Ghosts, Goblins, and Other Upper West Side Monsters

  Last modified on October 18th, 2022

In a neighborhood where Edgar Allan Poe, the master of the macabre himself once lived, it isn’t too surprising that the UWS has its fair share of paranormal activity. I mean, others have heard the whistle of that train that seems to run through Riverside Park in the middle of the night, right? Right?!

We’ve covered some haunted buildings in the neighborhood (including the Dakota and old Cancer Hospital) –  but did you know that Fordham students have been haunted for decades? Or that sisters from the 18th century skate at Wollman Rink?


Here are some of our neighborhood’s lesser-known spooky stories and legends.

Fordham University at Lincoln Center

Though Fordham’s Upper West Side residence hall is fairly new as far as some buildings go, it’s fueled nightmares since the late 1990s, if not earlier.

LaLaina Johnson, a 1998 graduate, woke up to someone who appeared to be dressed in late 1800s clothing “studying” her sleep. “White button shirt and high waisted slacks. Legs and arms crossed. Young, early 20s,” Johnson recalled. The figure scared her so much that she ran to sleep in a friend’s nearby room. In another room – with no one else home – Johnson and a roommate also heard a shower curtain being pulled all the way back in their bathroom.

What Johnson saw is not unique to the 1990s. Students as recently as 2017 have reported some unwelcome roommates, according to Fordham Observer. One student saw “a person in rags with a black aura and smoke where their feet should’ve been” in her McMahon Hall bedroom.

Sam Tracy encountered an inexplicable and persistent something (or someone) in 2017 as well. She propped a chair up against an ill-fitted door to stop it from opening and closing. Just as Tracy was comfortable enough to fall asleep for the night, “the door began rapidly banging against the chair as if someone was violently attempting to break in.”


The 2 Train

In 2002, a number of straphangers at the 66th Street station heard “three distinct, electric-sounding high notes coming from somewhere on the trains after their doors were closed and the trains began to pull away,” The New York Times reported at the time.

Riders debated what the notes reminded them of. Some believed it sounded like the three-note NBC theme. More believed it sounded like the first three notes of West Side Story’s “Somewhere.”

One individual at the Lincoln Center station believed the tune was an attempt to brainwash him. Others heard a similarly ominous tone: “[an] eerie electronic one you hear in countless science-fiction movies, usually played as the alien descends from the mother ship.”

The trains were new at the time these sounds were heard and the MTA provided an explanation. “The direct current from the third rail is converted aboard the train to alternating current, and in the process, a catchy tune is unwittingly sung.”

But was it?


Central Park

Legend has it there’s a large network of roads and an underground lake beneath Central Park. Known as the Manhattan Project, the subterranean complex is said to have been home to the first nuclear weapons, Adolf Hitler, and Roswell aliens.

Above ground, the Park is rumored to play host to some otherworldly creatures.

With winter approaching, visitors of Central Park may catch a glimpse of Rosetta and Janet Van der Voort, inseparable sisters who remain such in death. The pair was first seen dressed in “huge bustles: one in red dress, the other in a purple dress” during World War I doing figure eights on a frozen pond. The 19th Century sisters have allegedly been spotted numerous times skating at Wollman Rink.

In 2013, an invasive species nicknamed Frankenfish invaded the Harlem Meer in Central Park. They have sharp teeth and are capable of growing up to three feet. They are “superb predators.” And – believe it or not – they are capable of living out of the water for up to five days, land walking. The good news is that they do not eat humans or land animals, but the finned monster can eliminate entire populations of fish and spread fungal disease. They are so dangerous to an area’s ecosystem that Virginia’s Department of Wildlife Resources urged residents to kill the aquatic critters if possible.

There is also a rust-colored beast unafraid to make his presence known in the middle of the day. According to British author Nick Redfern, a “bipedal humanoid creature” skulks around the edge of the park. “One eyewitness claims the creature charged at him, stopped, stared right into his eyes for several seconds and then disappeared under a bridge.”

Some Famous Ghosts in the Neighborhood

With all the historical figures who called the Upper West Side home, it’s hard to imagine that some of their spirits don’t remain … if you believe in that sort of thing.

Mae West still hangs out at her old apartment at 266 West End Avenue. James Dean still visits his Hollywood escape at 19 West 68th Street. And Poe himself is said to sit on a favorite rock from time to time.

With all of these spooky sightings, it is kind of disappointing that there does not seem to a phantom of the (Metropolitan) opera.

Not scared yet? Check out this list of real ghost sightings on the Upper East Side.

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