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Helen Ackley in front of the 1890 Queen Anne house.

This court case, formally known as 169 A.D.2d 254 (N.Y. App. Div. 1991), is covered in nearly every law school class. Yet, many people falsely believe that the New York Supreme Court ruled the 1890 Queen Anne house located at 1 LaVeta Place, Nyack, NY was indeed haunted. What the Court did say was, “As a matter of law, the house is haunted.” Actually, the decision of whether or not the house was haunted was not before the Court. This case was a contract case; however, people enjoy discussing decades later. What is news: The “Ghostbusters House” recently sold.

Helen and George Ackley purchased the stately, though in desperate need of repair, 3-story, 4,628 square foot home in 1967. During their ownership, Helen boasted about three ghosts who resided with the family. One was a woman in a hoop skirt and the other was a Revolutionary War era couple called Sir George and Lady Margaret. (Sir George was dressed in a red coat and thus British.) Helen recounted the hauntings in the Reader’s Digest May 1977 article “Our Haunted House on the Hudson.” The instances were innocuous. Coins and trinkets left for the children. Gentle shaking of the daughter’s bed to get her up for school. Full bodied apparition nodding approvingly of the wall color choice. Helen took advantage of retelling the tales and included the house on haunted ghost tours. For all who resided in the tiny hamlet knew the house to be haunted. The couple who did not know were Jeffrey and Patrice Stambovsky.

Jeffrey and Patrice entered an agreement to purchase the home in 1990. They ponied up $35,200 in escrow funds and started learning about the small town of Nyack. They became concerned when local residents started telling them about the haunted house. That was when Jeffrey and Patrice wanted out of the contract and the escrow monies refunded. The Ackleys were unmoved.

The case wound its way up to the highest Court in New York. In the 1991 opinion, the Court found that the Stambovskys could, in fact, get their money back as they were not locals and did not know of the house as being haunted. The Court reasoned that the house was haunted “as a matter of law” since Helen Ackley endeavored to promote the house as such. Helen encouraged the label of “haunted” to be placed upon the house. She profited, if not monetarily, but by reputation. The case appeared to upend the widely held view of caveat emptor, or buyer beware. Indeed, Justice Rubin wrote how this case was an exception to strict application because of the facts and Helen’s silence.

Ownership has been steady over the decades since the Court’s decision. After the Stambovskys were able to get out of the contract, Canadian filmmaker Adam Brooks purchased and lived there for more than 20 years. American singer/songwriter Ingrid Michaelson resided there from 2012-2015, only to list the property due to her long-term absence from the large house. She felt the home “enchanting—but not creepy.” Simply put, she wasn’t there enough to justify the expense. American rapper Matisyahu purchased in 2015 and has been attempting to unload it since 2019.

Originally listed on September 18, 2019, for $1.9 million, the price has lowered until it finally sold on March 29, 2021, for $1,795,000. Not too bad for a home that Justice Rubin believed whose owners would suffer financially if the Stambovsky contract were to be enforced.  

So, what happened to the three ghosts? Every owner since Brooks has maintained that the home is not haunted.