Contacting the Dead at the Merchant's House Museum ✌

Written by Thelonia

I may have started the night off by accidentally breaking into the museum. Hope the ghosts didn't mind.

The Merchant's House Museum is the only 19th century house preserved intact, full in the heart of Noho. Built in 1832, it was the home of the Tredwell family, seven of whom died in the house over the century they lived there - the last of whom was Gertrude, who died alone in 1933 upstairs. After that, it became a museum, and was frozen in time since then. Since then, it has been the hotbed for hauntings and ghostly activity, inspiring an October chock-full of fun events to revel in the spooky atmosphere of the Museum. 

All of this led me to the Merchant's House on an October night for a séance. 

I was about half an hour early because I overshot the subway timing. Following the sign on the stoop, I knew I had to go in through the downstairs door. The fence was unlock-able, the inside gate was unlatched and the door was open. 

I entered the eerily red basement unimpeded.

Because there's no color more welcoming than a Hellish Red.

And quickly met with a slightly confused person who asked how I got in, which was when I realized that I may have just broken my way into the museum. But because I've got a slight upper hand when it comes to the Merchant's House (I have family that volunteers there, and I have myself helped out a few times), they let me just sort of hang out in the family room. 

Being a Millennial™, I took selfies.

I waited there, watching through the windows as more and more legs huddled by the fence outside (where we were supposed to be waiting...whoops).

My patented "trying to make friends" approach.

Eventually, they were let in. We waited around, looking at a collection of slightly morbid funeral pictures.

And oh, the plastic skulls, they were numerous.

The initial museum guide I had surprised came and told us a bit about the house. October is a big month for the Merchant's House, so we were walked through all the various Halloween events. The re-enactment of the funeral of Seabury Tredwell, the Tredwell patriarch (which takes place October 23rd this year) was of particular note, since it was so soon. The funeral, in which people dress up in 19th century clothing and retrace the path of Seabury's coffin from the Merchant's House to the New York City Marble Cemetery, which originally took place in 1865. It is an excellent event for those who like to dress up and LARP as 19th century New Yorkers, and is a good test of the remarkable power to ignore the strange and unusual that New Yorkers spend years cultivating.

" anyway, did you watch the debate last Sunday?"

We were told to shut our phones off completely, so I don't have any more pictures of the night, but I can definitely approximate.

We walked up the criminally narrow and steep staircase (during which I wondered how many people died simply from tiny staircases throughout history), guided by a flashlight and a few candles, and entered through the parlor. It was dark, and we waited in a group by the door as the Séance leader (who later identified himself as a Mentalist) took us group by group and sat us around a rectangular table in the front parlor.

Basically this, but with only about 12 small candles for light.

I was sat by the right hand corner of the table, across from the Mentalist, who sat with his back to Seabury Tredwell's soon-to-be coffin to the South of the room. We packed in knee to knee around the table, all thirteen of us.

The Mentalist explained the objects sat before him on the table: a twine ball, a candle, a Spirit Bell (in this case, a wine glass attached by rope to a stick), and an acrylic glass goblet. 

He told the stories of the house that I'd heard before, but this time, with all the pomp and circumstance one would expect from someone conducting a séance. The story of the boy who, on a tour with his class, was frightened by a man in the upstairs bedroom (though the tour guide knew there was no one there), only to point at the portrait Seabury Tredwell (which hung on the wall across the table)and say "that was the man!"; the woman who was moving teacups, when her attention was diverted for a second, only to turn back to see all the cups set out like for a tea party in front of the chairs; the woman who, in a sudden burst during a Winter Concert, stood and said "Thank you for coming to my home, Merry Christmas" to a confused crowd and orchestra, who didn't remember what she had said or why; and the ghostly piano in the front parlor that plays at night sometimes when the museum is closed (though the piano itself hasn't been played in a century, and is horribly out of tune).

There are a few rooms in the Merchant's House in which the ghost activity seems to concentrate. The master bedroom upstairs (in fact, right above the front parlor), in which Seabury (and later his daughter, Gertrude) had died, and the front parlor itself. The Mentalist said that the reason he had chosen the front parlor for the séance was two-fold. 

First, the supernatural presence in the room, and the symbolic meaning behind it in the 19th century household.The parlor is where the family met guests, where social contact was established with the outside world (as well as reinforced between the family).

The Mentalist asked who would be willing to volunteer as a medium for the ghost we would try to contact that night - that ghost being Gertrude Tredwell, the last remaining Tredwell before her death in 1933 - in the room above our heads. A few raised their hands. He drew cards then, drawing an X on one, and passed them out to all of us, which was a bit confusing. Regardless, one of the first women to volunteer as a medium got the X-ed out card. The Mentalist directed Yvonne, our chosen medium, to stand between the archway that connects the front and back parlors.

If you're thinking the greek columns added drama to the moment, you'd be thinking right.

"Imagine you're in the upstairs bedroom. You see a mirror, but it is covered by a curtain. Draw the curtain aside and look at yourself. When you look in the mirror, you see the face of Gertrude Tredwell. When you blink, she blinks. 

Now, walk down the stairs and into the parlor."

As he says this, the Mentalist goes around the room, blowing out candles. 

He then sets out to test the connection to Gertrude. He first tapped the right hand of the girl to his left, and asked Yvonne where she felt a tap. She raised her right hand. 

He came over and tapped me on the head twice. He asked her how many times he tapped. She hesitated, then raised two fingers.

For the last test, he asked the girl sitting to his right to tap his right shoulder. He asked Yvonne to reach across her body and touch where he was just touched. She reached her hand over and tapped her right shoulder.

He raised the Spirit Bell and let it dangle in front of the now-confirmed-Medium. He instructed her to ask Gertrude to tap it to let us know she was there. Silence. Then, a faint ring. I think that that is it, when a clear "ding" sound rings throughout the room. He says "Thank you Gertrude" during which time another clear "ding" sounds out.

He sent the Medium back to her seat. We all linked hands (left hand on the table, to anchor us to the physical world, and the right wrapped around the wrist of the person beside us). We all breathed in and out together to sync up (though I will admit, once things got started, I may have stopped breathing/hyperventilated a few times). He told us if we wanted to leave, this was our last chance, before blowing out the candle. Then we all realized that there were about 3 candles still lit in the room, which did ruin the drama of the moment a tiny bit. he got up, extinguished the candles, returning to the table with the last one. We rejoined hands, breathed in and out, and he blew out the candle.

Visual approximation

We were in pitch blackness. The only things we could vaguely make out after a minute were the twine ball and glass goblet on the table, which had been dipped in some sort of fluorescent to be visible in the dark. They glowed so faintly they seemed like appearing through a haze, almost impossible to truly focus on.

The Mentalist asked the Medium to ask Gertrude if she would reveal her presence by moving or touching the goblet. We all focused on the goblet. After a minute, he asked if she could try to ask to move the ball. We focused on the ball. Then, the goblet shot across the table. "Hey Girl" someone said across the table as a few of us giggled nervously. The twine ball started rocking and shifting over the table towards my left hand. I tensed, the woman holding my wrist tightened her grip.

The Mentalist began to ask questions. Was Gertrude there? 

"Yes" answered a sweet voice. 
Where are you?
Where is here?
In my house.
Is there any of your family here?
Some here, some gone.

He asked how she felt about people coming to the Museum. 

Happy, but also a bit sad.
Because people come to see the house, not me. 
Well, some people do.

Her voice started going faint. The Mentalist thanked Gertrude for coming, and broke the chain to light a candle.

I never thought I'd feel like this about a tiny candle.

We sat around the table and did a bit of Q & A. 

The woman to my right asked the Mentalist when he realized he was in fact, a Mentalist. "I didn't realize, I trained." He talked a bit about his approach to the supernatural (which I will try to not misrepresent - and so will be brief), which blended belief in magic with a talent to read people. This is sort of how I view magic - when people put their faith in someone - or something - then it becomes magic. Like a placebo, but with ghosts and telepathy.

Yvonne, the Medium, spoke up. She said that once she got up and did the meditation, her memory blurred. And though Gertrude, she said, "felt pleasant," she also sent another presence in the house - a male one - who wasn't particularly happy about what was going on in the house. "Does he own the house?" asked the Mentalist? "He thinks he does," she answered.

Gossiping with ghosts is the dream, to be honest.

As I collected my things and left the house, I knew that I'd have to come back more often - and try to think of Gertrude when I did.

Even if you don't believe in ghosts, read up on every fraud Houdini ever exposed, I feel like there's an enjoyable time to be had by just letting yourself go and enjoying an interesting and bone-tingling experience.

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