Hauntings at Washington Square Park

Posted by in US Ghost Adventures

Washington Square Park is one of New York City’s most iconic landmarks. It’s known for being a popular hangout for local New York University students and an area ideal for entertainers to perform for passersby. It also is a popular location for the spirits of a bygone era. 

Prepare to take a deep dive into the haunted history of Washington Square Park and discover how this popular attraction is also one of the most ghost-infested. 

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History Of The Park

Today, the park’s land was near a Native American settlement known as Sapokanican or “tobacco field” in the 17th century. By this point, Dutch settlers had already established themselves in the area, naming their settlement “New Amsterdam.” Most of the farmland in the surrounding area was Dutch-owned. 

Portions of the land were later given to residents of Angolan descent to create a buffer zone between themselves (the Dutch) and the Native Americans. Due to the land in the surrounding area, both the Dutch and Native Americans were on tense terms.

The land gifted by the Dutch was owned by slaves who were considered “half-free.” These farmlands were situated in the same area where much of the park is today. Over time, more land was given to freed slaves as part of their deal. However, the landowners had to pay a land fee and an additional fee to the Dutch West India Company. 

This colony laid the groundwork for creating the first African-American community in the United States. 

Development Of A Burial Ground

Throughout the United States Revolution, most of the land made for farming was acquired by the Common Council of New York. Specifically, the land east of Minetta Creek was targeted for a potter’s field or public cemetery. They intended to bury citizens who were known as indigent or unidentified by the public at the time of their deaths. This land would be put to good use when the City of New York suffered a yellow fever epidemic that killed dozens of people. Since the land was located away from what was considered New York City at the time, burial grounds were used since they were located far from the city and at a safe distance away from people as a precaution.

One of the stories about the burial ground was the planting of an oak tree in the central area. It had been said that a public execution had occurred here at some point in the 18th or 19th century. Although there have been no known records of this execution, it might still be considered an urban legend. However, some historians claim that the tree may have been where the Washington Square Park fountain sits today.

The cemetery was closed in 1825. At the time, more than 20,000 bodies were buried beneath the surface of the ground, setting the stage for what might be one of the Big Apple’s most haunted places today. The stories of human remains and the discovery of tombstones dating back to the 1790s might just be a small sample of the stories of the kind of paranormal and spiritual activity that could very well be happening in Washington Square Park.

The Formation Of Washington Square Park

A year after the closure of the potter’s field, the City of New York purchased the remaining land to the west of Minetta Creek. In a short time, a square was laid out and used as a parade ground. These were designed to hold military parades that showcased America’s military might. For a time, it was also a place where the military would also train. The land surrounding the square would soon become a desirable area for real estate purposes (preferably residential). By the 1830s, a row of Greek-style homes was erected on the square’s north side.

The park underwent renovations between 1849 and 1850. However, it underwent a complete redesign in 1871 when the newly formed New York City Department of Parks began to execute its plans to develop the park. One of the most notable changes included curved walking paths and a water fountain completed in 1852. It would remain on the grounds for twenty years until it was replaced.

The arch that sits on the park grounds today was a monument built in honor of the 100th anniversary of George Washington’s ascension to the presidency. It was made from Tuckahoe Marble, and its design resembles the Arc de Triomphe in Paris.

Because of the construction of the arch, excavation of the land was needed. It was at this point in time that the initial discovery of human remains and gravestones occurred. These instances would continue to occur even well into the 21st century. Most of these remains, gravestones, and coffins would typically be found more than 8 to 10 feet below the ground. By the middle of the 20th century, two statues bearing the likeness of the park’s namesake (George Washington) were erected on the park grounds.

In 1934, redesign plans were underway. But this time, they came when the Depression was in full swing. Meanwhile, activists were locked up in a fight with New York City Park Commissioner Robert Moses. The city and activists were in a decades-long fight that would hinder the plans to redesign the park completely. Most notably, then-First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt was opposed to the plans. Because of this, no vehicles can access the park, thus making it accessible by walking.

Hauntings at Washington Square Park

While the park is said to be lively during the day, it is said that at night, it might be a whole different animal. Many NYU students have reported coming across random cold spots and discovering random figures that would come and go over time. While these specters remain in place, the stories of the park once being a public burial ground of the city’s dead might be one that would leave your hair standing on end.

If you ever go to the Big Apple and call yourself a sucker for all things paranormal, the best time to go to Washington Square Park would be at night. This way, you can discover some pretty eerie activities going on at the park. In the city that never sleeps, it might be the one place where you are walking around in a graveyard at night.

Washington Square Park is said to have remains, tombstones, and coffins still underground. For as long as the dead remain buried below the grounds of the park, you can bet that some spirits are still looming around more than 200 years after they’ve left their mortal coil.

Check out our New York City Ghosts tours, and keep reading our blog for more tales of the macabre.