Ghostbusters Cleared My Restaurant’s Cellar of a Restless Woman’s Spirit
My restaurant Il Buco—housed in a 19th-century building once frequented by Edgar Allan Poe—had a restless spirit in its cellar until a couple of ghostbusters showed up.
Photo courtesy of Il Buco.
Like many continuously inhabited cities of the world, New York is awash in ghost stories. After all, millions have died here over centuries, so why wouldn't the afterlife leave a trace or two behind? In downtown Manhattan, Donna Lennard recalls her brush with the supernatural at her restaurant Il Buco, which occupies a 19th-century building on Bond Street. While rumors have circled online that ghosts occasionally take a sip of Il Buco's wine supply, Lennard believes the culprit is more likely living than dead.
We took over the space for Il Buco in 1994. We signed our lease in February, opened our antique store at the end of March, and the restaurant at the end of August. The following year, we did a piece with these guys from Harper's Bazaar about haunted places in New York. They sent over these guys that they called "ghostbusters."
So they came over and we told them about the space and what we were doing. They told us that they had had a strange, kind of ominous feeling coming over, and they were very uptight about going down to the cellar.
Now, our cellar is an old New York cellar. There's these three brick arches that we've put iron gates on, where we store our wine there. They were these coal furnace beds, used for coal heating in the mid-1800s. The building itself dates back to the 1840s. There's a book by Luc Sante called Low Life that talks about Bond Street and what it was like in the old days—it was the Red Light District.
Apparently Edgar Allan Poe spent a lot of time in the building. There was a speakeasy in the basement, and a woman who lived in this building was a very good friend of his. He would visit her when his wife was sick, and she helped him out and befriended him. And it was spending time there that inspired him to write "The Cask of Amontillado."
Anyway, these ghostbusters came in and they said, "We're just going to go downstairs and we'll speak when we come back up."
They were down there for about 45 minutes, and when they came back up they were shaken. They said that they both had the same premonition walking in: at the top of the steps, they heard a baby crying and a woman screaming. They ran into the cellar and got the sense that this woman was actually murdered in the cellar and that her spirit couldn't get free.
The ghostbusters said they felt all this spiritual energy in there, so they did a big clearing and said they saw this woman's spirit released.
My partner Alberto and I were both freaked out and a little humored by the whole thing. The people who had the space before us were artists, and the woman who worked in the basement did a lot of artistic work around crop circles. She said she always felt very safe in that basement. She felt it was haunted in some way, but by beneficent ghosts.
I looked at my partner and said, "We should go down there." As we walked down, we looked around, and I was like, "Alberto, what do you feel?" My partner is a very spiritual person, and he was so attracted by this spiritually. The energy of the space had really drawn us in—it had a special energy of its own, and I think that's based on a lot of the history of what went on there.
We were just standing at the entranceway, and I was like, "Do you feel anything? I feel like the energy's kind of weird." At that point, a framed photograph that my sister had given me that was propped up against the wall suddenly just fell over.
We jumped out of our skin and ran upstairs.
It could've been a perfectly coincidental thing—who knows? It was just a frame. But the timing of it was uncanny. From that moment, even though it was a place I used to go down into often, I had to have the lights fully up down there at night.
It took me a couple of years before I felt comfortable going down there again—clearing or no clearing!
As told to Matthew Zuras