It's a cold, rainy day and I find myself inside of a hearse, with the sound of macabre organ music playing as I'm being driven away. Thankfully, this is all part of Dead Apple Tours, where Drew Raphael takes passengers on a 2-hour ride, showing them famous death spots around New York City.
As a resident of New York City, I've passed many of these landmarks on a regular basis, but I wasn't aware of the dark stories and history of each location. We visited approximately 25 spots, which included The Chelsea Hotel, Heath Ledger's apartment, the final resting place of Bill the Butcher, Washington Square Park, the home of the Butcher of Tompkins Square Park, and the Flat Iron Building.
Even though the topic of conversation was grim to say the least, I got the sense that Drew cared deeply for both the city and his tour. Drew went to great lengths to make the tour something different and attract the attention of those who see the hearse. I wanted to learn more about the history behind the tour and where it was headed, and Drew was more than willing to answer my questions and tell me more about the tour:
Can you tell us how the Dead Apple Tours came to be?
Drew: I wanted to do a sightseeing tour here in NYC because I am a 3rd generation New Yorker and I love telling people about interesting, cool facts about the city. I was pushing my daughter in her stroller the day Heath Ledger died in his rented loft here in NYC. When I passed by I noticed crowds of people and asked someone what was going on. They told me that Heath had died in the building and they just took the body out.
I was like "OK, sad" but when I saw more people show up outside the building day after day, just looking at the place, laying flowers, notes, candles, and such, then that proverbial light went off in my head. People are interested in where a famous person died. Then I thought, well who else died in NYC and the whole thing started to come together.
Approximately how many people have you taken on tours over the years?
Drew: Since I have only been doing the tour regularly for a little over a year, maybe about 500.
Are there any stand-out customers or experiences from the tour that you can share with our readers?
Drew: I've had numerous birthday's, bachelor parties and transported the wedding parties for two weddings.
Why did you decide on the 1960 Cadillac Superior Crown Royale combination hearse?
Drew: I had seen some classic hearses before and thought it would be really cool if people could ride around in one of those as a tour vehicle. I also see the typical NYC tour buses and think they make tourists feel like cattle being carted around the city. I set out to find the most unique hearse I could find and I think I accomplished this. In fact, I recently found out there are only 10, 1960 Cadillac Superior Crown Royale's still in existence. I also realized that it couldn't be just any hearse, it had to be dramatic. With all that is going on in New York City, it can be difficult to stand out, so I knew I need a special kind of vehicle.
What do you say to those who say that this tour sensationalizes the deaths of some of America's iconic figures?
Drew: Famous people's death are a signature reference point in time that people remember i.e. "Where were you when you heard Michael Jackson died?" Those points in time become historically significant. Basically, the tour is a history of New York City through the people who died here.
If you could describe the experience a tourist might have on Dead Apple Tours in three words what would they be?
Drew: Unique, fun, informative
What is your favorite spot to visit? Who is your favorite figure on the tour to talk about?
Drew: My favorite spot is a large elm tree at the Northwest corner of Washington Square park called the "Hangman's Elm." It is the oldest tree on the island of Manhattan, somewhere in the neighborhood of 300 years old. Ropes were strung over it for hanging's until 1819. Since it is still there, I find it one of the few tangible connections to another time in NYC. My favorite figure on the tour is Daniel Rakowitz aka "The Butcher of Tompkins Square Park." Basically this guy killed, dismembered and ate his girlfriend. He also made soup out of her body and served it to unsuspecting homeless people in Tompkins Square Park.
An uptown tour has been in the works. Is it currently available?
Drew: The uptown tour just started running this Halloween.
Do you plan to expand your franchise to include other famous death areas such as L.A. and Chicago?
Drew: Yes, eventually I could see a version of Dead Apple Tours in Chicago, Boston, New Orleans.
Is there anything else you'd like to tell Daily Dead readers?
Drew: I feel really strongly that when you compare Dead Apple Tours to other tour experiences in New York City - regardless of theme - we really deliver a great sightseeing value and experience.
If you are looking for something different and unique to do on the weekend, consider taking Dead Apple Tours, which was both informative and interesting. From the places you visit, to the people you pass by waving at you and taking your picture, there was never a dull moment on the tour. To learn more about Dead Apple Tours, visit: www.deadappletours.com