It exists a secret New York – besides that one everybody knows by now – which is able to astonish and bewitch the most curious and exigent visitor.
A New York of old cobbled paving roads lighted by gaslights, of ancient historic dwellings and secret gardens, of remote events and characters arriving directly from the past to tell about moments, stories ad families’ sagas dating back over 100 years ago.
It’s the magic of a city which is able not only to keep with care but also and above all to extol and show proud its past, proud if its origins and its path which allowed it to be today the New York everyone – or almost – loves and dreams.
A past revealing by the most surprising ways, maybe between a skyscraper and an Avenue, in the middle of a busy street, among stores, crowded pubs, boroughs and fashion places or unexpectedly along the paths to reach the most famous tourist attractions.
Like the Merchant’s House.
Secret New York: the history of Merchant’s House
The Merchant’s House is a little treasure.
It’s an original and elegant Federal style historic dwelling, the most authentic – and best preserved – of the 300 period buildings remained among Manhattan and the other boroughs, mostly between Brooklyn and Bronx.
It was built in 1832 in one of the favourite areas of the New Yorker upper middle class: today it corresponds to the area linking the Greenwich Village to Noho as far as the end of the East Village.
A new and elegant residential area created in the middle of the 1800s to escape the chaos caused by the rising commercial trades of the South Street harbor and the new factories risen in Lower Manhattan.
The dwelling, a white stone and red bricks building, was bought in 1835 – just three years after its construction – by Seabury Tredwell, a rich merchant importing metals from England.
His family has lived here uninterruptedly until 1933, when Gertrude, the youngest among his eight children, died.
Gertrude lived a solitary life in this house – together with few members of the servants – the last 24 years of her life: she never got married and she never wanted to change anything of the original accommodation wanted by her father, included the personal effects and the clothes belonged to her dear ones.
She even didn’t allowed that the house got wiring and plumbing and kept using candles and the well of the little garden on the back.
When she died the dwelling was saved from being distrained on and its own precious furniture from being auctioned thanks to the help of a relative: just after two years and a few works of modernisation necessary to the re-opening to public (plumbing, wiring and heating system), it was turned into a museum.
One of the first ones in Manhattan being able to show the daily life, the comforts and the habits of the rich merchant families in the New York of the middle 1800s.
Secret New York: the Merchant’s House tour
Going through the white wood door – set in an artful play of marble inlaid works – from the main entrance of the Merchants House it means to enter a sort of time capsule and be catapulted into New York 150 years ago.
Everything inside the dwelling is strictly original, from the furniture to the pictures, from the furnishings to the books, from documents to the daily use objects. From the artful system of little bells to call the servants, to the precious stuccoes and inlaid works, even the clothes exhibited and the rooms’ linen.
A precise stop-motion of the fashion, the furniture (it seems some “pieces” were purchased by the most famous designer of that time, Duncan Phyle, the same person that furnished the rooms of the White House) and of the habits of the rich families of that period with an almost maniacal attention for details.
Like peep from the hole of the lock and have the impression that suddenly Mr Tredwell and his wife Eliza appear in the big living room at the second floor while they are doing their daily activities.
The tour starts from the basement, from the entrance reserved to the family members, from the kitchen and from the little garden on the back.
Then go along through a series of flight of stairs to the reception rooms at the second floor, to the studio and to the bedrooms at the third and fourth floor and to the servants’ rooms – former they were reserved to the black slaves – in the mezzanine floor of the fifth floor.
The Merchant’s House is at 29 E, 4th Street between Lafayette and Bowery Street.
It is opened to public from Thursday to Monday from Midday to 5pm while in the other days it opens only by reservation with guided tours for groups.
Click here for further info and to plan the tour at the best.
Secret New York: the Merchant’s House ghost
It’s not a mystery that the Merchant’s House is considered one of the most haunted historic dwelling in Manhattan. Many people – visitors and guides – report in the house Gertrude’s ghost wanders about undisturbed.
It seems a lady in 1800s period costumes appears during performances, concerts and theme events organized inside the building. And that – according to the frequent noises and objects moving, even of the heavy pig iron stove in the kitchen – she is quite annoyed by the new heating system and by the presence of the several tourists visiting daily her property.
During the whole month of October, the period of time preceding Halloween, the Merchant’s House organizes night ghost tours, historic remembrances in period costumes of Gertrude and her father Seabury’s funeral. And also photographic exhibitions of the notorious Bodies Post Mortem.
It’s the macabre habit to take photograph of the dead bodies dressed up and posed for the occasion together with the family members still alive, very popular for a good part of the 19th century.