In print and online, from Amityville to Australia, the so-called East Hampton Ghost House is back in the news, having finally been sold after eight years on the market.
The house, at 52 Middle Lane in East Hampton Village, is reputedly haunted by the restless spirit of its owner, Barton Kaplan, an antiques dealer from a monied family whose body was found at the bottom of his pool early on a summer Sunday after a night of partying. The Suffolk County Medical Examiner’s office classified the death as an accidental drowning.
Ever since, summer renters at the 13-bedroom house have whispered of inexplicable happenings there: lights and faucets turning themselves on and off at will, furniture moving from place to place of its own accord. After the sale was recorded last week on The Real Deal, a Web site for real estate brokers, someone commented, “A couple and their children we know rented that house for a summer. One night after we’d had dinner out in the yard, we came back in to find the living room sofa upside down. True story.”
In May 2007, the Corcoran Agency was asking $450,000 for a Memorial Day to Labor Day rental of the 18,000-square-foot house, which has, besides the expected amenities, an elevator, a screening room, two wine cellars, and an indoor spa and gym. The word around town was that the price would have been more, but brokers had to knock off $100,000 because the previous summer’s renters told everyone they knew that the place was haunted.
At one point Mr. Kaplan’s father was said to have hired a psychic to exorcise whatever spirit had taken up residence at his son’s house. It didn’t work.
Meanwhile, Mr. Kaplan’s live-in partner, one Sam Wagner, began putting it about that not only was the house haunted, but its grounds were as well, by Montaukett Indian warriors, no less, buried there in 1653, he maintained, after a battle with the Narragansett tribe. A good story — Mr. Wagner is reportedly writing a screenplay about the ghosts of Middle Lane — but, though there was some bad blood between the Montauketts and the Narragansetts that year, history has not recorded any such battle.
Many people here will recall that not long before Mr. Kaplan drowned, Ted Ammon, a millionaire businessman, was murdered in an equally imposing house almost directly across Middle Lane from number 52. For two such grisly events to have occurred in close proximity on one of the quietest, most affluent lanes in the village, was strange enough, but stranger still was the enigmatic Mr. Wagner’s dual role. At the murder trial of Daniel Pelosi in 2004, Mr. Wagner, who described himself as a “Pop artist,” took the stand as the first witness for the defense. He testified that he and Mr. Ammon, after exchanging glances on Middle Lane a few years before the murder, had had sex together.
“I, being an all-American gay human being . . . said something like, ‘Do you want to get busy?’ ” Mr. Wagner told the court. His testimony bolstered the defense’s contention that Mr. Ammon, who had no ties to the gay community, had picked up his killer at Two Mile Hollow Beach. However, Mr. Pelosi was convicted and is serving a 25-years-to-life term in prison.
Mr. Wagner has since maintained that Mr. Kaplan’s ghost persists because he, Wagner, never got the $2 million Mr. Kaplan left him in an unsigned will.
Whether it was fear of spirits or the dismal economy, the asking price of the East Hampton Ghost House fell by more than $10 million in the last four years, from $19.5 million to the $9.25 million it recently sold for. As of this week, the new owners will be 93rd on a list of the 100 highest property taxpayers in Suffolk County, at $67,625.26.
Michele Tiberio, the Corcoran vice president who sold the house, said on Tuesday that she was “not at liberty” to identify the buyers, but that “they are very happy, and look forward to many years of happiness there.”