Welcome to “Eating History,” a series in which Jaya Saxena of the New-York Historical Society mines the vast archives of the museum and library in search of vintage images and ephemera that offer a look into how New Yorkers used to dine. Follow the museum @NYHistory for more.
What would you do if you found your favorite restaurant was haunted? Well, it probably wouldn’t happen, not least because you’d likely get kicked out before they locked the doors at night and unleashed the night stalkers. But according to a strange piece of advertisement, that’s exactly what happened at the Planters Hotel in 1933.
The Planters Hotel was located on Greenwich and Albany streets in downtown Manhattan (though this account puts it at Greenwich and Cedar), and it was popular with travelers from the South—such as Daniel Webster, Aaron Burr, John C. Calhoun—who were looking for good food and a good night’s rest. According to one history, “Here the first cotton exchange in America was established, where thousands of dollars worth of cargoes changed hands every year.” However, the Civil War put an end to that exchange, and the hotel closed until a new owner opened it as Planters Cafeteria and Restaurant in 1922.
I have been here since 1833. I was among the first guests to dine here.
This is where we find our pamphlet’s haunted protagonist, who claims he awoke alone in the restaurant and decided to take a walk around. On the second floor he encountered a man who “looked almost too old to be alive, and had a bearing which we associate with years long before the jazz age.” The man offered him a pipe, and said, “I have been here since 1833. Exactly one hundred years ago to-night, I was among the first guests to dine here.”
In the story, the ghost continues to explain the history of Planters, and New York. He reminds us that this was no “little back street” in 1833, and when asked how they lived without “subways, radios, airships” and “how long you had to wait for news,” he replies, “We didn’t need any news. We had our own lives to live and we lived them leisurely and well.”
But what of the food? The menu of the original Planters sounds pretty incredible. The ghost describes “roast haunch of venison…with currant jelly sauce melted in port wine,” roast leg of pork brushed in oil and applesauce, baked shad with butter gravy, and “roast pheasant…stuffed with minced snipe and truffles and served with a decoration of oranges.”
As fall turns every chillier, any one of those sounds like a welcome feast.