Washington Square Park is a wonderful place for a rainbow of reasons including the dog park, street performers and N.Y. Dosas, the resident South Indian food truck. This Greenwich Village hangout is undoubtedly iconic to New York City. However, it harbors a secret history. While most locals might know this morbid tidbit, tourists on a Sunday stroll might not: Washington Square Park was once a burial ground and thousands of remains could still be beneath it today.
The land where Washington Square Park sits now was primarily used for farming until 1797 when the City’s Common Council bought it. It was used as a space for public executions (the gallows were located near the modern-day fountain) and a potter’s field, a common grave for criminals and poor people who couldn’t afford a private burial, according to the New York Public Library.
Things got a little rocky that same year when yellow fever hit Manhattan. In the years to follow, it would strike again and again, killing thousands. This put the potter’s field over capacity and, with no where else to turn, the city sought out new plots to bury the deceased. It settled on what’s now Bryant Park, but those corpses have since relocated to Wards Island Park.
In the aftermath of the overflow, the city started brainstorming ways it could transform the potter’s field into public space. It was first used as Washington Military Parade Ground in 1826, and one year later, it reopened as a public park. Landscaping, street work and construction began on the square and houses nearby, which unearthed some of the skeletons previously laid to rest. That didn’t deter anyone from visiting or living there though. Within five years, property values in the area had increased by 240%.
Per usual, history has a way of repeating itself. In 2008, old gravestones and 70 to 80 human bones were discovered by archaeologists testing soil as a part of the Washington Square Park restoration, according to The New York Times. The remains, which were not accompanied by coffins, would be left undisturbed and respectfully reburied. To this day, more than 20,000 dead people are estimated to be beneath the cement and grass, which makes it easy to believe it could be haunted. Now that you know the dark history of this iconic New York City park, you might be keen on knowing that these unsuspecting public places are haunted too.