The mass of humanity that makes up New York City is frequently permeated by the strange. With its boarded-up windows, dramatic stories of various human affairs, acres of graveyards, massive rats and endless strange noises, what is the Big Apple if not one giant haunted house?
The city is full of these things, but it also has, some believe, the most essential element of a haunted house: Ghosts.
Kaylee Vroon is an usher and ticket-taker at the New Amsterdam Theatre, which is currently playing Disney’s “Aladdin.” Vroon said the theater is “one of the most haunted theaters on Broadway,” and also one of the oldest.
The first performers at the theater were the Ziegfeld Follies. Vroon said many of the actresses spent so much time at the theater that they practically lived there. And, though the show began its run in 1907, one of the show’s dancers is, according to Vroon, still present in the theater.
“The main ghost, her name is Olive,” she said.
Vroon said Olive had a “weird, complicated relationship with dance and the theater” and eventually committed suicide. Though she didn’t kill herself in the theater, it seems to be the place she has chosen to stay. There is a photo of her located in the theater still.
“Olive is a friendly ghost,” said Vroon, “but she can get a little moody sometimes. This year everybody forgot to sing ‘Happy Birthday’ to her portrait on her birthday, and there was a major tech issue that night that either delayed or canceled the show.”
“She mostly approaches men,” Vroon added. “She has never approached me, but she has approached some of my friends.”
Vroon said that sometimes someone will have a question about something that the ushers can’t get to right away, and when they come back to check in on the person they will just say, “The lady in the back helped me.”
Vroon said people experience Olive most commonly through a “tap on the shoulder,” “hand on (the) back” or a “really cold moment like she’s passing through.”
Vroon also mentioned “the little boy,” who is the son of one of the dancers and who died in a car crash. “He lives in the staircases behind the balcony,” said Vroon, “I’ve heard the footsteps.” The house manager’s offices are on the third floor there. They’ve had “CDs fall off the wall just randomly, cups tipping over — it’s just kind of a known fact. The little boy’s up there.”
Vroon said, “The only thing that helps (me) not be terrified is the fact that Aladdin is going on right in front of (me).” And of Olive, Vroon stated “If I ever interact with her or experience her in any sense, I will quit. I will not be able to stay at that theater.”
Who you gonna call?
What should a New Yorker do should she find a ghost? In other words, who you gonna call? Scott Orlansky, the lead investigator of Ghost Bros.: Paranormal Research Team, that’s who!
Ghost Bros. is based in the Bronx and is chiefly run by Scott Orlansky and his brother Justin.
Orlansky said, “We research the paranormal in terms of helping people.” Despite their intentions being to actually go into people’s homes and investigate, he said that they “do less investigating than (they) do figuring out what (they) don’t need to investigate.”
According to Orlansky, people are either lying, experiencing something psychological or actually having a real experience.
He said people “who are experiencing things that may be a psychological issue, I’ll deal with them as much as I possibly can. I’ll be there to talk to them. Sometimes I find that people just want you to listen to them. They seek us out because we are more inclined to hear them out; where other people would just dismiss them.”
One of the most common problems Ghost Bros. deals with is the presence of poltergeists. Orlansky explained poltergeists this way: “It is a spirit that draws energy from around itself to create chaos. It is really just energy being expended for the sake of energy.” He said that they get many reports of doors opening and lights flickering, and even someone putting their keys somewhere only to find them in a cooler in the garage.
Despite being “open to everything,” Orlansky said, “You have to go into it with a skeptical eye; otherwise you’re gonna be chasing ghosts all day long — every little sound, every creak of a house.
“We’re not out here busting ghosts like we’re Peter Venkman. I don’t have a pretend proton pack. I’m out here trying to figure out real-world explanations for otherworldly occurrences,” he added.
Orlansky said he isn’t “looking for ghosts” but instead “looking for an answer.” His goal, he said, is to help people, whether psychologically, practically or supernaturally.
In a place as historically saturated as New York, people like Vroon will stumble into haunted places and will need people like Orlansky to help them figure out what to do. But, not everyone has these encounters by accident. Some people go looking for the city’s ghosts.
Anthony Long is the “Chief Ectoplasm Officer” of The Brooklyn Paranormal Society. He talked about how he started the society in 2015 over blasting rock ’n’ roll music at a “ghost hunt” event at Wonderville, a neon-speckled arcade and bar located in the Bushwick neighborhood.
“It took off immediately — people couldn’t get enough of it,” he said.
Ironically, when asked about his experiences with the paranormal, Long said, “I don’t believe in it at all. I just did it because I knew I could do better. Yeah, I don’t believe in this s—. There’s been like 100,000 ghost hunts since they became a thing, and no one’s found that real, conclusive proof. A lot of people don’t realize that seances — all this — it was entertainment. It was always entertainment.”
He described how many of the ghost hunting TV shows frustrated him. He said he started BKPS “kind of in response to feeling offended by shows like ‘Ghost Adventures.’ To be entertained, you almost have to suspend your belief. … We’re here to find evidence. If we can do that and have fun doing it, then we accomplished a goal that other people can’t.”
After downing a beer, he said, “People used to say, ‘You shouldn’t drink or do drugs while you’re ghost hunting because it leaves you more susceptible to spirits.’ Well … why wouldn’t I want that?”
Andrew Arnett was a man sitting at the bar who Long pointed to, referring him as the “co-founder.” He ordered an orange juice before speaking about the organization. Both referenceed the fact that BKPS now takes “caravans” to different haunted spots, with a recent one being Kentucky to see the Goat Man, who Arnett says is a half-man, half-goat cryptid that coaxes people out to train tracks where they are killed.
At a gathering last spring, the arcade was full of mostly millennials. Many conversations could be overheard about different theories people had. The group included both skeptics and believers. Most people said this was their first time time attending such an event.
That’s not what it’s about. Long said it’s about being “in the vibe (he wants_ to be in.”
“If I don’t make it,” he added, “it won’t exist.”
What religion says about ghosts
New York, being an old American city, has deep Christian roots despite its secular nature these days. Nearly 60% of New Yorkers identify as some form of Christian. Christianity is known for having a rich lore of angelic and demonic forces. In addition to this, one of Yahweh’s many names is “The Holy Ghost.” And though Biblical stories about the most traditional understanding of ghosts — spirits of the dead walking among the living — are infrequent, there is a one scene in which King Saul visits a medium and speaks to the spirit of a deceased prophet, and Jesus Christ does restore the lives of several dead individuals.
Despite its limited supply of intensively ghost-related and spiritual stories in its holy book, Christianity has still wormed its way into much horror pop culture. Perhaps the most famous example of this is David Gordon Green’s “The Exorcist.” But this is just one example in a long line of horror stories that involve Christian themes.
Meanwhile, Islam, which also boasts a sizable population in New York, speaks little of ghosts, but many acknowledge a belief in the jinn. Jinn are believed to be created from fire and come from a separate dimension than man’s. Jinn are able to change shape and move extremely heavy objects. Jinn, much like Christian demons, are capable of entering humans and making them lose control of their speech and bodies.
Practicers of Hinduism are the most outspoken of the major New York religions when it comes to ghosts. The Hindu bhut is the ghost of a dead person who was either given an improper funeral or died traumatically. This leads to the spirit being agitated and causing problems for the people around it.
Orlansky attended Catholic school as a child, but now only describes himself as “spiritual.” Long appears actively irritated when he talks about a time where a man acted like a ouija board was a “gateway to hell.” Neither of them seem particularly interested in the religious being a part of their paranormal understanding.
Vroon, however, is a practicing Christian. Though she admitted that she’s “no authority” when it comes to ghosts.
Vroon seems actively unsure about the existence of ghosts and how to reconcile her biblical beliefs with the paranormal, but ultimately said, “The devil has enough of a hand in this world that it can be possible.”
Wherever ghosts and spirits come from and whatever the reason they exist at all, it seems their stories run rampant in the city. It is no secret that New York City is full of the bizarre, so, in the words of Orlansky, “the more people open their minds, the better chance we have at figuring it all out.”
Produced in association with Religion Unplugged
“What’s the latest with Florida Man?”
Get news, handpicked just for you, in your box.