Welcome to Dead Apple Tours!
Dead Apple Tours offer a unique New York experience -- a tour of the haunted and tragic sites of famous New York murders and iconic death scenes. Join us as we jump in a custom 1960 hearse named Desdemona for a visit to Manhattan's dark side. Our guide is Drew Raphael, a man with a spookily comprehensive knowledge of New York City bloodshed.
Raphael started leading tourists and New Yorkers on Dead Apple Tours in late 2010. His inspiration came after noticing how people responded to the death of actor Heath Ledger. He noticed how many were drawn to Ledger's home and the site of his death -- to pay tribute or try to make sense of the tragedy.
We joined Raphael for the downtown loop of his tour, but an uptown loop will also be offered to start on Halloween night 2011. Tours run daily (except for Sundays) at 10:30 am and 7:30 pm, with special midnight tours running during Halloween season.
Prepare to attract the stares of passersby as your hearse glides through the streets of New York. You might think that people would be horrified by a hearse with a skeleton in the passenger seat wearing a jaunty Statue of Liberty crown, but we got nothing but smiles as we set out on our morbid exploration of what Raphael calls "the living history of New York's deceased."
The Empire State Building
The Empire State Building may be beautiful, but the iconic New York skyscraper also has a dark side. More than 30 people have committed suicide by leaping from the Empire State Building -- starting with a laid-off construction worker who jumped before the building was even completed.
In 1947, after several suicide attempts in a few short weeks, a fence was built on the 86th-floor observatory to discourage potential jumpers. This didn't stop the suicides, however. People just started jumping from other floors.
Raphael noted that cross-winds caused by surrounding buildings now make it much more difficult to leap from the Empire State Building: "You have to get a running start now."
Evelyn McHale, the Most Beautiful Suicide
Evelyn McHale is probably the most famous Empire State Building suicide victim. The young and lovely Evelyn leaped from the 86th-floor observatory in 1947 and landed on the roof of a United Nations limousine parked on the street below.
Photographer Robert Wiles happened to be nearby and took a photograph of McHale just moments after her death. The result is a haunting image that famously appeared in Life and inspired a work by Andy Warhol. The 23-year-old McHale somehow looked serene and lovely after plummeting 86 floors. She becomes known as "the most beautiful suicide."
Many struggled to understand why someone like Evelyn would jump. She was a young beauty who was planning her wedding. The sad answer is that depression can torment anyone. Evelyn left her coat and a suicide note on the observatory. Her note said, "I don't think I would make a good wife for anybody."
The Hotel Chelsea
The Hotel Chelsea (also referred to as The Chelsea Hotel and The Chelsea) has a long and fascinating history. It opened in 1884 as a cooperative apartment building but is probably best known as a home for generations of artists, writers, musicians, and characters.
Famous residents of the Hotel Chelsea include Bob Dylan, Arthur Miller, Thomas Wolfe, Dylan Thomas, and many others. Despite this legacy, the Hotel Chelsea is best known by many as the site of the 1978 murder of Nancy Spungen, the girlfriend of Sex Pistols bassist Sid Vicious.
Sid Vicious and Nancy Spungen
On the morning of October 12, 1978, an anonymous call to the front desk of the Hotel Chelsea reported trouble in Room 100. A bellboy later discovered the body of 20-year-old Nancy Spungen on the floor of her bathroom. She had been stabbed once in the abdomen.
Spungen had been living at the Chelsea with her boyfriend, Sex Pistols bassist Sid Vicious. Police found Vicious wandering the halls of the Hotel Chelsea and discovered drug paraphernalia and the murder weapon in the room.
Vicious confessed to killing his girlfriend, then later changed his story. He was arrested, but released on bail. After a suicide attempt and rehab, Vicious died of a heroin overdose on February 2, 1979, before the case could go to trial.
The Old Madison Square Garden and the Murder of Stanford White
The first Madison Square Garden was located between East 26th and East 27th Streets near where you sip your Shake Shack shakes in Madison Square Park. The elaborate exhibition hall was designed by architect Stanford White in 1890 and contained an amphitheater, two theaters, a 332-foot tower, and a roof garden cabaret.
In June of 1906, the roof garden was the scene of "the crime of the century" -- the murder of architect White. Harry K. Thaw fatally shot White to defend the honor of showgirl Evelyn Nesbit, Thaw's wife, and White's former mistress. Thaw was tortured by the notion that White had stolen Evelyn's virtue.
Thaw's trial was the first of New York City's tabloid sensations. New Yorkers were fascinated by the details of White's scandalous life -- including his fondness for young girls and a red velvet swing in his bedroom.
After Thaw's first trial, the jury was deadlocked. A second trial found him guilty by reason of temporary insanity, thanks to Evelyn's testimony.
Washington Square Park as Burial Ground
Washington Square Park is one of Manhattan's most famous parks. Today, on a visit to Washington Square Park, you'll find mostly NYU students, moms with strollers and dogs, street performers, and a few drug dealers. But did you know that the park was once a burial ground and that the remains of 20,000 bodies still rest under Washington Square Park?
The land under Washington Square Park was farmland until 1797 when it was purchased by the city for use as a public burial ground or potter's field for deceased New Yorkers who couldn't afford other last rites.
The burial ground was also used for victims of the yellow fever epidemics of the early nineteenth century. For hygienic reasons, the decision was made to bury those who died of yellow fever outside the city proper.
Legend also has it that Washington Square Park was the site of the public gallows during the same time period. In 1826, the burial ground was turned into a military parade ground. The famous Washington Square arch (designed by Stanford White) wasn't built until 1892.
Heath Ledger, Death on Broome Street
From Washington Square Park, the Dead Apple tour heads downtown to visit the site of the death of actor Heath Ledger in 2008. Ledger was found dead in a fourth-floor apartment at 421 Broome Street, between Crosby and Lafayette Streets in Soho.
He was discovered by his housekeeper and his masseuse. Ledger was just 28 years old. He died of an accidental prescription drug overdose. The tragedy of Ledger's untimely death prompted fans to leave flowers and other tributes outside the Broome Street building where he was found.
Umberto's Clam House and the Murder of Crazy Joey Gallo
"Crazy" Joe Gallo was a famous New York mobster who started out as an enforcer for boss Joe Profaci. Gallo was said to be one of the gunmen who took out boss Albert Anastasia during a shave in the barber shop of the Park Sheraton Hotel on 7th Avenue and 55th Street (now the Park Central Hotel).
Later, Gallo tried to take out Profaci and then survived several attacks on his own life and a few stints in prison. After release from prison in 1971, Gallo started battling then-boss Joe Columbo. On April 7, 1972, Gallo was celebrating his birthday with family and friends at Umberto's Clam House at 129 Mulberry Street in Little Italy. In the middle of dinner, gunmen burst into the restaurant and shot Gallo five times before fleeing.
Gallo managed to stumble into the street and died later at the hospital. At his funeral, Gallo's sister reportedly vowed revenge, shouting, "The streets are going to run red with blood, Joey!" Bob Dylan's song "Joey" was inspired by Gallo.
Today, Italian restaurant Da Gennaro is in the space formerly occupied by Umberto's Clam House. The original owners of Umberto's later re-opened in another location down the street. Our Dead Apple tour concluded near Mulberry Street and we decided to have dinner in the spot where "Crazy" Joe Gallo spent the last night of his life. Da Gennaro boasts warm service and homemade pasta -- it's a great spot for dinner in Little Italy.
While we stuck to downtown on our Dead Apple tour, the tour's uptown loop will visit plenty of other locations -- including the famous Dakota Apartments where John Lennon was murdered.
The Dakota was built in 1884 by Singer Sewing Machines tycoon Edward Severin Clark. At the time construction began, The Dakota was so far from the center of Manhattan that "it might as well have been in the Dakotas."
Despite the fact that upper-class New Yorkers looked down their noses at apartment living in those days, apartments in The Dakota were all pre-sold by the time the building opened.
It has long been rumored that The Dakota is haunted. Residents have reported seeing ghosts of children in turn-of-the-century garb and other ghostly presences. Some have even reported seeing the ghost of The Dakota's most famous resident -- John Lennon.
The Murder of John Lennon at The Dakota
John Lennon was returning home to The Dakota from a recording session on the evening of December 8, 1980. Mark David Chapman had been waiting outside the building for hours. In fact, Lennon gave Chapman an autograph earlier in the day when leaving the Dakota.
Chapman waited in the shadows for Lennon and wife Yoko Ono to pass, then he fired four hollow-point bullets into Lennon's back. The death of John Lennon was grieved by fans around the world. In 1985, New York City dedicated an area of Central Park directly across from The Dakota as Strawberry Fields. Each year, on the anniversary of Lennon's death, Ono leads fans on a memorial walk to Strawberry Fields.