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

Comment policy


  1. I’m afraid this advice came much too late. Our neighborhoods have been taken over by groups of people that could care less for the history of Brooklyn, other than what applies to their group. There are many groups, but each seems to “ghetto-ize” their neighborhoods to accommodate their customs, beliefs and needs…….to the exclusion of others. Good bye Brooklyn….I have taken my little piece to Staten Island, where I have no intention of “taking over”.

  2. Sentimental hogwash. ‘Ghosts’, urban myths, and city landscapes change over the generations. New stories and customs take over the old ones. And for the record, people don’t pick up from their far away homes and move to Brooklyn for its ‘mystique’. They come here for employment opportunities.

    As for the comments below regarding the ‘ghetto-ization’ of Brooklyn, remember that your European ancestors were once considered trash and scum by those who came before them. They came here with their immigrant customs, pushing away the old with what was then considered new and unwanted.

    I’ve lived in Brooklyn my whole life. I’ll probably die here, and I love it as much as anyone has ever loved their home, but come on people…nothing lasts forever. The fact that the old is being replaced by the new is what’s been going on for generations already.

  3. There aren’t ghosts left in Brooklyn, only demons and the soulless. All of the injustices, pedophilia and massive thefts are covered up but bleed through every fresh coat of paint. The soulless are the “new” inhabitants. No matter how much money they loot from which ever nation they came from and pillage from their new, they cannot buy a soul. Rich men and eyes of needles never pass, let alone soulless criminals.

    If anything the ghosts of Brooklyn are the dead walking aimlessly from one iphone and latte to another. They will be condemned for eternity to do the same and won’t even know it.

    God will just have to flush this toilet again..

  4. Well said.

    Let’s ask the Dutch how they felt when the Irish and Italians came and turned Brooklyn into what it was in the 20th century. Let’s ask the Indians before them how they felt when the Dutch came and turned it into what they wanted. In a hundred years lets ask the Russians and Mexicans (and other recent immigrant groups) how they feel about the new immigrant groups that are sure to arrive after them and change the culture of NY as well.

    Daniel O’Halloran, if you’re reading this, get over it and keep your egotistical polemics to yourself.

  5. There’s an easy way to tell if your house is haunted. It isn’t (with thanks to the comedian Jimmy Carr).

  6. Brooklyn have not been taken over. It was given away. Brooklyn was given away by people like yourself, people like yourself who thought the grass was greener in Staten Island or the suburbs in Jersey and Long Island. So all of you packed up your family’s and left this beautiful part of New York City instead of staying loyal to the place that raised you.

    And now You want come on a Brooklyn neighborhood website and complain Brooklyn has changed meanwhile you are part of the reason it has changed… Instead of staying loyal to the place you were raised, you simply bolted for Staten Island and then you want to come on here and complain that Brooklyn has changed.

    I myself am a life-long Brooklyn resident and I am still proud of the neighborhood I live in. There are still many great people and things in these neighborhoods of Brooklyn and it is still a great place to live and raise a family. So have fun in Staten Island, Brooklyn is doing just fine without you and all of the other people who abandoned this great borough.

  7. Excellent rejoinder! Additionally, if Brooklyn is so bad, why do folks keep pouring in, and why do many magazine’s of note, and reputable opinion sites, say, that next to Manhattan and San Francisco, Brooklyn is the hottest go to location, in America?! Only things that trouble me is the loss of neighborliness, the place once had, (But this is not something which has only been happening in Brooklyn!) and the Balkanization of some locations and mindsets…

  8. This is a very controversial column but the author has to remember that change takes place no matter what. The last ghost of Brooklyn told me he was hanging on waiting for the Dodgers to return, but they ain’t. And besides, who would have guessed that W’burgh and Red Hook would turn from war zones to hipster heavens in a generation. ? Migration + Immigration = vast change. Enjoy living in Mayberry, USA. Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.


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