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Friday, February 27, 2015

The Morris-Jumel Mansion

The Morris-Jumel Mansion in Washington Heights, New York City has a rich and vivid past. British Colonel Roger Morris built the house in 1765. Morris’s wife, Mary Philipse, had been romantically involved with George Washington before her marriage. Morris had returned to England and his wife and children to her parents in Westchester County, when Washington used the house as his headquarters in 1776 during the Battle of Brooklyn. It was later used by the British and confiscated and sold as a tavern once the war was over. 

The house was bought in 1810 by French wine merchant Stephen Jumel and his American-born wife. A prostitute in Providence, Rhode Island in her youth, Eliza Brown or Betsy Bowen, as a young woman in the early Republican city of New York, was a stage actress and courtesan. She frolicked with the likes of Thomas Jefferson, Aaron Burr, and Alexander Hamilton. After spending some time with her husband in France at Napoleon I court, Eliza returned alone to America.

Stephan Jumel died in 1836, following a fall from a carriage, and between his wealth and her wise investment of it Eliza became the wealthiest woman in America in her day. There seems to be no question of Eliza having pushed her husband out of the carriage, but there is a persistent charge that she watched him die unassisted. After a year as a widow, Eliza married the disgraced former Vice President of the United States Aaron Burr in the octagonal parlor of the mansion. Sound divorced, Madam Jumel lived in her sumptuous showplace of a house on Harlem Heights until 1865 when she died there.

On January 19, 1964, a visiting class of school children arrived at the museum before the museum’s curator did. The students became boisterous while waiting outside. A blonde woman dressed in a purple gown came out onto the second floor balcony and chastised them, telling them firmly to “Shush!” She then turned and walked through a solid wood door; that is, through the wood of the closed door. When the curator arrived, the students complained about the woman having let them stand outdoors in the cold instead of letting them into the mansion to wait. The curator explained that there was no woman in the house.

On another occasion an enthusiastic teacher leading a class trip ran upstairs to the top floor, which was generally closed to the public. She fainted in fright when she saw the ghost of a Revolutionary soldier step out of a painting. A second teacher on another visit suffered a fatal heart attack having been confronted by a ghost in the mansion. A maid is said to have thrown herself out a window over an unhappy love affair with a member of the Jumel family and she, too, has been seen haunting the third floor servant quarters

Visitors to the mansion also report meeting the ghost of Aaron Burr, the second husband of the woman who owned the mansion. Stephen Jumel, Eliza’s first husband, has also been sighted and allegedly communicated with Hans Holzer and “medium” Ethel Myers during two séances, the information that he had been murdered by his wife, Eliza.

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