Shadowy figures in the corner, strange noises in the night, and a little dog that senses an unseen and unearthly presence. This, dear reader, is only a glimpse into the life that was the haunted reality of Jannis “Jan” Bryant Bartel. Bartel was a poet, lecturer and off-Broadway actress. She appeared in such plays as “Bell, Book, and Candle,” and “Night Must Fall.” Her poetry was published in several magazines. Bartel’s experiences prompted her to write a detailed account of her time at 14 West 10th Street in New York titled Spindrift: Spray from a Psychic Sea. I’ve found a copy of the book at a reasonable price (copies range anywhere from $40-150) and look forward to reading it, though it hasn’t gotten terribly good reviews. I’m wondering if Bartel’s accounts are so far-fetched that they simply can’t be believed or if the language is a turn-off. Apparently, it’s wordy and wandering. I thought adding her story to the ever-growing Haunt Heads collection of creepy fare would be entirely appropriate given that the Halloween season is upon us and so, without further delay, it’s time to cuddle into a corner of the sofa, snuggle down into a blanket, and chew off all of your fingernails.
It’s 1957 and Jan Bryant Bartell has just moved into the top floor apartment of 14 West 10th Street in Manhattan. Her husband, Fred G. Bartell, was a restaurateur who was seldom home, his work often causing him to work late and spend weekends away. Most notably, Fred ran the Riverboat restaurant once located in the Empire State Building. Jan found Fred to be a difficult companion at times. He was a WWII veteran who suffered from PTSD and was prone to outbursts, but by all accounts, Jan herself was rather difficult. She was spoiled and neurotic and suffered from clinical depression. I suppose they were well suited in their brokenness. There was little to be done for depression in the 1950’s-60’s and the condition absolutely colored Jan’s writing. It’s believed that she attempted suicide on more than one occasion, though this is pure speculation.
Contact with the other side…
Interestingly enough, Jan possessed psychic abilities, but the presence of these abilities only amplified her anxiety once the activity in her home began to escalate. Her attempts to understand what exactly was happening were fruitless and she even called in self-appointed psychic expert and ghost hunter Hans Holzer to find some sort of peace or resolution. If Holzer’s name rings a bell, it absolutely should. Holzer investigated the Amityville Horror House with Ethel Johnson-Meyers in 1977 and has written over 140 books on the paranormal and unexplained. Holzer wrote a nonfiction book about the house, “Murder in Amityville” (1979), which formed the basis for the 1982 film “Amityville II: The Possession”; he also wrote two novels, “The Amityville Curse” (1981) and “The Secret of Amityville” (1985). In the end, Holzer was unable to silence or dispel the spirits in the house and all of Jan’s attempts to find peace ended in failure and only added to her distress.
From the nypost.com:
“The strange occurrences started out small: a sound of footsteps following her up the stairs, a brush against the back of her neck even when her hair was tied up, a strange rotting smell that would seemingly come and go like wispy smoke.
Things got darker. Shadows that no light would touch, a mysterious chair their dog would snarl and growl at as if it contained some invisible enemy. Then a phantom, shriveled grape that appeared in the dead center of a clean dinner plate, even though the couple hadn’t bought grapes in months. She found furniture inexplicably moved from its usual place. The sound of crashing glass chased her around the building.
Most unsettling was the odors that appeared out of nowhere: one fragrant, like ancient perfume, the other a “rotting miasma” that was offensive. Then one day, a vision of a man appeared. Bartell reached out to touch it.
“What was it I touched?” she wrote. “A substance without substance. Chilly, damp. Diaphanous as marsh mist or a cloud of ether. I could feel my fingers freeze at the tips. They were numb, and yet they tingled. In the split second between contact and recoil, the scent came. Fragile and languorous. And sweet; unbearably, cloyingly sweet.”
I find myself flashing back to Edgar Allen Poe’s The Telltale Heart and wonder if there isn’t a festering organ hidden somewhere beneath the floorboards.
In 1973, social and economic changes began to affect their neighborhood and Jan and Fred finally settled into a home in New Rochelle, NY. Some reports say that Jan committed suicide in the bathroom on June 18, 1973, prior to the publication of her book. Others say that Jan died of a heart attack. She was 51. Fred went on to manage other restaurants in New York and passed away on September 8, 1980, in New Rochelle, NY. (Through additional research, I did find a Frank Bartel that passed away on April 1, 1978.)
As we well know, one haunting does not a haunted hot-spot make! For your consideration, some other haunted and unnerving occurrences at 14 W 10th St.
A man known only as Dennis said he lived in the house for several years and also experienced paranormal activity such as lights going on and off and “little clips and visions of women in long gowns going from room to room.” Dennis was a photographer and musician and would often invite women to his apartment to photograph them. He said on more than one occasion that women would run out upon seeing a woman in a long flowing black dress followed by a cat. Is anyone else having a hard time believing that women were running from a ghost and not from Dennis himself? He’s a “photographer?” Anyway… Activity has been reported at the location as recently as a few years ago.
Joel Steinberg, a disbarred New York criminal defense attorney, attracted international media attention when he was convicted of manslaughter after he beat his adopted daughter to death at 14 West 10th Street in November of 1987. Hedda Nussbaum, an author of children’s books who was employed by Random House, watched as Steinberg beat 6-year-old Lisa Steinberg to the ground while under the influence of crack cocaine. Nussbaum was not charged in the killing. The couple had illegally adopted Lisa after Steinberg had been asked to find a suitable home for the child. He instead took her home and raised her with Nussbaum. As of 2006, Steinberg maintained his innocence.
From the NYT article on the case from March 1989:
Joel B. Steinberg was sentenced to 8Y to 25 years in state prison yesterday in the death of 6-year-old Lisa Steinberg, the girl he helped raise. The penalty was the maximum he could have received, and the judge said he would recommend strongly against parole.
Mr. Steinberg received the sentence without any sign of emotion, except for slumping slightly in resignation at what he knew was coming.
Before the sentence was imposed, Mr. Steinberg – sounding like the lawyer he was until his disbarment – addressed the bench, at first dispassionately, almost clinically, going over bits of evidence presented in the trial, and then moving into a rambling monologue about Lisa’s death and his role in her life. By the end, his voice was breaking, although he said that he felt no remorse because he had not caused her death.
”I feel that pain every day,” he told the judge. ”It’s my loss. I’m a victim, as was everyone else who knew Lisa.”
When police first entered the home, they found Lisa beaten into unconsciousness. She died of a brain hemorrhage in the hospital 4 days later. Police also found another of Steinberg and Nussbaum’s children “tethered to a playpen by a length of rope.” The clothing of the child and the mattress on which he was sitting were covered in urine.
Leanna Renee Hieber, author of Eterna and Omega, writes, “Tucked within a famed high-end real-estate area where most of the gorgeous townhouses have stately stoops climbing to glorious first floors, 14 descends down below the sidewalk before you—as does the energy of the building, dropping off sharply. Just walking by it gave me a sinking, troubled, pressed, and fraught sense; the sense that the building is, in and of itself, a distinctly negative presence and that something is deeply wrong there.” She goes on to call it “A Manhattan version of Amityville.”
Truly, there is a darkness cast over the location. As many as 44 murders are said to have occurred there and it seems as if the paranormal tales won’t let up anytime soon. The house has been cut up into 10 separate apartments, but apparently, a spooky vibe still lingers.
Would you spend the night?
Your Fellow Haunt Head,
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NOTE: Haunt Heads will return the middle of January 2019 with new blog posts and podcasts to binge. Stay tuned and, most importantly, STAY SPOOKY!