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The Sinister Spirits of Manhattan’s House of Death

Does an evil presence plague this historic home?


In 1957,  Jan Bryant Bartell moved into the top floor apartment at 14 West 10th Street. Her life soon became a living nightmare.

From the first day, Jan felt an ominous presence in the apartment. Initially, her encounters were minor: the sound of footsteps following behind her, the sensation of someone brushing against her, and a disturbing, rotten odor emanating from the floorboards.

She claimed she had seen the figure of a large, hulking man: a shadow following her around the apartment. Once, she reached out to touch it. “What was it I touched?” she wrote. “A substance without substance. Chilly, damp. Diaphanous as marsh mist or a cloud of ether. I could feel my fingers freeze at the tips. They were numb, and yet they tingled. In the split second between contact and recoil, the scent came. Fragile and languorous. And sweet; unbearably, cloyingly sweet.”

Related: Manhattan’s Morris-Jumel Mansion and the Angry Ghost of Eliza Jumel

Jan and her husband decided to keep notes, and Jan began working on a book about the property. During her research, she discovered the house had a haunted history. Built in the 1850s, it was once a single brownstone. Mark Twain lived there for one year. Former tenants claimed to have seen his ghost, dressed in a white suit. A young girl said the apparition once spoke to her: “My name is Clemens and I has a problem here I gotta settle.”

But Jan knew the spirit she had encountered was no friendly Mark Twain. This was pure evil.

house of death mark twain
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  • Mark Twain.

    Photo Credit: PhotoQuest / Getty Images

The couple enlisted the help of a medium. During a seance in the apartment, Jan was possessed by the ghost of a 19-year-old named Reenie Mallison, who said she held President Lincoln responsible for the death of her husband in the Civil War. When the medium demanded that she leave the house, she reportedly screamed, “Never! I will never leave here, this is my home.”

Finally, after 12 years of terror, Jan and her husband fled 14 West 10th Street. But the horror didn’t stop.

Jan claimed the house had poisoned her, and that the evil spirit had attached itself to her, following her wherever she went. In 1973, Jan died under mysterious circumstances—possibly a suicide—leaving her manuscript unfinished. Friends pulled the pages together and had it published the following year under the title Spindrift: Spray from a Psychic Sea.

Related: Eternal Residents: The Ghosts of New York City’s Historic Dakota Building

Though Jan had died, the terror wasn’t over; the historic building was still home to 10 tenants and their families. Fifteen years after Jan’s passing, the house was the scene of a horrible crime. A middle class lawyer named Joel Sternberg and his girlfriend Hedda Nussbaum moved in to 14 West 10th Street. They adopted two children, a six-year-old named Lisa and a little boy, Mitchell, not even two-years-old.

After a night of drug use, Joel brutally beat Lisa and Hedda. The following morning, Hedda called the police. Little Lisa died from her injuries just three days later. Mitchell was found in horrible shape, dirty and neglected in his crib. Joel Sternberg was convicted of first-degree manslaughter and served 16 years in prison. He was released in 2004. There was speculation that Hedda was his co-conspirator, rather than his victim, but she was never charged with any crimes.

house of death
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  • Photo Credit: New York Daily News Archive / Getty Images

Today, 14 West 10th Street is known by a far darker name: “The House of Death.” A photographer named Dennis, who has lived in the building across the street for over 20 years, is convinced that an evil force lurks within the walls of the historic home. In fact, Dennis believes that this dark presence has stretched across the street from 14 West 10th and entered his apartment. Models who have come for photo shoots have been so terrified by the sight of a woman in a long flowing gown that they’ve fled, never to return.

Related: House of Darkness: The Bloody History of Staten Island’s Kreischer Mansion

After Jan Bartlett’s death, Dennis was browsing the shelves at The Strand bookstore, when, inexplicably, Jan’s book fell off the shelf and into the hands of his date. Since then, he’s owned several copies of Spindrift, but they just keep disappearing from his apartment. Maybe he’s just absentminded.

Or maybe, it’s something to do with that hulking shadow, across the street at the House of Death.

[via: nypost.com; untappedcities.com; Wikipedia]

Featured photo: Wikimedia Commons