Il Pozzo is a restaurant named for an unearthed well in the basement of the building built in 1817. If it that isn’t odd enough the location of the well and restaurant is in the heart of fashionable Soho in Manhattan. Its fading into history under a four-story building seems strange. E. B. White laments the quest for water in Manhattan in his book, This is New York, and marvels at the fact anyone wanted to live there at all. To really understand the well and its importance to all of Manhattan may be a stretch for us now but it was a huge step forward… if it could work.
Ezra Weeks was a wealthy and important builder who designed Gracie Mansion that would serve as the Mayor of New York’s home for centuries. He may have also been involved in some way with the doomed Manhattan well.
None of this matters as anything but another failed attempt of trying to tap into resources out of reach unless we travel back even further to 1799. Gulielma “Elma” Sands had come to New York City to work and stayed in a boarding house with her cousin Catherine Sands. That same year another boarder came to stay the brother of Ezra Weeks, Levi. Catherine is said to have left town for a while leaving Elma alone. Soon a romance bloomed between Elma and Levi in Catherine’s absence. There were reports of Levi leaving and entering Elma’s room. A scandal in that age but Elma assured her cousin that Levi Weeks would marry her and on December 22, 1799 they set off to be secretly married. Witnesses saw a woman with two men in a sleigh that resembled Ezra Week’s sleigh laughing and talking as they drove through the cold winter’s night. Elma would never be seen alive again.
What exactly happened and why is a part of the story open to speculation. Even with the limited forensics of the day it was certain that Elma was strangled and thrown in the well. When P. and I visited the restaurant we had the great privilege of speaking at length with one of the owners. He gave one theory which is that Elma may have worked for Ezra Weeks and had inside information of the failure of the well to supply water to all of Manhattan. And perhaps she threatened to expose this fact which would have damaged the financial standing of many important men of the day. Elma, compromised in reputation, may have blackmailed Levi into marrying her.
The days leading up to the night of the sleigh ride were ones of great happiness for Elma. She had suffered from life long illnesses and depression according to her cousin and even spoke of suicide so the change in mood was welcome and marked. Levi Weeks had confided to a fellow boarder that they were planning to be married. Many speculated that she was pregnant but the autopsy showed she was not.
On the night of the murder people heard screams in the area of the well. A woman’s voice crying, “Murder!” and “Lord help me” were reported. A few days after her disappearance a borrowed fur muff was found by a boy drawing water from the well. It took them a week to search the well for Elma and when they did they found her body and fished her out with poles. Her neck was broken and there were bruises and scratches as if she had been beaten. Her body was put on display for a few days in the boarding house and on the street in front of it. A week later Levi Weeks was indicted on the charge of murder.
Ezra quickly came to the aid of his brother assembling an impressive legal team. Bringing together bitter enemies but brilliant men Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr. One fact that may have helped make up Burr’s mind was he was the founder of the company that owned Manhattan Well. Future supreme court judge Brockholst Livingston was also hired to defend Levi Weeks.
No one had seen Levi come for Elma but only heard a voice saying, “Let’s go.” Ezra Weeks was his alibi and not surprisingly Ezra’s workers too verified Levi was discussing building plans that night in a location far from the well. The defense claimed Elma was a loose girl who had even slept with her cousin’s husband. Ultimately declaring it not murder but suicide. They argued Elma had hung herself and somehow managed to throw her own body down the well.
Trials generally lasted a day in 1800 but this lasted two days. In five minutes after the closing statements the jury rendered the verdict ‘not guilty’. Some blame the judge’s instructions and jury selections of young wealthy men who would sympathize with Levi Weeks falling into the clutches of a gold digging hussy. Others cite the devious legal maneuvers but it was a very controversial verdict in a case that had divided the city. After the verdict was read Catherine Ring, Elma’s cousin, stood and pointed at Alexander Hamilton and said, “If thee dies a natural death, I shall think there is no justice in heaven!”
Alexander Hamilton soon afterwards was to be embroiled in one of the first political sex scandals in American history that ruined his political career. He had engaged in an affair with one Maria Reynolds whose husband blackmailed him over the course of three years for the privilege. When Reynold’s husband was caught in another illegal matter he tried further to use Hamilton and his influence. This brought Hamilton to the breaking point and he confessed to his friends and wife of the whole affair shocking many with his candor. Aaron Burr would be Maria Reynolds’ divorce lawyer as she too tired of Mr. Reynolds at last.
We all know what happened to Alexander Hamilton. Hamilton suggested that Aaron Burr’s relationship with his only legitimate child was perhaps a tad incestuous. This outraged Burr who adored his daughter but never in an untoward way. He demanded a duel. Hamilton had lost a son to a duel only a few years before. This event caused one of Hamilton’s daughters to have a mental breakdown from which she never recovered. Hamilton had tried to smooth things over with Burr through intermediaries but to no avail. Hamilton told his friends he had a premonition and he was going to die in the duel. He said he would not even try to shoot Burr. He kept his word and shot in the air while he received the fatal and crippling blow from his rival’s gun.
Hamilton was put on a boat and ferried across the river to a friend’s farm. There his family gathered to keep the death watch. No one knows for certain where the farm was located but Alexander Hamilton’s ghost is seen roaming Jane Street between Hudson St. and Washington St. and in the surrounding homes as well. He turns on lights and radios and one woman claims he saved her life appearing before the collapse of her heavy book shelves. What binds him, hate, sorrow or the curse?
The primary judge that presided over the trial and swayed the jury that the prosecution had no case against Levi Weeks was John Lansing Jr. He would later disappear while walking home one night never to be found. It was a great mystery of the time and may lie in politics once more as he may have been standing in the way of some politicians’ dealings.
Levi Weeks was ruined as half of Manhattan hated him and believed he had gotten away with murder. He soon left Manhattan and became a successful architect in Natchez, Mississippi. He married and had four children and died at forty-three.
Aaron Burr was no longer a viable public figure after the death of Hamilton. But perhaps his greatest sorrow was the loss of the thing most dear to him, his beloved daughter Theodosia. She was last seen walking the plank in a white flowing dress off the Carolina coast. She had lost her son and was grief-stricken. Her father told her to come and stay in New York for a time. She traveled by sea to return to the comfort of her father and home. The ship was overtaken by pirates who murdered all on board. . or did they?
In Alexandria, Virginia a woman and man came to a hotel after getting off a small boat. The woman was quite ill and a doctor was called. As the woman’s health swiftly declined the man called the doctor, hotel staff, and the owner’s wife into the room. There he made them take an oath of secrecy to the identity of the woman. None of them broke that oath. Many claim it was Theodosia Burr who had managed to escape the pirates or perhaps bribe one to take her to safety. The man disappeared after commissioning a gravestone failing to pay for it and leaving all doctor and hotel bills unpaid. They still kept the oath and lovingly buried her with the great tombstone. It sits in the graveyard St. Paul’s Episcopal Church and reads:
To the memory of a
whose mortal sufferings terminated
on the 14th day of October 1816
Aged 23 years and 8 months
This stone was placed here by her disconsolate
Husband in whose arms she sighed out her
latest breath and who under God
did his utmost even to soothe the cold
dead ear of death.
How loved how valued once avails thee not
To Whom related or by whom begot
A heap of dust alone remains of thee
Tis all though art and all the proud shall be
To him gave all the Prophets witness that
through his name whosoever believeth in
him shall receive remission of sins
Acts. 10th Chap. 43rd verse”
Theodosia is still seen in a long flowing white dress in the place she was bound to go when she boarded the ill-fated ship. Aaron Burr also is seen there but the two never seem to meet. It was Aaron Burr’s carriage house when he was alive and where he stored all of Theodosia’s belongings after her death. They flit here and there but never seem to find each other. Theodosia is said to remove earrings if you are wearing them and sitting at the bar of the “most romantic restaurant in New York” One if by Land, Two if by Sea.
Aaron Burr’s faithful valet has been seen as well sitting at a table. He disappears before his order can be taken. Aaron Burr roams there and pulls a chair from under you or calls out your name and generally makes mischief.
Burr is also seen at his last wife’s home the Morris-Jumel mansion in Washington Heights in New York. It is the home that once was George Washington’s headquarters during the Revolutionary war. Eliza Jumel and her second husband purchased the house in 1810. Aaron Burr lived there for their brief marriage until fighting and money matters made him flee the house and Eliza.
Eliza was ambitious and married her way, unhappily, up the ladder at least financially. She married Stephen Jumel but most accounts have their marriage as an unloving one and all but over by the time Stephen died from his wounds due to a carriage accident. A year after his death she married Aaron Burr.
Eliza may have had a romance with Burr in their younger days. She had also developed a very shady reputation and thought perhaps marrying a former Vice President would help her rise in society. Aaron Burr was ruined financially at this point and needed the money that Eliza had inherited from Stephen.
Unknown to both Burr and Eliza, Stephen Jumel had mismanaged his money through land speculations. Eliza and Burr fought constantly. The stormy relationship caused Burr to leave her after four months. Outraged Eliza filed for the divorce. The divorce was final on September 14, 1836 the day Aaron Burr died in a boarding house on Staten Island. Eliza continued to call from her carriage as she drove by, “Make way for the wife of the Vice President of the United States” until she died in a bed she claimed was a gift from Napoleon. She had been quite the thing in Europe in her day.
Eliza Jumel still is seen in her home. She also was seen quite famously in 1964 by a group of school children on a field trip. As they waited for the museum to open up they gathered on the lawn. She appeared on the balcony in a purple dress and in an angry tone said, “Shush”. They all were upset thinking her rude and told the tour guide of the woman dressed in period clothes. Of course there was no living woman inside dressed in costume and the dress was the same purple dress in a portrait of her that hangs in the mansion. Reported in newspapers it is an enduring story of a ghost sighting by numerous people which is a boon for the paranormal research types.
And what of Il Pozzo? Go when in Soho. It is a charming place and the owner has plans to restore it as much as possible to the original 1817 glory. It is a fairly priced for food and drink and he wants to put in a brick oven for pizza. Yummy! Also he mentioned plans for a window installed in the floor to look down into the well. He is determined to preserve some of the ever vanishing history of New York. So tell your friends and eat, drink and be merry there. Elma is felt in the building and still seen. The owner feels as if she is a protective spirit. I felt chills as we talked about her and perhaps she was near on a hot day.
She is said to still roam the streets. She appears as a pretty redhead in torn clothes her bruised face stained with tears. Perhaps seeking to clear her name and still mourning the lost life she dreamed of with Levi. There is also a spirit upstairs of an artist who hung himself in the 1920’s when it was an apartment house. . maybe that explains the strange light in my photograph.