By Susan Delson
If People magazine had existed in the early 1800s, Eliza Jumel would have been a natural for the cover—and not just once.
She might have scored first in the 1790s, as a New York actress known for her wit, beauty and influential friends. And then again in 1810, as half of a wealthy power couple just moving into the magnificent Washington Heights estate now known as the Morris-Jumel Mansion.
She would have been back in the public eye in 1833, as the new wife of former U.S. Vice President Aaron Burr—and almost immediately as one of the rare early-19th-century women to file for divorce. And again in 1865, when she died at 90 years old, leaving an estate valued at close to a million dollars—approximately $14 million today.
And perhaps even these days when, legend has it, her specter makes an occasional appearance at the Morris-Jumel Mansion.
Starting Friday, Eliza’s ghost will turn up on a regular basis as the centerpiece artwork of “ Yinka Shonibare MBE: Colonial Arrangements.” Celebrating the 250th anniversary of the mansion, the exhibition, which runs through Aug. 31, also features the British-born Nigerian artist’s colorfully clad sculptural figures installed throughout the mansion.