The stories behind the buildings, statues and other points of interest that make Manhattan fascinating.
Tuesday, January 4, 2011
Clairvoyance and Murder - No. 8 Jane Street
The sleepy Village of Greenwich quickly developed as residents of New York City fled the yellow fever epidemics of 1819 and 1822. Here merchant Leonard DeKlyn purchased a stretch of land facing the lane that led to the Jayne farm.
After DeKlyn’s death his family had three modest brick homes built on the plot in 1843. The three identical structures, built as investment properties, were most likely the product of a builder using style books. Transitional in style, they flirt with the then-trendy Greek Revival while clinging to the obsolete Federal style.
Included in the row was No. 8 and, like the others, it boasted three stories of red Flemish bond brick over a brownstone English basement. Brownstone lentils and a denil-molded cornice, a handsome and dignified entrance with narrow sidelights and a generous overlight, and a wide brownstone stoop with cast iron banisters lent a refined air to the comfortable residence.
The roomy house on quiet Jane Street was intended for a working class family, such as that of Arthur Harley who was living here in 1881 when, while passing the construction site at 70 Beekman Street, was hit in the head by a screw-wrench dropped from a workman on a scaffold above. The unfortunate Harley suffered a resultant skull fracture.
By 1889 No. 8 Jane was a boarding house, run by Mrs. Eliza Murray. One of Mrs. Murray’s boarders was Mrs. Matilda Peck. Originally from the South, Mrs. Peck was a clairvoyant who conducted business as Madame Mantell. Upon her sudden death in her room here at the age of 50, The New York Times called her “intelligent and well-educated…and was looked upon by Spiritualists as a remarkable medium.”
Unwelcomed notoriety came to No. 8 Jane when, on May 24, 1895, boarder George Meehan assaulted another tenant. The Times noted that “Meehan was addicted to the use of liquor, and, while under its influence, was abusing his wife.” When sixty-five year old Elvin O. Buck attempted to intervene, Meehan, a coal dealer, turned on him.
Buck was kicked and beaten and one of his eyes gouged out. New Yorkers followed the story for weeks as new details developed. When doctors at St. Vincent’s hospital explained to the old man that he would not recover, he requested to be allowed to die at home, at No. 8 Jane Street. Soon after being returned to his room, he died. Meehan was held on $1000 bail.
In a tragic postscript to the story, Mrs. Meehan left No. 8 Jane and took a room at 235 W. 17th Street, paying $1.50 rent for the first week up front. Before the week was up, an intoxicated 20-year old Mary O’Brien, another boarder, knocked on Jennie Meehan’s door at 1:00 am holding a lighted coal oil lamp, requesting more coal oil. When Jennie refused, Mrs. O’Brien (who was acting in “a surly manner”) erupted with “a torrent of oaths” and threw the lighted lamp at Jennie Meehan.
The lamp exploded, setting Jennie Meehan and subsequently the entire room ablaze. Not only was she horribly burned, but she inhaled the flames. Jennie Meehan died five hours later.
Annie S. Baumann owned the boarding house at No. 8 Jane in 1899 when delivery man Clarence Hoyt resided there. That winter, on February 7, Hoyt was inside a building when his team of horses bolted down 6th Avenue. The wagon struck a trolley car, righted itself and struck another between 17th and 18th Street, breaking several of the car’s windows and frightening the passengers. Hoyt’s wagon was demolished against the pillar of the elevated railroad. No horses were injured in the telling of this story.
Two years later in 1901 Annie Baumann sold the building to John Fox and, with few changes, the house continued throughout the 20th Century as rental units. In 2010, the 3200-square foot house, a charming pre-Civil War survivor, sold for $4.3 million.