Southern Brooklyn

From The Inbox: Is Brooklyn Losing Its Ghosts?

Source: Lotus Carroll/Flickr

Reader Daniel O’Halloran, a longtime Sheepshead Bay resident and Brooklyn native, will soon leave the city for the warmer, blander climes of North Carolina. Before he hits the road, though, he’s asked us to run the following open letter to Brooklyn residents, “past, present and future,” which says we’re losing our “ghosts,” the local legends and cautionary tales passed among neighbors. He also makes some suggestions to keep them around. Read it, and let us know what you think in the comments.

An open letter to residents of Brooklyn, Past, Present, and Future.

Brooklyn is losing its Ghosts.

A word of explanation is required here, to describe who we are and what we do.

Popular folklore maintains that the ghosts who haunt this world are souls who are trapped here as the result of some traumatic experience, and/or an injustice which has not been served. While this is true in some cases, it may surprise you that some of us actually volunteer for the job of haunting.


Some of us are so bound to the place of our corporeal dwelling, be it a building, a room, a stretch of sidewalk, or an entire Borough, that we voluntarily consent to not pass beyond the inner veil and to haunt these spaces of the living which were once our own.


We are the custodians of the past, to remind those who follow after of who and what came before. We used to have a thriving business here in Brooklyn, and t’was we who afforded these spaces their aura, mystique, and glamor.

A few examples: Mrs. Diaz who lived on the third floor, sometimes you can still smell her perfume in the hallway. Mr. Kowalski, injured in the Great War, sometimes you can still hear his heavy, halting tread upon the stair.


When Brooklyn was a community, these stories would be passed from one neighbor to another, on warm summer evenings, sitting on the stoop or between children who overheard the talk of their parents (see ‘children’ below), and thereby tradition was established. History was continuity, and that is what created the mystique and aura of Brooklyn. Not because of who YOU are, or what YOU are doing; but because of the ghosts who surrounded us, whispering, to remind us of where we were. Every stoop is holy ground by virtue of the fact that it was sanctified generations before you got here.


Brooklyn has ever been an incubator of remarkable human beings; we like to think we had something to do with that. However, we’ve noticed a trend with growing concern, what follows is one example:

Johnny McElroy, from a couple of blocks over, generations past, chased a ball out into the street. He was struck by a motor car and died on the spot. Now, the story of Johnny’s demise rippled through that generation, and succeeding ones, because kids played on the block and shared the stories of their common history. Everyone knew the story of Johnny McElroy, and whats more, they knew that if you bounced a ball down the block, you had to be careful because in that ONE spot, the ball would always take a queer bounce, out towards the street. That was Johnny. He volunteered to stay to serve as a reminder because he loved his block, his playmates, and their progeny enough to haunt that one spot and push a bouncing ball out towards the street to remind everyone.

Now, kids don’t play on the block and trade stories, and parents don’t sit on the stoop to keep an eye on the kids while trading stories.

So what does the ghost of Johnny McElroy have to do? He has decided to pass the inner veil, as there is no one to listen anymore.

And so the Ghosts of Brooklyn pass. More the loss for Brooklyn, when its custodians throw their arms in the air in futility and say “Enough, I’m fuckin’ outta here….”

So what is to be done?

  1. For those newly arrived, or on your way here: Do not come for property values; you are drawn here for the history and mystique that is Brooklyn. Be careful not to destroy what you came for. Do not try to make Brooklyn yours, become part of the community which predates you by many many generations. Sit on the stoop, let your kids play on the block. Talk to your neighbors… ALL of them. Contrary to popular belief, this is NOT your Brooklyn. If you want it to remain Brooklyn, you adapt to it, it will adapt to you. And get your nose out of your iPhone and look around you and think about where you are, and what has come before. With this in mind, watch the edges of your vision, you might see one of us. Acknowledge us and give us our proper respect. We’ve got your back. BE Brooklyn.
  2. For those of Brooklyn who choose to remain, both corporeal and non-corporeal: Hold down the fort. You already know. BE Brooklyn.
  3. For those of Brooklyn who choose to pass on, both corporeal and non-corporeal: We can’t blame you a bit. But pass not on in bitterness or anger. You are Brooklyn and there is no separating Brooklyn from you. Carry it either beyond the inner veil, or to wheresoever you might travel. BE Brooklyn.

Yours in Spirit,
The Ghosts of Brooklyn