Carlton House Skeleton

The Carlton House was a cheap hotel which located on the corner of Franklin and William Streets in New York City, notorious for the number of suicides that occured there; at least 20 since 1868. In the fall of 1884, the Board of Health received several complaints about the unclean condition of the cellar and then ordered the owner of the property to remove the heaps of dirt and ashes that had accumulated there. After about a week of hoisting barrels of rubbish up to the street, one of the workmen found what he thought was a slender piece of wood. However, it was not a piece of wood, but the leg of a woman, dried and shriveled. The workmen removed about six inches of dirt, uncovering the skeleton of a young woman who had been dead for more than a year.

The corpse was wearing a black cloth sacque, with lace trimmings on the sleeves, a brown cloth dress and muslin underskirt. On her legs were blue and white striped stockings, partially worn away or eaten by mice. There were no definitive signs of violence on the corpse. How she died and what she was doing in the sub-cellar was a mystery.

After the discovery of the skeleton, several people identified the body as a missing relative or friend, but only one identification was taken seriously. Charles Sprenger examined the body and the clothing and was positively convinced that the woman was his sister Johanna Schmidt. Her marriage had been an unhappy one; she and her husband, Frederick, quarreled violently over Johanna’s familiarity with Ludwig Hart, a barber who boarded with the Schmidts. Johanna left her husband on June 27, 1883, Hart disappeared then as well. No one in the family had heard from her since.

However, few months later, the identity of the body was once more in question. Charles Sprenger had been certain the body was that of his sister Johanna, but his younger sister, Emma, was just as sure that it was not. On December 7, it was reported that Charles Sprenger received a telegram from Johanna saying that she was alive and well. For the sake of her privacy, he would not reveal her location, but he was now convinced that the body was not Johanna’s. The police, however, were not convinced, and believing that Sprenger family was lying to protect their reputation, continued under the assumption that the victim was Johanna Schmidt.

The “Carlton House Skeleton” was buried in an unmarked grave in New York’s potter’s field; the circumstances around her death remain a dark mystery.


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