"...we should pass over all biographies of 'the good and the great,' while we search carefully the slight records of wretches who died in prison, in Bedlam, or upon the gallows."
~Edgar Allan Poe

Monday, January 13, 2020

The Ashes of Elizabeth Bullock: A Ghost Story

"Des Moines Register" June 28, 1957, via Newspapers.com

It's fairly rare to come across a ghost story with a relatively happy ending--where the living are able to accommodate the dead, and even provide them with assistance, of a sort. One such example was recorded in the "New York Times" on June 26, 1957:
NEW YORK. N. Y. Last September, the 125-year-old red brick house at 11 Bank st. just off Waverly Place in Greenwich Village came into the hands or Dr. Harvey Slatin, an engineer, and his wife Yeffe Kimball, an Osage woman known for her Indian paintings.

They heard from neighbors that Willa Cather had lived in the place 40 years ago, but it turned out that she had owned No. 5 Bank. They did establish that a villager who was the Noel of the novel "Marjorie Morningstar" had boarded in their place.

A Mrs. Maccario had run No. 11 as a 19-room boarding establishment for years before she sold to them, but she had not bothered much about its history.

Anyway, the Slatins, anxious to do the house over, came to amicable agreement with the roomers. The house got empty and echoey.

Now, it may seem a little contradictory, but the Slatins are sensible Bohemians. In quiet hours when they were alone or with a few friends, they thought they heard a woman's footfalls on the steep staircases; sometimes just crossing upper floors. Sometimes there was light hammering.

The sounds were heard more often by day than at night. Dr. Slatin says, "I'd call them rather friendly sounds; a wee bit spooky, maybe, but somehow not frightening."

When he and his spouse went up to explore, they never saw a soul. They never could work out an explanation, either.

They clocked the ghostly pacing one Sunday morning last January. It started around 11 o'clock and kept up at intervals through 4 in the afternoon.

They made quite a few trips upstairs--they sleep on the first floor--but, as before, no one, nothing in sight.

Arthur Brodie. a Britain-born carpenter, and rather a stout fellow in his own right, heard the footfalls as the Slatins did. He said you do hear odd sounds in old houses.

Sadie, the Slatins' maid, was uneasy in the beginning, but she'd just cock an ear and listen after a while, without panic.

One morning last February, Brodie started to hammer through the top-floor ceiling for a room-change there. Plaster and lath dust showered down.

There was a loud bump. Mrs. Slatin heard it in her first-floor bedroom. A few minutes later Brodie came down. He knocked at her bedroom door.

He said, "It's me, ma'am; Brodie. I'm leaving the job. I've found the body."

But when Mrs. Slatin opened the door, he grinned. In his hand was a black-painted metal can about twice the height of a tin of ground coffee. He held it out.

A faded gummed label on the can said, "The last remains of Elizabeth Bullock, deceased. Cremated Jan. 21, 1931." That was in faded typed lettering.

In heavy print below that: "The United States Crematory Co., Ltd., Middle Village, Boro of Queens, New York City." Stamped into the top of the can and at the bottom, as with a metal punch, was the number "37251."

Mrs. Slatin called her husband. He hurried home. He and Brodie put a flashlight through the ceiling break. Nothing there but dusty rafters. There was a puzzler.

Near as the engineer could figure out, the ceiling that hid the container had gone in around 1880, a half-century before Elizabeth Bullock died.

Dr. Slatin called the crematorium. After a record search out there, he was told that Mrs. Bullock was 51 years old when she died, In 1931. She had been hurt by an automobile in Hudson street in Greenwich Village, had collapsed, been carried to a drugstore, and death had taken her.

But--this was rather strange, the Slatins thought--Elizabeth Bullock had never lived at 11 Bank st. Her home address in the Middle Village books was 113 Ferry st. in Greenwich Village.

Dr. Slatin called Charles Dominick, the undertaker in the case. His place had been on W. Eleventh street, not too far from Bank. But he, too, was dead.

All that remains of Elizabeth Bullock--the Slatins lost the trail in search for her kin--stands quietly now, on the grand piano in the great brick living room at 11 Bank st.

Sadie dusts it every day. The Slatins can't think of what else to do with It. And there's a chance, they think, that someone, someday, may come for it.

There's one other strange touch to the story. A few weeks before Brodie broke through to Elizabeth Bullock, a well-dressed young man rang the house doorbell to ask about rooms. Mrs. Slatin told him she couldn't say exactly when they'd be ready, but she'd take his name.

The young man left a card. Mrs. Slatin said the name on it was something like "E. C. Bullock."

One last thing the Slatins have no answer for, and they acknowledge no belief in ghosts: There have been no whispering footfalls since Elizabeth Bullock came down to the parlor.

There was a sequel to our tale. The story above caught the eye of famed ghost hunter Hans Holzer.  He contacted one Ethel Meyers, a friend of his who was a medium. Without giving any details, he asked her to accompany him to a haunted house in the Village. He arranged with the Slatins to hold a seance at their place on July 17.

When Mrs. Meyers went into her trance, a curious story emerged. The medium said that present was the spirit of a small woman with a heart condition, who was paralyzed on one side. "She's Betty."

As she slipped further into her trance state, "Betty" began speaking through her. The spirit murmured in a strong Irish brogue, "He didn't want me in the family plot--my brother--I wasn't even married in their eyes...But I was married before God...Edward Bullock...I want a Christian burial in the shades of the Cross--any place where the cross is--but not with them! The last words were said with such anger that Holzer became alarmed and tried to calm her.

"Betty" went on: "I didn't marry in the faith," she explained. She added that her brother was named "Eddie," that they were from Pleasantville, New York, and that her mother's maiden name was "Elizabeth McCuller." Now calm again, she said, "I'm at rest now."

How, she was asked, did her ashes happen to wind up in a house she never even lived in? "I went with Eddie," "Betty" replied. "There was a family fight...my husband went with Eddie...steal the ashes...pay for no burial...he came back and took them from Eddie...hide ashes..Charles knew it...made a roof over the house...ashes came through the roof...so Eddie can't find them..."

Holzer asked if she had any children. "Eddie and Gracie," the spirit said. "Gracie died as a baby, and Eddie now lives in California. Charlie protects me!"

Holzer pointed out that there was no point to her remaining in this house. Why not go off to the "great beyond" like she was supposed to do?

"Betty" was not impressed with his reasoning. "I want a cross over my head...have two lives to live now...and [with a nod to Mrs. Slatin] I like being with you!"

Holzer then made the mistake of asking if "Betty" would like her ashes buried in her family plot. The spirit again went into a rage. "Ma never forgave me. I can never go with her and rest. I don't care much. When she's forgiven me, maybe it'll be all right...only where there's a green tree cross--and where there's no more fighting over the bones...I want only to be set free, and there should be peace...I never had anything to do with them...Just because I loved a man out of the faith, and so they took my bones and fought over them, and then they put them up in this place, and let them smoulder up there, so nobody could touch them...foolish me! When they're mixed up with the Papal State..."

"Betty" went on to explain that her husband was a Presbyterian. He would have put her in his Church, but "I could not offend them all." He and a friend of his named Peabody stole her ashes from the crematory and hid them.

After Mrs. Meyers had awakened from her trance, Holzer suggested to Mrs. Slatin that she bury the ashes in her garden, but she declined. She had no problem with having the late Mrs. Bullock as a houseguest, and she thought Elizabeth was happy on the piano. Mrs. Slatin--who had psychic abilities herself--felt that she had formed a friendship of sorts with the ghost, whom she described as "brown-haired, plump, and fun-loving." Why, she reasoned, deprive Mrs. B. of her new family?

The fateful ashes, from Holzer's "This House is Haunted"

And so Elizabeth Bullock became a permanent resident of 11 Bank street. In 1980, Harvey Slatin and his second wife, Anne, told "Washington Post" reporter Joyce Wadler that Elizabeth--whose ashes remained on the piano--liked to show up at their parties. Guests would smell her perfume. "You know," said Anne, "she really is kind of nifty...she's a benign ghost, she doesn't really do anything. Maybe once in a while she'll act up and Harvey will say, 'Oh, Elizabeth, go fix yourself a drink."

The reporter asked Anne if she had ever seen the ghost. "No," replied Mrs. Slatin, "though of course living with a ghost you don't pay much attention...I did see the ghost of Harvey's mother the day she died, the figure of an old woman. But that's another story."

Just one big happy family.

A few years ago, parapsychology researcher Stacy Horn did her own research into the story. Thanks to Ancestry.com, she was able to learn that Ethel Meyer's "trance" information was an intriguing mix of hits and misses. Elizabeth was indeed married to an Edward Bullock. "Charles" was her brother. However, Elizabeth's death certificate revealed that she died from "chronic myocarditis," not from being hit by a car. (Although she did die in that very drugstore.) She was of German descent, not Irish, and her mother's maiden name was "Mary Schwieker." Horn could not find any evidence Mrs. Bullock had any children. She was also able to find that in 1942, Edward Bullock moved to 11 Bank Street, where he lived until his death in 1949. Why his wife's ashes wound up in the attic remains a mystery.

And what became of this famed tin of ashes? In 1981, the Slatins received a letter from Thomas Devereaux, a priest in Loleta, California. He offered to have the tin buried in St. Patrick's Loleta Table Bluff Cemetery. Over the objections of some of their neighbors--who quite liked having a resident ghost--the Slatins agreed. Elizabeth's peripatetic ashes were given a funeral mass attended by fifty people, and buried beneath a cedar cross.

Finally getting a proper burial apparently did nothing to dampen Elizabeth's love of a good time. In 1981, Anne Slatin reported that Mrs. Bullock still made regular visits to Greenwich Village. Closets and cupboards at 11 Bank Street would pop open unexpectedly, and her cheap perfume could still be sensed at parties.

"There was a fear among the tenants that Elizabeth wouldn't be around. But now she is--and there's a sigh of relief," she said.


  1. Trulia.com gives the property's current market value as about $890,000, which is almost absurdly low for where and what it is. I'm not saying that the haunting reduces its value, but then again ....
    Dr. Slatin's estate must still own the property, as the current owner is H.L. Slatin LLC. Also, although Willa Cather lived elsewhere on the block, the writer John Dos Passos wrote his well-known work Manhattan Transfer while living at #11 in the 1920's.

  2. A friendly ghost and a friendly family to host her presence; that does sound like a happy situation. Peter's information is interesting, too.


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