With majestic columns, pristine white walls and lush landscaping, it’s hard to believe the Morris-Jumel Mansion, a lesser-known museum tucked away in a suburban section of New York City’s Washington Heights, is one of Manhattan’s most haunted locations.
Dubbed the oldest house in Manhattan, the Morris-Jumel Mansion was built in 1776 as a summer house by British Col. Roger Morris and his family. They built the property on 135 acres of land that stretched between the two rivers, and the home was situated on one of the highest points of Manhattan, with clear views of New Jersey, Connecticut and most of New York.
The strategic location ended up being beneficial for Gen. George Washington, who took over the property for his headquarters when it was abandoned during the Civil War.
The spacious property was later purchased in 1810 by Madame Eliza Jumel, who became one of the wealthiest women in New York, despite growing up in poverty. She lived there with her first husband as well as her second husband, Vice President Aaron Burr. She then lived there as a widow until she died in 1865.
The home was transformed into what it is today - a museum and historical house open to the public - just before the turn of the 20th century. It was no longer a home for some of New York’s wealthiest.
But some visitors say its residents never quite moved out. So Inside Edition visited the Morris-Jumel Mansion to see if anyone remained in their former home.
The supposedly haunted Morris-Jumel Mansion was analyzed by the Gotham Paranormal Research Society, a team of investigators that explores all things other-worldly.
“Everything we do is with safety and dignity,” said Vinny Carbone, an investigator with the team.
Founder Angela Artuso, who works as a medical technician, said she and husband Bill Artruso brought the group together more than a decade ago as a result of her life-long interest in the supernatural.
“It’s something that has always fascinated me ever since I was a child,” Artuso said. “I would experience things. To me, they were normal. I didn’t realize they were not normal until I got older and started hearing from other people that they were having the same types of things happen to them.”
Her husband, an accountant by trade, explained that even though he started as a skeptic, his involvement in the group has opened his eyes: “The more you come across something you can’t explain, doesn’t mean it’s paranormal, but we just can’t explain it right now. Keeps me on my toes and I’m always trying to look for the answer," he said.
Carbone, who works as the public programming events manager at the Morris-Jumel Mansion by day, combines his two loves by hosting after-hours paranormal investigations at the museum several times a month and indulging guests in its apparently haunted past.
“We actually have claims that Eliza Jumel herself was saying the house was haunted when she was in it,” Carbone said. “She was hearing things, seeing things and when she passes away, her family claims to have seen her here ... but at that time, they did not talk about it. In more recent history, it’s something we embrace and incorporate into our public programming.”
His colleague Chris Davalos, who is the director of visitor services at the museum, became involved with the Gotham Paranormal Research Society after a couple of first-hand experiences with the museum’s residents from beyond the grave.
He explained it was after closing when he and a coworker heard noises coming from the basement.
“Two female voices laughing and we hear the table being pulled,” Davalos said. “We come down here and that’s when we noticed the table has been shifted. That was really intense – to have two disembodied voices and a physical object being moved all at the same time.”
He explained the basement, which was once a working kitchen with a large-scale wood burning stove, would have been where at least four documented slaves worked long days and long nights in the mansion’s early days.
The most famous ghost sighting, Davalos said, happened in the middle of the day in the 1960s.
“It’s been a tradition at the mansion that we do school tours here,” he said. “The school kids, teachers, chaperones, they’re outside in the front running around, playing, burning off energy and this woman in full period clothes comes out on this balcony.
“She says to them, ‘Be quiet or go home,’” he said. “The kids, the teachers, the chaperones, they look at her and they really don’t put much stock into this because they think she’s like a reenactor or a tour guide dressed for the period.”
The group begins their tour and when they arrive to the second floor, nearby the door to the balcony, he said, they see a large portrait of Eliza Jumel.
“They said, ‘Hey, that’s the lady that told us to be quiet. Where is she? How is she part of the tour?’” Davalos said. “The curator looks at them and says, ‘Guys, that’s Eliza Jumel. She’s been dead for almost 100 years.’”
To conduct their investigations, the Gotham Paranormal Research Society arms themselves with a variety of tools, like K2 meters and REM pods to measure electromagnetic energy.
More importantly though, Carbone explained the key to having a great experience is to interact with the spirits with respect and thank them when leaving the space.
“Thank you for spending your time with us tonight if you were here,” Carbone said, as his group left the basement. “We hope you were at peace. At no point were we trying to make a fool of you.”
Also, arrive to your first paranormal investigation with some skepticism and an open mind.
“For people who have never been on an investigation before, they come here super scared and nervous,” Carbone said. “But the nerves are going to come away and when something happens, it’s actually addicting and by the end of the night, they want to do it again.”