How a Greenwich Village brownstone became known as the ‘House of Death’

October 12, 2018

Photo of 14 West 10th Street via Wikimedia; Photo of Mark Twain via Wikimedia

Despite its picturesque exterior, the building at 14 West 10th Street in Greenwich Village has a not-so-cute history. Since being constructed in the 1850s near the start of the Civil War, 22 people have died in the home, referred to as the House of Death. And as the New York Post reported, some of their spirits allegedly have never left. Residents have reported sightings of the spirit of Samuel Clemens aka Mark Twain, who lived at the building between 1900 and 1901, and other bone-chilling ghosts who have haunted the Greenwich Village block for over a century.

Located near Washington Square Park, No. 14 was home to many NYC big-wigs, including the wife of James Boorman Johnson, who founded the Metropolitan Underground Railroad. Twain, who only lived in the home for one year and died in Connecticut, is said to still haunt the home.

Sightings of the author in a white suit have been reported on the first floor and near the staircase. In the 1930s, a mother and daughter said they saw a ghost resembling Twain sitting near a window. Allegedly, the spirit said, “My name is Clemens and I has a problem here I gotta settle.”

A few years after this sighting, the single-family home was converted into a 10-unit apartment building. The hauntings did not stop. According to the Post, actress Jan Bryant Bartell and her husband moved in 1957 into an apartment on the top floor of 14 West 10th Street. Almost immediately, Bartell felt a “monstrous moving shadow that loomed up behind her.”

In a memoir published years after she left the home, Bartell wrote about feeling a brush against the back of her neck and smelling a rotting odor throughout her apartment. One day she saw a vision of a man and she reached out to touch him. She wrote that she touched a “substance without substance. Chilly, damp. Diaphanous as marsh mist or a cloud of ether.”

Bartell and her husband called a paranormal expert and a medium to investigate. The medium felt something (or many things) dead under the floorboards, possibly a young girl, an aborted child, and a small gray cat. After unsuccessfully cleansing the home of any nasty spirits, the couple left the home.

Years later, an actual monster resided at 14 West 10th Street. In November of 1987, former attorney Joel Steinberg beat his partner’s six-year-old daughter into a coma, and later to death. Steinberg was convicted of first-degree manslaughter and later landed mandatory parole in 2004. The Post reported last year that Steinberg is currently living in an apartment in Harlem.

Despite its dark name, the House of Death may not be Manhattan’s most haunted house. Some say it’s the Merchant’s House Museum, where seven family members died in the home, their funerals held in the front parlor.


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