It’s Ghost Tour Season – The New York Times

Madame Morbid leads a year-round trolley ride through the haunted parts of Brooklyn. Unsurprisingly, October is good for business.

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Allison Chase, the lead tour guide and chief executive of Madame Morbid’s Trolley Tours, escorts brave souls on expeditions around Brooklyn to the sites of battlefields, ghostly visitations, mafia executions and extraterrestrial encounters.CreditCreditVincent Tullo for The New York Times

Allison Chase was born to be spooky. When her older brother was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes as a child, largely excluding him from the sugar-fueled pleasures of trick-or-treating, Ms. Chase’s parents wanted to make sure he could nevertheless enjoy Halloween to its fullest. Her father began to stage elaborate charity haunted houses out of the family’s West Hartford, Conn., home and later, as his project expanded, in a local vacant department store. Strangers would wait in line for hours for the privilege of very possibly peeing their pants in fear. (Mr. Chase proudly kept count of such incidents.)

As a child, Ms. Chase, now 31, was unfazed by the annual arrival of UPS packages containing fake severed heads, and the Jell-O brains in the refrigerator. “I didn’t even think it was strange,” she said. She dreamed of growing up to be the Wicked Witch of the West, but has found perhaps, an even more fitting vocation.

She’s the C.E.O. and lead tour guide of Madame Morbid’s Trolley Tours, which escorts brave souls on a 90-minute expedition around Brooklyn to the sites of battlefields, ghostly visitations, mafia executions and extraterrestrial encounters. The tour, which costs $49, runs year round. October is, unsurprisingly, good for business.

CreditVincent Tullo for The New York Times
CreditVincent Tullo for The New York Times

On a recent Wednesday, Ms. Chase picked up her guests from an M.T.A. bus stop on Driggs Avenue in a replica turn-of-the-century trolley, outfitted with a fog machine and haunting piano music. Imagine a Victorian funeral parlor on wheels, complete with green velvet curtains and a row of glamorous chandeliers overhead — a B62 rerouted from hell.

As the guide, Ms. Chase looked like an Edward Gorey illustration come to life. Her uniform was a floor length 19th century-style mourning dress (resourcefully hemmed with a safety pin) that lent her a gothic, consumptive elegance. Her eyes were rimmed with heavy shadow; her black bob was adorned with a fascinator and veil. “Mad” Matt Zaller, Madame Morbid’s chief operating officer and Ms. Chase’s ex-boyfriend, served as the evening’s coachman.

The crowd was primarily made up of Brooklyn residents, excited as much by the prospect of selecting Halloween candy from a black plastic caldron as they were of winning a syringe-shaped pen for correct answers to trivia questions. (How many people must you murder in order to qualify as a serial killer? Three.) Throughout the tour, passengers remained on board, but external speakers occasionally were employed by Ms. Chase to roast passers-by. In Williamsburg, for example, she called out to a pedestrian: “Sir with the fedora, what liberal arts school did you attend?”

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Fun fact: The difference between a coffin and casket is that the former has six sides, and the latter has four.CreditVincent Tullo for The New York Times

The first stop was the Brooklyn Navy Yard. In the small inlet there, once known as Wallabout Bay, more than 11,500 American colonists died in appalling conditions while trapped aboard British prison ships. (They are also honored by the Prison Ship Martyrs Monument in Fort Greene Park). Their bones washed ashore for decades, not far from the scene shop where “Saturday Night Live” sets are now built, Ms. Chase said.

With a view of the Brooklyn Bridge in the distance, Ms. Chase went on to describe how 12 people were crushed to death in a stampede six days after its grand opening in 1883. A headless ghost of a worker decapitated during the bridge’s construction is also said to haunt the area. (No word on sightings of the five gray aliens that a woman said abducted her nearby in 1989.)

As Mad Matt barreled over the Gowanus Canal, Ms. Chase noted that the 1.8-mile-long waterway has a storied reputation as a dumping ground for bodies, not to mention that it once tested positive for gonorrhea. Shortly thereafter, she paid her respects to the hundreds of Revolutionary War soldiers who perished in the Battle of Brooklyn, and who are believed to be buried in a mass grave under the Staples on Fourth Avenue. (This revelation drew audible gasps from an otherwise giggly audience.)

“We don’t realize that we’re building over dead people until it’s too late,” Ms. Chase said dryly. “We don’t do it on purpose, but we also don’t talk about it.”

CreditVincent Tullo for The New York Times

Then it was on to Park Slope, where 11-year-old Stephen L. Baltz made national headlines in 1960 as, initially, the sole survivor of a catastrophic midair collision between two planes; one crashed in Staten Island, and the other at Seventh Avenue and Sterling Place. The boy died the following day, and locals have since reported seeing the specter of a child searching for his lost luggage.

In Prospect Heights, Ms. Chase led an animated discussion of the severed goats’ heads that have been discovered throughout Prospect Park in recent years, and the mummies biding their time in storage at the “notoriously haunted” Brooklyn Museum. A real-life fender bender near Grand Army Plaza seen through the trolley windows added an unexpected element of excitement to the tour, but thankfully, zero gore.

Ms. Chase herself lives in Brooklyn and has been a New Yorker for the past 13 years. “I’ll never leave,” she said. “I’m going to haunt it when I die.”

“There have been so many battles here, so many mafia murders, and things are always popping up out of the blue,” Ms. Chase said. “Since deeds and documents have been traded throughout hands over the past couple centuries, we don’t know that tragedies have happened on the spot until those articles and information are later revealed.”

“Mad” Matt Zaller is the chief operating officer of Madame Morbid’s Trolley Tours and often the coachman.CreditVincent Tullo for The New York Times

Madame Morbid offers a view of Brooklyn’s incredibly dense history, as well as an unsettling reminder of what an easily overlooked necropolis it is. There’s a macabre past beneath just about every single unassuming park, high-rise and Trader Joe’s. (Ms. Chase cares about the living, too. Ten percent of Madame Morbid’s ticket sales benefit Brooklyn’s homeless population.)

The trolley tour ends where it begins — in Williamsburg, near the Two Boots Pizza whose menu includes a vampire-repelling Madame Morbid pie, heavy on the garlic and crowned with a pesto pentagram.

Some evenings, Ms. Chase and her cohort go back out for several more spins around the borough. On each return, she bids her passengers farewell.

“Now you know where all the bodies are buried,” she said.

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