A Woman to Know: Eliza Jumel

If her ghost did remain here, it is because she was so house-proud. — Carol Ward

(image via National Portrait Gallery)


Eliza was born in a brothel, but died in a mansion — one she allegedly haunts still.

She escaped her childhood brothel (what else am I supposed to call it???) in the late 1790s, journeying to New York to find work as an actress. She used her dramatic chops to infiltrate the city's upper society, where she met and married her first husband, the wealthy merchant Stephen Jumel, in 1804. They bought their Manhattan mansion — which the New York Times once called "like Tara transplanted to 160th Street" — and began traveling through Europe, where Eliza collected priceless antiquities and works of art.

After Stephen died in 1832, Eliza — age 58 at the time — wasted no time in finding another husband to assist her social-climbing. She married the notorious Aaron Burr, himself then in his late 70s. They made quite the power couple of the era; she introduced herself around Paris as "The Vice Queen of the United States," making a couple enemies along the way. But she and Aaron couldn't make it work; they split after just four months.

She retired to her mansion uptown, now known as the Morris-Jumel Mansion, and insisted Aaron would have none of her then-immense fortune. She took great pride in showing off the house — 150 acres of orchards, gardens, ex-husbands' possessions and all — until her death in 1865.

Museum curators say rumors of her ghost have brought visitors to the place since the 1960s. Those who've seen her claim an elderly woman in period garb appears on the balcony, asking visitors to "shut up."

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