Ever noticed the creeping band of children’s rhymes the scroll along a wall of Morton Williams? Well, we have, and we were curious. Bwogger, part-time exorcist, and pumpkin enthusiast Phoebe Newton checks it out for us.
Morton Williams was not always a grocery store. Long ago, before the food, before the ubiquitous franchise, the brothers Morton and William owned only a solitary bookstore on Broadway, bibliophiles with a dark secret.
One windy October afternoon, I make the trek down Broadway to Morton Williams to see what kind of pumpkin spice offerings they may have. Fall only comes once a year after all.
Approaching the cash register with my assortment of fall-themed groceries (a reflection of my midterm induced stress eating as much as my seasonal spirit), I notice that only one of the front registers is open. A panic begins to settle in, and the mob of patrons who have raced to check out create a line that snakes almost all the way to the back of the store. The single over-worked employee swipes items as fast as she possibly can, her eyes darting nervously in the direction of the growing queue.
Increasingly unable to compete with the company that would one day become Book Culture, the brothers needed a plan to ensure that their profits remained superior to their already over-priced nemesis. As parents, students, and children abandoned them to pick out glossy new books down the street, the brothers Morton and William were left with a musty dust-filled store with no laughter left to brighten it’s dank interior.
I groan inwardly as I rummage in my bag to find my iPhone to do some Facebook stalking while I wait. Annoyed, I pull the plastic-covered device out of my stylish-yet-functional backpack, and my heart sinks. The dreaded 10% battery life message flashes before my eyes.
Without any idea of what I could possibly do with myself without my phone, I am forced to scan my surroundings. So this is what the real world looks like, I muse; I don’t think I’ve seen the true light of day since the early 2000s when I got my first Razr cell phone.
As Book Culture filled to the brim with laughing families, parents clumped together to gossip about the neighborhood’s newest scandal, and the children roamed freely through the educational oasis away from the prying eyes of adults.
As I my eyes scan the store, I notice something.
It began with little Bobby Eichner, his parents, frantic, organizing a neighborhood search, a citywide poster campaign, and finally, a vigil. But he was just the first.
Instead of having news headlines scrolling across the screen on the wall, there are bits and pieces of children’s tales on a constant loop.
He was finally caught because of the books. Morton’s little mistake, his psychological quirk, a cry for help as described by the defense attorney, a grotesque celebration as described by the media, was a running list of all of the various stories and quotes the children gave as their favorite, displayed around his shop. It was apparently the last thing he asked them before hiding them away in his secret gas chamber in the basement of his store (an H.H. Holmes inspired creation implemented to stealthily rid of his victims).
The bodies of the children were never found.
That’s odd I think, starting to feel a little uncomfortable. As I finally see my surroundings with fresh eyes, I instantly feel a haunting chill run down my spine. The atmosphere of the store shifts dramatically as a memory resurfaces. I swore I remembered reading something sketchy about this store I thought, straining to remember. After a few moments, pieces of the story begin to resurface in my mind.
William was found innocent, or at least they could never find evidence linking him to the Morton Murders (as the tabloids called them). Apparently heartbroken, he sold the Broadway bookstore and opened a small shop in Midtown. The bankers who would become his earliest customers and first investors, were in the beginning unimpressed. And why should they be? William had no idea how to run a grocery. His earliest stock consisted entirely of a few heads of lettuce, a meatlocker, and a wheel of cheese. But his steak…like nothing else they said.
He would eventually return to the Upper West Side, purchasing the very storefront he and his brother had originally shared. He said he wanted to make things right, but something didn’t sit well with the residents, at least those who could still remember. Why would he leave his brother’s name in the store? And something about that teleprompter seemed awfully familiar…
Managing to snap myself out of my mounting sense of dread, I drop my pumpkin spice themed pantry items and briskly walk towards the door. As I exit, I make a sharp right, steering myself down Broadway. I think I’ll just stick with a Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte I anxiously think to myself. At least Starbucks doesn’t have dead children in their basement, do they?
Visual savory relief via Shutterstock