The Victorian sisters who haunt Central Park

New York is a city haunted by many ghosts—including those of two 19th-century sisters who lived on Central Park South and reportedly died within months of each other in 1880.

Their names were Janet and Rosetta Van Der Voort. Their wealthy father was the original helicopter parent—supposedly so overprotective of his girls, he wouldn’t let them leave their home unaccompanied.

19th-Century Print of Skaters in Central Park

One of the few places they were allowed to visit alone, however, was the Central Park Pond at the southeast corner of the park, near 59th Street. There, they went ice skating in the winter. (Above sketch: Central Park skaters in 1875)

“The sisters grew so close as they grew older that they spurned all potential suitors, dying as spinsters,” reported a 1997 New York Times article.


“But, as legend has it, the Van Der Voort sisters, decked out in the same red and purple outfits they wore more than 100 years ago, sometimes return to the pond to figure-skate, in the summer as well as the winter, haunting parents on Central Park South who continue to keep their daughters prisoner.”

[Above: Agnes Tait’s Skating in Central Park, 1934]

Another version of the story has them skating in a different part of the park. “Their ghosts were first spotted during World War I skating side by side on the frozen lake in Central Park,” wrote Dennis William Huack in his book Haunted Places.

“They were both dressed in huge bustles: one in a red dress, the other in a purple dress. The skating ghosts have been seen many times since, their silver skates gliding just above the ice in a never-ending series of figure eights.”

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10 Responses to “The Victorian sisters who haunt Central Park”

  1. carolegill Says:

    Wow, is this interesting!
    I thought of the film, Portrait of Jenny, can’t remember if there was an ice skating sequence, I think there was, but that’s really a ghost story too and Central Park is depicted in some scenes.
    I wonder if these sisters might have inspired that.
    Thanks so much for this post. It’s haunting!

  2. ephemeralnewyork Says:

    It’s a good story at least!

  3. BabyDave Says:

    Great story. Thank you.

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  9. Yvette Says:

    wow, I have been looking for my great, great, great Grandma Margaret Fanning who used to skate exactly there at around that time period. She contracted pneumonia after a particular cold skate and passed away in 1883, Aged 28. She would have totally heard about these women and maybe even knew them?

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