The house at 29 East 4th Street was home to the Tredwell family and their servants for nearly 100 years. Now, over 75 years since the last of the Tredwells vacated, the house remains virtually unchanged, a veritable time capsule of 19th century life and a National Historic Landmark.
In 1835, Seabury Tredwell, his wife Eliza, and their six children moved to Manhattan’s aristocratic Bond Street neighborhood. The family resided there until 1933 when Gertrude Tredwell, the Tredwells’ youngest daughter, died in the house at the age of 93. In 1936 the house was opened to the public, serving as a near-perfect preservation of the styles and architecture of its time and offering an intimate glimpse of family life among the wealthy merchant class. The museum contains a large number of the family’s possessions, ranging from examples of 19th century decor and fashion to more personal, mundane items such as bedsheets, chamber pots, and sickbeds. The stunning family garden and recently restored servants’ quarters are also open to the public.
The museum attracts more than just history buffs; reports of paranormal activity at the house date back to the 1930s, shortly after Gertrude Tredwell’s death. Over the decades, accounts of unexplained phenomena, including temperature fluctuations, strange smells, disembodied voices and footsteps, sounds of parties and piano-playing heard from the street, and alleged ghost sightings have earned the house the title of Most Haunted House in Manhattan. The most frequent report is of a woman in a brown dress moving about inside the house; she has even been rumored to interact with museum visitors. Generally observed as a benign presence, the woman is believed by paranormal enthusiasts to be the ghost of Gertrude Tredwell.
Visitors are invited to tour the Merchant’s House Museum Thursday through Monday with guided tours offered at select times. Guests who opt for a self-guided tour are provided with a large, exhaustive binder containing information about the house and its collections. Though the museum does acknowledge its paranormal significance, selling a collection of Merchant’s House ghost stories in the gift shop and offering annual Candlelight Ghost Tours in October, the museum’s main focus remains on the Tredwells and their place in 19th century society.
Around Halloween, the Merchant’s House holds a traditional 19th century funeral and decorates the whole place in Victorian mourning decor. The “funeral” has a coffin procession to the nearby New York City Marble Cemetery.