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.
If you fall into the latter category, head into the store’s first floor and hang a left…
Proceed down the stairs to the men’s department…
Continue to the back of the store…
…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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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