The haunted Kreischer mansion was built in the 1880s.
I always have an amazing time when sojourning in Staten Island, but the experience often turns gothic at some point. That was the case recently when I recruited a friend who scouts movie and photo locations to join me on a re-visit to Killmeyer’s, an ancient Bavarian beer hall on Arthur Kill Road that sits a stone’s throw from Jersey in a decaying industrial swamp on the nether side of the island. She brought a couple of friends with her: a party planner and a co-ed from Sarah Lawrence.
The interior is extremely ornate, and boasts 25-odd rooms on four floors, one turret, and two balconies.
On the way, we made a little side visit. Scouting for a future fashion shoot, we stopped at a Victorian mansion built by 19th-century brick baron Balthasar Kreischer at 4500 Arthur Kill Road, in the town once known as Kreischerville, but now called Charleston. The dude was pretty interesting. He arrived from Germany in 1836 after a giant fire had obliterated 65% of New York, and quickly made a tidy fortune fabricating fire bricks, which were then in great demand for “fireproof” construction. Though he started his factory on the Lower East Side, he later moved to the western shore of Staten Island, where vast clay deposits were known to exist, as evidenced today by Clay Pit Pond State Preserve, which lies not far from the house.
Kreischer had seven children, and further distinguished himself by giving $75,000 dollars to Henry Englehard Steinway, who went on to found Steinway & Sons, the great piano manufacturer. Balthasar died in 1886, but not before building two identical mansions on the hill where one now stands. The first was occupied by the oldest son Charles, and the other by his younger brother Edward. Charles’ home burned down, but Edward’s still stands, the mansion we were approaching on foot, after we parked outside and then detoured around the elaborately locked gate.
Finished in 1885, the mansion has a reputation among local children for all sorts of spooky occurrences, and is a favorite to visit on Halloween. A woman’s wailing is often heard, said to be the wife of Edward Kreischer, who put a bullet in his head following a dispute at the factory – or, some say, following an argument with his brother. Other legends suggest that a German cook who was murdered in the kitchen still haunts the halls, clanging his pots and pans. Some claim that children who’d been locked in the closet for being bad are heard scratching to get out.
Some of the historic wallpaper is made of incised leather.
The view from the balcony takes in a new condo development, and petroleum tanks on the opposite shore of the Arthur Kill.
The caretaker was a fairly large man, who looked like he might have done some boxing. “Lurch,” I whispered as we approached the broad front porch. As the caretaker stood beckoning, we passed a shallow empty pool choked with weeds and surrounded by Kreischer fire bricks. “That looks like an empty grave,” one of the girls joked nervously. Indeed, the minute we stepped inside the house (it had been a warm sunny afternoon), we were engulfed by a rush of stale, cold air. I involuntarily shivered, a reaction my mother used to say meant that someone had just stepped on your grave.
Inside, the sumptuousness of the house won us over. There was incised leather wallpaper, ornate chandeliers in nearly every room, mad stucco that looked like the swirling clouds in a Van Gough painting, and a pair of balconies with views of wetlands on the north and west. Where the mansion had once overlooked the bucolic, tree-lined Arthur Kill (the narrow body of water that separates New York and New Jersey), now the view from its turret took in a new condo development right on the water and, across the water, white petroleum tanks rising like mushrooms on the farther shore.
We took plenty of photos to appraise the property’s suitability for artistic usages, but we needn’t have bothered, since the place had already served as a location for several films and TV shows. And I must say, we thoroughly enjoyed the creepiness. As it turned out, Edward Kreischer and his wife were not the only ghosts that haunted the premises.
Nearly every room has a fireplace.
The cellar as it looks today.
As we were dimly aware, a few years back there had been a grisly murder in the house committed by the previous caretaker, who had been mixed up with the mob. It was like a page from the Sopranos: caretaker Joseph “Joe Black” Young, a former marine, was paid $8,000 by the Bonnano crime family to rub out Robert McKelvey in April, 2005. McKelvey, himself an organized crime associate, had somehow offended crew leader Gino Galestro, to whom he owed money. As the Times gleefully reported, Galestro had been a delivery driver at various times for both the New York Post and the Daily News.
Young and three other associates lured McKelvey to the mansion. Young first stabbed him with a knife, at which point he didn’t go down, but bolted for the door. Then Young grabbed McKelvey and strangled him, which was similarly ineffective. Eventually, McKelvey was drowned in the grave-shaped pool we’d passed on the way into the house. After the murder, leaving the body in a pool of blood, the mobsters went to Dunkin’ Donuts and celebrated with coffee and pastries, then to Home Depot to get gloves, tarps, and power saws. Returning to the mansion, they carried the corpse dowstairs, cut it up into little pieces, and fed the pieces into the coal-burning furnace.
The FBI didn’t get around to fully investigating the murder till April, 2006, one year later, after an informant (recently identified as one of the participants, Stefan Cicale) told them about the murder, at which point the house had changed hands and the original furnace had been packed up and carted away. The gumshoes did remove a step from the stairway leading to the basement, and found further evidence in the reflecting pool. In late 2008, Young – who had previously been convicted of arson, and worked as a bouncer at a Staten Island strip club called Fresca’s – was tried for the murder, convicted, and given a life sentence. Galestro got off with 20 years, while Cicale was let off for time served, and put in the witness protection program.
The missing step was removed by the FBI as evidence.
The drowning pool — surrounded by Kreischer bricks.
We had put the whole story together by judicious googling as we finished up our tour, and as we straggled out the door, across the broad porch, and into the sunlight, we found ourselves talking about what had been a perfect appetizer for a late lunch at a place called Killmeyer’s.
The restaurant lies a half-mile north of the haunted mansion, on the other side of the Outerbridge Crossing, which goes to Perth Amboy, New Jersey. It, too, occupies what appears to be a handsome, sprawling house, with a light brownstone exterior. We noticed as we mounted the steps that the sidewalk outside is paved with Kreischer fire bricks. Inside is an ornate wooden bar, carved in 1849 in Bavaria from native woods and transported here in pieces prior to reassembly. The bar has a splendid selection of German tap beers.
Over a low wall is the dining room, outfitted with stag heads and ceramic lidded steins large enough to drown children. We took our places at a table in a room empty save for an old codger nursing a beer in the corner, and ordered beers all around from a garrulous waitress in a dirndl. I went for the sinister black lager made by Kostritzer, while the gals drank various Belgian lambics.
The carved wooden bar at Killmeyer’s
Putting the “kill” in Killmeyers, another murder victim hangs on the wall.
The lunch menu is minuscule compared to the evening and weekend one, but we regaled ourselves with several excellent takes on southern German standards. We had a platter of rich beef sauerbraten, heavy with the odor of white vinegar and sided with stewed and lightly pickled purple cabbage; a plate-flopping wienerschnitzel served with buttered spaetzl and wedge of lemon; and kassler rippchen, a magnificent smoked pork chop, improved by careful grilling sided with mashed potatoes and sauerkraut. The platters ranged in price from $8 to $10, making Killmeyer’s one of the best Teutonic meal deals in town.
Well, if you don’t mind driving by the Kreischer Mansion on the way.
Kreischer fireproof bricks
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on December 3, 2010