In old houses we invariably see signs of inhabitants who were once there, but we don’t ever expect to see signs that they’re still there. In our own travels and travails in old houses, in finding abandoned ones, restoring and living in them, I would have to say that our own paranormal experiences have been sparse. Fascination with ghosts, and ghost hunting (as seen on more television offerings these days) has not diminished, and you’d think that now, in the 21st century, we’d have developed technology to explain it. I’m guessing the debunkers don’t want to ruin the fun, especially when there’s money to be made.
My grandmother was English, came over from the “old country” in the twenties on her honeymoon, and stayed. Nana loved to tell tales of ghosts, goblins and galoshes. I say galoshes because one story was of a serial killer named Johnny Galoshes, who roamed a dank, dark London in the dead of night. Not sure if he ever got caught, or even existed, but it was a scary tale for a seven year old. She had friends who read tea leaves, and a deck of cards that could tell fortunes. For a fragile youth, she kept the fortunes light, but as a teenager she scared me with how much she knew about the new boyfriend she hadn’t met – like which obscure eastern European country he was from!
Needless to say, there’s a dark aura around memories of my grandmother, and her old country – which she always wanted me to visit – but I resisted because I believed it to be damp, dangerous, and haunted.
One morning nana was upstairs making the bed when she saw what she thought was my father in a dark robe, or bathrobe, walk down the hallway – toward the dead end of it. She thought that was odd, because he should be at work. When she came out to look around, there was no one, no one else was home. Later that day, she received a letter in the mail, from England, that her brother had died.
Sometimes, I suppose, the ghost comes to you. But most of the time, they come with the house. We all have our stories, or know someone who does, of bumps in the night, odd footsteps, and even apparitions. We don’t talk much about them, usually dismissing them as tall tales. But what about these otherworldly souls we strive to ignore. Can we live with them?
In my new life in old houses, I never gave ghosts a thought. Eyes were on the prizes inside, the architecture, the woodwork, the history. But I have to say there have been a few that have left me feeling cold, strange. One house had been abandoned for years, left empty, damp, dark and cold. Not a sign of life had been left in it – not a chair, a stove, or bit of trash. Nothing. There was a hole in the keeping room floor where you looked down into the dirt basement.
Only animals roamed there now. While we found many abandoned houses, there was something strange about the atmosphere in this one. It was unwelcoming. Surrounded by a hundred acres of verdant fields, beautiful uncluttered views from every window, it tempted us to trade in our own treasure for this one. But the feeling inside the house was inexplicably cold. The land beckoned, but the house forebode.
While this one was just a bad feeling, another offered “experiences” – a fourteen room farmhouse, with a full basement that included a summer kitchen with a large fireplace and bake ovens. Its long ell was all to one side – which made it feel like it stretched on forever. One could get lost in it. It had been built by a sea captain said one historian. Another said he’d been hung as a hog thief.
At night, while sitting quietly in the keeping room, my mother in law would hear footsteps on the stair to the second floor above. Having lived in a few old houses, and loving them and their spirits, she was fine with this. My husband also heard those footsteps. I dismissed them. My own experience was nothing tangible. I was alone one night in that house, for the first time, and as I lay in bed I was suddenly overcome with extreme anxiety. I had no idea why. I was so frightened I had to turn the lights on, and even the television, anything to distract me from the panic. My husband wasn’t due until long after midnight, and I thought he’d be too late. I survived, determined never to sleep alone there again.
Years later, after we’d sold that house, we happened to be driving by and thought we’d stop and introduce ourselves to the new owners. They were delighted to visit, and invited us in for a tour. They’d changed a few things, but all in all it was a great trip down memory lane, and they enjoyed hearing about the restoration process and our history there. Just as we were about to leave, the wife shook my hand and before letting go, a bit uncomfortably, asked if we’d ever had any “experiences” there. When we said yes we had, the flood gates opened. They were eager to share their stories with someone who’d understand. They spoke of hearing their son return from a trip – the outside door slammed shut, heard his footsteps across the floor, go up the stairs, his shoes drop one at a time in the bedroom above – then in the morning learn that he hadn’t returned at all. No one was there.
She spoke of having to sweep up small piles of sand from that bedroom floor every now and then – not knowing where it came from. And one day while vacuuming in her kitchen, she turned and there it was. She was face to face with an apparition. In shock, she just turned back to her vacuuming – what else was one to do? And it was gone.
This is certainly an extreme case. But there are many stories like this, and as many homeowners who are comfortable living with them. I’m not one of them. I think they don’t want to cause harm, and surely they know they could give me a heart attack.
Our plumber was working in an old house one day. He was in the basement, crouched down and tending to a pipe by the boiler, when someone tapped him on the shoulder. He got up thinking it was his assistant, but no one was there. Figuring he was mistaken, he went back to work. It happened again. Got up, nothing. The third time, he realized something was obviously provoking him, and like a man? – he yelled at it. He said he told whatever it was in a firm tone not to bother him anymore, he had work to do and he’d be out of there soon! It didn’t bother him again.
A neighbor of ours has a rather large house with a storied history. A significant architect built the house and a small child died tragically there in the early 1800’s. Both seem to still be inhabiting the house. A visitor there, who, as it turns out, was a medium, told them the older gentleman needed help “crossing over” and the little girl liked it there, and played pranks on them, like unscrewing the light bulbs. The homeowners were often walking into dark rooms and having to tighten the light bulbs.
And on it goes. So many stories, so many old houses. Our own is happy and free of spirits, thank goodness! At least as far as I know after thirty five years. Perhaps that medium might find one here, but if so, I believe they are happy and leave us alone.
In finding a husband, a wife, a good friend – chemistry and intuition are key. The same goes for old houses. In your search for the perfect old house to make your home, spend some time in it alone, and if it speaks to you, well, all I can say is – run like hell!