Ghosts That Don’t Scare are Just a Nuisance (Especially in a Book)

If there’s anything about this book that frightens me, it’s the fact that I’m still tempted to read books like these every year, right before Halloween. Each chapter is about some charming NYC landmark, with a lame ghost story tacked on. For each historic house, we get two or three “unseen phenomena” that either move the pictures, pet the cats, or steal pints of beer. Why not just write about the damn houses? The part about McSorley’s Ale House, now there’s history involved in that one, and I bet the owner and patrons all have stories to tell. The old bars in the Village, they’ve been around since the 1800’s. Why waste such a great opportunity on a boring ghost story?

The Merchant’s House Museum-who cares about the ghosts, what about the tunnel underneath? Hart Island and the Brother Islands-why not just write about their histories? We know that Hart Island is many things; cemetery for the unclaimed dead, site of an old Nike missile base, resting place for the old Ebbet’s Field bleacher seats, to name a few. North Brother Island was an isolation zone for Typhoid Mary, and later an institution for teenage junkies. Do we need the paranormal stuff too? The “true” stories of these islands are far more interesting.

Haunted theatres? Big deal. Lots of theatres from here to England are said to be haunted. The author did manage to pull up some interesting (and fun) facts about the theatres that have NOTHING to do with ghosts. For starters, never wear green or yellow on stage, the limelight cancels it out. Never whistle in the theatre, because the stagehands were ex-sailors and they’d signal each other by whistling. Whistle the wrong tune, and the curtain might drop at the wrong time. Oh, and did you know that green and yellow are considered bad luck on stage? They used to be the colors of the devil in old plays. Never let the theatre go pitch black, because the spirits will run amok.

Here’s the bottom line; the ghosts don’t interest me at all, but the historical facts do. This book would’ve done much better as a series of articles in Time Out NY.

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