Harlequin Mills & Boon Medical Romance Novels

Ghost in the Red Light: a true story from Amsterdam

My friend T told me a spooky story last night. I love all things that go bump in the night, unless they’re mice, which in my case they have been this week – I live in Amsterdam after all. But this particular story gave me chills before I went to bed and I woke up wanting to share it.

Amsterdam, Red Light District (a.k.a. De Wallen), Oudezijds Voorburgwal, 1895. Source

With 800 years of history, Amsterdam is not short of ghost stories. Bloedstraat (Blood Street), which connects an old church to Amsterdam’s oldest canal is named after the blood of executed prisoners, which drained down the streets from a dungeon into the waters. Those ghosts still moan and groan. Probably as much as the people behind certain curtains.

Others here talk about tortured souls floating through tourists in Dam Square. Now the home of frozen smiles in Madame Tussauds, this was once the site of public executions, where suspected witches were burned along with anyone else being “weird” about the Spanish Inquisition.

The Red Light District – that’s something else. It’s the oldest part of the city. A friend of mine once pointed a camera at a prostitute in these parts. It was an accident (she swears) but no apology would appease the femme fatale, who stormed through the door, snatched it from her hands and flung it into the canal. In her knickers.

See? It’s a scary place.

Amsterdam, 1905. Two prostitutes sitting in front of a house, waiting for customers. Source.

So, back to the story.  T was walking through the Red Light District with a friend when they stopped to wait for a table in a rather modern-looking Brewery called Brouwerij de Prael. As they stood waiting, they couldn’t help notice a painting on the wall. A grubby looking woman with fair hair in two stringy braids, seemingly pissed off, or maybe a bit sad. Amused they started giggling over it:

“We were looking up close at her face. She was a bit cross-eyed. She had a weird expression. We were talking about her for five or ten minutes… and also wondering why the picture was framed in some old carpet.”

Nothing too weird, right? Apart from the carpet. Just two girls having a giggle over a painting in a busy brewery. They were ushered to a table, where they feasted on beer and satay brochettes and forgot about it.

When they went to leave a couple hours later, T stopped in front of the painting again.  Her blood ran cold. She turned to her friend:

“WAIT. Was that girl crying before?”

Look up close. Can you see the tear?

They stepped up close to the painting they had studied meticulously just a short time earlier. On the grubby cheek of the troubled looking girl was a tear stain. A small, unmistakable streak of smudged, watery black, just trickling from her left eye.

“It was NOT there before,” T told me. “We would have noticed it, we were literally looking at it for ages.”

The tear was dry, she said. There was no water anywhere, nothing that could have smudged the painting. Baffled, they took that photo up there and left. Quickly.

I did a quick Internet search and surprisingly, or maybe not surprisingly nothing comes up for ‘crying painting red light district Amsterdam’, but could this woebegone woman be…. Helena?

Amsterdam, Red Light District, Old Church Square, May 1894. Source.


Helena was a tanner’s daughter in the 18th century.  She lived on Spooksteeg, just one street over from the brewery, with her dad and sister, Dina. Young Helena fell in love with a sexy sailor, but alas, alack, the sailor was in love with Dina.

Overcome by jealousy, Helena shoved her love-struck sis into the cellar, and covered up her death as an accident. She married the grieving sailor but spent her life in a weepy, guilt-riddled puddle, no doubt, and eventually confessed on her deathbed in 1753.

Helena begged forgiveness, but the sailor said: “Never in a thousand years, you killed the love of my life, you wretched beast!”, or something like that in Dutch, and issued her an actual sailor’s curse. He cursed her soul to roam the dark alleyway in misery for all eternity. Some people have seen her sniffling away near the tannery.

Does she wander through the neighborhood into paintings, do you think? Does she beg for help from beer-addled tourists, and weep when they laugh and call her cross-eyed?

A window prostitute called “Parijse Leen”. Amsterdam, Red Light District, late 1960’s. Photo by C. Jaring. Source.

I also read that in the sixties, as prostitution grew and grew in the Red Light District, sex workers in windows would often have a painting of a crying gypsy boy in the room. They believed it would bring good luck, fortune and happiness. (Although, further research revealed to me that some of these paintings may have actually been cursed).

I couldn’t find anything about crying gypsy girls in my searching and yes, this might all be clutching at straws, and maybe there was a baby pigeon in the brewery who had a tiny pooh on the painting… I don’t know.

But I say, never let the truth get in the way of a good story. And it’s still all a little bit exciting, don’t you think?

Anyone planning any ghost stories now the nights are black and gloomy? My next Medical Romance From Doctor to Daddy is out in the new year. No ghosts in it, but bits of it might haunt you. 😉





3 thoughts on “Ghost in the Red Light: a true story from Amsterdam”

  1. Yikes!! Love your story, Becky. As someone who’s been known to stay awake nights over ghost stories I’m going to say that there must be a rational explanation. Only I can think for the life of me of what it might be… 🙂 x

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