A Gilded Age Christmas Ghost Story

A historical mystery set in the Morgan Library of 1912

Nancy Bilyeau

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Inspired by my lifelong love of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” and my more recent interest in the dazzling Morgan Library in New York, I wrote The Ghost of Madison Avenue, a novella taking place in 1912 NYC that uses the Morgan as its setting.

I’d always loved a Christmas ghost story. It turns out that Dickens is far from alone in choosing the time of the winter solstice for a tale. (Or Henry James, as The Turn of the Screw was a story told at a house party on Christmas Eve.) There is a tradition of setting a ghost story at Christmas tracing back at least to medieval times. I wrote about it for Medium in the article “The Christmas Ghost Story Is Much Older Than You Think.”

Much of the novella takes place at J. P. Morgan’s Library, at Madison and 36th Street, one of my favorite haunts (so to speak!) in New York City. In 1912, it was not a museum — it was where financier Morgan spent much of his time, as did his brilliant head librarian, Belle da Costa Greene. After I wrote this in 2019, I was happy to see an explosion of interest in Belle, such as the 2021 historical novel The Personal Librarian.

The Morgan Library today

My novella splits its time between Manhattan and the Bronx, where my main character, Helen O’Neill, lives with her…

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Nancy Bilyeau

Passionate about history, pop culture, the perfect bagel. Author of 5 historical novels. Latest book: ‘The Orchid Hour' www.nancybilyeau.com