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I spy with my little eye: The most memorable things New Yorkers have witnessed from their apartment windows

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It’s a classic NYC experience: A New Yorker sees something while peering out of his or her window that both shocks and awes—and likely becomes great dinner party conversation.

Think of Hitchcock’s famed “Rear Window,” a classic flick in which a wheelchair-bound newspaper photographer sees what he believes to be a murder, and decides to solve the crime himself.

In that vein, when I recently read one of this summer’s hottest bestselling thrillers “The Woman in the Window,” by A.J. Finn, a tale of an agoraphobic New Yorker who thinks she witnessed a murder while peering out her window—it immediately brought to mind my own similar harrowing experience. 

But in this case, I wasn’t the one looking out the window; instead I was the one being spied on by a shadowy figure across York Avenue.  The man (I discovered his identity, which you can read about in “How an UES Peeping Tom sent me back to Hell's Kitchen”), sent me very creepy emails, including details of my home’s décor and observations of my comings and goings and various stages of undress. After a few months of this, I upped and moved. The experience was completely jarring and left me unable to look out my windows without the fear of seeing someone looking back.

Curious about other New Yorkers’ experience with peering out windows, I asked friends and neighbors to tell me the most memorable things they’ve witnessed from their own apartments. Their answers would have thrilled Hitchhock.  

Naked shenanigans

“I was having dinner with my girlfriends at my dining table near the window. I noticed that in the glass building across from us, that there was this man who was totally naked in his apartment on his couch. But then he noticed that we could see him. He decided to purposely put on a show for us—I’ll leave details to the imagination. At the end of his routine, he opened the window and invited us to his place. We just made fun of him.” —Sangmi P., Financial District

Knife-wielding maniac under my window

“I’ll never forget it. It was my first year in New York, and I was living in Hell’s Kitchen on the corner of 49th and Eighth. I woke up to the sound of gunfire directly beneath my bedroom window. I had just moved to the city from downtown Detroit—somewhere I would have expected to wake up to gunshots, but I didn’t expect this in Midtown Manhattan. It was around 8:15 a.m., so I knew the sidewalks and streets would be packed with people headed to work, and after nine consecutive gunshots, I was terrified.

"The terror threat level was high at the time. Mass shootings were on rise, and I was in very close proximity to Times Square, so naturally I assumed the worst. It didn’t help that my longtime friend and mentor had just been brutally murdered by one of his household staff only a couple weeks before that. I waited for the shots to cease before carefully peering out from my second-floor apartment to see a man bleeding out all over the street. There were two police officers standing beside the lifeless corpse with their guns still drawn, directly below my bedroom window. [Editor’s Note: he had threatened an officer with a knife, according to this report.] Blood was seeping from his chest and head, and a large red puddle was quickly growing. It was really horrible, I’ll never shake that image." —Christopher S., Hell’s Kitchen

The purge

“A few years back, there was a loud disturbance from the courtyard. One of the permanent residents of the hotel across from our own building in Hell’s Kitchen (not a guest), was having a breakdown. He emptied the contents of his apartment—turntables, TVs, records, DVDs, thousands of pages of sheet music, furniture, etc.—out of his sixth floor window as we watched. We tried getting the police for over an hour. They finally responded when we told them he was sitting on the ledge about to jump. The police finally showed up with an ambulance and took him away in cuffs.” —Steven D., Hell’s Kitchen

The masked intruder

“I was at my desk once and saw a large shadow making its way down the fire escape stairs toward my open window. I instinctively shrank back, expecting a prowler and nearly jumped out of my skin when I realized it was a raccoon. (I live blocks from Central Park North.) It's never a good sign to see a nocturnal animal out and about during the day, so I stared down the possibly rabid raccoon, gathered all my courage, and made my body look really big as I suddenly slammed the window closed.” —Amanda G., Harlem

Every day is Caturday…

“Looking out of the apartment window in the West 60s.  I saw a window washer on the 32nd floor playing a game with a cat who was inside the apartment. It was chasing the squeegee. The cat was the cutest ginger tabby ever and apparently window cleaners experience this often. The cat had been doing this since it was a kitten and at the time I witnessed this personally, the feline was already six years old.” —Leisa A., Upper West Side

“Meat” me in the backyard

“My mother-in-law put some expired ground beef in a pie tin in my back yard in Park Slope because I was going to throw it out and she hated wasting ‘food.’  Within minutes, 50 cats showed up, all in clans. Cats from Queens, Long Island and the Bronx (geez those guys are easy to spot), all growling at each other. All that was missing was Martin Scorsese to direct them all.” —Mark N., Park Slope

The roof, the roof, the roof was on fire…

“In 1978, when I was a kid, my brother got a telescope on Christmas Eve. That night he was being a ‘Peeping Tom,’ which was funny because his name is actually Tom. Suddenly he screamed for me to come and look, and we saw a huge fire burst through the window of the high-rise across the way from us." 

"I lived at Waterside Plaza in building 10. My best friend, Caitlyn’s building, where the fire started, was building 30. I remember being so scared for her. My brother actually didn’t want me to call the fire department because he was afraid he would get in trouble for peeping into our neighbor’s windows. But we did call the FDNY and immediately after I called my best friend to see if she was all right. It took me a few minutes to convince her mother that it was not a prank call. The next time I went to pick up Caitlyn was two days later. I was surprised to see the elevator working. The whole building smelled sickly like smoke for months afterwards, especially the elevators and staircases.” —Janine Young, Lower East Side

Oh, Sandy!

“During Hurricane Sandy I was living on 30th Street between First and Second Avenues. At 3 a.m. I woke up to bright lights streaming in through my window. I looked out and saw a line of ambulances blocks long starting from NYU Hospital to what seemed to be as far up as Third Avenue. The power had gone down and they were transferring patients out of the hospital. Must have been every ambulance the city had…” —Kelly D., Murray Hill

Snowmageddon 2015

“In the winter of 2015 there was a huge snowstorm that shut the city down. Around 9 p.m., looking down at the snowfall below my 10th floor window, I was amazed to see people cross country skiing and riding snowmobiles down from West Fourth to Seventh Avenue.” —Helen S., West Village

Tragic crane collapse

“I was living on 51st and Second Avenue and across from my building, the Halcyon condominium was under construction. Out of the blue, in the middle of the day, a crane collapsed on the site. I ran to the window when I heard a very loud crash and shortly afterwards it was followed by many sirens. I later found out it killed seven people and damaged many nearby buildings.” —Olga B, Turtle Bay

[Editor’s note: Strange things also happen on Long Island, too. Read on.]

Winner, winner chicken dinner…

I live in a new, high-end rental building on Manhasset Bay. This March, while I was making coffee in the morning, looking out of my window, I noticed a raw chicken hanging by a rope tied to the lighting fixture on a balcony on the second or third floor across the open square. I thought, ‘What the hell is that? Are they trying to defrost that?’ For a second, I wondered if there was a piece of paper towel on the balcony floor to catch the dripping juice?  I didn’t notice it the day before so it wasn’t there long.

"I thought it was weird behavior, but didn’t think much else until my sister called to say, ‘OMG! That’s a health hazard and it could attract vermin and wildlife!’ Oh, right!  Flys, ants, mice, rats, raccoons, coyotes, etc. It’s pretty woodsy out here. So I emailed this picture to the leasing agent and told her to walk out the front door and look up. It was taken down shortly after.” —Debra S., Long Island

Why would anyone hang a raw chicken from their terrace? It remains a mystery for one Long Islander who spotted it from her window.