Haunted Shanghai: A ghostly apartment building

Haunted Shanghai: A ghostly apartment building

History may 'come alive' at museums and other tourist attractions. But at the infamous Normandie apartment, it never seems to stop dying
haunted shanghai
Every ledge in this town tells a story. The one at The Normandie is no exception.

Like ghost stories? Find last week's Shanghai ghost story about the phantoms of the Qiu mansion here.

Last year, Sophie Jager returned from vacation to find her French Concession apartment shrouded in scaffolding and green gauze. Renovation of the historic Shanghai building The Normandie had begun.

Sophie decided to take the opportunity to capture some interesting photographs, so after midnight she climbed out of her seventh-floor window onto the scaffolding. Carrying two cameras, she crept along the perimeter and rounded the northeast corner of the building.

Out on a ledge

All at once, violent shouting erupted above her head. There was no movement behind the dark window, but it sounded as if a crowd of people were inside, yelling. The sound ebbed for a moment, and Sophie could hear a woman’s plaintive whimpering. Then the voices rose again, even angrier. Sophie was too frightened to move. Finally, silence.

In the neighborhood shantytowns, the tower had a more sinister nickname: 'The Diving Board.'

Trembling, Sophie began to crawl away. Then she heard the window burst open behind her. As Sophie scuttled blindly along the planks, she heard a crash on the street below.

Sophie said that when she mustered the courage to look again, the windows of the corner apartment were shut tight, and there was nothing in the street. What Sophie was witnessing was what many others before her can attest to -- The Normandie is a building with a history, and its history is talking. In its own way.

What's not in your history books

By the 1930s many of the city's rich and famous had abandoned The Normandie. But in 1968, the corner apartment on the seventh floor was still home to a Shanghai movie star, actress Shangguan Yunzhu. Adored in the 1940s, by the late 1960s she was being hounded and beaten by rebel factions. Newspapers labeled her a reactionary; her films were denounced as “poisonous weeds.” At last, she did what many others did during those times -- she jumped out of her window.

Shangguan Yunzhu died on the November 22, 1968. Her apartment remains empty, but her old neighbors claim that in autumn, hints of ylang-ylang and neroli from Shangguan’s favorite perfume grace the hallway outside her door, a mere hint of historic Shanghai.

Older residents have strange stories as well. A journalist named Zhou remembers that during the Cultural Revolution, Red Guards renamed the building 'Anti-Revisionist Tower.' But, he says, in the neighborhood shantytowns the tower had a more sinister nickname: 'The Diving Board.' Dozens of intellectuals and state enemies would run up the stairs and jump off the Normandie’s roof, driven to suicide by the struggle sessions and harassment.

Zhou says to this day he can still hear their frenzied footsteps.

Katya Knyazeva is a journalist and fine artist born in Siberia.
Read more about Katya Knyazeva