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The Loner, the Lover, and the Trap Door of the Merchant’s House

This week and next, we present a series of longer pieces unraveling the histories of storied buildings.

The doorway of Seabury Tredwell's house as it appeared in the 1930s (New York Public Library)

The doorway of Seabury Tredwell’s house as it appeared in the 1930s (New York Public Library)

By the time she died in 1984, Helen Worden Erskine had racked up an eclectic but impressive set of interviews. The longtime New York World society writer spoke with Prince Charles of England and presidents Eisenhower and Truman, among other political and cultural luminaries. But she was perhaps most famous for her fascination with the opposite end of society: recluses.

In the late 1930s, Erskine wrote a series of sensationalistic articles about the Collyer brothers, two wealthy hoarders who had all of Harlem talking. Erskine and other reporters launched their careers writing about the sordid details of the brothers’ lives and death, including the nearly month-long search for one of their bodies in 1947, which was eventually discovered in their home beneath piles of junk.

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Is There Really a Janice Gunter, Ghost Hunter?

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(photo: Daniel Maurer)

Who is Janice Gunter? With handmade postings anywhere from Williamsburg to NYU advertising her strange services and conveniently-rhyming name, it would appear that this bespectacled woman is the latest to join the ranks of NYC’s colorful flyer characters. Visit Janice’s Facebook page and you’ll find nearly six month’s worth of ghost-related status updates, bad jokes, and musings about her Ma’s tendency to videotape everything they do.

Janice also has an Instagram and even a LinkedIn profile, where she explains “[g]host hunting is officially classified as a pseudoscience, but my customer service and attention to detail are more like an art form.”  She also worked as a cashier at CVS for an impressive eight years before deciding to follow this ghostly path.
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Talking Mafia Ghosts And Specters of the Lower East Side With Owners Of The Keep

(Photo: Nicole Disser)

Diego and Stephanie Castillo, owners of The Keep. (Photo: Nicole Disser)

Walking into The Keep, a newish bar that straddles the Bushwick / Ridgewood border, can be something of a dizzying experience at first. There’s so, so much to look at– a thick layer of stuff permeates every corner, every surface, and the place is packed with antiques, taxidermy, tchotchkes, and trinkets from throughout all of eternity and all over the world. At times, it seems like these objects might swallow you whole, but after a few minutes the eyes adjust to the stimulation overload and you realize you’re not in an antique shop chock full of a random assortment of things only there because they could potentially sell, but in a bar filled with objects that are beloved and have been carefully, thoughtfully placed in their home. For Stephanie and Diego Castillo, the bar’s owners, many of these objects are steeped in history and hold a certain power.

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