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" astoni
hed 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
"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
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
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."