Haunted Places

If you live in the same city or town for any length of time, you are bound to start racking up an impressive list of “haunted places.” A particularly bad date haunts a café you subsequently avoid, a storefront reminds you of a long dead friend or a park is filled with ghosts of youthful indiscretions best forgotten.

In a city like New York, personal landmarks have a way of disappearing. “Institution” restaurants everyone assumes will last forever — like the Second Avenue Deli — lose leases and move or close. Department stores disappear — my mom and I still talk about Altmans on Fifth Avenue. And neighborhoods are transformed until only outlines of the old shapes remain.

Not all of this is bad. The High Line Park (made from an abandoned above ground train track that was overrun with weeds and home to rats) is certainly a wonderful improvement over its past. Not all of it is good, either. The pre-war buildings of St. Vincent’s Hospital are on their way to becoming yet another bunch of very expensive condos.

The constant whirl of change is in New York’s nature, and yet somehow haunted places persist. The “hauntings” are individual. What I see as the legacy of a particular street corner will bring another ghost to you. Perhaps it will simply remind you of your first trip to New York? I have streets like that in Rome (and Amsterdam and Buenos Aires and…).

But getting back to the haunted places that inspire memories and stories,

I can look up at the window of my first apartment on Houston Street and I will be flooded with memories. I could see the World Trade Towers from those windows. They were like mountains in the distance, an ever-present part of the downtown landscape.

Of course the stories I recall are peculiar to me — the settings are ready fiction-fodder. (Really good fiction fodder!) The building on Houston Street faced St. Anthony’s Church so every June for two solid weeks a Ferris wheel turned and the aroma of Italian sausages and zeppole rose in the warm air, floating into my room. Sounds like a great place to be 21, but by the second week of garbage collection at 3am and fried dough with powdered sugar for dinner, you’re ready to take a suicidal leap from the top of the Ferris wheel.

By then I was a Page at NBC and I can’t walk through Rockefeller Center with a tsunami made up of what-ifs, whys and no mores… I’m simply not that girl any longer. But her time, place, people, tastes linger like ghosts inside me. They come out to play when I turn certain corners and no amount of Starbucks coffee bars and mobile phone stores will ever entirely exorcise those ghosts.

My haunted places have become the playgrounds of my characters. What about your haunted town?


  1. There are houses in my old neighborhood that were the haunted houses of my youth. At times it seems odd to see the places fixed up and new people living in them. A small town in middle America is slow to change. Many of hauntings of my youth are still around today.

    • Candy

      Even in a rapid & ever-changing city like New York, there are landmarks that remain relatively unchanged.

      I was taking a walk with my mom the other day and I mentioned this concept of locations that were haunted with memories and how they found a way into my fiction. She laughed and we wound up talking about one of the NYU classroom buildings. In the larger world, this building is notable because it was the sweatshop in the famous Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire 1911 that galvanized the labor movement. Eventually it became an NYU building where both of my parents attended classes as undergraduates. Decades later my mother taught there and then I attended classes in that same building.

      Same place, multiple hauntings…

  2. The Jameson Saloon in Wallace, Idaho is supposed to be haunted. My mom used to check guests into the bed and breakfast, and late at night and while she would also be cleaning alone later on, she said odd sounds and objects would move–even the water would turn on by itself. I guess paranormal investigators even visited once. Another spooky place in Wallace is the Oasis Bordello Rooms. The rooms were left in the condition the prostitutes left them in the late 1980s when the FBI raided my hometown to crack down on illegal gambling and such. The tour brings to mind all the people who’ve spend time there and the things they must have been up to… however the really creepy part if going into the basement of the building. The unfinished part of it is a dark hole where the old tree stumps from old trees stand from when Wallace was still a swampy area before mining came to town. All in all, I’d say my hometown is up there in whackiness.

    • Candy

      Very high on the whackiness meter! That tree stumped basement is an image I could write about. In fact, the entire town sounds like a great place to set a supernatural tale. Any paranormal plans? LOL..

  3. I’ve lived in a lot of places since I grew up and left home, but I’ve learned not to return to them. Some are still there, but so changed as to be strangers to me. Others look the same on the outside but I know the garden out the back is completely gone, lost beneath a new granny flat and lots of paving. [I kept in touch with my lovely neighbours for years and they told me about my beloved garden].

    So now I keep my memories by not letting them clash with reality. My head knows change is inevitable, and even necessary, but my heart wishes things could stay the same forever. 🙂

    • Candy

      You have the heart of a true romantic! Continue NOT to visit the places and, at least in your imagination, they do not change.

      I’ve found that memories of places haunted by the old me — the me of my childhood, adolescence and early adulthood — are rich in settings for fiction. I didn’t move around a great deal, so the geography isn’t huge but… that terrible little apartment first solo apartment (it is only a few blocks from where I live now) is a wonderful place for a horror or suspense. The next three apartments were all around the same courtyard just south of Washington Square Park — definitely mystery and romance. The first apartment with roommates (in the blog post) is full of bittersweet, coming of age stuff that I’m not quite old enough to write about with the right longing. LOL But I will be soon.

      Just remember, your garden is still there for you in your memories and in your fiction!

    • Candy

      Some are FOND & Haunting!
      Sometimes it’s amazing to me that we survived that Ferris wheel and what amounted to 2 years plus one extra JUNE of Italian Feast outside our windows. One day, I honestly don’t know when, I’m going to tackle some of those memories in fiction. Do you like the title “Let God Dry the Dishes”? It was what I planned to write way, back then… It was what you used to say in the kitchen.

      • Diane Johnson-Quinn

        The memory of the festival that haunts me is the smell of fried calamari waft to our open windows!

        Funny, I just said that to my Christian co-workers when we were cleaning up after an office party!

        • Candy

          But somehow I doubt you’d had calamari at the office party! LOL…

          The Feast of St. Anthony’s does haunt — the sounds of the games, the music, the garbage trucks… combined with the tastes, fried dough, cheap wine with peaches, calzones… and that Ferris Wheel… an implement of torture one night, turning and turning in the window and something fun the next evening.