Post by Graveyardbride on Oct 22, 2016 0:01:42 GMT -5
The Dakota Apartments: Where the Dead Walk
In his 1967 novel, Rosemary’s Baby, Ira Levin described the apartment building in which he set his story as “old, black and elephantine . . . a warren of high-ceilinged apartments prized for their fireplaces and Victorian detail.” He called his fictional building “The Bramford” and added several floors, but any New Yorker reading the book knew immediately this was simply a thinly-disguised description of The Dakota Apartments (above). While there were no “weird gargoyles and creatures climbing up and down between the windows,” everything else fit.
The architectural style of The Dakota is essentially German Renaissance, but incorporates other styles and is best described as eclectic. However, the building’s roof, with its gables, turrets, towers, peaks, wrought-iron fences, chimneys and finials, is its most distinctive and spectacular feature. Nicknamed “The Dracula” because of its dark, menacing appearance, The Dakota is actually constructed of light, buff-colored stone darkened by decades of New York grime. The edifice was cleaned a few years ago, but because it is now dwarfed by much taller buildings that cast long, dark shadows on three sides, its appearance is no less sinister. Of interest, the building surrounds a courtyard in the shape of the letter “H,” with gates on four sides. The 73rd Street entrance has come to be known as “the undertaker's gate” because it is opened only when a Dakota resident leaves home for the last time. It is estimated the gate opens about once a year, which means since 1884, there have been well over a hundred deaths at One West 72nd Street.
No one was really surprised when in 1969, film crews arrived at The Dakota to shoot many of the scenes in the movie version of Rosemary’s Baby starring Mia Farrow. For several days, a bloody corpse representing the young woman who leaped to her death lay on the sidewalk. The mannequin looked so real, many passersby thought someone had actually jumped. Of course, Rosemary’s Baby was just a movie and so far as is known, sinister devil-worshipers have never inhabited The Dakota, but the old building does seem to have more than its share of spooks.
Phantom of the Frankenstein monster. Author Rex Reed moved into The Dakota in the 1970s. One stormy night, he was making small talk with a doorman while waiting for a cab and casually mentioned that one former Dakota resident he would liked to have met was William Henry Pratt, better known as Boris Karloff. Although Karloff died in 1969, the doorman, in a hushed, conspiratorial tone, assured Reed, “He’ll be back. Wait and see.” The doorman was right, but Mr. Karloff, best known for his portrayal of the Frankenstein monster, materializes just once a year – on Halloween night. The actor who looked somewhat fiendish, even out of costume, often told a sad tale. He claimed he set out a bowl of candy every Halloween, yet, none of The Dakota trick-or-treaters ever came to his door. The children associated him with the monsters he portrayed on screen and were frightened of him.
Melissa Howard grew up in New York and spent a lot of time with her friend Lauren who lived at The Dakota. One Halloween night several years’ ago, Lauren invited Melissa and two other classmates for a sleep-over at her apartment. Melissa was excited because all the kids considered The Dakota the perfect haunted house. That night, the four girls donned their costumes and knocked on door after door, demanding treats. After a while, Melissa noticed an odd-looking gentleman seemed to be following them. Every time she looked around, there he stood, silently watching the children. When the girls and several other trick-or-treaters entered the elevator and pushed the button for the 8th floor, the man got on with them and quickly moved to the rear of the car. Melissa, who by now, was concerned the stranger might be a pervert, decided she would get a good description of him when the elevator stopped. She was too polite to turn around and stare at the fellow even though she was wearing a Halloween mask. The elevator ascended to the 8th floor without making any other stops. Everyone exited the elevator and Melissa immediately turned to inspect the strange man, but he was nowhere to be seen. Melissa believes she and her friends were followed by the ghost of Boris Karloff. Perhaps Karloff’s spirit is simply attempting to join in the Halloween fun – something he was denied in life.
Dispelling evil. Once, while Melissa was visiting her Dakota friend, she noticed a partially-burned white candle and a glass of water containing a whole, un-cracked egg in the kitchen window. Also, at times, she detected an unusual, sweet odor in the apartment. When questioned, Lauren explained their Cuban maid performed various spells and sprinkled strange powders on the rugs before vacuuming them in order to banish evil spirits. Lauren’s mother added, “Carmen [the maid] is superstitious and she’s convinced there’s something evil lurking in the building. She thinks her hocus pocus is the only thing keeping whatever it is out of our apartment. I don't object. After all, it’s a small price to pay for a competent, English-speaking maid with a bona fide green card.”
Smoke and fire on the 8th floor. So far as is known, Rex Reed never encountered the late Boris Karloff, however, he did have an unsettling experience after moving into his 8th-floor apartment. Both Reed and workmen renovating the unit often smelled pipe smoke of an exotic tobacco blend though no one was smoking. Then one night after the men left and the apartment was safely locked, some scraps of wallpaper and other debris caught fire. The cause of the fire was never determined, however, the damage was extensive and the workmen had to start over. Recalling the incident, Reed said, “It was horrible. When I came home, I thought, ‘Welcome to The Dakota!’ My God, this place really is haunted!”
The man who flips his wig. Edward Clark, the gentleman who commissioned construction of The Dakota, died in 1882, two years before it was completed, still stalks the dark corridors of the aged structure. When construction began on the nine-story luxury apartment house, it was literally in the middle of nowhere and New York wags of the day referred to the project as “Clark's Folly.” There were those who poked fun at Clark, claiming the building was so remote, it may as well be in the Dakota Territory. (North and South Dakota were not states at the time.) Undaunted, Clark decided to capitalize on the idea and instructed his architect to incorporate arrow heads, sheaves of wheat, ears of corn, Indians and other Wild West motifs in the proliferation of carvings on the façade of the towering edifice. He had intended to call his building the Clark Apartments, but quickly changed its name to The Dakota. Clark was a small, bearded, bespectacled man who wore a garish wig to cover his almost totally bald head. His specter, for reasons unknown, removes the fake hair and shakes it at people. Some believe Clark is demonstrating his anger at the desecration of his handsome building by residents who remove carved marble mantels, woodwork and ornamental moldings in an attempt to “modernize” their units. Clark’s spirit probably wonders why people who prefer ultra-modern to Victorian magnificence choose to live at The Dakota – as do many others.
Not ready to leave home. Jo Mielziner loved The Dakota as much as any resident ever had and kept scrapbooks of newspaper and magazine articles concerning the building. He often said he believed the old apartment house was haunted by a number of ghosts and in 1976, when he died in a taxicab just outside the front door, his spirit apparently joined the others. Shortly following his death, an employee working in the basement witnessed a heavy snow shovel propelled 20 feet across the room by unseen hands. Wilbur Ross, a tenant, watched dumbfounded as a massive metal bar floated across the room and landed at his feet. He stooped to pick it up, but the bar was so heavy he could not lift it. Locked doors opened and closed of their own accord and manual elevators moved up and down when no operators were present to turn the wheels. These manifestations continued several seeks and it was generally assumed old Jo Mielziner just wasn't ready to leave The Dakota.
The birthday girl. Back in the 50s, a group of workmen in the building reported a strange incident while doing repairs in a 5th-floor apartment. The front door was open and they heard what sounded like a ball bouncing in the hall. When they looked, they saw a little blonde-haired girl dressed in a yellow taffeta dress and old-fashioned black shoes with buckles. The child was bouncing a red rubber ball and with a shy smile, announced, “It's my birthday.” Shortly thereafter, one of the men fell down a stairway and was killed. His co-workers decided the apparition was a harbinger of doom. Following the death of Jo Mielziner, a neighbor swore that a few days before he died, Mielziner told him he, too, had encountered the little girl in yellow bouncing her ball just outside his door.
Shades of No. 77. In the Levin novel, Rosemary and Guy Woodhouse occupied Apt. 7-E and Frank Andrews, who helped ready Apt. 77 for Gary Smith’s occupancy, drew some parallels between Rosemary’s Baby and his own experiences in the building. As an example, he cited the fact two women in the book are named Rosemary and Terry which are the names of his two sisters. Apartment 77 had belonged to actress Judy Holliday who died of cancer. Ms. Holliday’s death was not an easy one and she languished many months in her 7th-floor apartment which, according to Andrews, was one of the most dismal places he had ever laid eyes on. The woodwork was all dark mahogany, some of the walls were grey, others had dreary wallpaper and the kitchen was painted black. The place was unbelievably depressing and Andrews felt the rooms themselves had somehow absorbed Ms. Holliday’s final unhappy, pain-racked days. He was satisfied the place was haunted and his friend, Norvin Malone, claimed he felt “vibrations” and confirmed the unit was “definitely inhabited.” It wasn’t long before the men saw their first Dakota ghost, a boy of about 9- or 10-years-old. The lad was wearing the clothing of a bygone era and, according to Andrews, “gave off a strange outdoorsy, fresh-yet-musty odor.” A few days later, a second apparition, that of a young man in his early 20s, stood silently by and watched Malone as he worked. Malone recalled the phantom “was dressed in period costume close to Edwardian.”
Malone often visited the Smiths after they moved into Apt. 77. One day, he saw what he described as “an aura of lights” around a large, stuffed animal. On another occasion when the children were rolling around on the floor with the same toy, he casually remarked that the kids certainly enjoyed playing with the animal. “It's very strange,” Gail Smith commented, “but at the other place where we lived before, the children would not play with that toy. It wasn’t until we moved to The Dakota that they have taken it up so enthusiastically.” Malone was convinced at least one of the specters in No. 77 had somehow entered the stuffed animal.
Helen Tuvim, Judy Holliday’s mother, was quite distressed when she learned of the alleged haunting in her daughter’s old apartment, but she wasn't surprised. “All her [Judy’s] troubles happened in that apartment,” the old woman lamented. “I can't even look at it. She got her divorce there. She got her cancer there.”
A rose for a neglected mistress. One of the oldest spooks stalking The Dakota is that of a young dark-haired lady holding a single red rose. It is rumored the young woman was the mistress of a married man who lived in the building around the turn of the century. Heartbroken that her lover would not leave his wife and marry her, one night, she took her own life. At the moment of her death, her wraith appeared in the dining room where her paramour and his wife were entertaining. Almost everyone at the table briefly glimpsed a young lady standing in the doorway leading to the livingroom. She was wearing a flowing white gown and in her pale hands, she carried a rose of the deepest red imaginable. The gentleman, disturbed at seeing what was obviously the apparition of his mistress, excused himself and hurried to her apartment a few blocks away. There, he discovered the corpse of his beloved lying face up on her bed. She was wearing a white gown and in her hands, she clutched a long-stemmed blood-red rose. Since that time, Dakota residents have occasionally glimpsed the lady with the rose. Some claim the denunciatory phantom appears only to married men who are neglecting their mistresses. Unfortunately for the philanderer unlucky enough to encounter the lovely lady with the rose, she is also visible to others, including his wife if she happens to be present.
Time-warp. One afternoon as Frederick Weinstein was approaching The Dakota, he noticed a massive crystal chandelier shining brightly through the window of the livingroom of his third-floor apartment. Thinking his wife, Suzanne, had purchased the fixture and had it installed as a surprise, he hurried inside, but the ceiling was bare. During renovations, the couple had noticed bolts in the ceiling that had at one time held a large lighting fixture. Because other strange things had happened – phantom footsteps, items moved about, etc. – he concluded he had caught a glimpse of his livingroom as it had been in the distant past when a magnificent chandelier graced their apartment.
The crying lady. Without doubt, John Lennon was the most famous celebrity to call The Dakota home and while in the realm of the living, he saw at least one Dakota apparition. The crying lady is occasionally encountered in the building's dark passageways and Lennon saw her just outside his seventh-floor apartment. “I came out one day and felt this weirdness around,” Lennon explained. “I saw it sort of in the corner of my eye. I thought I saw it, but I wasn't quite sure. But then someone told me later about the ghost.” Her identity is unknown, but she has been seen over the years in just about every corridor in the building, but so far as is known, this sad shade has never entered anyone’s apartment. Witnesses say the apparition appears in a grey, diaphanous gown and seems to be enveloped in a grey aura. The lady, who is sobbing uncontrollably, disappears very quickly.
John Lennon Lives! – at The Dakota. In 1975, when John Lennon and Yoko Ono purchased the seventh-floor apartment formerly owned by Robert and Jessie Ryan, one of the first things they did was conduct a séance. Jessie Ryan’s spirit responded immediately and informed the famous pair that she still considered the apartment her home and had no intention of leaving. Nevertheless, she promised she would not interfere in their lives and they could live however they chose. Yoko wasted no time telephoning Mrs. Ryan’s daughter, Lisa, to let her know her mother was still happily domiciled at The Dakota. Lisa Ryan was not amused. Later, when relating her bizarre conversation with Yoko to friends, Ms. Ryan declared, “If my mother’s ghost belongs anywhere, it’s here with me – not with them!”
Since that fateful day in December 1980 when John Lennon was assassinated just outside The Dakota, many have claimed to encounters with his restless spirit. The National Enquirer and other tabloid newspapers have printed numerous articles concerning Lennon’s ghost and books have been written about his postmortem prattle. Apparently, Mr. Lennon’s spirit is quite loquacious. Shawn Robbins, on assignment by the Enquirer, was sitting outside The Dakota one afternoon in 1985, hoping to see or contact Lennon’s specter. "It was about 1 o’clock in the afternoon,” she remembered. “At a distance, I could see energy waves like a body. I saw it where he was shot.” According to Ms. Robbins, she had seen the apparition of the slain Beatle at other times. “When I’m on the West Side, I’ll go by there out of curiosity and sometimes I see a fleeting image that looks like John Lennon.”
In addition to hanging around the area where he was shot, Lennon’s phantom has also been observed staring out the window of his ground floor studio and crossing from The Dakota to the “Imagine” mosaic in Central Park. Others claim they have seen him flash the peace sign at passersby and a hot dog vendor heard the ghost singing “Give Peace a Chance.” It has also been reported that Yoko Ono observed the spirit of her husband sitting at the piano in her Dakota apartment, much as he did when alive and, on occasion, he actually spoke to her. Why John Lennon has chosen to return to The Dakota, a place he lived only five years, is anybody’s guess. Perhaps there is just something about the formidable old building that attracts the spirits of the dead.
Sources: Life at the Dakota: New York's Most Unusual Address by Stephen Birmingham, Melissa Howard, New York City Ghost Stories by Charles J. Adams III, Rosemary's Baby by Ira Levin, Ghosts of the Rich and Famous by Arthur Myers, Jessica Jewett, The New York Post and The National Enquirer.