Spirit of Law Recognizes ‘Haunted House’


A big Victorian on the Hudson, where the ghosts leave gifts and where The Amazing Kreskin wanted to conduct a seance, has been declared haunted “as a matter of law” by an appeals court.

The decision was good news for Jeffrey and Patrice Stambovsky, who had decided in 1989 to buy the old 18-room mansion in Nyack for $650,00--but changed their mind after a local architect said, “Oh, you’re buying the haunted house.”

It seems they were not told, before they put down a $32,500 binder, that the owner, Helen Ackley, claimed for years that she had been seeing poltergeists. In a 1977 article in Reader’s Digest, she said one of them was a “cheerful, apple-cheeked man” who looked like Santa Claus.


In a local newspaper in 1982, she described the spirits as “dressed in Revolutionary period clothing, perhaps frozen in a time warp, waiting for someone or some reason to move on.”

In a 1989 article about a real estate tour in suburban Nyack, the house was described as “riverfront Victorian--with ghost.”

Ackley, who now lives in Orlando, Fla., said she and her family had been seeing ghosts in the house since her family moved into it 24 years ago. She said her husband, George, died 12 years ago.

“I feel they are very good friends,” she said last year. Occasionally they would leave little gifts. “It’s very comforting to have them around when you are by yourself.”

Stambovsky, a 38-year-old bond trader, said he didn’t believe in such things. He said his wife, who was pregnant at the time, was bothered by the idea.

“Would you want to bump into George Washington in the middle of the night?” their lawyer asked.

Since Mrs. Ackley hadn’t said boo to them about the hauntings, they demanded their money back.

“My feeling is that Mrs. Ackley is a very neat old lady who likes to spin tales,” Stambovsky said. “But if my wife is influenced enough by that stuff to feel uncomfortable, that’s a good enough reason not to sink our life savings into the place.”

“We were the victims of ectoplasmic fraud,” he added.

Meanwhile, Kreskin, who calls himself the world’s leading mentalist, said he would consider buying the house if the ghosts proved to be real. He wanted to hold a seance in the house in 1990--to take a head count, or maybe a headless count--but Ackley’s son objected to “stunt publicity” and prompted Kreskin to back out by imposing a $50,000 fee for reporters to attend.

The house was sold to someone other than the Stambovskys for slightly under $650,000.

The Stambovskys sued for a refund of their binder, but it seemed they had not a ghost of a chance. The judge said the rule of caveat emptor (let the buyer beware) governs real estate transactions.

On July 18, the Appellate Division of State Supreme Court disagreed in a 3-2 decision and had some fun doing so.

Justice Israel Rubin, writing for the majority, said he was “moved by the spirit of equity” to allow the Stambovskys to sue to break the contract.

Rubin said that since Ackley “had deliberately fostered the belief that her home was possessed by ghosts,” she should have told the Stambovskys.

“As a matter of law, the house is haunted,” he concluded.

Lawyers for Ackley and her real estate company argued that the contract required the Stambovskys to take the place “as is,” but the judge said that did not apply to ghosts. He noted that Ackley had failed to deliver the house “vacant” as the contract required.

He also noted that while buyers can hire termite inspectors and structural engineers to check the condition of a house, it’s trickier in the field of paranormal phenomena.

“Who you gonna call?” he asked.