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Episode 274 of 372

#274 Ghost Stories of Hell's Kitchen

station description The tides of American history lead through the streets of New York City — fro... read more
The Bowery Boys: New York City History
Duration: 01:02:33
The Manhattan neighborhood of Hell's Kitchen has a mysterious, troubling past. So what happens when you throw a few ghosts into the mix? Greg and Tom find out the hard way in this year's ghost stories podcast, featuring tales of mystery and mayhem situated in the townhouses, courtyards and taverns o
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The Manhattan neighborhood of Hell's Kitchen has a mysterious, troubling past. So what happens when you throw a few ghosts into the mix? Greg and Tom find out the hard way in this year's ghost stories podcast, featuring tales of mystery and mayhem situated in the townhouses, courtyards and taverns of this trendy area of Midtown West.This years Ghost Stories of Old New York show features:-- The troubling tale of a 1970s motion picture classic that may have left a sinister mark on West 54th Street-- The haunted home of a popular film and TV actress, possessed with a very hungry ghost-- An enchanting courtyard layered with several horrifying ghost stories-- And the shenanigans at a 150 year old tavern where the beer and the spirits flow freely.Support the show:
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this coincided with the rise of Spiritualism in the United States and by Spiritualism. You mean, as we discussed in the recent magic show, communicating with the dead Weegee boards, uh sciences and, yeah, you know, this whole legion of spiritual communication that popped up during this period. And a lot of these independent operators, these mediums freelancers, if you will, many of them were attracted to Hell's Kitchen because this was an affordable place to live in an affordable place to set up a business. Hell's kitchen. Had hundreds of people in this particular line of work in the late 19th century. And some think that this has opened up this whole area to some sort of other worldly sensibility combine that with the growing violence of the region, This constant gang violence that's occurring. Some claim that the sensitivity has corrupted into a most malevolent manner. And do we know anything about these, these mediums who were communicating with the other side? Well, let me tell you about one in particular, uh, one that we did mention in that Houdini show uh a spiritual leader by the name of Madame Helena Levitsky. She was born in Russia in 1831 became a spiritual leader, promoting a mix of alternative spirituality. He's a mixture that would come to be called theosophy. In 18 73 broflovski moved to new york and mini mark 18 75. Just two years later as the birth of the occult movement in America, when she and a few others formed the theus optical society, which was centered in her apartment in hell's Kitchen At 302 West 47th Street, Right off of 5th Avenue. Her salon here was called the llama seri and all sorts of unconventional spiritual ideas were entertained here. Tom Let me describe her parlor, the Llama Seri written about 1877 article in the New York Times, the parlor or boudoir, in which madam Babitsky received her guests for evidence of the untrammelled tastes of its owner in the shape of a huge tiger's head embedded over the door, a miniature crocodile swinging from the ceiling, and elegant and curious bric a BRAC, and articles of virtue distributed about the walls and mantelpieces. In the anteroom into which the guests were first conducted were figures of elephants, mystic triads and other ornamental symbols. Author Gary Lachman fills out this description even further in his biography of Mr Lebowski, quote, long narrow mirrors stood in the corners of the room, stuffed monkeys hung from the walls, as did several toy lizards. But the most famous was the celebrated stuffed baboon dressed in a collar, white cravat and a pair of glasses, and under one of his arms was shoved. A manuscript of Darwin's Origin of the species. Well, that certainly sounds pretty creepy. I mean you've got a baboon and a cravat, but do we know if anything actually like supernatural took place here? Yes, believe it or not. It was reported by several that boulevard ski exhibited psychic and telekinetic powers of her own. Here in the parlor, one person observed her raise her hand and a silver spoon materialized through a wall and landed on her fingertips. That's quite a trick. She also claimed to read something called astral light whenever it was present in the room. Each time she felt it. Those in the room heard the sound of otherworldly chimes that sounded both near and far away. Where was this place again? Where was her? Where was boulevard Skis house? You said West 47th Between 8th and 9th Avenue's today. Um the building in that spot today is an Econolodge That is just a couple blocks away from the location of what would become Madison Square garden at 50th between 8th and 9th, which would be constructed in the 1920s. I mean by the early 20th century the neighborhood's changing right. It seems like it must be cleaning up some what One might think that, but in fact the gang activity here would become even more gruesome, more intense. The most violent gangs in hell's kitchen during the 20th century was a group nicknamed the Westies, which were an irish american gang tied to organized crime and we're known for absolutely gruesome mob slayings. I mean they were they were absolute monsters. How bad were they? Well, I'm afraid to ask. Just one example. There was a Westies hangout called the 5 96 Club, so named because its address was 5 96 10th Avenue. It was here on May 5th, 1977 that a loan shark by the name of ruby stein was murdered and his body dismembered in the women's bathroom of this bar. Later his headless torso washed up on the shores of Jamaica Bay leading to the eventual arrest of the men who had murdered him. But for many, many years there were actually ghost stories associated with this particular bar. Wow, that's gruesome and that's got to be, that's got to be the most terrifying thing that happened in the entire neighborhood. Well, certainly one of the most real life horrors in Hell's Kitchen maybe, But just a few blocks north To a building at West 54th Street between 9th and 10th avenues. It was there that one of the scariest movies was filmed, Which One? The Exorcist now, although the movie is set in Georgetown Washington. Many of this interior scenes were filmed here in Hell's kitchen at Cso Studios including the famous possession scenes of the young girl played by linda Blair. I mean imagine the most terrifying scenes from that film. The ones that have burned upon your memory. And those were all filmed here in hell's kitchen. For example the scene where the girl's head spins around. That was shot in hell's kitchen. Yeah. And you may remember like they can all see their breath well it's because it was filmed in a refrigerated bedroom that was cool with four air conditioners and the temperature would sometimes get like many, many degrees below zero. It was so cold that even but sometimes snow in the studio. Later a fire destroyed the set mysteriously and it had to be entirely rebuilt there. And this was just one of several mysterious things that went on during the filming. Ellen Burstyn claimed quote there were some really strange goings on during the making of the film. We were dealing with some really heavy material and you don't fool around with that kind of material without it manifesting in some way. The exorcist opened on December 26 1973 became one of the most frightening films of all time. Many believe that film forever cursed this spot. Although it did later become a Sony Music studio. Um it was demolished in 2008 and today it's a condominium. Well like that bedroom Greg, I am positively refrigerated with fear right now. Um chilling chilling stories. That association, however, did not scare off one particular resident of Hell's Kitchen. Today for the neighborhood is the headquarters of the official church of satan, which is located in Hell's kitchen site. Okay, no, moving on moving actually. Are you done that? That is my intro to the horrors of Hell's Kitchen. Right, well, I would like to have a doughnut now. Okay, you enjoy your you enjoy your doughnut. I'm going to take us actually down Away from you. That was 54th Street where The Exorcist was filmed, correct? All right, well, I'm going to take us away from here downtown. 10 blocks to a town house at 4:28 West 44th Street between 9th and 10th avenues. The house is still there, Greg. It's a lovely 1860s era brick townhouse with three stories and a basement apartment. There's a there's a small private garden area in the front with a steep staircase leading up to the front door. Now in the 1960s, Just about 100 years after it was constructed, the homes rather famous owner found herself visited nightly by an unwanted visitor, a ghostly visitor who knocked and banged about the kitchen and finally revealed herself and her tragic past for this is a story of hungry, lucy wreaks, havoc. Okay, well, there is a whole lot of drama in the story. A lot of drama that is because the town has today finds itself on a rather dramatic block. You'll find it wedged between the actors studio and the new dramatists, both of which are located In former 19th century churches. So it's in between the two. So how could this not be dramatic? So thousands of actors have watched the street over the decades, tens of thousands and even lived on this block. But here at 4:28, West 44th Street, an actress named June Havoc purchased the building in 1962. She was intent on living on the main floor while renting out the other floors to tenants. So june havoc. Can you remind me of something I've seen her in when she was, she was a film and a broadway star and I mean, she has an amazing story. I'd love to do a whole show on her. She was a well known broadway actress, a film actress in a tv actress. She even did soap operas at the end of her career, but her own story is today, really often overshadowed by the fictionalized version of her life that was written by her sister, Miss gypsy Rose lee. Hello everybody, my name is june, what's yours now, anybody out there who's familiar with the musical gypsy and I have a feeling that's a high percentage of our listeners Greg. You know, the story about the young june havoc or baby june as she was known on the vaudeville circuit. Baby june is rather spoiled by her stage mom Rose, who and and baby june later runs off to escape her, you know, overbearing mother and meanwhile, june's second fiddle sister louise, goes on to find stardom in the american burlesque scene. As gypsy Rose lee. Baby jane, I mean, baby june, sorry, baby june was invented for the musical like this particular, No, no for her or no. Gypsy Rose Lee took a lot of liberties when she wrote her memoir in 1957, upon which the musical was based, june however, did perform in vaudeville as baby june. She did have an overbearing stage mother. All of this is true. She did overshadow her sister Louise who would then go on to become gypsy Rose lee, a famous burlesque performer. However, gypsy, the musical forgets to mention that june, baby june also goes on to become famous. If you only know the musical, Baby june june just kind of disappears at the end of it. So we're paying june her do here in this ghost story show and she deserves it because june went on to star in movies. She was in the Gentleman's Agreement, she was on tv, she was on broadway, she was on, she was in pal Joey on broadway and by the way, june was born in Vancouver on november 8th 1912. Her full name was Ellen, june Evangeline ho vic. So she tweaked it. She tweaked her maiden name to come up with her stage name. Havoc! Alright, so june havoc purchases this townhouse on 44th street Between 9th and 10th In 1962 and begins wrenching up the floors above her to various tenants. What's interesting about 1962, by the way is the Gypsy had already opened and closed. The phenomenally successful first stage version with Ethel Merman 1962 is the same year that the film version with Rosalind Russell came out. So she must have felt very much like, you know, part of popular culture, but june is now finding herself quite busy. She has a tv talk show, she was working on various theater projects with Helen Hayes and others. She thought that this would make a very convenient home base. She could easily get to the theaters that home had been owned for many years by the Rotenberg family. And then it was purchased and it was renovated by a man named mr Payne who then sold it to june havoc June moved into the main floor apartment in 1962. An apartment that had strangely been vacant for many years. It seemed that they were having a hard time renting it out. She found out quickly. Why? Of course, because it turns out that that apartment was noisy. There were banging noises. Uh that really often startled her in the middle of the night. Well I think that sounds like a standard new york city apartment. I think we've all had noisy neighbors or we've had a noisy radiator or that one pipe in the corner. Ghost pipe that starts clicking or banging. Well that's what june thought too. So she just kind of shrugged it off. You know, maybe I thought that earplugs could take care of it and she just put up with it for a number of years according to an interview that she gave to the Daily News. Years later she was working with Helen Hayes on a show and she was trying to explain why she looked so tired, I was complaining about a headache I had because of a lack of sleep. I was I was hearing noises at three or 4:00 AM. Mhm. So she called in a plumber to check out the pipes. She called. She called in an architect to check out the floors. Nobody could find any reason why there'd be this tapping noise. Other people heard it too. It wasn't just her friends visiting her cleaning lady. Everybody had experienced these noises in MS havoc apartment. What do you even do when something like this happens? Well, you couldn't dial 311 back in 1964. So she did the second best thing. She got in touch with paranormal researcher and author Hans Holzer who had written several books on ghost hunting. Well, Holzer decided to investigate and for that, he would need a medium madam. Levitsky, of course was no longer available. She had passed on to the other world. So he invited instead along a famous british medium, a woman named Sybil Leek. So in 1964 Holzer Civil League and this small group of journalists documenting this, this whole event. They descended upon june havoc kitchen to try to communicate with whatever spirit was creating this noise and and they were going to try to get this to stop. Yeah. So when the group arrived and and june havoc lead them back to the kitchen, there was indeed a very loud tapping coming from the kitchen. Holzer tried to speak directly to the spirit. What do you want? He said and the noise stopped. Now mind you, this isn't just Holzer's account, this was witnessed by the other journalists. They even had a tv crew in there because june havoc at a T. V. Show and this was being recorded for the show. But the whole group sat at a table in the kitchen and Sibyl tilted back her head closed her eyes and went into a trance. Suddenly symbols started channeling the spirit speaking as the spirit when she cried out, hungry, No food, I want some food. They learned that her name was lucy, That the year was 1792 and that there wasn't a house there, she wasn't in a kitchen, she was, she was just in a field. Soldiers. In fact had put her there had sent her away. There was somebody in charge of the soldiers named napier, nobody there would listen to her and that's why she was making so much noise because she's hungry and she wanted somebody to listen to her. She said they picked me up, man brought me here, put me down on this spot, but she didn't want to leave that spot. But then then the spirit left Sibyl who woke up out of her trance and instantly the sound started up in the kitchen again. But wait, it gets creepier because then Sibyl felt the presence of a young girl in the corner in the living room. So they went in there and they sat around a victorian table which they all put their hands on. It started moving and flying around the room. Once it settled down and started tapping out a code, they recognized that it was code. So they started counting the taps, one tap for each letter of the alphabet. And slowly slowly the spirit was tapping out a message to them. They all listened together. The cameras were on. Everybody witnessed tap tap, tap tap, tap, tap tap, tap, tap, tap tap, L tap tap tap tap tap, e tap A followed by V. E leave. Mhm. The table spun out of control, moving and careening as holzer described it around the room, then it lost its power and collapsed. The party was over. So is that the end of lucy? Did she leave? Well, I think lucy wanted them to leave, although things did die down for a couple of days until a few nights later when june havoc was startled awake in the middle of the night. This time the tapping wasn't in the kitchen. Back to that interview in the Daily News, she said, instead of incessant banging and tapping, there was this hideous screaming and this time it sounded like it was coming from within a box, directly over me. It was directly above her bed. And meanwhile they've been researching the information that they got from the medium. During that trance. They looked into napier whom lucy had mentioned and it turned out that he had been a british officer during the revolution, napier's family had died of yellow fever and he had been sent back to England. So were they ever able to communicate with lucy again? Well, the next January 1965, Sibyl again went into a trance in the presence of Holtz era. She started talking as lucy this time she was complaining about all the people and all the activity in that house. She said people there too much june too many clocks. She sings dances, she makes a lot of noise. I'm hungry, I'm always hungry. You don't do a thing about it. But then lucy revealed that she was waiting, in fact for her, dear Alfred, a love of hers named Alfred bailey. He said that he would come back for her at 3:00 AM, Which is why she's always there and ready at 3:00 AM. But she can't get out to meet him. She can't get up because she's stuck Holzer spend time encouraging lucy to leave to go and find Alfred. He told her that she could find him if she just left this place june havoc reported over the next few nights and weeks that the sounds had become much quieter. They were still there but they were more spread around the house but much calmer. They did have one more sounds just to check in on everybody to make sure everything was okay civil went into her trance but lucy never showed up instead. This time it was Alfred who showed up.
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