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Washington Square Park believed to be haunted with 20,000 bodies buried underneath
Featured Image Credit: Shutterstock/Department of Design and Construction

Washington Square Park believed to be haunted with 20,000 bodies buried underneath

The park is a popular spot for both locals and tourists

New York City's Washington Square Park is a popular stop for tourists and locals alike, but while people happily take selfies, walk their dogs and sip on iced coffee above ground, the ground underneath is home to a sight much more morbid.

If you've never been to the Big Apple yourself, you might know Washington Square Park from movies and TV shows like Disney's Hawkeye or Will Smith's I Am Legend.

It's recognisable thanks to its large marble archway, but it didn't actually become a public park until 1827. Prior to that, the eastern two-thirds of the park was a potter's field which the city purchased for $4,500 to use as a grave site.

It was intended to be used for the city's poor residents, as well as criminals and victims of epidemic.

The city had originally planned to bury 5,000 people in the land, but a series of yellow fever epidemics in 1797, 1798, 1801, and 1803 quickly brought the burial ground up to and over capacity.

In 2005, the New York City Parks and Recreation Department confirmed in its Archaeological Assessment of Washington Square Park that corpses 'possibly numbered as many as 20,000 and it appears these burials remain under varying depths of fill'.

With all those skeletons hidden away, it's no surprise that rumours of hauntings and eerie feelings have come from those visiting the park centuries later - with the spectres including a housemaid wrongfully sentenced to death.

Workers have uncovered tombstones and skeletons at the park.
Stacy Walsh Rosenstock / Alamy Stock Photo

New York-based organisation NYC Ghosts leads tour groups through the park to tell stories of its morbid past, and a ghost hunter affiliated with the group told YouTuber Sean Kennedy there was 'nothing but death all around' the park.

“Is it haunted?" she said. "Absolutely. I mean there has got to be those spirits and energy that’s still here.”

As well as ghosts which could be hanging out with the park's unsuspecting visitors, there is also eerie speculation about an elm tree near the northwestern entrance to the park.

The 350-year-old tree, dubbed the hangman's elm, is thought to have once been used to execute criminals.

Speaking to The New York Post, New York City urban archeologist Joan Geismar commented: “The hangman’s tree has always been a legend in the park. These sorts of stories come out all the time, but we don’t know if there’s a basis for them.”

One of the ghosts said to haunt the park is the last person hanged from the tree, a Black housemaid condemned to death for arson for a fire that was most likely accidental.

There have been reports of people seeing something strange moving in the elm tree, which disappears when they go in for a closer look.

Topics: New York, US News, Ghosts