In June, we’re hosting a tour on Murder, Scandal & Vice: Crime & Corruption in 19th Century NYC led by Andrea Janes of Boroughs of the Dead. Afterwards, we’ll be taking guests to a hidden bar in Chinatown for cocktails and conversation. Get to know more about Andrea and how she got involved in giving ghost tours in New York City!
UC: How did you get started on Boroughs of the Dead?
Andrea: I write horror fiction, and I love a good ghost story. I also love New York City history. So my interest in urban history and terrifying tales naturally led to career of conducting walking tours of haunted and strange locations in New York City, and to eventually form my own company, Boroughs of the Dead LLC.
UC: What’s your favorite creepy horror story about NYC?
Andrea: There are so many, but I really love the story of Elma Sands, a young girl who was murdered in 1799 in the area that would later become SoHo. She was strangled and stuffed in a well that had been dug by the Manhattan Water Company. The man who (very likely) killed her was defended in court by Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr… who incidentally owned the Manhattan Water Company. Her killer was acquitted, but Burr and Hamilton met strange ends, as we all know–Burr fatally shot Hamilton in an unrelated duel four years later. Then his only daughter was lost at sea, and he would end his days in a loveless marriage to a horrible woman named Eliza Jumel (you can still visit her house, the Morris-Jumel Mansion, uptown). Elma apparently haunts the well where she was found, which still exists in a basement in SoHo, and Eliza apparently haunts Jumel Mansion. Basically everything Aaron Burr ever touched ended up cursed and haunted. Meanwhile, the Manhattan Water Company became the Bank of Manhattan, which later became Chase Manhattan. Think of that next time you swipe your card at the ATM.
[Editor’s note: We also offered readers a tour of the now abandoned Bank of Manhattan building in Long Island City last year]
UC: What’s your background?
Andrea: I worked in independent film distribution and documentary production for several years before I decided to quit everything and start writing ghost stories, and then later start my own tour company! But actually, running your own company is something every writer can do–we do it all the time, from marketing, to managing money, to crafting narratives (which I do for every tour). Surprisingly, there is no educational path for becoming a tour guide. You have to take an exam and get your license but there is no official school or training path to do this.
UC: What’s your favorite “untapped” spot in NYC?
Andrea: For some reason I get really excited about anything on or near water (I think I was a sea captain in a past life or something) so I love places like Industry City and Brooklyn Army Terminal in Sunset Park; like Broad Channel and Marine Park, and the stretch of Flatbush between there and the Gil Hodges Bridge. It’s best seen on a bike.
UC: Do you think NYC has lost any character in it’s cleaned up state? Where can people go, in addition to your tours, to find a grittier NYC?
Andrea: Oh certainly, but ironically I wouldn’t be able to make a living if it wasn’t cleaned up. I couldn’t traipse through the city streets after dark gleefully talking about ghosts and crime if this was 1979 or 1991. Or 1844! I’d be murdered so fast…
Where to find a gritty NYC nowadays? There’s still plenty of gritty goodness in the outer boroughs. I think my neighborhood, Sunset Park, is really great. I strongly suggest you come out one day, bowl a few games at Melody Lanes, visit the park, and stay for dinner. I don’t know if it’s “gritty,” necessarily. It’s a good place.
One thing that never stops being gritty is New Yorker’s attitudes. In what other city on earth could you see crime rates drop, property values go up, everything become shiny and safe and clean practically overnight and still find people shrugging, “I don’t know… it’s a little too… nice.” If I may quote Ghostbusters II for a moment, “Being miserable and treating other people like dirt is every New Yorker’s God-given right.” As long as New Yorkers are still miserable and whining all the time, we’ll be fine.
Me, if ever I find myself surrounded my too many happy people I just take the train out to Broad Channel and watch the birds. No one told birds about gentrification. Birds don’t give a f*ck. They will literally shit on you and call it a day.
Read more about the Crime & Vice tour on June 14th and buy tickets here.