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Voodoo dolls found hidden in Steinway Mansion

As the children of Michael Halberian, the last owner of the historic Steinway Mansion, prepare to auction off the extensive collection of artifacts at their late father’s historic Astoria house, the auction house said one previously unseen item — a box of voodoo objects — took them all by surprise.

“They look as if they are really fashioned to create some type of harm or sense of impeding horror,” said Michael Capo, the owner of Capo Auction.

Capo Auction, at 36-01 Queens Blvd. in Long Island City, is handling the sale of the contents of the Steinway Mansion. The 25-room granite house, at 41st Street and 18th Avenue in Astoria, was built in 1856 by optician Benjamin T. Pike as a weekend home and later owned by piano manufacturer Henry Steinway and Michael Halberian’s father, Jack.

Michael Halberian, who last owned the house, died in December of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease at the age of 83. Capo said Halberian’s children, led by his daughter Michele Kazarian, who is executrix for his estate, asked him to keep all the artifacts in the house, from Pike’s telescopes and scientific instruments to a 19th-century bust of Henry Steinway’s wife Johanna to Halberian’s rare books on New York City history, as part of the same collection until they are individually auctioned off.

“I believe there’s going to be a lot of curious people and hopefully some strong buyers,” Capo said.

Right now, however, much attention has been paid to a mysterious discovery in the mansion’s attic. Behind a crate containing Pike’s scientific instruments, Capo found a locked box that appeared to be from the Civil War era. With permission from Kazarian, Capo opened the box and found a voodoo doll, four voodoo masks and a mirror beneath the box’s lid.

“In them were these skin and wax figures that had us all taken aback,” Capo said, adding he believed the skin to be of animals.

Capo said he guessed these figures were used for ritualistic voodoo ceremonies and believed they may have been owned by domestic help for the Pikes or the Steinways. The auction house has begun to do research into the figures, but Capo said he senses whatever their purpose, it was not a good one.

“There’s nothing benign about these things,” Capo said.

Nevertheless, the box is eventually expected to go in the auction. Capo said his business specializes in not only selling high-end items but also more moderately priced items for those at all income levels. Previews for the sale will be held March 23 and March 24 from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. and March 25 from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m. at Capo Auction’s location.

“There’s so much of the Steinway material, it’s going to take more than one sale,” Capo said.

Reach reporter Rebecca Henely by e-mail at rhenely@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4564.

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