Hunting Manhattan’s Ghost Stories

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The ghost train of Astor Place station may take you for an unexpected ride to the past. More than 23 souls have met their mysterious end in Mark Twain’s death house. And the screams of a butchered dentist can still be heard on Bond Street.

For most people, New York City ghost stories like these have a seasonal attraction. For Brent Pedersen, GABELLI ’12, they hold a year-round fascination.

Pedersen’s interest in ghost stories was partly fueled by his childhood in Hawaii, where “the culture has a lot of ghostly things, like a focus on your ancestors’ spirits,” he says. “But, of course, other stories and classic movies like Ghostbusters kept me interested.”

His varied talents and shifting careers took him around the United States. “Among other things, I was a chef at an Idaho ski resort, I worked at the Seattle Space Needle, and I was a commercial crab fisherman in Alaska,” he says.

But his interest in ghosts endured. And ghost tours became Pedersen’s preferred way of uncovering the history of each city he visited. “Whenever I visit a new city, I always take a ghost tour. I’ve done them in Philly, in Boston, and in a bunch of cities down south. They were all a lot of fun.”

In 2010, Pedersen made his way to New York City and began attending the Gabelli School of Business on Fordham’s Rose Hill campus. Rose Hill has its own set of ghost stories, but Pedersen says he was drawn to Fordham for another reason. His wife Elizabeth (Worton) Pedersen, FCLC ’01, encouraged him to consider her alma mater. “I just came later on as a nontraditional student,” he explains.

Finding himself in a new city again, Pedersen decided to check out the local ghost tours. “And they were horrible. The facts were just wrong,” he says. “One of them said that the Alexander Hamilton–Aaron Burr duel happened downtown, and most people know it happened in Jersey!”

“It was just crazy that a city like New York didn’t have a really great ghost tour,” Pedersen says. So he created Haunted Manhattan.

“At Fordham, I learned the difference between calculated and unnecessary risk. That is the biggest thing I looked at before starting the tour,” Pedersen says. He knew he had a full-time job as an asset manager and some side ventures that could support him. He also knew his passion for the topic would help him create a ghost tour worthy of New York City.

Pedersen’s goal was to develop the most interactive and historically accurate ghost tour possible. For months he researched New York City’s historical hauntings and unsolved mysteries; he spent hours in the New York Public Library, finding multiple sources for each legend to ensure accuracy.

But turning the facts into engaging stories turned out to be a challenge. “What I found out when I started working on the tour itself was that I couldn’t write the scripts,” Pedersen explains. “So I went to the head of Fordham’s playwriting program, Daniel Alexander Jones, and he hooked me up with Sean.”

Sean Patrick Monahan, FCLC ’14, became Haunted Manhattan’s playwright. And he brought on John Bezark, also FCLC ’14, to be the company’s director.

Now in its second year, Haunted Manhattan offers three distinct tour routes—in the West Village, Greenwich Village, and the East village—that take guests to 13 different haunted locations. Actor-tour guides, trained by Bezark, play characters created by Monahan, and are instructed to interact with every guest.

“I think the performance element of the tours is a unique touch. It’s like scripted improv,” says Yuekun William Wu, FCLC ’12, who has played the tour guide called the Concierge.

“It’s not about scaring people,” Pedersen says. “It’s about having fun.”

Haunted Manhattan runs tours from May through November.

 

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