Look, over there. On top of the hill. Does that house look haunted to you? It’s the Morris-Jumel mansion, one-time residence of the infamous actress/prostitute, Madame Eliza Jumel. Today, it’s a museum, and a fair number of its modern visitors have reported some pretty strange doings.
HIGH ON A HILL IN HARLEM HEIGHTS. British Colonel Roger Morris built the mansion in 1765, and wealthy Frenchman Stephen Jumel purchased it for Eliza, his social-climbing wife, in 1810. Their stormy marriage ended with Stephen’s mysterious death in 1832, and Madame, not one to waste her time in mourning, soon married her long-term paramour, Aaron Burr. Yes, that Aaron Burr.
She probably should have stayed single. Not only did Burr drive Jumel into bankruptcy, he then had the nerve to divorce her. It was all too much for Madame, who proceeded to become a recluse and lose her marbles. When she died at the mansion in 1865, she was 92 years old. Her marbles have never been found.
SHE JUST REFUSES TO LEAVE. Some say that even after death, Madame remained in the mansion. Maybe she missed her first husband, who apparently also remained behind to become:
GHOST #1, STEPHEN JUMEL: When a mansion curator started hearing pitiful moans about the place, she did what any normal 1960s curator would do. She sent for a psychic.
The famous Hans Holzer answered the call. Never one to shy from a good haunting, Holzer conducted two seances at the mansion, and in the second of these, the moaner appeared on cue. He revealed himself to be none other than Stephen Jumel, and he had an accusation to make: that his death in 1832 had been no accident. Sure, he had fallen on that pesky pitchfork and all, but he would have recovered from that had Madame Jumel not removed his bandages and watched in glee as he bled to death.
The dramatic statement conflicts with older accounts which blame his death on a fall from a hay wagon, but no matter. Having divested itself of this information, Jumel’s spirit was free to fly. It hasn’t been seen at the mansion since.
GHOST #2, THE REVOLUTIONARY SOLDIER: Eighteenth century soldiers? Some curators and visitors have reportedly spied a few men in uniform partying in the mansion’s dining room. Others have supposedly been seen cavorting in Eliza Jumel’s lavish bedroom. The color of their coats was unfortunately not disclosed.
On other occasions, two schoolteachers on separate field trips are said to have been extremely surprised by an American soldier ghost which stepped right out of a painting on the wall.
GHOST #3, THE JILTED MAIDSERVANT: A woman exploring the mansion’s third floor was allegedly so frightened by the ghost of a maid that she suffered a heart attack and died. This maid has often been seen in the third floor servants’ quarters; it is said that the girl committed suicide in the mansion.
GHOST #4, AARON BURR: And why wouldn’t Burr haunt this place? He was, after all, a former resident, and one of Eliza Jumel’s husbands and lovers. What would make him want to stick around? It’s possible that he’s still got it bad for the mansion’s most famous spirit of all:
GHOST #5, MADAME ELIZA JUMEL: When the nightly midnight rappings and tappings began in 1868, terrified mansion resident Eliza Pery swore it was the spirit of Madame Jumel. To prove to the world that she was hearing these things, Mrs. Pery enlisted as potential witnesses her husband Paul, her governess Mme. Nietschke, and the mansion gardener. All four stayed up late one night, hoping to bust that ghost.
As Mrs. Pery had predicted, the spooky noises began again at midnight, right on schedule. They frightened Mr. Pery right out of his chair, and made a convert out of Nietschke, who up until that evening had never believed in ghosts.
MADAME JUMEL IS STILL IN THE BUILDING. They say that Madame still roams the mansion, tapping on windows and doors. One cold day in January, 1962, she even ventured onto a balcony to “shush” a group of noisy grade-schoolers waiting outside for their tour. The mansion was locked at the time, and no living person was inside.
ENTER AT YOUR OWN RISK: The Morris-Jumel mansion is located at 65 Jumel Terrace, between West 160th and 162nd Streets. It’s open from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm, Wednesday through Sunday, and closed on legal holidays. Admission is $4.00 for adults, $3.00 for students and seniors, and free for children under 12.
Remember, this is a haunted house. Beware of flying orbs!
William Henry Shelton, “The Jumel Mansion,” Houghton Mifflin Company, 1916
Julie Burtinshaw, “Widow of Washington Heights,” Romantic Ghost Stories
Don Kaplan, “Scare Tactics,” New York Post, October 29, 2009