(N.Y. Sun, April 10, 1891)
The Bleecker street ghost drew as large a “house” last night as Barnum’s Circus or any of the theaters. There was a bigger crowd about “Cohnfeld’s Folly” than there was three weeks ago when the flames gutted the buildings from Mercer to Greene streets and did damage away up in the millions. The wraith was not due till midnight, but the street was packed with watchers as early as 9 o’clock. The crowd was so dense that pedestrians with difficulty forced their way through it and twice a squad of blue-coats descended on the mob and routed it. Five minutes after the police had retired the street was as impassable as before.
In the midst of the ruins of the big fire a single wall towers away above the surrounding brick partitions. It looks feeble and almost tottering and the shop-keepers in the vicinity say that when there is a high wind it sways to and fro and threatens to come down in a heap. After dark the outlines of the summit of this wall are very indistinct. The detail of the wreck could not be made out even in last night’s bright starlight. There is a sheet of tin, however, on the top of the wall, which was probably a cornice before the fire. Only one side of it is attached to the brickwork, and when there is any wind it trembles in the breeze and rattles with an uncertain sound. It may have been that the sheen of the tin in the starlight or a windy night first suggested the idea of a ghost to some weird imagination.
There is an old Frenchman living in the vicinity, however, who avers that three nights ago he saw with his own eyes a lady in white standing out against the darkened sky on the very summit of the tottering wall. Her long, flowing robes fluttered in the breeze, and even while he watched there came a low, wailing sound, and the wraith dissolved into air. He kept his eye fixed on the spot for a full minute, but the vision did not reappear, and as he turned to walk away he thought he heard groaning as of a lost spirit. The sound, he says, made his blood run cold and kept him shivering the whole night through.
The alleged appearance of the ghost has set the whole neighborhood a talking, and some of the “old residenters” have recalled a murder which took place in the vicinity many years ago, when A.T. Stewart lived there and the street was one of the fashionable places of residence of the town. There was a wealthy old gentleman of foreign birth who lived in the street and was quite a recluse. He would pass the time of day with his neighbors when he met them in the street, but he was never known to enter into conversation with any one. The blinds were always drawn in his front windows, and at night there was not a ray of light to be seen about the house. His only servants were a couple somewhat advanced in years, who were as foreign and uncommunicative as himself. The master of the house would be away for months at a time and the neighbors had all sorts of theories as to his disappearances. Some thought he was engaged in unlawful business, others suggested that his absence might be attributed to the supernatural, but those who were less flighty concluded that he simply went off on periodical visits to his native land.
On his return from one of these visits, however, the old gentleman brought with him a beautiful young girl. She was little more than a child in appearance, and had the soft eyes, olive complexion and lithe, graceful figure of a Spaniard. She was never seen alive after she passed the shadow of the old man’s doorway. A few weeks later the old gentleman disappeared as mysteriously as if he had been snatched up into the clouds. The old couple who kept his home walked away one day and never returned. There was an investigation, and in a hole dug in the cellar was found the body of the beautiful young girl. There were no marks on her body, and it was supposed she had been smothered. The exact date of this tragedy is not fixed. Inspector Byrnes says that if it ever occurred it was before his time.
The ghost, if ghost there is, is undoubtedly the spirit of this unfortunate and nameless young woman. A World reporter watched the Bleecker street ruins with the crowd last night and was there at the midnight hour, but never a sign of a ghost did he see. There were those in the crowd, nevertheless, who thought or pretended to think that they did. Once there was a rattling sound in the ruins, which caused a commotion among the lookers-on, but it was only because a small boy had shied a brick at the old wall. The living spirits boomed the liquor business in the saloons of the vicinity. A skull and cross-bones over one of these bars was surmounted with the somewhat appropriate legend freshly painted:
“In the midst of life we are in debt.”