Previously: The Tanglin Hill Old Brunei Hostel, Singapore.
(CW: Suicide, homicide.)
On New York’s Staten Island, in the area now known as Charleston, but once called Kreischerville, there’s a decaying Victorian mansion. Fittingly, it’s located on a street bearing the name “Arthur Kill Road.” I say fittingly, because the mansion, known as Kresicher House or Kresicher Mansion, is believed by many to be haunted.
But although some call it haunted, others call it cursed. The mansion isn’t just old, decrepit, and eerie-looking, you see; it also has a history to it — one that spans roughly 150 years, bookended on either side by tragic events.
The mansion at 4500 Arthur Kill Road has been the backdrop not just for death… but for murder.
Kreischer Mansion’s history — and the ghost stories that have sprung up as a result of it — is interesting. With this one, I’m reminded of the deeply embellished tales pegged to places like Sauer Castle in Kansas City, or the straight-up fictional stories of Congelier Mansion in Pittsburgh (which, by the way, doesn’t actually exist at all). This time, though — with Kreischer Mansion — the history mostly checks out.
What we do with that history, though?
Well… that’s the interesting bit.
So. Come along with me. We’re about to explore the most haunted — or the most cursed — house on Staten Island… and how much truth there might actually be to the ghost stories that cling to it.
The Brick Baron And The Company Town
Built in the waning years of the 19th century — 1885 by some accounts, 1899 according to others, although I think 1885 is more likely, for reasons that will become clear momentarily — the crumbling home now known as Kreischer Mansion was originally one of a pair. Designed in 1880 at the behest of Balthasar Kreischer, the two identical homes were gifts for two of his sons, Charles and Edward.
The elder Kreischer had arrived in New York from Germany in 1836 and very quickly become a successful brick manufacturer with a factory on the Lower East Side; by the mid-1870s, however, he had moved his brickworks to Staten Island. Kreischer’s New York Fire-Brick and Staten Island Clay Retort Works proved to pivotal for the development of this area of Staten Island, and shortly, the community gained a new name in honor of its key figure: Kresicherville.
Kreischer had also been an early incorporator of the Staten Island Railroad, taking on that role in 1860. While he was still splitting his time between the city and the island, he built a large, Italianate villa for himself in what would eventually become Kreischerville; the mansions for his sons and their wives came a few decades later, constructed right next door to each other as a matched set.
If we go by the description of the mansion that remains standing, the twin houses were originally two-and-a-half-story Victorian mansions with Stick-style frame construction, per the Landmarks Preservation Commission’s 1968 report designating the home as a Landmark Site. “Profusely decorated,” the homes featured three-story towers, balconies, and projection gables, with a large, ornate veranda encircling the whole structure. Architectural details abounded, from the “decorative patterns and forms … used extensively in the tower[s] and the top floor balcon[ies]” to the “jig-saw filigree designs freely interlaced” throughout the gable and its panels. It looked, in short, like a gingerbread house on the outside; inside, meanwhile, 15 rooms, which included seven bedrooms, occupied about 3,300 square feet of space.
But although all three mansions — Kreischer’s own and those of his sons — were meant for happy families, the good times did not last. Kreischer himself retired from his brickworks in 1878, per the 1887 volume History of Richmond County (Staten Island), New York: From Its Discovery To The Present Time; he died eight years later, in 1886, at the age of 73, leaving behind not just Charles and Edward, but five other adult children, as well: Catherine, Caroline, Fredericka, George, and Louise. Following the elder Kreischer’s death, the estate was divided equally amongst his heirs, although according to the New York Tribune’s June 9, 1894 issue, George had subsequently purchased the shares of several of his sisters, giving him the controlling interest in the brickworks business.
Rumors spread that this arrangement had soured the relationship between Charles, Edward, and George, although the Tribune also reported that the family denied the rumors. Regardless, Edward died by suicide on June 8, 1894. He died not inside his house, as is sometimes said, but rather on the grounds near the brickworks, per the Tribune; still, though — it came as a shock to those who knew him, although George did note that Edward had complained of experiencing “severe pains in his head” for about a week leading up to his death. Edward was 41 years old at the time.
(The dates of death for both father and son, by the way, are why I suspect 1885 is the correct construction date of Kreischer Mansion; if it was constructed in 1899, then neither Balthasar nor Edward would have actually been alive by the time it was completed. Sure, it could have been completed posthumously, but why would we think of it as Edward Kreischer’s house if Edward Kreischer had never actually lived in it?)
The brickworks itself only lasted another 12 years, reducing production around 1906 and later closing its doors entirely. Both Balthasar Kreischer’s villa and one of his sons’ mansions were destroyed during the Great Depression — one the victim of a fire, and the other simply torn down.
That left only one mansion — the one located at 4500 Arthur Kill Road.
The one that still stands today.
The one that, in 2005, nearly a century after the closure of the brickworks, played host to a mob murder.
A Turn To True Crime
Kreischer Mansion didn’t spend the entirety of the 1900s abandoned. Indeed, as previously noted, it was granted Landmark Site status by New York’s Landmarks Preservation Commission in 1968; furthermore, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1982. Its owner on the NRHP nomination form is listed as “Helen Greenfield,” although I’ve been unable to discover anything else about her or her connection with the house — not when she purchased the house, not when she sold it, nothing.
I do know, however, that it was briefly run as a restaurant in the late 1990s, and that the restaurant may or may not have been a mob front. I also know that the mansion was purchased by Isaac Yomtovian of the Yomtovian Land Development Group circa 1998-1999 (although real estate records note that the sale actually went through in September of 2000; it sold for $1.4 million, for the curious), who has owned it ever since.
Originally, Yomtovian’s plan was to restore the mansion to its former splendor, although that hasn’t quite happened the way he initially envisioned. He has, as a report from the Associated Press put it in 2008, “taken great care in restoring the home from a dilapidated white monstrosity to a stately, colorful Victorian, similar to what it looked like when it was designated a landmark in 1968,” but it remains something of an ongoing project. Yomtovian has also put the house on the market and pulled it without selling a few times in the decades since he bought it.
In any event, Kreischer Mansion lived a quiet life for most of the 20th century. It wasn’t until the early 21st century that the next — and the most notorious — chapter of its story unfolded.
Here are the facts: In 2005, Joseph Young, who was then Kreischer Mansions’ groundskeeper and caretaker at the time, lured Robert McKelvey to the property, where he then killed him in what was later revealed to be a mafia hit. Young had been paid $8,000 by Gino Galestro to commit the crime. All three men were connected to the Bonnano crime family. Young and Galestro were eventually arrested, indicted, and tried for their parts in the crime; both were found guilty, with Young receiving a life sentence and Galestro 20 years.
(Per the New York Times, the mansions owners — which would have been the Yomtovian Group at the time — “had no knowledge of the crime” and had been working on “developing the property as an assisted living center for older people.”)
I’ll spare you the details about exactly how McKelvey was killed, but suffice to say, they’re …not pretty. And with such a shocking crime having occurred at an already old, already somewhat eerie-looking location? Well, you can imagine what effect that might have on said location’s reputation.
The Haunting Of Kreischer Mansion
In the years following the discovery of the mob killing on the property, stories about the alleged activity you might experience at Kreischer Mansion began to spread. You might, for example, hear a distant wailing — that of Edward Kreischer’s widow, Frieda, still grieving for her husband after all these years.
You might hear the clanging of pots and pans, allegedly the product of the spirit of a German cook said to have died in the house’s kitchen.
Some say that you might see a small boy lurking around the home — possibly the spirit of a child of Balthasar Kreischer, Henry, who didn’t survive past childhood. Or, you might observe scratching noises coming from a closet, where children were allegedly shut inside as a punishment for misbehaving.
And you might, of course, hear doors slamming, see pictures fly off of walls, or feel inexplicable cold spots — the hallmarks of a classic haunting, so to speak.
But what’s the truth of the matter? Where does the line between fact and fiction lie, if it exists at all? Did the reputation for the haunting exist before the mob murder? Or did it only arise after? Is there a single, specific aspect of the house’s history to account for its alleged haunting, or is it more than the sum of its parts?
The answers to these questions remain unclear. There are suggestions pointing to both sides of the aisle, so to speak. A New York Times report from 2006 detailing the unsealing of the Young/McKelvey/Galestro indictment, for instance, observed that “neighborhood residents have long said [the mansion] was haunted”; however, in 2008, a different reporter for the same news outlet spoke to a member of the local Totenville Historical Society, who told the paper, “It’s such baloney. There was never any talk of ghosts until after the murder.”
What’s more, when you dig a little deeper, the ghost stories begin to feel a little… flimsy. There’s no evidence that a cook died in the house during the Kreischers’ actual years of occupancy, for instance, so why there would be an angry chef ghost banging pots and pans in the kitchen remains to be seen.
I also don’t know why you’d be seeing the spirit of a child of Balthasar Kreischer — Edward and Charles’ own father, who lived in an entirely different manor home — inside a house that didn’t even exist during the child’s short lifetime.
And as for the rumors that Frieda’s wailings can be heard echoing throughout the house? Well, Frieda remarried in 1895 and lived, seemingly quite happily and presumably elsewhere with her second husband, until 1923 — nearly 30 years after her first husband’s death. Why she would have returned to Kreischer Mansion after her own death at the age of 66 is a mystery to me.
There’s also this: No one can seem to agree which brother’s mansion is the one that still stands, and which was the one that came down. According to some reports, the standing mansion was Charles’, while Edward’s was destroyed. According to others, it’s Edward’s that’s still standing, while Charles’ was destroyed. Some hedge their bets and simply note that one came down, while the other remained — but even these reports can’t agree on whether the destroyed mansion was demolished, or whether it burned to the ground in a fire.
For what it’s worth, I’m under the impression that the standing mansion was Edward’s. The fact that so many discrepancies have been woven throughout the stories, though, casts doubt on most of them.
It’s hard to deny their effectiveness, though — and, I would argue, the fact that there’s some truth to the whole thing is a testament to the power of memory.
Kreischer Mansion Today
Today, Kreischer Mansion continues to live on, although it’s living something of a half-life. It’s been used as a shooting location for a number of notable productions, including Boardwalk Empire, Gotham; it has also played host to a high-octane haunted attraction for a few Halloween seasons, including in 2015, 2018, and 2021. A concert series held on the property in 2019 aimed to showcase both local talent and acts with name appeal.
And, as noted further up, the house has gone on and off the market a few times, as funding for Yomtovian’s planned development for the property has failed to materialize.
Indeed, the more recent history of Kreischer Mansion — the 2005 crime, the failed development, the fact that Isaac Yomtovian has been sitting on the property for decades without really being able to do anything with it — points perhaps more to a cursed property than a haunted one. And, as Dylan Thuras observed in the 2021 Atlas Obscura Podcast episode on the mansion, there’s a fundamental difference in how we understand an allegedly haunted house verses an allegedly cursed one:
“A haunted house is all about its past,” Thuras noted. “But a curse reaches out into the future. You can see the promise, the potential, for the place to be great, always hovering just over the horizon, waiting for the string of bad luck finally to break.”
Or, in a word: Hope. The difference is hope.
And, despite everything, there’s still hope that one day, Kreischer Mansion might once again be the glorious, opulent place it was always meant to be.
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[Photos via H.L.I.T/Flickr (1, 2); History of Richmond County (Staten Island), New York/Internet Archive; Wikimedia Commons. Available under CC BY 2.0 Creative Commons licenses, GNU Free Documentation License, and public domain.]