There’s A 200-Year-Old Haunted Well In This Soho Clothing Store

Last month, COS (H&M’s sister brand) opened a store at 129 Spring Street in Soho, and it’s definitely worth checking out if you’re a fan of either Swedish minimalist fashions OR allegedly haunted 18th century wells.

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If you fall into the latter category, head into the store’s first floor and hang a left…

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Proceed down the stairs to the men’s department…

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Continue to the back of the store…

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…and there, nestled to the left of the cash register, you’ll find the remains of a 200+ year old well that was involved in one of the most infamous unsolved murder cases in New York City history.

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If you’re having a bit of deja-vu, I actually wrote about the well in 2011 for the Wall Street Journal, back when the building was occupied by the restaurant Manhattan Bistro. The entire place has since been renovated to become COS, though miraculously the well survived.

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The well-documented story has it that a young woman named Gulielma Elmore Sands left her Greenwich Street boarding home on the evening of Dec. 22, 1799, to meet Levi Weeks, a fellow boarder. The two had a secret romance and were planning to elope that night. Eleven days later, her body was found in a well in Lispenard’s Meadow (today’s Spring Street). Marks on her neck suggested death by strangulation.

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The Manhattan Well Murder, as it was dubbed by the press, became a sensation. Handbills distributed to the public implied that Weeks had impregnated Sands before killing her, and the woman’s family later displayed her corpse outside their boarding house to encourage speculation. Public sentiment turned passionately against Weeks, who was arrested and tried for murder, but ultimately acquitted.

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In 1980, the remains of the well were uncovered by the building’s owner during an excavation of the dirt-filled basement. Over the years, many of the restaurant’s staff reported strange happenings, and some believe Sands’s ghost still haunts the property.

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While the only spirit-like entities I saw on my recent visit were a few ghostly mannequins decked out in the latest Swedish fashions, it’s still pretty amazing to be able to check out such a unique piece of New York history, an artifact dating to a time when Soho was a meadow and Spring Street actually had a spring running through it.

-SCOUT

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18 comments

  1. Just finished reading a novel about this very case – City of Liars and Thieves by Eve Karlin, which comes out on Alibi on January 13! It is wonderful to see the scene of the crime.

  2. Check out Pete Hamill’s book “Downtown: My Manhattan.” He discusses many hidden treasures dating back to much earlier times in the city that still remain. One of them is a glass globe in the lobby of a downtown building that reveals beneath it a still running spring that dates back to the times that the American Indians still owned the island.

  3. I need to see this well! It bears mentioning that Levi Weeks was skillfully represented in the murder trial by a young Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr.

  4. An excellentt, gripping novel about this case is available on Amazon, The Manhattan Well by Stanley Cloud.

  5. Why can’t one be a fan of Swedish minimalist fashions AND allegedly haunted 18th century wells?

  6. I am really loving the theme/design of your weblog.
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  7. I was going to say, I thought that well look familiar from an earlier post.

  8. The Alexander Hamilton Awareness Society is hosting a talk at 3 pm this Saturday, January 9th at the Morris-Jumel Mansion (65 Jumel Terrace in Washington Heights) on the Manhattan Well Murder and the story of Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr’s courtroom defense of Levi Weeks. Join us! Event details here: https://www.smore.com/4u7z7

  9. As always, fascinating reading.

    “In 1861 it was reported that eerie sights and sounds were emanating from the Manhattan Well. Shrieks were heard and flashes seen in the sky along with the appearance of a figure draped in white. As with all such hauntings, the phenomena did not occur when nonbelievers were present.”

    http://www.murderbygaslight.com/2010/12/manhattan-well-mystery.html

    Love that last sentence — a ‘glass is half-full’ reading could be that ‘the phenomena’ made believers of all who witnessed them. Either way, at least there’s documented proof that the shreiks are not some new occurrence caused by glancing one’s own image in a dressing room mirror …

    Some more details about the Manhattan Well Murder:

    http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3498200038.html

  10. Any shots from above looking down into the well? Is it full of dirt? I love the history and the story but am left wanting to know more! 🙂

    • I answered my own question. Or rather, YOU answered my question in your WSJ article:

      “It is there that she unveils the well, a hulking mass of weathered brick and crumbling mortar, approximately seven feet high with a diameter of five feet. It has long since been filled in, its opening topped with stone slabs.”

  11. Wow, an 18th century well in Lower Manhattan, with (apparently intact) fill. This would make an incredible archaeological excavation. (Who knows, there could even be evidence relating to the murder!)

  12. Thanks for updating your WSJ story Nick. Great photos!

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