Magazine article The New Yorker

SKUNKED; Wo-O-O Dept

Magazine article The New Yorker

SKUNKED; Wo-O-O Dept

Article excerpt

There might be an appliance theme to the haunting of the Merchant's House, a nineteenth-century town house in the East Village that was owned by a single family until 1933, when it was turned into a museum. In the nineteen-seventies, someone decided to fit the kitchen with a cast-iron stove. One day, the story goes, a museum worker witnessed the stove shaking violently, as if someone were pushing it from behind. In the early nineties, the museum's curator installed a computer. The machine froze every time she typed "Tredwell"--the last name of the house's original owner. "Well, not every time, but three out of five," Pi Gardiner, the museum's current executive director, explained one night recently. "Our theory was that the spirits were, like, 'What is all this newfangled technology?' "

Gardiner was discussing these and other bizarre happenings with Dan Sturges, a paranormal investigator who has been brought in to case the house. (The staff is compiling a book called "Some Say They Never Left: Tales of the Strange and Inexplicable at the Merchant's House Museum." Sample entry: "Coming from the Bedroom Floor below, I heard what sounded like running and stamping by small children.") Sturges, who is bald, tattooed, and beefy--more Stay Puft Marshmallow Man than Ghostbuster--agreed that the technology theory was plausible. "It could be that the spirits in the house are frustrated," he said. "All the psychokinetic or telekinetic energy and the anger--that can really screw up computers."

Seabury Tredwell, the patriarch of the presumed ghost family, bought the house for his wife and their seven children in 1835. When he died, his kids stuck around--most notably Gertrude, the youngest, who stayed until her death, at the age of ninety-three. Sturges, a veteran of more than fifty missions with Paranormal Investigation of NYC, is searching for their spirits pro bono. (He did the same for the Belasco Theatre and for the restaurant One If by Land, Two If by Sea. He supplements his income with acting gigs; see the 2002 Hungry Man "XXL" commercial.)

Sturges unpacked his equipment: a digital-video recorder, two electromagnetic-field meters, a thermocouple--like an iPod, with a metal coil to tell temperature (you look for cold spots)--a digital camera, and a tape recorder. …

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