Why We Tell Ghost Stories At Christmas Part 2

This is the third post in a series of holiday themed posts celebrating our annual Christmas tours. We’ll be presenting three holiday themed ghost tours, Ghosts of Christmas Past, this December. To buy tickets to these events, click here! In yesterday’s post, we discovered part of the reason why we tell ghost stories at Christmas. But there’s more to the story! Here’s the exciting conclusion! Here’s where the ghosts come in and also where things get a little murky. Why ghosts? Did Dickens single-handedly invent this idea? Or was it yet another old tradition revived? It’s a bit hard to tell. Although Mummers plays and mystery plays had been around since the days of Charles the Second, there doesn’t seem to be much historical precedent for ghost stories per se. Some suggest an ancient, spiritual link with the Celts and their belief that the veil between the world of the living and the world of the dead is thinnest at this time of year. Others say it was simply the Victorian passion for ghost stories that led to them being printed in the many Christmas annuals of the day. I think a combination of the pagan/Yule spirituality and the advent of the Christmas annual work together to provide some explanation for the emergence of this tradition. Think about it: the mysterious power of the solstice and the year’s longest night, the flames of a hypnotic fire, ancient times evoked by sprigs of mistletoe, a little ale…. suddenly one becomes very open to ghost stories, which lend themselves very naturally as entertainment on wintry nights. As humorist Jerome K. Jerome...

Why We Tell Ghost Stories At Christmas Part 1

This is the second in a series of holiday themed posts celebrating our annual Christmas tours. We’ll be presenting three holiday themed ghost tours, Ghosts of Christmas Past, this December, plus an extra highlights tour and reading of classic ghost stories at the Player’s Club on December 19th. To buy tickets to these events, click here! To many people in the United States (where I live), the connection between yuletide jollity and the telling of frightening tales seems strange and incongruous. When it comes to figuring out why we tell ghost stories at Christmas, the only single connection that can even tenuously be made is A Christmas Carol; otherwise, the two things hardly seem to go together. But they absolutely do! How, you say? Well, we could start with the aforementioned story, since it is certainly part of the ghostly tradition in its own way. But perhaps an even better place to begin would be, as I said, at the very beginning. Christmas is and always has been much more varied and multifaceted than our particular version of turkey, stuffing and presents ad infinitum might suggest. Christmas wasn’t even a thing until the 4th century. It simply didn’t exist. No one really knew when Jesus was supposed to have been born. In fact, for a long time, some wacky people even thought Christ was born in May (May 20th, to be precise — my birthday!). Eventually, early Christian Historian Sextus Julius Africanus posited a late December birthday, and the idea stuck. Enter: the pagans. (It’s always the pagans, isn’t it?) Now, I think many people are familiar with this...

Ghosts, Christmas and New York City

This is the first in a series of holiday themed posts celebrating our annual Christmas tours. We’ll be presenting three holiday themed ghost tours, Ghosts of Christmas Past, this December. To buy tickets to these events, click here! We in New York City are lucky enough to have had some jolly old Dutch forefathers, who brought the holiday with them. When the British took over the colony in the 1660s, their children envied the Dutch boys and girls who got presents every December 6th and begged their parents to follow suit. Then in 1823 Clement Clark Moore wrote the poem “A Visit from St. Nicholas” (otherwise known as “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas”) at his Chelsea estate. Finally, in the 1860s, German immigrant and cartoonist Thomas Nast popularized the image of Santa as a jolly fat man in the pages of magazines like Puck and Harper’s Illustrated Weekly.   What about Christmas trees? You can also thank NYC’s German immigrants for that. Did you know that in 1848 so many Germans settled in the east side of the city that it was called Kliene Deutscheland? It’s true! And they brought many of their traditions, including the Christmas tree, wtih them. However, it was an illustration of Queen Victoria and family enjoying their Christmas tree reprinted in Godey’s Ladies Book in the 1850s that really started the tree trend here in America. Residents of Kliene Deutscheland would have recognized Prince Albert, though: he was from the German House of Hanover. So New Yorkers benefit from many traditions, be they Dutch or English or German. One New Yorker who was especially...

Ghosts of the Sea

When April comes, I begin to think of the Titanic. The tragic maritime disaster with its ghostly whiff of unfinished business, why, it just inflames my imagination, let me tell you. And living in New York City, we have something of a special claim to the story — along with Belfast, Southampton, and Halifax, New York is one of the cities most associated with the craft. Our city has its share of Titanic memorials – the lighthouse at the South Street Seaport, and a touching memorial to Ida and Isidor Strauss on 106th Street – as well as some of its ghosts. Most famously, the Jane Street hotel is rumored to be haunted by the spirits of the ship’s survivors. But what of the site of the sinking? Can the sea itself be haunted? This is an interesting question for ghost-hunters. The ocean is filled with wrecks and the bodies of doomed sailors and passengers. Based on that fact alone, the earth’s waters should be one of the most haunted places in existence. Think of all the perished souls who died abruptly and violently and never had a proper burial – supposedly the first set of criteria for creating ghosts. Logically speaking, there ought to be dozens of ghost ships circumnavigating the seas at any given time. And there are indeed very many famous ghost ships. The Flying Dutchman, of course, is the best known. The Dutchman legend has been floating around (if you will) since the 17th century. The ship is said to be doomed never to enter port and to sail ‘round the world forever. To sight...

Ghosts of the Titanic

One hundred and one years ago this April 12, the royal mail ship Titanic made her ill-fated maiden voyage across the Atlantic. She was destined for New York City’s Pier 59. New York never saw the Titanic, but the city still harbored a fair share of its memories – and of its ghosts. On Jane Street in the West Village you can still find today an unassuming hotel whose chic facade hides the sad tales of those who were billeted there in April 1912, after coming ashore on the Carpathia, the ship that rescued survivors of the Titanic. The surviving crew waited at the Jane Street hotel for news of their shipmates; some say they never left, and still rattle around the corridors waiting for news that never comes. Inspired by the tales of the star-crossed ship, we’ve crafted a maritime-themed ghost walk that will take participants from Spring Street, where one can still find markers of the old waterline of the Hudson River, up to Pier 54 in Chelsea. The tour will wind its way through the twisting cobblestone streets of the West Village, and by the Hudson River. Guides will mix the city’s marine history with generous doses of sailors’ lore, telling tales of buried treasure, murderers, pirates, gangsters and other sordid folks. And, of course, we’ll point out every ghost along the way. So join us for tales of the watery deep as we remember New York’s sometimes glorious, and often sordid, seafaring past. Tickets and details can be found...
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