Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Merchant House Museum

Merchant House
Joseph Brewster, a hatter by trade, built this stately red brick and white marble home near Washington Square between Lafayette Street and the Bowery in an exclusive suburb of New York City in 1823. 

Three years later a successful, wealthy hardware merchant, Seabury Tredwell purchased the home for $18,000. He, his wife, Eliza, and their seven children moved in. In 1840 his wife gave birth to their eighth child, Gertrude.

Despite the families' social standing, only two of the daughters and one son married, which was very unusual for the time. The rest of the family lived in the home until their deaths.

Gertrude, one daughter who remained unmarried, was the last surviving sibling to live in the home. As she grew old, she became eccentric. Despite the fact she was now impoverished, she was able to keep the family home intact. This even after the rest of the neighborhood had changed drastically. 

When she died at age 93 in 1933, the rest of the East Fourth Street homes had all been converted to rooming houses, tenements, and commercial properties. Shortly after her death, her cousin George Chapman arranged for the home to be turned into a museum in 1936. In 2011, this museum celebrated its 75th anniversary.*

The Merchant House Museum has the distinction of being one of the best-preserved 19th-century homes both inside and out in Manhattan. One hundred and eighty-eight years later, the home still has its original furnishings, decorative art, and many of the families' personal possessions.

The Merchant House is also considered Manhattan’s most haunted house. The three ghosts that are seen are all members of the Tredwell family.

Since the early 1930s museum staff, volunteers, visitors, and neighbors--including people who just pass by the home have reported seeing, hearing and smelling unexplainable things.

The Youngest Daughter

Right after Gertrude’s death, a restoration worker saw, “a small elderly lady in a light colored dress standing in the doorway.” This woman then promptly vanished.

Not long after this, a group of noisy children playing outside the home were interrupted “when the front door burst open, and a tiny elderly woman flew out onto the high stoop in a rage, waving her arms wildly.” Neighbors who witnessed this event stated she looked precisely like Gertrude Tredwell.

Gertrude Tredwell
Ever since Gertrude’s ghost has been seen many times. She sometimes appears as a young woman, but more often as an elderly lady. She is seen on the staircase, in the front bedroom where she died, and “hovering within view of the front door.”

In the early 1980s, one group of tourists who rang the bell for entry were greeted by an elderly lady dressed in period clothing. She proceeded to tell them the museum was closed for the day. But they discovered later the museum was open that day and that the staff never wears period clothing.

The Youngest Son

In July of 1999, a former volunteer at the museum brought her young son and boyfriend so they could take a self-guided tour of the Merchant House. Once upstairs, she left the two and went into Mr. Tredwell’s bedroom alone.

Samuel Tredwell
She was perusing a group of photographs of the family when she heard a voice with an old fashioned accent state, “Looking at the family, eh?” 

She was overwhelmed with the scent of mothballs--this odor made her feel faint. She then saw an old man with a weatherworn face standing uncomfortably close to her.

It was a hot summer day, and she was surprised to see this man wore an old style heavy winter dress coat. He proceeded to share several Tredwell family stories with her. He mentioned that he had known the original owner of the house well-- he pointed to portrait on the bedroom wall of Joseph Brewster. She now suspected that “he was a nut.”

Her boyfriend and son then entered the room. As she turned back to the odd man, he was gone. Later as she sat in the home’s front parlor she saw this same man again as he passed by the room’s door--she then heard the front door open and close.

As she stood, her knees buckled for she realized the man who had shared the family stories with her was a ghost. She rounded up her family and left quickly.

It wasn’t until six months later, she gathered the courage to return to tell the museum staff about what she had seen, smelled, and heard. One member showed her a photo of a young man wearing graduation robes. She stated he was “younger,” but it was the same man. This photo was a picture of Samuel Lenox Tredwell, the long-dead youngest son in the family.

The Father

Seabury Tredwell
Three men who visited the museum in the mid-1990s didn’t stay long. The museum’s manager was surprised to see them return their self-guided tour book within minutes of their arrival. She asked them if something was wrong.

They told her that an older man, dressed in strange clothes had blocked their entrance--he had firmly told them “he wished them to leave.”

They then pointed to a portrait of Seabury Tredwell that hangs in the home’s parlor. They stated, “that is the man who blocked our way.”

*  This house museum is considered one of America's finest remaining examples of a Greek Revival row house, and it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Here is a 6-minute video of Merchant House, the narrator mentions other activity experienced in the home, plus two photos that were taken years apart are shared that show a light anomaly in the same place. 

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