New York City is chock full of famous buildings. Empire State. Flatiron. Chrysler. Saint Patrick’s. You’ve seen one or all of these buildings either in person or in movies a million times. They are landmarks the like of which few other cities have. There are so many strange and interesting stories about these man made wonders that you can head on over to Amazon and buy yourself some books about them if you want. Don’t do that though, at least not yet. Finish reading this article first, then maybe a few more of the wonderful pieces we have here at Blumhouse.com, then head over to Amazon.
One of the most interesting buildings in Manhattan is certainly a landmark, though it doesn’t come up as often as many of the others. Possibly because this building is a landmark not for its height, or its grandeur, but because of the darkness that surrounds it. Built between 1880 and 1884, the Dakota started off as a building alone in what was, at the time, an empty area of the island of Manhattan. Today, we call that area the Upper West Side, and it is far from empty.
Now, you may know the Dakota because that was where Laine Cummings lived in the epic novel series THE BABY-SITTERS CLUB. Or you may know it as the exterior of the Bramford from ROSEMARY’S BABY, but to most people, the Dakota is best known for being the last home of John Lennon. As we discussed in a previous piece, Lennon was tragically shot and killed outside the Dakota in 1980. What we didn’t discuss there was the sightings of Lennon’s ghost at the Dakota since his death.
The most famous story of Lennon’s ghost appearing at the Dakota was told by Yoko Ono. As the story goes, Yoko, who lived at the Dakota for 20 years after Lennon’s death, saw the spirit of the musical god sitting at his piano. Lennon turned to Yoko and said “Don’t be afraid. I am still with you,” before vanishing. The first reported sighting of Lennon’s ghost was in 1983 when Joey Harrow and Amanda Moores spotted the Beatle standing at the entrance of the Dakota. Harrow claimed that Lennon was surrounded by an ominous light, and Moores said that she almost walked up to Lennon, but the look on his face suggested he wasn’t in the mood to talk to strangers. I suppose being shot in the back five times by a stranger would make you wary.
Before his death, John Lennon claimed to have his own paranormal experiences in the Dakota. Lennon told tales of seeing a spirit he called The Crying Lady walking the halls of the building. The going theory is that Lennon, and others who have seen this Crying Lady, are seeing the ghost of Elise Vesley, who managed the Dakota through the 1930s, 40s, and 50s. Elise, who was way into the paranormal herself, believed that she had psychokinetic powers and was a major player on the Vedantist movement. As is often the story when it comes to ghosts, Mrs. Vesley suffered a great tragedy when her son was hit by a truck outside the Dakota. The boy died, and by all accounts, Mrs. Vesley was never the same again. She took to being extra nice, and extra protective of the children that lived in the Dakota. Maybe that is why she still walks the halls today – she just wants to make sure all the kids are doing OK. Or maybe she’s trying to help The Young Girl.
The Young Girl has been a resident of the Dakota for ages. First seen by painters, it is reported that the Young Girl wears a yellow taffeta dress that nearly matches her blonde hair, white stockings, and black leather shoes with silver buckling. She bounces a red ball down the halls and often is seen entering or exiting closets. When the painters first saw The Young Girl, she looked at them and proclaimed “It’s my birthday” before disappearing down a hall. Not long after, one of the painters died when he fell off a scaffolding and down a stairwell. Everyone decided to blame The Young Girl, though I think that is a little rash.
John Paynter was an electrician working on the Dakota in the late 1930s. The wiring of the building was, according to Paynter, pretty crazy, with bits and bobs he had never seen before. Often, Paynter would take pieces of the circuitry home to try and figure them out. It was late one night, while Paynter was in the basement of the Dakota working on one of these weirds pieces when he came across the weirdest thing he ever did see.
From out of the shadows of the basement came a short man. The short man wore a frock coat and a winged collar. He had small steel-rimmed glasses that were held up by a very large nose. A well-kept beard could not hide the very fake looking wig the short man wore. The short man walked up to Paynter and angrily glared at him for what, according to Paynter, felt like minutes. Then, as if this were a normal thing to do, the short man pulled off his wig and violently shook it in Paynter’s face before vanishing. Paynter had four more run-ins with this short wigged ghost and never figured out who it was, but damn if this spirit didn’t look a whole hell of a lot like Edward Cabot Clark, the man who built the Dakota. Apparently Clark, who died before the Dakota was finished, wasn’t all that jazzed about this electrician screwing with his building.
Mr. Clark wasn’t the only guy to be upset with changes to the Dakota. Jo Mielziner, considered the greatest set designer of the Golden Age of Broadway, lived in the Dakota for years. Mielziner died in a cab outside of the Dakota in 1976 – he was on the way back from visiting his doctor who was clearly not very good – and by all accounts, he was not happy about it.
In the weeks following Mielziner’s death, workers at the Dakota were besieged by something throwing items around the basement. Wilbur Ross, a tenant of the building at the time, was called into the basement by a porter who saw a shovel fly off its spot on the wall and land in the middle of the room, some twenty feet away. Not long after, bags of garbage started to fly about the basement. While Wilbur was not present for these moments, he claimed to have seen a large iron bar come off the wall by its own accord and fly at him, landing at his feet. Wilbur attempted to lift the bar, but found it was too heavy for him. I imagine Wilbur stayed out of the basement after that.
The most frightening possible spirit at the Dakota is the one with the most ominous name – The Phantom of the Dakota. Sometimes called the Mad Slasher, this possible spirit never hurt anyone, though not for lack of trying. It started when people noticed that someone was vandalizing the newly-installed elevators which were, coincidentally, designed by Jo Mielziner before his death. The elevators were being attacked with what seemed to be a knife – giant slashes ran through the paneled walls too high to have been done by a child and so deep that whoever was doing it had to be very strong. Every week, the panels would be replaced, only to be slashed up a few days later.
As this was going on, odd piles of shredded paper were found in the halls of the ninth floor, piled up in a fashion that suggested someone was looking to start a fire. Residents began to become suspicious of each other. As one may expect, rumors spread about who was behind all of this. Things reached a boiling point when a can of paint fell from the roof into the courtyard, just barely missing a tenant. The strangest part of it was that there was no painting or remodeling happening at the time – there was no reason for a can of paint to be on the roof. People began to wonder… did the paint can fall… or was it thrown?
Was there a murderer at the Dakota? The only way to know for sure was to get real weird with it. A group of residents of the building took it upon themselves to set up a secret spy club. They would set themselves up in hiding spots and, with binoculars, watch the comings and goings between the various buildings. All they found were multiple spouses who were having affairs. The Phantom of the Dakota seemed to disappear as quickly as he appeared. Some believe that it was that old bald shorty Mister Clark coming back once more, unhappy with the new elevators.
The most recent events I could find documentation for came from the Weinsteins. According to Frederick Weinstein and his wife Suzanne, there’s a whole lot of activity in their apartment at the Dakota. It started with the sound of footsteps in their dining room, as if someone was frantically pacing back and forth. It seems that this pacing spirit has something against Frederick who has found himself repeatedly injured in the dining room. Chairs have been pulled out from under him, he has been pushed by someone who wasn’t there, and on multiple occasions, it has seemed like the rug has been pulled from under his feet.
One night, on his way home, Frederick looked up to his living room window and was shocked to see the lights were on. Even more shocking to him was that the light was coming from a crystal chandelier, seeing as there were no chandeliers in the Weinsteins’ apartment. Freddy checked again, making sure he was looking at the 3rd floor corner window that was his home. Still, the crystal chandelier hung in place, lighting up the room. When Frederick entered his apartment, it was dark and, sure enough, there was no crystal chandelier.
Possibly the creepiest thing to happen to Frederick happened shortly after he played with his children. Fredrick and his kids were goofing around with a Ouija style game that uses lettered tiles instead of the board and pointer. During the “game,” the “spirit messages” suggested that the Weinsteins were in contact with the ghost of a little girl, possibly The Young Girl that got wrongfully blamed for the death of a painter in the 30s. When the game was done, Frederick put all the pieces away, stacking the word tiles on a bookshelf.
Days later, Frederick found two of the word tiles in the pockets of his suit. He came across a third tile in his eyeglass case. The three tiles were ‘I’ ‘C’ ‘U’.
Is the Dakota haunted? Maybe. One thing we know for sure is that someone hated the redesigned elevators and a painter died tragically. It certainly has all the pieces of a good haunting. Many of the residents, as well as workers, of the Dakota seem to think the ghosts are real. Film critic Rex Reed, shortly after moving into the building, once confided in a doorman that of all the previous tenants of the Dakota, he would have most liked to meet Boris Karloff. The doorman, being very good at his job, kept looking straight ahead and said, in a calm, cool voice, “He’ll be back, just wait and see.”
*All Photos: ROSEMARY’S BABY (1968) Paramount Pictures