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The Twenty-seventh Street Ghost Spirits On The Rampage

In classing the ghost excitement that agitated our good people to such

an extent some two years ago among the "humbugs" of the age, I must, at

the outset, remind my readers that there was no little accumulation of

what is termed "respectable" testimony, as to the reality of his

ghostship in Twenty-seventh street.

One fine Sunday morning, in the early part of 1863, my friends of the

"Sunday Mercury" astonished their many thousands of patrons with an

account that had been brought to them of a fearful spectre that had made

its appearance in one of the best houses in Twenty-seventh Street. The

narrative was detailed with circumstantial accuracy, and yet with an

apparent discreet reserve, that gave the finishing touch of delightful

mystery to the story.

The circumstances, as set forth in the opening letter (for many others

followed) were briefly these:--A highly respectable family residing on

Twenty-seventh Street, one of our handsome up-town thoroughfares, became

aware, toward the close of the year 1862, that something extraordinary

was taking place in their house, then one of the best in the

neighborhood. Sundry mutterings and whisperings began to be heard among

the servants employed about the domicile, and, after a little while it

became almost impossible to induce them to remain there for love or

money. The visitors of the family soon began to notice that their calls,

which formerly were so welcome, particularly among the young people of

the establishment, seemed to give embarrassment, and that the smiles

that greeted them, as early as seven in the evening gradually gave place

to uneasy gestures, and, finally to positive hints at the lateness of

the hour, or the fatigue of their host by nine o'clock.

The head of the family was a plain, matter-of-fact old gentleman, by no

means likely to give way to any superstitious terrors--one of your

hard-headed business men who pooh-poohed demons, hobgoblins, and all

other kinds of spirits, except the purest Santa Cruz and genuine old

Otard; and he fell into a great rage, when upon his repeated gruff

demands for an explanation, he was delicately informed that his parlor

was "haunted." He vowed that somebody wanted to drive him from the

house; that there was a conspiracy afoot among the women to get him

still higher up town, and into a bigger brown-stone front, and refused

to believe one word of the ghost-story. At length, one day, while

sitting in his "growlery," as the ladies called it, in the lower story,

his attention was aroused by a clatter on the stairs, and looking out

into the entry he saw a party of carpenters and painters who had been

employed upon the parlor-floor, beating a precipitate retreat toward the

front door.

"Stop!--stop! you infernal fools! What's all this hullabaloo about?"

shouted the old gentleman.

No reply--no halt upon the part of the mechanics, but away they went

down the steps and along the street, as though Satan himself, or Moseby

the guerrilla, was at their heels. They were pursued and ordered back,

but absolutely refused to come, swearing that they had seen the Evil

One, in propria persona; and threats, persuasions, and bribes alike

proved vain to induce them to return. This made the matter look serious,

and a family-council was held forthwith. It wouldn't do to let matters

go on in this way, and something must be thought of as a remedy. It was

in this half-solemn and half-tragic conclave that the pater-familias was

at last put in possession of the mysterious occurrences that had been

disturbing the peace of his domestic hearth.

A ghost had been repeatedly seen in his best drawing-room!--a genuine,

undeniable, unmitigated ghost!

The spectre was described by the female members of the family as making

his appearance at all hours, chiefly, however in the evening, of course.

Now the good old orthodox idea of a ghost is, of a very long,

cadaverous, ghastly personage, of either sex, appearing in white

draperies, with uplifted finger, and attended or preceded by sepulchral

sounds--whist! hush! and sometimes the rattling of casements and the

jingling of chains. A bluish glare and a strong smell of brimstone

seldom failed to enhance the horror of the scene. This ghost, however,

came it seems, in more ordinary guise, but none the less terrible for

his natural style of approach and costume. He was usually seen in the

front parlor, which was on the second story and faced the street. There

he would be found seated in a chair near the fire place, his attire the

garb of a carman or "carter" and hence the name "Carter's Ghost"

afterward frequently applied to him. There he would sit entirely unmoved

by the approach of living denizens of the house, who, at first, would

suppose that he was some drunken or insane intruder, and only discover

their mistake as they drew near, and saw the fire-light shining through

him, and notice the glare of his frightful eyes, which threatened all

comers in a most unearthly way. Such was the purport of the first sketch

that appeared in the "Sunday Mercury," stated so distinctly and

impressively that the effect could not fail to be tremendous among our

sensational public. To help the matter, another brief notice, to the

same effect, appeared in the Sunday issue of a leading journal on the

same morning. The news dealers and street-carriers caught up the novelty

instanter, and before noon not a copy of the "Sunday Mercury" could be

bought in any direction. The country issue of the "Sunday Mercury" had

still a larger sale.

On Sunday morning, every sheet in town made some allusion to the Ghost,

and many even went so far as to give the very (supposed) number of the

house favored with his visitations. The result of this enterprising

guess was ludicrous enough, bordering a little, too, upon the serious.

Indignant house-holders rushed down to the "Sunday Mercury" office with

the most amusing wrath, threatening and denouncing the astonished

publishers with all sorts of legal action for their presumed trespass,

when in reality, their paper had designated no place or person at all.

But the grandest demonstration of popular excitement was revealed in

Twenty-seventh street itself. Before noon a considerable portion of the

thoroughfare below Sixth Avenue was blocked up with a dense mass of

people of all ages, sizes, sexes, and nationalities, who had come "to

see the Ghost." A liquor store or two, near by, drove a splendid

"spiritual" business; and by evening "the fun" grew so "fast and

furious" that a whole squad of police had to be employed to keep the

side-walks and even the carriage-way clear. The "Ghost" was shouted for

to make a speech, like any other new celebrity, and old ladies and

gentlemen peering out of upper-story windows were saluted with playful

tokens of regard, such as turnips, eggs of ancient date, and other

things too numerous to mention, from the crowd. Nor was the throng

composed entirely of Gothamites. The surrounding country sent in its

contingent. They came on foot, on horseback, in wagons, and arrayed in

all the costumes known about these parts, since the days of Rip Van

Winkle. Cruikshanks would have made a fortune from his easy sketches of

only a few figures in the scene. And thus the concourse continued for

days together, arriving at early morn and staying there in the street

until "dewy eve."

As a matter of course, there were various explanations of the story

propounded by various people--all wondrously wise in their own conceit.

Some would have it that "the Ghost" was got up by some of the neighbors,

who wished, in this manner, to drive away disreputable occupants; others

insisted that it was the revenge of an ousted tenant, etc., etc.

Everybody offered his own theory, and, as is usual, in such cases,

nobody was exactly right.

Meanwhile, the "Sunday Mercury" continued its publications of the

further progress of the "mystery," from week to week, for a space of

nearly two months, until the whole country seemed to have gone

ghost-mad. Apparitions and goblins dire were seen in Washington,

Rochester, Albany, Montreal, and other cities.

The spiritualists took it up and began to discuss "the Carter Ghost"

with the utmost zeal. One startling individual--a physician and a

philosopher--emerged from his professional shell into full-fledged

glory, as the greatest canard of all, and published revelations of his

own intermediate intercourse with the terrific "Carter." In every nook

and corner of the land, tremendous posters, in white and yellow, broke

out upon the walls and windows of news-depots, with capitals a foot

long, and exclamation-points like drumsticks, announcing fresh

installments of the "Ghost" story, and it was a regular fight between

go-ahead vendors who should get the next batch of horrors in advance of

his rivals.

Nor was the effect abroad the least feature of this stupendous "sell."

The English, French, and German press translated some of the articles in

epitome, and wrote grave commentaries thereon. The stage soon caught the

blaze; and Professor Pepper, at the Royal Polytechnic Institute, in

London, invented a most ingenious device for producing ghosts which

should walk about upon the stage in such a perfectly-astounding manner

as to throw poor Hamlet's father and the evil genius of Brutus quite

into the "shade." "Pepper's Ghost" soon crossed the Atlantic, and all

our theatres were speedily alive with nocturnal apparitions. The only

real ghosts, however--four in number--came out at the Museum, in an

appropriate drama, which had an immense run--"all for twenty-five

cents," or only six and a quarter cents per ghost!

But I must not forget to say that, really, the details given in the

"Sunday Mercury" were well calculated to lead captive a large class of

minds prone to luxuriate in the marvelous when well mixed with plausible

reasoning. The most circumstantial accounts were given of sundry "gifted

young ladies," "grave and learned professors," "reliable

gentlemen"--where are those not found?--"lonely watchers," and others,

who had sought interviews with the "ghost," to their own great

enlightenment, indeed, but, likewise, complete discomfiture. Pistols

were fired at him, pianos played and songs sung for him, and, finally,

his daguerreotype taken on prepared metallic plates set upright in the

haunted room. One shrewd artist brought out an "exact photographic

likeness" of the distinguished stranger on cartes de visite, and made

immense sales. The apparitions, too, multiplied. An old man, a woman,

and a child made their appearance in the house of wonders, and, at last,

a gory head with distended eyeballs, swimming in a sea of blood, upon a

platter--like that of Holofernes--capped the climax.

Certain wiseacres here began to see political allusions in the Ghost,

and many actually took the whole affair to be a cunningly devised

political satire upon this or that party, according as their sympathies

swayed them.

It would have been a remarkable portion of "this strange, eventful

history," of course, if "Barnum" could have escaped the accusation of

being its progenitor.

I was continually beset, and frequently, when more than usually busy,

thoroughly annoyed by the innuendoes of my visitors, that I was the

father of "the Ghost."

"Come, now, Mr. Barnum--this is going a little too far!" some good old

dame or grandfather would say to me. "You oughtn't to scare people in

this way. These ghosts are ugly customers!"

"My dear Sir," or "Madam," I would say, as the case might be, "I do

assure you I know nothing whatever about the Ghost"--and as for

"spirits," you know I never touch them, and have been preaching against

them nearly all my life."

"Well! well! you will have the last turn," they'd retort, as they edged

away; "but you needn't tell us. We guess we've found the ghost."

Now, all I can add about this strange hallucination is, that those who

came to me to see the original "Carter," really saw the "Elephant."

The wonderful apparition disappeared, at length, as suddenly as he had

come. The "Bull's-Eye Brigade," as the squad of police put on duty to

watch the neighborhood, for various reasons, was termed, hung to their

work, and flashed the light of their lanterns into the faces of lonely

couples, for some time afterward; but quiet, at length, settled down

over all: and it has been it seems, reserved for my pen to record

briefly the history of "The Twenty-seventh street Ghost."

Next: The Moon-hoax

Previous: Monsignore Cristoforo Rischio

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