These macabre walking tours spotlight the ghosts and witches of NYC

These upcoming ghost tours aren’t the cheesy kind with jump scares; instead, they explore the true, oft-hidden history and spirits lurking around New York City. 

Boroughs of the Dead: Macabre New York City Walking Tours” spotlight the ghostly women of Greenwich Village, Lower East Side witches, haunting histories of Astoria and the spirits of the Titanic. The tours promise a “dose of dark history, women’s history, hauntings, ghosts, the occult” and more. Mark your calendar for some good exercise and some haunting history this spring and summer.

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Andrea Janes founded Boroughs of the Dead and she hopes the tours will change the perception of ghost tours. These tours offer depth, bring up complicated feelings and confront troubling moments in history, she tells Time Out

Photograph: By Gemma Solomons / Courtesy of Boroughs of the Dead

“We see haunting as a means of exploring the overlooked, sometimes uncomfortable, truths about New York City, and we are not afraid to journey more deeply into the meaning of these stories. In terms of ‘ghost tours’ in the city, we are unique in that we do not come at these stories from a framework of fear. We don’t seek to be scared by our ghosts, but rather to understand them and their place in the city’s history and folklore, and their role in our own meaning-making processes as urban dwellers,” she says. “We lead you through space, time, and story and hopefully re-calibrate your view of the city so that by the end of our tours you will see once-familiar locations with new eyes.”

We don’t seek to be scared by our ghosts, but rather to understand them and their place in the city’s history and folklore.

Senior tour guide Marie Carter researches and develops tours for Boroughs of the Dead. She highlighted the upcoming Roosevelt Island tours as a fascinating way to see the remnants of what was once there. 

“These shadows of the past add atmosphere to the stories that we tell regarding the island’s strange and gloomy historic past,” Carter explains. “Nellie Bly emerges at the end of the tour as one of the heroes whose fearless journalism led to reform.” 

Here are some upcoming tours to bookmark for this spring and summer.

A sculpture of Nellie Bly.
Photograph: By Amanda Matthews / Courtesy of Boroughs of the Dead

Spring/Summer 2023 tours 

  • Ghostly Women of Greenwich Village: This tour on March 30 spotlights the neighborhood’s most iconic female ghosts, including the women of the Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire, Gertrude Tredwell, Edith Wharton, Rose Butler and more. 
  • Ghosts of the Titanic: On the anniversary month of the Titanic’s sinking, these tours on April 14 and 21 share tales of spectral sailors, waterfront gangsters, pirates, murderers, poets and other lost souls. You’ll see where survivors of the Titanic were brought ashore in 1912 and be reminded of how the Titanic’s tragedy is uniquely connected to NYC. 
  • Haunting Histories and Legends of Astoria: Behind Astoria’s sweet exterior, there’s a lurid and even grisly history. This tour unpacks the shadowy past, sharing all the details on a whirlpool of sunken ships, secret cemeteries and sinister legends. Plus you can admire the glorious Victorian mansions of Old Astoria Village. This tour runs on May 20.
  • Witches of Old New York: Allow yourself to be enchanted by the dime-museum magic and front-parlor palmistry that dazzled Lower East Siders from the mid-19th to early 20th century. Fortune tellers, mystics and clairvoyants populate this bewitching walking tour, and you’ll get to see where they lived and worked on June 17. 
  • Island of Lost Souls: A History of Madness and Medicine on Roosevelt Island: Back in the 19th century, city leaders viewed the small East River island as an ideal locale for their social “outcasts,” filling the island with a smallpox hospital, an almshouse, a penitentiary and a “lunatic asylum.” On this tour, you’ll see vestiges of this institutional past. Famed reporter Nellie Bly called the New York City Lunatic Asylum a “human rat trap… easy to get in, but once there it is impossible to get out.” While the Roosevelt Island tour is offered several times throughout the season, a special edition will be held on May 6, Nellie Bly’s birthday.  

“I hope people will view the city with a fresh perspective after our tours, and that it will become a place of mystery and weirdness and wonder,” Janes says. “That part of my job is easy since NYC is already so magical, but I hope their appreciation just deepens. I really love it when people say, ‘I walk by this place every day and I had no idea what happened here!’” 

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