Tuesday, June 15, 2010

"sorry I'm being creepy today" - the ghosts of the NYC burial grounds

From adjoining a Native American village to becoming the focal point of the famous "Beatnik riots" of 1961, Washington Square Park has a long history of wearing many faces.

And although my main interest is in the living – the stories of current, breathing homo sapiens who frequent the park – perhaps we must acknowledge the infamous stories of the WSP dead.

Whispers of ghost stories surround WSP, as I found out in one of my early park visits.  My first mistake was to sign up for a Greenwich Village tour from one of those obscure, never-heard-of-them tour groups.  My second mistake was to not walk away when I saw the tour guide – a forty-something, skinny, pale guy with too many notecards, and a jerky way of shifting his weight rapidly from foot to foot.

I'll give him this – he showed up.

He blundered through note cards, un-artfully avoided answering any questions, and frequently stopped mid-sentence to dig through his messenger bag without ever uncovering an item.  And just when I tried to find something redeemable about the tour, it started raining.

Awkward-tour-guide could not find his umbrella.

At this point, we were standing in the Northwest corner of the park, near the Chess players.  Awkward-tour-guide thought the rain set the perfect mood for telling WSP's deathly past.  During one of his many mid-sentence stops followed by a lengthy blank stare at a bench, awkward-tour-guide blurted out, "Sorry I'm being creepy today. . ."  


"It must be the ghosts."

Before I knew it, he was speed-walking the other direction.  No explanation.  Only a few stumbles and a dropped index card.

Gotta love tour guides.

So, when it rained yesterday, I thought it set just the right "creepy" atmosphere to revisit awkward-tour-guide's most awkward moment.  Are there ghosts in WSP?  And, if so, do those ghosts particularly like the rain? 

In the 1800's, WSP was known as a "potter's field," a public burial ground for the poor, the unknown, and once the yellow fever epidemic hit, the diseased.  WSP also displayed public hangings, although the extent of this function is disputed.

In 2008, during park renovations, several skeletons were unearthed.  See http://washingtonsquarepark.wordpress.com/2008/03/05/the-skeletons-of-washington-square-park/ for details (and opinions) concerning these incidents.  It is said that at least 20,000 bodies are known to remain buried under WSP's pavers, seeping up through the cracks to haunt us with their presence.

I have to admit that although I scoured the park yesterday for eery noises, flashes of light, or shadowy figures, the scariest thing I saw was a chubby fourth-grader running around with his shirt off.

Then I remembered – in the movies, ghosts show up in pictures.

And I got lucky.  I accidentally shook the camera while taking a picture of the Northwest pathway.

Creepy looking right?

But I must be honest, those blurry figures are only a woman walking her dog and a man scarfing down a cheeseburger.

However, when my search continued to produce no results, I took inspiration from that creepy photo – maybe I could look like a ghost if I ran around a tree while my friend took shaky pictures.

But in fact, I wound up just looking like I was running around a tree while my friend was taking
 not-quite-shaky-enough pictures.

Either I have too good a camera or I'm too poor a ghost.

I've decided to go back to my original intent – meeting and knowing the living humans of WSP.  Whether any ghosts enjoy lounging by the fountain, I can't say.

But I can tell you that if you see a blurry, shadowy figure running from behind a tree and it actually looks like a ghost, it is most certainly not linda dolano.

[Special thanks to Lindsey Hamilton for attempting to capture a lindadolano ghost photo.  Check out my photographer at http://hammyandwife.blogspot.com/]

Have any eery WSP tales?  Seen linda dolano running around WSP trees?  Do share!

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