New York might be most famous for Wall Street, Broadway, the Statue of Liberty, and being a multi-cultural melting pot, but the city also has its stranger side.
Abandoned subway lines, marble cemeteries, mass graves, and a cheese house are just some of the weirdest examples. It seemed a logical place to set One Day in New York where ARKANE agent Jake Timber joins the hunt for a secret buried under the city.
If you’d like your trip to be a little darker, a little more ‘ARKANE’, then pay a visit to some of these weird and wonderful locations.
1. The High Line, Manhattan
What do you do with an abandoned stretch of elevated railway track?
In the early 20th century, train lines ran along the city streets and 11th Avenue earned the nickname ‘Death Avenue’. The elevated railway line opened in 1934 to get freight trains off the streets, but with the rise of the interstate, the track fell into disuse.
Developers wanted to demolish the abandoned stretch of railway on Manhattan’s West Side in 1999. Following a community group’s intervention and their fundraising efforts, the track instead became the High Line, an unusual public park that carries visitors between the buildings of the Meatpacking District, away from the bustle below. It hosts public art, a small nature reserve on a spur line, a miniature forest, a children’s play area, and even a water feature. There are buskers and street theatre, as well as food trucks and plenty of places to sit and people watch.
I may have used the Highline for darker purposes in One Day in New York, but it’s a fantastic place to walk if you like an urban adventure with plenty of street art along the way.
2. The Dakota, Manhattan
Many believe this apartment building is one of the most haunted spaces in New York. Its Gothic, forbidding exterior will be familiar to fans of Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby, where it stood in for the fictitious Bramford building. You’re unlikely to make it inside the doors due to its exclusivity, but the outside is still one of the more unusual things to see in New York.
Since it opened in 1884, Lauren Bacall, Bono, Harlan Coben, Rosemary Clooney, and Boris Karloff have all called it home.
Other residents are of a more supernatural nature. Reports claim the ghost of a young girl runs around the corridors, and even John Lennon spoke about the ‘Crying Lady Ghost’. Mark David Chapman shot Lennon outside the Dakota in 1980 and Yoko Ono claimed she later saw Lennon’s ghost at his piano.
3. Roosevelt Island Smallpox Hospital Ruins
Lying in the East River, Roosevelt Island (formerly Blackwell’s Island) housed Renwick Smallpox Hospital in the 19th century. The hospital cared for smallpox victims, a disease only eradicated through mass vaccination in 1979.
Blackwell’s Island’s normal population grew, leading to the hospital’s closure in 1875 to prevent the spread of infection. The facility reopened on the more remote North Brother Island, itself home to the notorious ‘Typhoid Mary’.
City officials abandoned Renwick Hospital in the 1950s, though the Landmarks Preservation Commission named it a city landmark in 1975. Its walls were reinforced, but it’s not yet open for tours.
You can view the ruin behind a fence if you take the F train or the aerial tram to Roosevelt Island. While you’re there, you might spot the small army of abandoned cats that live in and around the hospital remains.
4. C. O. Bigelow Apothecary, Greenwich Village
When we’re struck down with a cold or develop a cough, we head to the nearest chemist or drugstore. In New York, you can search for medicine in style at C. O. Bigelow Apothecary, the oldest apothecary in the city.
You can still buy the Rose Wonder Cold Cream that the shop first formulated and sold in 1838. Nowadays they sell handmade prescriptions alongside more familiar products and their own range of ‘remedies’.
According to local legend, Thomas Edison used a Bigelow’s balm to soothe his fingers after he burned himself on an early light bulb. Mark Twain and Eleanor Roosevelt were regular customers, alongside more recent patrons, Calvin Klein and Susan Sarandon.
5. Trinity Churchyard, Lower Manhattan
It wouldn’t be one of my articles without a graveyard! This peaceful gem features graves dating back to the 17th century.
The cemetery aficionados among you will find your fill of funerary symbols such as hourglasses among the tombstones. One stone, for a five-year-old boy who died in 1681, is even double-sided. Many believe the tombstone is the oldest carved stone in New York.
Masonic markings appear on an 18th-century headstone, including a phrase decoded using the classic pigpen cipher. You can find it on the Broadway side of the graveyard.
There are free guided tours at 2 pm Monday to Friday. Or download their free walking tour guide to find the graves of notable inhabitants. Trinity Church is the sister church to St Mary-le-Bow in London.
6. The Marble Cemetery, Manhattan
Speaking of cemeteries, a narrow alleyway on Second Avenue leads to a hidden graveyard. You wouldn’t think it was a cemetery to look at the quiet garden.
The Marble Cemetery doesn’t have headstones because the marble vaults lie ten feet below ground. The city took such steps to prevent the spread of yellow fever.
Established in 1830, it took its last occupant in 1937. The names of those buried there are inscribed on slabs of marble embedded in the cemetery walls.
You can find the entrance between 2nd and 3rd Streets on Second Avenue. Don’t confuse it with the nearby New York City Marble Cemetery, which is a more traditional graveyard.
It may be one of the more unusual things to see in New York but the cemetery only opens once a month. It’s best to check their timetable before you go.
7. Bellevue Hospital, Manhattan
This chilling institution opened in 1736, providing just six beds for New York’s poor. It’s America’s oldest public hospital, though when it opened, Manhattan didn’t extend past Wall Street.
After an exclusive hospital opened on Broadway in 1771 for high society, Bellevue became the destination for the poorer parts of society.
Filled with alcoholics, the homeless, abandoned babies, epidemic victims, and those suffering from a range of mental illnesses, Bellevue suffered from severe overcrowding. Half of all amputees died due to postoperative infections.
Despite their poor reputation, Bellevue opened the first morgue in New York and became the first American hospital to offer a maternity ward. It even had the first ambulance and outpatient unit.
Yet the separate psychiatric hospital became the terrifying inspiration for countless horror films. Many consider it to be the dark twin of Bedlam in London, which inspired my novel, Delirium. Those who passed through its doors feared never leaving again.
The psychiatric unit moved elsewhere on the hospital site but the forbidding old building closed in 1984. It’s a homeless shelter today but most of the building is empty.
8. Chancellor Robert R. Livingston Masonic Library, Manhattan
I’m a big fan of unusual libraries, and this Masonic library is one of the more unusual things to see in New York.
The goal of the Livingston Library is to preserve the history and culture of Freemasonry, and access is free. Both Masons and non-Masons are welcome to conduct their research. With over 60,000 volumes on occultism, Masonic history, and esoterica to choose from, there’s plenty to view.
They also change their works on display, drawing on their collection of paintings, furniture, ritual artifacts, and jewelry.
9. Brazenhead Books, Undisclosed Location
This legendary book collection redefines the ‘secret library’. If you love books and you’re fascinated by mysteries, then put Brazenhead Books on your list of unusual things to see in New York.
Brazenhead Books has a long and complicated history, starting life in a retail space on the Upper East Side. Rising rent forced owner Michael Seidenberg to move his stock into his own apartment. Visitors made appointments to enjoy his books and parties among the stacks became commonplace.
An eviction notice in 2015 threatened Brazenhead Books, but it lives on in a secret location in Midtown. It’s still open by appointment, but you must put in the effort to get hold of the exact address. Check out the website and see if you can track down this marvelous bookstore.
[Update: Their website says Indefinitely closed, but it’s still worth checking, just in case!]
10. One If By Land, Two If By Sea, West Village
Much like Muriel’s Jackson Square in New Orleans, this elegant restaurant boasts more than its expensive menu. Reports claim there are over 25 different ghosts haunting the building, leading to flickering lights, patrons being shoved, and items that go missing.
According to legend, one ghost of a woman in black is a lady who fell down the stairs and broke her neck. She’s only seen walking down the stairs, never up them. One ghost loiters beside the fireplace, and another sits at a table, waiting to be served.
Why not stop by for dinner to see if you’re joined by any supernatural diners?
11. The Met Cloisters, Manhattan
The Metropolitan Museum of Art should be on any ‘must-see’ list for art lovers. Yet the Met Cloisters, found in Fort Tryon Park in northern Manhattan, is one of the more unusual things to see in New York. As the name suggests, it’s a complex of medieval cloisters built from stones dismantled in Europe in the 1930s and moved to NYC.
The designers used medieval horticultural ideas to plan the gardens. They provide the perfect backdrop for around 2,000 works of art, covering the 12th to the 15th century.
Who knows how many religious relics hide in plain sight among the art treasures?
12. The Mysterious Bookshop, Manhattan
I’m so proud to write thrillers, but mysteries and crime fiction haven’t always been so popular. The Mysterious Bookshop is dedicated to thrillers, mysteries, detective fiction, noir, and spy stories.
Novels, magazines, and stories set in these genres pack the shelves. You’ll even find a whole section just for Sherlock Holmes. The shop also sells limited editions, first editions, and other collectible volumes.
The bookshop’s owner, Otto Penzler, also runs The Mysterious Press, which has published writers like Raymond Chandler, James Ellroy, and Ed McBain.
13. Coney Island, Brooklyn
If you think of Coney Island, you think of the amusement park. Yet the area also offers one of the more unusual things to see in New York.
While ‘freak shows’ and other acts involving ‘human curiosities’ are a thing of the past, you can see their modern-day counterparts at the Coney Island Museum. Their Circus Sideshow features sword-swallowing, fire breathing, contortionists, and snake charmers, among others. They even hold sideshow classes so you can hone your sideshow skills.
During the year, they also host the annual Mermaid Parade. The event brings together artists and performers who create and model handmade costumes, designed to fit that year’s theme.
So there you have it! 13 things you can add to your ‘must-see’ list alongside more obvious locations like Central Park, the Guggenheim and Wall Street.
Want to read a thriller set in the heart of the Big Apple? Try One Day in New York. When a woman is crucified on a burning cross in downtown Manhattan, it marks the beginning of a dangerous crusade. The Confessors seek the powerful relic of a dark angel and they will stop at nothing to get it.