When the Poltergeists Presided over President Street
By LindaAnn LoSchiavo
During the Depression, when my Uncle Larry was lucky enough to have a secure job in Manhattan, he began playing poker with a group of guys on Friday nights. During the card game, the players smoked heavily. Thanks to the smelly cigars and unfiltered Lucky Strikes burning in ashtrays, my grandparents refused to let Larry invite his buddies there on Friday. Two wives enforced a tobacco ban.
But one man was happy to host the poker game. His place was haunted.
My uncle often told us the story — — how it felt to sit in the living room, trying to concentrate on the next move, as angry poltergeists made their presence known. The spirits manifested their rage via unearthly sounds, usually in the kitchen. Terrifying disturbances pierced the Brooklyn night as the clatter of dishes, or even an entire cupboard being thrown down, spooked the card players and made them rush into the room to investigate. No matter what the men heard — — blood-curdling screams, maniacal laughter, crockery being smashed against the wall — — when they got up to investigate, nothing was amiss. No one was there.
“How could anyone live in that apartment?” we would ask my uncle.
He explained the young newlyweds were paying only a few dollars for rent and the husband, like many Americans during the early 1930s, was unemployed. They didn’t have much choice when it came to housing.
The building was an old-fashioned four-family walk-up. But my uncle had no idea who else lived there nor if the ghosts descended on the other tenants. He was only there to play cards, place his bets, and try to ignore the chaos.
Nevertheless, he couldn’t stop talking about it when he got home. His very religious mother found it so daunting that she brought a priest over to bless the living quarters. Nothing helped. Amazingly, the men continued to congregate there once a week until, one by one, Uncle Sam called them to duty.
When I learned to drive, I went to visit some of the addresses where my mother had grown up with her siblings: Carroll Street, President Street, and so on. By then these neighborhoods had been gentrified and had fancy new names like Park Slope and Carroll Gardens. Nannies wheeled expensive baby carriages past manicured front yards and chic sidewalk cafes.
My last stop was the address of the haunted building on President Street. It must have been torn down for some time because mature trees had taken over the lot along with tangled clumps of devilry: bloodroot, foxglove, and deadly nightshade.
Native New Yorker LindaAnn LoSchiavo, who is completing her 2nd documentary film on Texas Guinan, enjoys writing fiction, poems, plays, and essays set in the Big Apple.
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