The Site of a Former Haunted House

In all honesty, this post is more of a side trip from parapsychology. I could title it “Fun with Research.”

The other day I was browsing a collection of digitized images that the Museum of the City of New York recently made available online. Thinking of this blog, I did a search on the word “haunted.” That always has interesting results.

The first photograph to come up was this one. The caption read:

Arch under the first rear tenement at 55 Baxter Street leading to the second rear, with stairs up which Vincenzo Nino went to murder his wife in 1895. House believed to be haunted.

I searched through The New York Times archives and learned that Vincenzo Nino was an unemployed barber who killed his wife Marie with a razor blade on February 19, 1895. He made no attempt to get away afterwards and when the police arrived he was dressing his two children, a nine year old boy and a six year old girl. The caption for the next photograph read:

The rear room in the top floor of 55 Baxter Street in which Mrs. Nino was murdered—since deserted. On May 23, the splash of blood on floor and walls was there yet.


Nino pleaded insanity and was sentenced to the electric chair, but the the Court of Appeals reversed the judgement and said he had to be re-tried. When reporters asked the warden at Sing Sing if Nino had been told yet he laughed and said, “It don’t make much difference whether I tell him or not.” He thought Nino was crazy and the prison physician thought so too.

Nino and his wife had immigrated here from Italy ten years before, and she supported the family by picking rags. The article said the Gerry Society took the children (the Gerry Society would become the New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children ). I wonder what happened to them.

If 55 Baxter Street was haunted it wasn’t haunted for long. All the buildings on that side of the block are gone today and in their place is a park and basketball courts (on the other side of the street is the Criminal Court building).


ESPRIT: Men and Women of Parapsychology, Personal Reflections

Where was this book when I was doing my research??

The people who have essays in this book (or were interviewed) are a who’s who in parapsychology:  Jule Eisenbud, Montague Ullman, Jan Ehrenwald, Eileen Coly, Joseph H. Rush, Gertrude R. Schmeidler, Emilio Servadio, Renée Haynes, Hans Bender, Karlis Osis, George Zorab, Bernard Grad.

“ESPRIT: Men and Women of Parapsychology, Personal Reflections, Volume 1″ is a collection of autobiographical essays by a group of esteemed 20th century psi researchers, giving us a glimpse of why these gifted, astute individuals devoted much, if not most, of their life’s work to this fascinating but monetarily unrewarding field. In the process, Jule Eisenbud, Eileen Coly, Gertrude Schmeidler, Karlis Osis, and eight others advise a younger generation on what pitfalls to expect and what they felt were the most important areas of investigation.”

The Medium Who Committed Suicide

I had intended to write about Ted Serios, the man who was said to be able to take pictures with his mind. But while reading through some 1962 letters about Serios between Dr. J. B. Rhine and Pauline Oehler, who had written an article about Serios for Fate Magazine that year, I got side-tracked by a reference to a medium who killed herself in 1911, and the man who had conducted experiments with her the year before, Dr. Tomokichi Fukurai.

Thank heaven for Google and the internet! The medium was a young woman named Chizuko Mifune and Fukurai wrote about the experiments (and others) in a 1931 book titled Clairvoyance and Thoughtography. I didn’t read the whole book, but they were basically ESP card experiments. Could Chizuko tell what characters were on the cards without seeing them? Fukurai reported that she could at first, but then her abilities declined. There was talk of cheating and scientists became skeptical about all her results. At around this time her sister developed abilities. On January 18th Chizuko killed by taking poison. She was only 24 years old.

Kyohei Iseri, her former school principle and the one who introduced Chizuko to Dr. Fukurai, wrote to Fukurai afterwards. He mentioned that Chizuko’s sister had become clairvoyant, hinting that this was an issue, and that Chizuko’s reaction was, ‘I have now become of no use of the world.’

“She looked very pitiful and I solaced her with all my heart. She confessed: ‘I feel it already hard to read a card in a single envelope …’”


Fukurai talks about her death in the book, and says it could be due in part to “family affairs,” without explaining what those were, and the fact that she was losing her abilities. He also writes a little about her psychological history, saying she was sensitive and temperamental, had trouble sleeping, and perhaps she had an eating disorder, but he downplays one symptom that I found very interesting.

“She began to hear singing in the ears since about twelve years of age, and this became continuous.  She was, however, fond of music by nature, and, especially after the clairvoyant force appeared, she began to enjoy herself by playing the koto, a Japanese instrument.  She did not find it so difficult to hear music as to hear others talking.”

I’m currently researching a book about singing and the composer Robert Schumann had a similar disorder and it worsened. It drove him crazy and he ultimately tried to kill himself as well, but he didn’t succeed and he was committed voluntarily to an asylum which he never left.


Chizuko Mifune’s story is a sad one. But apparently she has captured the imagination of the Japanese public. According to Wikipedia, “Chizuko Mifune has recently grabbed the attention of Japanese horror filmmakers and has in some way been acknowledged in such films as Yogen and Ringu.” She has also been the inspiration for various Japanese novels and anime, I’ve read.

In 1919, as a result of his work, Fukurai was forced to resign from the Imperial University of Tokyo, but he continued to study psychic phenomena, and he died in 1953.

“Yes, it is too bad about Professor Fukurai,” Rhine wrote in one of the letters to Oehler. “The poor man was not very careful. I have had several inquiries made about him and what he left. Friends have visited his institute. Had he been more of a scientist he might have made great headway for parapsychology in the Japanese culture, which is much more favorable than ours. But then, too, he might not have found what he claims to have found had he been more careful. Who can tell?”