People were sitting out on the stoop the other night, remarking on this and that, when Pat, the actress from the fifth floor, mentioned that the ghost of Bank Street was back. The reporter prides herself on knowing everyone in the neighborhood, from the inventor in the basement to the man who writes Gothic novels under a woman's name upstairs, but this was someone she had never met.
"Ghost?" she asked, thinking, as she said it, that the word seemed almost to leave a shadow in the air.
"Oh, yes," said Pat. "I can't believe you've never heard. That ghost expert -- Hans Holzer -- documented it and everything. Her name is Elizabeth, and she lives over at 11 Bank, and she always shows up at parties. eShe really likes parties. And they can always tell she's there because she wears this cheap perfume."
How like a Greenwich Village ghost, the reporter thought -- liking parties, she meant, not the cheap perfume. Not that, of course, the reporter believes in ghosts. Nonetheless, within the day she found herself knocking at the door of 11 Bank, the home of Harvey and Anne Slatin.
They were entertaining, in the manner of Villagers, over white wine and brie. But at the mention of Elizabeth, Anne smiled broadly, walked across the room and removed from a basket on top of the piano a small, dark can, such as you might receive from a crematorium. "Remains of Elizabeth Bullock, cremated Jan. 21, 1931, Middle Village, Queens," it said.
"Here she is," said Anne, plunking the can down on the table.
The reporter is not a traditionalist, but there are certain niceties she observes.
"You really think you should have her just lying there," she asked, "next to the brie?"
"Of course," said Anne, removing theremains to the piano. "You know, 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.'"
Ah, the modern haunted couple, in the modern haunted house. This being the Village, though, we are speaking, in fact, of a haunted brownstone with Oriental carpets and original works of art. Still, a fine place for a haunting
As for the corporeal occupants, she's a pragmatic housewife and mother, and he's a nuclear physicist who worked on the Manhattan Project. He doesn't believe in ghosts, he doesn't believe in God and he doesn't believe in an afterlife.And yet, for some reason, he acknowledges Elizabeth. "I felt her presence."
This is a ghost story, to be read with an open mind, late in the evening.
In 1954, Harvey and his first wife, Yeffie Kimball, an artist of some repute who was exhibited at the National Gallery, moved into 11 Bank, a onetime rooming house. They heard noises, particularly heavy footsteps on the stairs, though no one was ever there. Kimball, an Osage Indian with spiritual inclinations, perceived a ghost. None was spotted.
Renovations on the house began. Then, one day, as the carpenter was removing a ceiling, the crematorium can fell on his head. "I think I found the body," he said. Kimball, vindicated, placed the can in a basket on the piano and cultivated a friendship with the ghost, whom she later described as brown-haired, plump and fun loving.
Harvey, more scientific, contacted the crematorium. Elizabeth Bullock's death, at age 51, was confirmed, though Harvey was unable to obtain any futher information. Simultaneously, however, he recalled an incident he had quite forgotten. A man, thinking the house was still a rooming house, had come months earlier after a room. Told there would be apartments at a later date, he left his name and card. His name, like Elizabeth's, was Bullock.
Now, when Harvey goes to search for the card, it is gone.
Such stories do not remain secret long in the Village, which, in many ways, has always been like a very small town. Meyer Berger, a neighbor and rather famous New York Times reporter, paid a call and wrote a story. In his wake Hans Holzer, the ghost expert, arrived, bringing with him his medium, one Mrs. Myers.
Within half an hour she went into a trance, her heavy German accent became an Irish brogue, and she spoke in the voice of Elizabeth Bullock, an Irish Catholic disowned by her family when she married a Protestant.
"He didn't want me in the family plot . . .," said Elizabeth out of Myers. "I wasn't even married in their eyes . . . but I was married before God . . . Edward Bullock. . . . I want a Christian burial in the shade of the Cross . . . anyplace where the Cross is . . . but not with them. . . ."
The request for the Christian burial was denied. No way, said Kimball. She liked having a spirit in the house. Ah well, conceded Elizabeth/Myers, she had come to enjoy living there, too.
The remains remained. So did Elizabeth. She made her presence known in odd ways. Her perfume was often smelled at parties. Also, when Kimball was away on a long trip, the closet doors in the bedroom would fly open 24 hours before she returned -- a sign Harvey appreciated. After Kimball's death and Harvey's remarriage she remained, though she did disappear briefly for three months after their child was born.
"She just disappeared," said Anne, "and we thought, 'oh no, maybe she's decided to assume an earthly form again,' but then she came back."
She remains part of the household.
"We had a party here two years ago, and someone was sitting in the hearth who didn't know about Elizabeth, and all of a sudden he said to me, 'Do you have a ghost in the house? Because I keep feeling like I'm sitting on someone's lap -- that I should just move over."
The reporter does not sense that, although she has been thinking some odd thoughts as she sips her white wine, most specifically that perhaps white wine is merely the ghost of red. Somehow, this reminds her of her final question.
"You ever see the ghost?" she asks Anne.
"No," says Anne, "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."