Thursday, September 23, 2010

Visiting old haunts

The recent vacation trip included visits to several historic houses. On such occasions, I generally ask the guides or caretakers if any apparitions have been seen. You might be surprised how often the response is yes, with a detailed description of the revenants, either first- or second-hand.

My wife and I went to see some stone houses, among the oldest in the United States, built by Dutch settlers in the 17th century at New Paltz, New York. One house, I was told, is still inhabited by a previous resident from long ago.

Even more interesting was the Wilson Castle, near Rutland, Vermont.

It's the sort of eccentric place I love, with elegant touches and furnishings that suggest individual tastes, not a designer showpiece. The grounds, and the view of the Green Mountains, are lovely.

Wilson Castle also has invisible former inhabitants who have moved to the Other Side but drop by frequently.

I learned about them from the young man who led us and a few others on a tour. (Incidentally, Wilson Castle is almost unique in that you can actually wander around the rooms — albeit with the guide present — and not be restricted to peering in from behind ropes at the entrance.) 

As soon as we arrived, I told the guide that my wife and I were interested in the decor but that I was especially keen to hear about paranormal events going down on the premises. Normally I am skeptical of guides who bang on about "haunted" houses. Not that I necessarily disbelieve they are haunted, but I tend to suspect the stories are embroidered or invented to give the tourists a thrill and enhance the house's billing as a mysterious attraction. 

Our guide, however, who had lived in the house for four years, was obviously intelligent and not given to recounting "legends." He further won my confidence by expressing his distaste for "ghost hunters" who show up frequently. (A team from a TV program, in fact named Ghost Hunters, had taped a segment in the house recently, and our guide was not complimentary about their methods.)

Here are some of the activities that he had personally experienced.

When he carelessly draped a jacket over the back of a chair, he returned to find it folded neatly on the seat. One of the departed residents was quite the neatnik.

He heard the sounds of footsteps when he was alone in the house. Lights turned themselves on automatically.

The Wilson family had been musically inclined, and installed no fewer than three pipe organs in the building. Our guide had heard them being played by unseen hands. (As the old song goes, "I hear music and there's no one there.")

One room had been redecorated. He could sense the disapproval of one or more spirits.

I rather admired his sang-froid in living alone in the place. Spirits almost never physically harm anyone, but they can toss things around (which apparently was not the case there) and make a lot of racket if they're mischievous (i.e., poltergeists). We're surrounded by spirits all the time: some of them are in the room with you at this moment. But I like to be able to see my company. At the very least, if I had to live in the Wilson Castle, the organ player and I would need to reach an understanding.



Gary said...

I've watched "Ghost Hunters" a few times and found it very boring. Other similar shows are also boring and faked. Everything is seen in green, as if from a night scope, with the "investigators" periodically yelling, "OMIGOD, did you hear that?" and "I am so freaked out right now."

The audience has to take their word for it since nothing appears on your TV screen to support the comments.

Better viewing is in "Celebrity Ghost Stories" where the tales are anecdotal, perhaps somewhat exaggerated, but still believable.

Stogie said...

"I hear music and there's no one there."

I love that old song by Irving Berlin! It's called "You're Just In Love" and was recorded in 1950 by Perry Como as well as others:

I hear singing and there's no one there
I smell blossoms and the trees are bare
All day long I seem to walk on air
I wonder why
I wonder why
I keep tossing in my sleep at night
And what's more I've lost my appetite
Stars that used to twinkle in the skies
Are twinkling in my eyes
I wonder why!

Ah, RD, I can see you are a man of breeding and taste!

Sheila said...

I generally have no interest in what is called "paranormal" events or people; HOWEVER, I did experience one incident years ago in England that unnerved me. I was in an old manor house in northwest England (spending a few days there in consideration of taking a job as a nanny)and the wealthy home owner told me the house had a ghost. I didn't give it another thought until the afternoon I sat alone in the house, reading downstairs, as the two-year-old slept upstairs. I distinctly heard a steady number of footsteps upstairs as if an adult was walking around. I looked out the window and confirmed the child's father was still outside, I immediately went up the stairs and confirmed the child was still fast asleep, and I again realized I was still the only one in the house - and then I remembered the presumed "ghost." Still spooks me out a bit to remember it.

Rick Darby said...


I've looked at some web sites of "ghost hunter" clubs. Judging by their members' apparent IQs and seriousness, the ghosts are always going to be several steps ahead of them. I would stay away from them too if I were a ghost, or will when I am.


Criminy, did I misquote the song? Well, it has been a long time since I've heard it. Didn't know it was by Irving Berlin -- what a genius, and no formal musical training. I believe he had some kind of mechanical doodad attached to his piano because he didn't know how to change keys of a melody.


I always thought England and Scotland had more ghosts than anywhere in the world. But when I mentioned that idea to Erlandur Haraldsson, a distinguished psychical researcher, he said (on what basis I don't remember) that the honor went to Italy.

David said...

Rick, you probably already know this, but Air Marshal Hugh Dowding, the head of Fighter Command during the Battle of Britain, was a convinced spiritualist. His wife Clarice died at a very young age, and much of his interest in spiritualism was motivated by a desire to communicate with her...during the Battle of Britain, he was convinced that he was doing so, and indeed that she was welcoming RAF pilots into the other world.

I was reminded of Dowding by the Battle of Britain anniversary last week, which received shamefully little coverage in the US.