The father of modern Greenpoint was a Yankee engineer named Neziah Bliss. In addition to his efforts in Brooklyn, he set about the creation of a somewhat utopian laborers community in Queens with his partner, Eliaphet Nott of Union College. Eponymous, the village of Blissville didn’t quite end up being a utopia, instead it ended up hosting fat renderers, rail yards, and after 1848 — Calvary Cemetery.
Irish laborers followed the jobs here, and the reputation of Blissville suffered from the anti-Catholic and anti-Hibernian prejudices typically found in the society of 19th century New York City. This was before Tammany took over, when NYC was still very much an anglophile, Protestant town which did not subscribe to our modern notions of diversity and racial equality.
Blissville’s natural extant is defined by the infamous Newtown Creek and that’s where todays “Queensylvanian Ghost Story” comes from.
A paucity of supernatural tales, a vacuum of lore if you will, exists in our fair borough. Manhattan has so many spectral denizens, if you believe in such things, that it must be as crowded for the dead as it is for the living. Brooklyn as well has literally hundreds of ghost stories, as do the Bronx and Staten Island. Queens — not so much. This needs to be addressed.
So, as Halloween is coming, here’s a Newtown Creek Queensican Ghost Story for you from 1884.
This contemporaneous NY Times article discusses the spectral visitor which haunted the area around Calvary Cemetery, describing her as only three feet tall with long red hair and “eyes of a stony blue” that chilled the blood. Steve Mosco over at Queenscourier.com wrote a great sum-up of the Banshee situation back in 2011, check it out here. The story mestastisized over the years, and as the legend evolved, the Blissville Banshee ended up taking to the waters of the Newtown Creek. She was described as floating along on a raft of mist, uttering her horrible cries, and utterly terrifying the laborers and residents of Blissville. The Times later published a “blame the black guy” article on the subject, found here.
According to Irish legend, when the keening of a banshee is heard, it foretells the imminent arrival of death in the village.
If you’ve got a Queens ghost story you’d like to share, please use the comments section to do so. If you’d prefer your tale to be anonymous, you can submit it to Brownstoner Queens via the contact page here.
Newtown Creek Alliance Historian Mitch Waxman lives in Astoria and blogs at Newtown Pentacle.