The Famous Ghosts and Hollywood Homes of the Nyacks

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BY JANIE ROSMAN

1 LaVeta Place, Nyack/Credit: Google Street Maps
1 LaVeta Place, Nyack/Credit: Google Street Maps

Once boasting a pink exterior, the five-bedroom house 1 LaVeta Place in Nyack hardly looks haunted.

It isn’t, and it is.

Wright Bros. Real Estate agent Nancy Blake Weber said its two previous owners — including Indie singer and songwriter Ingrid Michaelson, who sold it for $1.77 million just before Christmas — had no ghost encounters so “it’s no longer a ghost house.”

The five-bedroom, Queen Victorian home with plenty of room for a family and three Revolutionary War-era spirits became the basis for a landmark case decision about a real estate dispute regarding an alleged haunting. After Helen and George Ackley moved there in the late 1960s, she reported footsteps, knocking, and doors opening and slamming; her daughter Cynthia’s bed shook each morning before the alarm rang and stopped when she said school was on spring break.

One ghost watched Ackley paint a room and nodded approval of her color choice, and unexplained gifts were left for her grandchildren. Son-in-law Mark Kavanagh had two encounters when he moved in with his future wife (Cynthia) and her family, concluding after one incident that the ghosts wanted to be sure he was the right person for her.

When Ackley put the house up for sale in 1989/1990, unknowing New York City residents Patrice and Jeffrey Stambovsky left a $32,000 deposit on its $650,000 price tag.

1 LaVeta Place in the 1970s/Credit: Mark Kavanagh
1 LaVeta Place in the 1970s/Credit: Mark Kavanagh

“Despite its mysterious and spooky appearance, the Stambovskys were altogether unaware of the house’s supernatural ill repute until a local architect happened to say, ‘Oh, you’re buying the haunted house,’” Kavanagh wrote on his website, http://www.ktransit.com/Kavanagh/Ghost/ghost-court.htm.

“Ghosts of Rockland County” author and paranormal investigator Linda Zimmerman said, “A haunting occurs when a spirit is trapped due to some tragedy or an unresolved issue that keeps it attached to a location or object,” like a house or an antique. Stambovsky sued to rescind the contract and get back his deposit.

A New York Supreme Court ruling in Ackley’s favor was overturned in 1991 (Stambovsky v. Ackley, known as the Ghostbusters Case) with the appeals court ruling the sale was dishonest because Ackley didn’t tell the Stambovkys the house was haunted. The court cited the fact Ackley had publicized the house’s haunting in numerous magazines as reason for legally considering it haunted, as the press would certainly affect the value of the home on resale.

Two years after moving to Florida (1993) the Ackleys were contacted by researcher Bill Merrill and ghost channeler Glenn Johnson. Their 1955 book, book, “Sir George, The Ghost of Nyack,” documented their findings, including the ghosts “saying” the house wasn’t fun to haunt since Ackley left.

“The new owners of the house even tried an exorcism,” Merrill and Johnson write. “Sir George (one of the ghosts) didn’t understand what they were really doing. But that is not what made them leave. They just felt they could do no more to bring harmony after the Ackleys left. By 1993 [the ghosts] were gone.”

Kavanagh said he receives an email every few years from a law student or professor asking about the house. Per the Supreme Court Law Library in White Plains the law to date has not been superseded; thus it’s still on the books.

Hollywood Hills in Nyack

501 N. Broadway, Upper Nyack/Credit: William McGivney
501 N. Broadway, Upper Nyack/Credit: William McGivney

From the road you immediately notice the striking home with a curved driveway.

I didn’t recognize it from film credit “Stepmom” (1988) with Susan Sarandon, Julia Roberts and Ed Harris, and I missed “The Bounty Hunter” (2010) with Gerard Butler and Jennifer Aniston and drove by twice. That driveway belongs to Glenholme, a second-empire Victorian home at 501 N. Broadway in Upper Nyack often selected for movies and television.

Owner Kathy Sanders graciously offered a tour of her 16-room house with its spectacular river views of the Sing Sing Correctional Facility on the north side and the Tappan Zee Bridge on the south side, especially visible from the wraparound porch. Those eastern-facing windows offer spectacular sunrise gazing, “like this morning. It was red and beautiful,” Sanders said.

501 N. Broadway, Upper Nyack/Credit: William McGivney
501 N. Broadway, Upper Nyack/Credit: William McGivney

Based upon plans she found that date back to 1907, owner she surmised the house was structurally divided. David Sanders (no relation to the owner) of Sanders Properties, Inc. — which listed and brokered the sale exclusively for Christie’s International Real Estate — said it’s a legend that a dining room was added.

“I heard a rumor,” Historical Society of the Nyacks President Win Perry said. While there is no way to prove it this explains the house’s delightful asymmetry. A room with a low ceiling below, and because of, an alcove with a sitting area directly above it might have been a smoking room.

An asymmetrical staircase with unique landing and windowed-sitting area perfect for gazing (one of the “Stepmom” characters sat there and sewed). It’s wide and not mean to be walked in a hurry; the slower the better.

501 N. Broadway, Upper Nyack/Credit: William McGivney
501 N. Broadway, Upper Nyack/Credit: William McGivney

One interesting souvenir from a previous owner is a hidden door/false panel between the dining room and the kitchen, which is accessible from a narrow second-floor staircase that’s without a bannister. I opted for the asymmetrical stairs leading from the main floor to a nook/sitting room on the first landing to see that area again.

Nyack has a history of hosting Hollywood scenes and is increasingly a present-day location for film shoots. Some famous flicks with scenes shot in Nyack include 1986’s “Labyrinth,” starring the recently deceased David Bowie and a very young Jennifer Connolly, the 2004 remake of “The Manchurian Candidate,” directed by Nyack’s own Jonathan Demme, 1960’s “Butterfield 8,” starring Liz Taylor, who also famously shot a scene of the movie at the Stony Point Motel, 1998’s “StepMom,” starring Julia Roberts and Susan Sarandon, and Woody Allen’s seminal work “Manhattan.”

Major projects of the last three years using Nyack as a backdrop include television shows “The Leftovers,” “Orange is the New Black” and “The Blacklist,” and movies “Louder than Bombs,” “The Grief of Other” and “The Skeleton Twins.”

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