Haunted History: Spirits of the Tenement Museum

Posted on: October 25th, 2013 at 11:35 am by
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Haunted history is one of the most intriguing topics I’ve come across. In honor of All Hallow’s Eve, the tradition is to “dress up” or masquerade. Though, in actuality, we are really expected to disguise ourselves, not just wear skimpy costumes. This disguise is meant as protection from the spirits and devils that can only cross back into our realm over the course of the day.

I hope you scare easily because I have a haunted NYC tale for you. It’s a personal experience that occurred nowhere near Halloween, which might make you go, “hmm” or “awesome” or “get me the BLEEP outta here.”

At a very popular tourist destination – the Tenement Museum – that began with a dollar and a dream:

We tell the stories of 97 Orchard Street. Built on Manhattan’s Lower East Side in 1863, this tenement apartment building was home to nearly 7,000 working class immigrants.

They faced challenges we understand today: making a new life, working for a better future, starting a family with limited means.

In recognizing the importance of this seemingly ordinary building, the Tenement Museum has re-imagined the role that museums can play in our lives.

Enter the tenement at 97 Orchard Street and you are whisked back in time. It’s a home away from home. I love 97 Orchard because it is exactly how my ancestors lived (and most likely yours too, what with the LES being the gateway to America).

During the 6 1/2 years as an educator there, three haunting events occurred; let’s just focus on one for now.

While on the “Hard Times” Tour:

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Gumpertz Kitchen

Standing in the kitchen with my back to the closed parlor door, I faced my fifteen visitors to tell the story of the Gumpertz family. In 97, everything creaks, and creaks are just that. However, this creak was something I had never heard before. It was almost like a slow unsettling chill accompanied the sound, and I wasn’t the only one who noticed. As if rehearsed, my entire tour gasped audibly.

I turned to inspect what their collective ashen faces were gawking at, and watched the parlor door slowly open … then SLAM shut. A little girl let out a tiny yelp, muffling her scream.

My response: “Well folks, looks like we have some people who’d like to say hello.” (Nervous laughter).

The girl, maybe 8 years-old, walked up to me and said, “She was a shadow.”

“Who was a shadow, sweetie?”

“The lady who opened and slammed the door.”

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Gumpertz Parlor

Absolute silence.

For. A. Long. Time.

Was it Natalie or perhaps another person who lived there long ago? Great question. I’m stumped.

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Natalie Gumpertz

7,000 people. How could it not be haunted? The births, the deaths, the unknown murders, the residual energy and the intelligent ghosts.

We may never see Ghost Hunters visit with their EVPs (electronic voice phenomenon recorders) because the Museum does not want to be associated with that kind of attention.

No problem; to each their own.

But the ghosts (or shadow people), whatever they were, weren’t done with me yet. Stay tuned.

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