Morris-Jumel Mansion – New York City

Morris-Jumel mansion Revolutionary War era mansion in New York City haunted by a talking grandfather clock that doesn’t like men, Hessian soldiers who are entertained in a lady’s blue bedroom, and other phenomena. The past lives on in ghostly presences, and visitors today may get more than a historical tour.


The Morris-Jumel mansion is a striking landmark that presides over the highest point in Washington Heights in the upper northern reaches of Manhattan. Built in 1765, it was a center of Revolutionary War activities, social intrigues of the wealthy, and secret passions of mismatched spouses.

The builder was Roger Morris, a colonel in the British army who came to the American colonies and served on the staff of General Edward Braddock. In 1755, he fought in the bloody battle against the French and Indians at the Monogahela River in Pennsylvania, during which he met Major George Washington of the provincial army. (The battle claimed Braddock’s life; Morris was severely wounded.) In 1758, Morris traveled to Boston. En route he stopped in New York, where he met the beautiful and enchanting Mary Philipse, daughter of Frederick Philipse, one of the most important and wealthy landowners in Westchester County north of the city.

After they married, Morris chose a point atop a steep hill in what was then Harlem Heights as the site for their summer villa. From this point, one had a sweeping view of New York City and its harbor 11 miles to the south, the Hudson and East rivers on both sides of the city, and New Jersey, Westchester, and Connecticut. With his newfound wealth, Morris was able to indulge in the best and most fashionable European grandeur so popular among the wealthy in America at the time. The mansion was built in the English Georgian architectural style using the European ideas of the Italian architect Andrea Palladio (for whom the elegant Palladian window is named).

The Morrises’ comfortable life came to an end with the outbreak of the Revolutionary War. In 1776, they abandoned the house to George Washington, who was now general of the American army. Washington found the house to have an excellent strategic location and used it as his military headquarters for two months. Washington’s first significant victory, the Battle of Harlem Heights, was planned here. The victory was more a morale booster than a major military win, but it told the Americans that they could indeed best the British.

Later in the war, however, the tide turned against the Americans and Washington had to abandon Manhattan Island to the British. The house was taken over as headquarters for Commander Sir Henry Clinton and the Hessian General Baron von Knyphausen. The house changed hands again after America won its independence. The new government seized the property. The land around the house was leased as a farm, and the house itself became a tavern called Calumet Hall.

As a tavern, the house enjoyed a short but glorious history. It was the first stop on the Post Road to Albany, New York, a major venue of travel. It attracted high society to its “turtle dinners,” lavish all-day affairs on Sundays in which the finest dishes were served in an octagonshaped drawing room. In 1790, George Washington, now president of the new nation, came for a commemorative dinner with his wife, Martha, and members of his cabinet, including Vice President John Adams, his wife, Abigail, and their son, John Quincy Adams; Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson; Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton; and Secretary of War Henry Knox.

In 1810, the tavern-mansion was purchased by Stephen and Eliza Jumel. Stephen Jumel was a French emigré and a wealthy shipowner. The couple had spent many years in France and had supported Napoleon Bonaparte. Eliza brought to the house her ornate French Empire furnishings, including a couch purportedly once owned by Napoleon. She created an opulent bedchamber decorated in a stunning turquoise blue with gold accents. Napoleon’s couch was her bed, overlooked by an elegant carved and gilded wooden swan with wings outstretched.

The Jumels renovated and enlarged the house and entertained on a lavish scale, but never gained the social status that Eliza craved. The Jumels were “new money” and were looked down upon by many of the landed American aristocrats.

In 1832, Stephen died suddenly, and Eliza became one of the wealthiest widows in America. She had money; now she wanted status. She set about to find a new husband who would open social doors for her.

Eliza’s money attracted many hopeful suitors, among them Aaron Burr, a man with political pedigree. The ambitious Burr had served as a senator from New York state and then as vice president under Thomas Jefferson, the third president of the United States. But his political career ended in 1804 when he mortally wounded Alexander Hamilton in a duel. In 1807, he was tried for treason on charges of attempting to colonize the Southwest, but was acquitted. He retired from public life and was still looking for a soft place to land when he met Eliza. Apparently he was the best of the suitors, for despite his checkered past, Eliza married him, and quickly—within a year of Stephen’s death.

The match was never a happy one. The two were ill-suited to one another and spent little time together. Burr took mistresses and it was rumored that Eliza had lovers as well. Burr was a spendthrift with Eliza’s money. By 1836, Eliza could take no more financial or emotional drain, and she divorced him. Unhappy, she lived as a recluse until her death in 1865, her dreams of social standing shattered.

The mansion passed through a series of owners and renters until 1907, when it became a historical landmark and museum. Little of the house’s structure has changed since the days of the Jumels; the 8,500-square-foot mansion still has most of its original materials intact.

Haunting Activity

Three ghosts have been experienced repeatedly since the house became a museum. Eliza, dressed in white, is seen on the front terrace. Once her lifelike ghost looked down upon a group of noisy children playing on the property and shouted at them to be quiet. Footsteps heard going up and down the stairs and walking about upstairs at night are attributed to Eliza. One previous director of the mansion attested privately that she could sense the presence of Eliza throughout the house. It was still very much “her” place.

Eliza’s presence has also been sensed in the small dressing room to the left of her bedroom. Some visitors say that the portrait of Eliza that hangs across the hall turns its head to look at them and smile for a fleeting moment.

A ghostly form of a man has been seen inside the house; he is believed to be Aaron Burr, probably lamenting his lost riches. A Hessian soldier also makes frequent appearances.

In the 1990s, a woman who lived across the street from the mansion told a member of the staff that she could see the ghost of Eliza every Friday night in her turquoise bedchamber dancing and doing “scandalous things” on the swan bed with Hessian soldiers all night long. Asked how she knew from clear across the street that they were Hessians, the woman replied, “I have binoculars, dear, I can see the insignia on their uniforms!”

The Hessians were long gone by the time the Jumels acquired the house, but perhaps the ghosts of the soldiers who lived there during the Revolutionary War are as reluctant to leave as the social-climbing Eliza. Perhaps they recognized a good thing in each other and teamed up to enjoy themselves.

Most intriguing of all in the house is a grandfather clock that stands in the great hall near the entrance to the mansion. It was one of Eliza’s favourite possessions and it still keeps time. More than 20 visitors— all of them males ranging in age from teens to middle age—have independently reported the same or similar experience: They are standing near the clock either by themselves when suddenly a commanding, loud female voice issues forth from it. The front panel of the clock sometimes swings open of its own accord. The voice says, “Leave immediately or you will be harmed.” The tone is so threatening that some of the visitors are scared right off the property. If others are nearby, they do not hear the voice. The voice is believed to belong to Eliza, perhaps soured on men (except for the Hessians) after her dismal marriage to Burr.

According to one staff member, none of the people who have reported this experience had any prior knowledge of the house’s history, ghostly or otherwise. Those men who opted to remain in the house despite the warning were not harmed—at least while they were on the premises.

But if Eliza doesn’t care for male visitors, she does show a fondness for women who look after the mansion and protests when they are not present. Once a young schoolgirl spent a lot of time at the house. One day a senior staff woman was the only employee there. She had to run a quick errand to a nearby store and asked the girl to sit by the entrance and greet any visitors who came in. When the woman returned, the girl was nowhere to be found in the house—which had been left open and unguarded. She turned up outside, trembling with fright. She said that several minutes after the woman left, the grandfather clock began to move and shake violently, terrifying the girl. She said, “I’m never going back in there!” True to her word, she never did.


  • Lanigan-Schmidt, Therese. Ghosts of New York City. Atglen, Pa.: Schiffer Publishing, 2003.


The Encyclopedia of Ghosts and Spirits– Written by Rosemary Ellen Guiley – September 1, 2007