Twice a week, Ghost Walk USA hosts a tour of the Elm City’s eerie history in which participants can hear chilling tales of ghosts, murderers and mysteries.
The day after Halloween on Friday, a woman known as the “Ghost Lady” met a group of Yale students, New Haven residents and city visitors for a mile-long walking tour of the city’s unexplained mysteries. Ghost Walk USA also conducts tours in New York, Palm Beach and Washington, D.C.
“Throughout the whole month of October, you can feel the mysticism in the air. It’s the energy that everyone’s contributing,” said Chrystyne McGrath, the guide for Friday night’s tour. “Today is the day of the dead, and I think it’s the energy everyone’s feeding it which makes it more mystical.”
McGrath, who is a Guilford native, said she first started seeing spirits when she was only five years old. She is one of several guides who lead nighttime ghost tours around New Haven all year, rain or shine. The walking tours — which take around two hours — give attendees a look into the horrific murders, forgotten graves and lost spirits buried within the Elm City.
The tour is replete with a combination of historical facts and mysterious urban myths. The Ghost Lady bewitched the group all the way from their meeting place on Chapel St., through the New Haven Green and past the Grove St. Cemetery.
Each location in the tour has a spine-chilling tale about the poltergeists who roam through it, from the story of a young cleaner who fell to her death on the iron steps of City Hall to a woman who was stabbed eight times in the children’s section of the New Haven Public Library. Pausing outside the seemingly mundane Taft Apartments on College St., McGrath shared her knowledge of the layers of chilling history hidden beneath it.
McGrath told the group that an abandoned banquet hall, a hidden speakeasy and an abandoned swimming pool are rumored to be beneath the building. Two layers below that, she said, there is a series of underground tunnels that go throughout New Haven and were once part of the underground railroad.
After telling the story of a young actress who committed suicide in her hotel room after a poor performance in the Shubert Theater, she handed out a picture of the abandoned banquet hall with a small white streak circled in thick red marker. As the image was passed around, McGrath explained that the white streak is called an “orb,” which uses the battery from cell phone cameras to show itself in the light.
The photo was met with a variety of reactions, with skeptics suggesting logical explanations for the photo and believers sharing their own tales of capturing spirits or ghosts on camera.
“Everyone here is Clairsentient… You all have the ability to feel and sense the energy around you,” McGrath said. “Always go with the gut feeling that you get, because it’s 100 percent accurate.”
McGrath said that when she isn’t leading tours through New Haven or Guilford, she crosses earthbound energies over to the “other side” or practices dowsing — a type of divination that attempts to locate buried objects without the use of scientific tools. She gave a brief demonstration of dowsing on the New Haven Green and noted that it is also the location of over 4,000 unmarked graves.
Holding a pair of L-shaped metal rods in her hands, she walked towards a plaque laid by Mayor John DeStefano, Jr. beneath the bare branches of the Lincoln Oak Tree. The rods pointed straight and then suddenly swung outwards.
“And boom, they point straight until they hit energy,” McGrath said. “That’s where the vortex is. This is why they planted the oak tree here in 1909.”
McGrath said most of McGrath’s historical knowledge comes from her research in local public libraries and from working with local historians.
“I love New Haven. I love the history. I love the energy coming into [it],” she said in an interview with the News. “You can feel it the minute you come in.”
McGrath said that while the tours are most popular in the fall, they attract people year-round. She also runs historical tours for those who don’t want to hear about the local haunts.
Amongst the group were a few Yalies who said the tour left them with a new appreciation for the mystic history of New Haven. Some of them were even willing to explore their own connection with the paranormal realm and asked how they could “open up their solar plexus” to experience the presence of a wrathful gentleman who haunts the ground floor of the Graduate Club. Others were not so convinced of the tales.
Ben Wiegand ‘23 said that he was skeptical about the tour before it even began, because he does not believe in ghosts.
“I still don’t believe in ghosts,” Wiegand told the News. “I think her background knowledge about all the history of the hauntings gives [tourists] a false sense of validity because she [includes] so much correct information about [New Haven’s] history.”
Despite his criticisms, Wiegand said he found the tour guide very charismatic and energetic and noted that most people on the tour didn’t seem to be looking for proof of ghosts and their existence, but that they were there to “have fun by indulging in that belief.”
Tickets for the tours, which run every Friday and Saturday night, can be found on the Ghosts of New Haven website.
Natalie Kainz | firstname.lastname@example.org