My Favorite Ghost Story That Didn’t Make the Book

On June 26, 1957, The New York Times ran a piece by Meyer Berger about a haunted house in the West Village called:  Ghostly Coincidences Puzzle Bohemian Couple in 125-Year-Old House in Greenwich Village.

Briefly:  Harvey Slatin bought the red brick house and was in the process of converting it from a rooming house into a single family home.  The Slatins and the constructions workers sometimes heard what sounded like a woman on the stairs.  At first they just figured they had an intruder, and they’d wait to hear the sounds and then run upstairs.  But no one was ever there.  Their carpenter wrote it off to the odd sounds you hear in old homes.

Slatin wasn’t particularly unnerved either, and instead tried to study the phenomena.  He timed her ghostly steps and noted that they began at 11 in the morning and continued off and on until dusk.  “I’d call them rather friendly sounds; a wee bit spooky, maybe,” he said, “but somehow not frightening.”

Later, when the carpenter was removing the ceiling on the top floor, a small tin about the size of a can of coffee fell onto his head.  The label read, “The last remains of Elizabeth Bullock, deceased.  Cremated January 21, 1931.”  Slatin called the crematorium listed on the container and learned that Elizabeth Bullock had been hit by a car on Hudson Street, and taken to a drugstore nearby where she died.  She had lived on Perry Street though, and no one could explain how she ended up in a ceiling on Bank Street, and they weren’t able to learn anything else about her.

(The picture above is the Bank Street building where the actual haunting took place. The one below is the Perry Street building where Elizabeth Bullock was living before she died.) 

Ghost hunter Hans Holzer (who died this year) read Berger’s piece and contacted the Slatins to offer his services.  During a seance conducted in the building, Holzer and his favorite medium, Ethel Johnson Meyers, came up with more (alleged) information about Elizabeth Bullock, which I have since researched.  I love fact checking seances.

This particular seance had an interesting mix of hits and misses.  One thing that came out of the seance was Elizabeth Bullock’s wish to have a Christian burial, which she had been denied because she married outside her faith.  Holzer’s account ends with his suggestion that they bury her in the garden. The Slatins say they’re going to keep the tin with Elizabeth’s ashes displayed on the piano, where she’s happy they insist, but also in case someone shows up to claim her.

In 2007 I tracked down Harvey Slatin, who turned out to be Dr. Harvey Slatin, a Manhattan Project nuclear physicist.  He was now 92 years old, and not terribly interested in talking to me, but he did tell me enough so that I could research the story more thoroughly.  More importantly, although Dr. Slatin doesn’t believe in ghosts he confirmed the unexplained events at Bank Street, so whatever the final explanation, they happened.

The seance at Bank Street took place on a weekday evening in July.  Mrs. Meyers went into a trance and immediately connected with a spirit named Betty who she said was paralyzed on one side and walked with a limp.  Slatin’s wife Yeffe was thrilled.  She told them that she’d seen a lady with a limp with her “psychic eye”.

The spirit named Betty told her story, but like many stories told via mediums, her narrative is confusing.  “He didn’t want me in the family plot—my brother—I wasn’t even married in their eyes … But I was married before God … Edward Bullock … I want a Christian burial in the shades of the Cross … any place where the Cross is—but not with them!”  Betty gave a few details about her life: her mother’s maiden name was Elizabeth McCuller, and they came from Pleasantville, New York.  When asked why her ashes were in the attic of Bank Street she gave an answer which didn’t clarify anything.  “I went with Eddie.  There was a family fight … my husband went with Eddie … steal the ashes … pay for no burial … he came back and took them from Eddie … hide ashes … Charles knew it … made a roof over the house … ashes came through the roof … so Eddie can’t find them.”

(This is where Elizabeth died.  It was a drugstore at the time.)

It’s all a bit impenetrable.  “Just because I loved a man out of the faith, and so they took my bones and fought over them, and then they put them up in this place, and let them smolder up there, so nobody could touch them …”  Who cremated you, Holzer asked.  “It was Charles’ wish, and it wasn’t Eddie’s and therefore they quarreled.  Charlie was a Presbyterian … and he would have put me in his church, but I could not offend them all.  They put it beyond my reach through the roof; still hot … they stole it from the crematory.”

A few more facts emerged.  She had two children, Eddie, who was alive and living in California, and Gracie, who died as a baby.  Also, “Betty” spoke the entire time with an Irish brogue.  Holzer said he could tell an actor from the real thing and this was the real thing.   The spirit’s last words were, “Lived close by.  Bullock.”

Hans Holzer and the Slatins didn’t have the benefit of the Internet and resources like to help them research Elizabeth’s history.  Also, enough time has gone by that Elizabeth’s death certificate is now in the public domain.  What’s interesting is how much Ethel Johnson Meyers got right.  Elizabeth’s husband was Edward Bullock.  In Holzer’s account he said her husband was Charlie, which was a reasonable guess based on the spirit’s rambling monologue.  The names Eddie and Charlie kept coming up and it was hard to tell who was who.  But in fact, Elizabeth’s husband was Edward Bullock, practically the first name out of the spirit/Ethel’s mouth.   And Elizabeth had a brother—his name was Charles.

After that, most of what was learned by both normal and supernatural means turned out to be wrong.  Elizabeth Bullock did not die as a result of being hit by a car.  The death certificate says “chronic myocarditis,” which is an inflammation of the muscle walls of the heart (but she did die in that drugstore).  She also didn’t speak with an Irish brogue.  Elizabeth was born in New York and her father was German and her mother, whose maiden name was Mary Schwieker, not Elizabeth McCuller, was born in the United States.

Elizabeth and Edward didn’t have any children that I could find, and New York does not have a death certificate for a child named Gracie Bullock.

What I was most curious about was:  whatever happened to the tin of ashes? (Pictured at left, scanned from one of Hans Holzer’s books.)

Slatin told me that The Washington Post did a piece about their ghost in 1981.  A few months later the Slatins got a letter from a northern California priest named Devereaux.  Father Devereaux offered to have a service for Elizabeth and to bury her in St. Patrick’s Cemetery at Table Bluff, in Humboldt County, California.  “Elizabeth will be resting with many of her own countrymen, in a very beautiful little cemetery,” he wrote.  Some of the tenants at Bank Street didn’t want to see her go, she was a New York ghost after all.

I asked Slatin why they never arranged for a Christian burial before this since this was what the spirit said she wanted. He said they’d taken Elizabeth’s remains to a Catholic church in the city, but the church refused to bury her because she had married outside her faith.  I hung up the phone, but then it hit me.  Not only was this church being rather uncharitable, if what Slatin said was true, they were basing their decidedly uncharitable decision on information gained from a seance!  This whole marrying outside her faith thing was never confirmed outside the seance.

The Slatins decided that laying her to rest as she desired was the right thing to do, and so over their neighbor’s objections they shipped her ashes to California.  Fifty people attended the funeral mass at Father Devereaux’s church in the town of Loleta.  Like a movie, it poured the day they buried Elizabeth. During the seance Betty had said, “I want a Christian burial in the shades of the Cross.” And so they very kindly buried her beneath a cedar cross.

Update: Nancy Wallace sent me pictures of Elizabeth’s grave which I posted here.

How Elizabeth ended up in a ceiling at Bank Street when she was a resident of Perry Street remained a mystery.  But 21st century technology is a wonderful resolution-provider.  According to Edward Bullock’s World War II draft registration card, now available online, sometime after Elizabeth died, Bullock moved out of their Perry Street apartment and into smaller, more affordable accommodations in the rooming house at Bank Street.  Why her tin of ashes were stored in the ceiling, I can’t say.

During our brief phone call Dr. Slatin, who doesn’t believe in God or an afterlife, nonetheless admitted to me, “I felt her presence.”  The air in the apartment filled with cheap perfume whenever she made her appearance known.

NOTE:  There’s no point in banging on the door of this building with the hope of experiencing a haunted house.  Whatever was causing the disturbances, they stopped decades ago.

AND: Here is a picture of the Bank Street Building in 1942.

AND:  If you like the kind of research and writing that went into this piece, you can buy my book … here!

Finally, here’s a short movie I made of the site described and pictured above.

17 thoughts on “My Favorite Ghost Story That Didn’t Make the Book

  1. Very cool haunting, Stacy.

    I was particularly interested in the accounts of Elizabeth presumably limping around being tormented because of the lack of a Christian burial.

    My generalized model (which is open to change) is that Elizabeth could have been earth bound, a trace, or a cast off vehicle of vitality.

    If it were a trace, I would think of it as the memory of an intelligence moved on, flashing back and enlivening a thought picture on the anniversary of some violent or catastrophic act.

    If it were a cast off vehicle of vitality, sometimes known as an etheric double, or the Nephesh in the Qaballah, then it would have enough vitality to linger on with a rudimentary intelligence as the vitality gradually diminished. And the intelligence would have long since moved on to what Crookall calls the “paradisical state” or what generally is referred to in popular circles as the “astral plane”.

    My assumption from reading this account would lead me in the direction of seeing it as a disembodied spirit lingering on in the vehicle of vitality.

    My model suggests that a spirit in this condition is somewhat like a person in the grips of a compulsive disorder. If a compulsive hand washer died in the midst of washing his hands, he presumably would be compelled to keep washing them in a disembodied state for who knows how long.

    It seems to me that if we are to presume this account has veracity in some of its particulars, then Elizabeth’s conflict about marrying outside of her faith must have been a very compelling problem for her over many years. And this, it seems to me, would be sufficient to account for her presence remaining in the house.

    In my model, sometimes there is a diminished ability for cognition in an etheric state. The psychology of the intelligence is somewhat like becoming semi-lucid in a dream and trying to figure out something that ordinarily would be simple. There are accounts of people in the out-of-body state who stop at an intersection and have a great deal of trouble figuring out how to negotiate lights and stop and go, and so forth.

    I would presume that Elizabeth would feel comfortable with the ultimate Christian burial, and that would be sufficient for her to discard the vehicle of vitality and phase into more refined possibilities.

    You know, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle broke with the Society of Psychical Research because he felt that they were trying to prove something that he already believed to be true. I sympathize with both of them. From a phenomenologist’s point of view these things are true to the extent that they occur. However, I believe that bringing critical standards to the exploration can be very helpful. At the same time I reject the idea that the phenomena exist simply for the purpose of being proved scientifically. And I also believe that there are other epistemological modes that offer a way to consider the veracity of the subject.

  2. Stacey,

    Thought you would want to know,
    “alleged” is the proper spelling
    of the word, not “alledged”

  3. Oops, sorry Stacy, I misspelled your first name, adding an “e” where it did not belong. By the way, bought, read, and enjoyed your book “Unbelievable”

  4. Thank you for pointing out my spelling mistake! How embarrassing! And thank you for the compliment about my book. I worked so hard on it so positive feedback makes me more happy than I can say.

    Greg, thank you! And I wouldn’t say that anything exists for the purpose of being proved scientifically (and I’ve been weened off the word proof). It’s just one way to try to understand, and is as limited as we are.

    Actually, what freaks me out is how little of the world we perceive due to our crude senses, but that’s a separate issue.

  5. Myocarditis is caused by virile and bacterial infections that attack the hart muscle.It can be temporary or last the rest of the persons life after the original infection is gone.One of the viruses that can cause Myocarditis is Polio.In 1916 there was a Polio outbreak in New York City.There were over 9,000 cases and over 2,300 deaths.This could be were/when she got Myocarditis and why the ghost said she was paralyzed on one side and walked with a limp.

    Her name may show up on any Polio records from that time that New York may still have.If not her neighborhood might for known cases at the time.

  6. Oh, that is so interesting, thank you. I have to say, that limp made me doubt the medium. It made me suspect that she said that because she believed that Elizabeth Bullock had died in a car accident. And I liked that medium. In fact, I’m going to write a post about her. But thank you. I love knowing this.

  7. Also,what Hans Holzer perceived to be an “Irish brogue” could have been a speech impediment caused by Polio.Polio doesn’t always stick to attacking the spinal nerves i.e. arms and legs.It can branch out from the Brian stem and attack the crainal,trigeminal,facil,glossopharyngeal,and vagus nerves as well.These could all effect speech.The patient would be left with symptoms that would include shortened speech phrases and speaking on residual air.

    It’s also possible she was suffering from post polio syndrome at the time of her death.Anywhere from 20%-40% of the people that had Polio can develop post polio syndrome years later.It’s caused by the remaining(surviving) nerves becoming worn out.The symptoms are a lot like Polio but to a lesser degree.Some of them are breathing, swallowing or speaking difficulties.It’s possible that the Myocarditis and breathing difficulties are what killed her.Just walking to the drug store could have been the cause.

  8. “And I wouldn’t say that anything exists for the purpose of being proved scientifically (and I’ve been weened off the word proof). It’s just one way to try to understand, and is as limited as we are.”

    That’s a very astute observation, Stacy, and I appreciate how perceptive one needs to be to recognize that scientific proof is just another way of knowing about reality.

    It makes me eagar to read your book, and I’ll probably order it this weekend.

    I also very much appreciate what you said about the limitations of sensory experience.

    Without going into the matter too deeply, I feel that science has come to define reality. It is seen as the final arbiter about what is real and what is not. And although I value science a great deal, I am astonished at the limitations it imposes on metaphysical considerations.

    If just one haunting is true. Just one out-of-body experience is a fact. Just one near-death experience is a real record of events. If only a handful of telepathic communication has taken place… then I ask you what the heck do we really know?

  9. Interesting story! Does anyone know if Elizabeth Bullock is related to the actress Sandra Bullock?

  10. In regards to her daughter, “Gracie”, it is possible that was just a nickname…or that Grace was her middle name. Remember, a lot of people didn’t have middle names back then. It could’ve been left off of her birth and/or death certificate(s) or simply listed as “G”. I found this out recently when looking up my uncle Donald’s date of death. He was just listed as D.S.- it took me HOURS to find him, and I had a lot of info to look him up with to start out. Just a thought.

  11. I have heard/read about this story several times. Nice to see that someone picked up the ball and took it a little further with some fact-checking. I can’t believe that she wasn’t hit by a car but in fact died of chronic myocarditis. That takes away from the story a little. I may have to forget I heard that. Anyway, nice rendition and supplementation with your own research.

    I actually lived in an apartment at 11 Bank for approximately five years and I believe the hammering and footsteps have stopped. Harvey was definitely right about feeling “the presence” though. Cool building. I have some good video of the staircase where the footsteps were heard if you’d like for your video above.

  12. I think for some odd reason someone stole her remains. That’s why they were hidden. You know, life is stranger than fiction.

  13. Stacy, I appreciate all the research you did to fact check a story I’ve heard all my life. I always wondered how Elizabeth’s remains ended up at Bank St. Knowing her husband lived there answers part of the question.

    After Aunt Yeffe died, Uncle Harvey remarried and that wife is the one who arranged for Elizabeth’s burial. Uncle Harvey died over a year ago.

  14. Hi Jill. Thank you and thank you for posting. I’m so sorry you lost your Aunt and Uncle. I loved researching this story, I have to say.

    Anne Slatin just emailed me — did you point her to this post (or the other way around)?

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