The basement of the Manhattan Bistro in the SOHO district of New York City features an odd cylinder of well preserved bricks. The cylinder, known as The Manhattan Well was also the grave of 21-year-old Elma Sands in 1799. Dug less than a decade earlier to provide water to the small town that was then known as New York, it wasn’t the fate she foresaw for herself when she joined her lover for a romantic sleigh ride.
The summer before her death, Elma Sands resided with her respectable cousin (some accounts say sister) who took boarders. Levi Weeks had come into town to work as a carpenter for his locally prominent architect brother A.Weeks.
Historic Guide Paul Rush told the story of Elma’s flowering romance with Levi. Elma’s cousin and watchdog was called away for a few days leaving Elma and Levi to their own devices. Levi was seen coming in and out of Elma’s room.
Elma herself was in love and confided to her sister that she and Levi planned to elope.
Shortly before this point in the episode Elma’s ghost had told me that when she got into a sleigh with Levi on December 22, 1799 she thought they were eloping. She had upped the stakes in her courtship by telling Levi she was pregnant. This was not true but she considered it a technicality because she would have been shortly “at the rate we were going”.
Rush confirmed local speculation that Elma may have been pregnant at the time of her death.
Elma’s ghost told me when she and Levi reached the well that was shortly to become her grave she had no clue what he had in mind. She claimed Levi strangled her, throwing her body down the well.
Rush took up her story, saying a few days later, several local boys playing noticed a fur muff on the ground next to the well. The alarm was sounded and local men retrieved Elma’s body from the well with grappling hooks.
As a local man of substance, A. Weeks wasn’t about to let his younger brother Levi go down without a fight. He hired the legal dream team of his era, Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr. Rather than deny the guilt of their client, Hamilton and Burr chose to blacken Elma’s reputation in a number of ways including alleged drug use. It worked. Levi Weeks was acquitted of Elma Sands murder. As the verdict was read Elma’s grieving cousin stood up and more or less threw a curse at Weeks, Hamilton and Burr declaring that if any of them died a natural death, justice would not be served.
The curse seemed to work. After his acquittal Levi Weeks moved to Natchez, Mississippi, became an architect in his own right and built a number of antebellum homes that still grace the town. Despite the appearance of having gotten away with murder Levi died young at age 42.
Hamilton and Burr’s law partnership didn’t last. In one of the worst political scandals in US history then Vice President Burr shot and killed former Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton on July 11, 1804. Hamilton’s death left the Federalist Party without leadership and forever blackened Burr’s reputation. Hamilton died before his time but Burr lived to age 80. Although he had a long life Burr was regarded by many of his peers as little more than a murderer.
Elma’s ghost remains ANGRY about her murder and has made her presence known at the modern day Manhattan Bistro in a number of ways.
Manhattan Bistro owner Sam DeGrassa explained that the Manhattan Well was found when he chose to renovate the basement of his establishment to make more room for operations. During excavations the well was uncovered and remains an eerie reminder of Elma Sand’s fate.
DeGrassa shared that his wife Marie had an experience feeling someone was down in the basement of the Bistro with her.
Former Manager Maria Hannah had several strange experiences when she worked at the Manhattan Bistro. One morning she arrived in the kitchen to find a faucet turned on full blast. She was the only person present at the time and the restaurant was equipped with motion sensors. Any living, breathing person would have set off the motion sensors.
On another occasion Hannah had set three bottles of wine on shelf. A few hours into the evening, all three bottles of wine flew off the shelf and shattered.
A former male manager had experienced what he believed to be the ghost of Elma Sands throw and shatter champagne glasses at him at least three separate times.
The show’s disembodied narrator suggested Elma was still upset about never having had her wedding toast and threw the champagne glasses as an enduring protest to the life denied her.
I asked Elma’s ghost what was the deal with tossing around wine bottles? She told me the first time she and Levi had been intimate that his seduction had been assisted by a bottle of red wine. To this day Elma associates wine and toasting glasses with the beginning of the end of her life.
Current Manhattan Bistro Manager Thomas King has had some up close and personal experiences with Elma’s ghost and the ghosts of several other unhappy souls who continue to inhabit the oldest building on the street.
King’s experiences tend to back up what Elma told me about her aversion to wine and toasts. King shared the time a glass flew off a shelf by itself and shattered, inflicting a gash in his little finger that required 5-6 stitches.
Another time King had gone into the Bistro basement to fetch more wine. At the time, the wine cache was secured with a padlocked chain. King ducked into the unlocked enclosure for about 20 seconds only to find himself locked in. He was obliged to wait until someone found him.
Since one of the former managers Elma threw wine bottles at was female, I cannot completely confirm my impression that Elma tends to chuck wine and glasses at men who somewhat remind her of Levi Weeks in appearance. My initial psychic visual of Levi (the episode didn’t show a photo of him) showed a fairly good looking Caucasian man with dark brown hair. Thomas King certainly matches that description. I wonder, what did the former male manager who kept getting champagne glasses hurled at him look like? Even former female manager Maria Hannah happens to be dark haired, although definitely not masculine. In her enduring rage, Elma may not be all that picky in her targets.
Lynne Olson may be contacted for private readings at: email@example.com
(C) 2010 Lynne Olson. All rights reserved.