four years in the deteriorating home as she fought time and the changing city.

Gertrude became increasingly eccentric and reclusive.   She died at ninety-three in her father’s room which she took as her own later in life.   After she died she was immediately encountered throughout the house.  Gertrude was seen at the front door, heard playing the long broken piano and gliding down corridors never pausing after death.  The time capsule that she kept so steadfastly was honored by her distant cousin, George Chapman, who opened it as a museum in 1935.

The bannister of Phebe's fatal staircase.

While P. and I were upstairs we went into the hallway after visiting the bedrooms. A table with a glass and some books was at the right and at the time Christmas decorations were displayed in a case.  While taking them in we heard a loud bang in Seabury’s room.  Being alone upstairs we were startled and went to see what had happened.  Nothing seemed to have been disturbed and no one else, in the flesh, was there.  I turned towards the connecting door between Mr and Mrs. Tredwell’s room.  Near the fireplace I saw a woman.  She was small with her hair neatly pinned in a bun perhaps in her late twenties.  She wore a grey dress from the turn of the last century.  She walked deliberately and peacefully out of view.  I went into the room to follow her and she simply wasn’t there.  Was this Gertrude?  The woman was formed and solid as a living person the only unnatural thing was her movement.  Fluid as if she walked through water.  She wanted us to see her, pay attention to her, know she was there.  I have seen unexplained things in my travels but the full and complete view of her was a rare and privileged thing.  Who she was for certain, Gertrude is most often seen as an elderly woman, I can not say.  Or if she was there at all though my senses say she was there and very eager to make contact.  I wanted to return and now with most of my pictures thwarted I must try my hardest.

There are many magical things about the Merchant’s house but perhaps the most miraculous thing isn’t the ghosts that remain but that the house itself remains.  Standing true to itself and ideals of a time long gone.  A rock in a city that changes daily at a rapid pace.  Rather like Gertrude was herself.  This is the gift she gives to those who are lucky enough to come into her parlor and visit awhile.

Boo! The spirit of Christmas haunted the parlor of the Merchant House Museum December 2011.
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11 thoughts on “Leave a light on for me

  1. I enjoyed reading this very much! What a rotten shame so many of your pictures are gone. The ones you posted were amazing.

    1. Thank you very much for reading this Fern. I remember mainly really fun Christmas decorations pictures. Someone had loaned their vintage collection for December. Rats! It is hard to take pictures because you can’t use flash and it isn’t lit very well for pictures. But they renovated and reopened the servants quarters on the fourth floor and two ghosties (supposedly) dwell up there. They we Irish lasses that were part of the staff of the Tredwells. So going back makes even more sense now! And there’s a bistro near by with a haunted well in the basement but that’s another story. .

      1. I very much enjoyed it. The Christmas decorations were so festive, yet somehow didn’t really fit the atmosphere of the house. I would very much love to go there, and reading your experiences were incredible! You took beautiful pictures, so I could not tell there was bad lighting. I really hate that so many of your pics were lost as I know I would have loved to have seen them too! You must go back. 😉

      2. I will certainly try. New York is really close to DC via a twenty dollar bus ride. So not your first visit (time is limited) but maybe a longer second one to see E. and we can hop up there!

  2. That sounds so fun to go there! I am appalled that your pics got messed up. Maybe its fate’s way of giving you an excuse to go back (or maybe the ghosties – Boo!) Anyway enjoyable post.

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