I’ve travelled to different states and different countries in search of the paranormal. I’m not a ghost hunter, or a paranormal researcher. I’m a photographer and a storyteller. That’s an appropriate combination because when it comes to making people believe in the paranormal, nothing beats seeing it, or even a good story, well told.
I’ve yet to capture anything with my camera. But I have a story to tell.
I’ve seen full bodied apparitions on a couple continents, heard mysterious footsteps, disembodied voices in empty buildings and followed along with conversations held by people not from this realm … plus the occasional poltergeist adventures. But when people ask, “what’s the most haunted place you’ve ever been?” My answer is always the same … “the house where I grew up.”
Which by a weird stroke of fate, is where I live once again, this time with my wife Lisa and three cats.
A brief history of supernatural occurrences and my thoughts on investigation techniques
The house is about 110 years old, situated on two and half lots, so there’s plenty of space. It still retains much of the original structure and layout, and it’s been home to four families, including my own. We moved in about 1963, and I’ve been here for about 30 of those years.
I first saw a ghost here when I was less than five years old – before I knew what a ghost was, and have experienced paranormal events here up till, well this week. This week it was the sound of something metallic falling to the wood floor in the front parlor, late at night, I couldn’t find its source. The cats were all asleep. Then I remembered … we’ve had carpet on that floor for the past fifty years.
There was a full bodied apparition on day one, and multiple people have seen ghosts in the house, and there was a time, back in my late teens when the house absolutely stank of poltergeist activity. That’s dissipated now, to mainly audible events … footsteps, sighs, voices. It seems to have a fondness for Lisa, as there have been several nights where she started talking to me when she felt me get into bed, only to find I’m not there.
On investigation techniques …
I’m aware of ghost boxes, EVPs and all that, but I’ve got a problem with that kind of technology The reason ghost boxes work is they don’t stay on fixed channels, instead going randomly about its task. Any psychologist can tell you one effectively way to brainstorm is to toss out random words when faced with a problem. One of those words connect and the imagination kicks in.
So yes, a spirit box can give you a seemingly relevant answer to a question. But it’s random by nature, not a conscious answer coming from the lips of a ghost. Not that I’m firmly against them, just a hard sell on believing their evidence.
I’m not against sound and audio techniques. It’s just that I have a recording studio here, and the microphones we use can pick up fly farting from the next room. I’ve yet to pick up anything unusual, and not for lack of trying. If you insist on trying to get EVPs, I won’t stop you. But don’t expect me to be convinced by those alone either.
Can electronics pick up the supernatural? Back in the eighties, something in this house could operate the remote control of the TV in a way none of us could. It was poltergeist activity, when that was at its height here.
There was no voice, no scratchy answers to a question. But there was interaction between it and ourselves which was conscious, done with intent. Either to let us know it was here, or it was tired of watching what was on TV.
That’s what I mean about an open mind. Look beyond the obvious ghost hunter techniques and look at questions in a different way. Because ghosts aren’t likely to make accommodations for technology. They already have to come from another plane of existence to get here. I’m not sure asking them to master modern technology by instinct is a wise idea.
I am a fan of cameras. Seeing is believing after all, and I’m proof of that. I was seeing weird shit here shortly after ditching my diapers for big boy pants. So the ability to provide a decent camera setup goes a long way.
An ectoplasm belching medium would get my attention. Because I don’t believe you can prove the existence of ghosts through technology alone, let alone ascertain their reason for existence. Sometimes a ghost is a conscious being. And it’s on that level that you have to relate to it. If you can do it through technology, great. I just haven’t seen it yet. And if you can do it by channeling the dead, even better. Providing you can back it up.
I haven’t seen that either.
Wanted … interesting approaches to investigating the supernatural in a family home
What I’m looking for are explanations. An investigation can be asking questions, researching the history, typical ghost hunting hardware, spiritualism or even a priest. I’m not looking for firm answers, just a better set of questions to ask.
In the end, what makes this the most haunted house I’ve ever stayed in is the level of consciousness people have experienced. It’s not just a residual spirit walking through the wall, though we have that as well. It’s fingers running running through your hair.
And I still get the occasional fleeting glimpse of the hem of a white dress disappearing through the doorway to the dining room.
For the most part, I’ve learned to block out most things supernatural. It’s how I manage to sleep in some of the places I visit. In a real sense I’m still a skeptic, despite having seen more ghosts than most full time ghost hunters. I’d investigate this place myself, except I’m not sure I want to open myself up to whatever we share the house with.
When Lisa tells me something she experiences, I believe her. But even then, my brain automatically goes into skeptic mode, and I look for some natural explanation. Because I don’t particularly want the house to be haunted.
Mainly I note what people tell me. A good percentage of the people who spend time here ends up with some kind of story. Some quicker than others. When I see fear in their eyes, I tend to believe it more. Because this house doesn’t have a reputation for happy hauntings. The ghosts in this house are old school.
It’s been sixty years since I first set foot here, so why do I suddenly want to know what’s going on? That’s simple. Ghosts are believed to be attached to a place they’ve lived. Experience has shown that there’s at least two entities in the house, likely more. There’s a good body of evidence that something in the house is trying to give the impression that one or more of my parents have stuck around too. If I’m to live here – and I’m getting up there in years – I’d prefer that when I die, I’m not stuck in the house as well.
And there’s reason to believe that the intention isn’t purely benign. There’s treachery afoot, from the other side.
If you think it sounds like something you can deal with, and bring something to the party, then the door might open of its own accord and let you in.
Thoughts on the haunting
I’m the main witness in this case. Unfortunate because I wasn’t old enough to witness the first episodes in the house. For that we’d need both my mother and grandmother, and they’re long gone. But I can vouch for them.
For more recent events there are other voices to chime in.
The best way to describe the house is by the reactions of some of the people who have spent a lot of time here. Three of us have been alone in the house and scared badly enough we waited outside for someone else to show up.
There are at least four of us who have seen people in the house who weren’t actually there. I say at least, because my dad never told me why he was afraid of the house. Just that it was haunted. He hated spending more than a night here alone.
Oddly enough, the women in the house don’t fear it like the men. Dad wouldn’t stay here alone for more than a night or two. I stay here alone, but with a sense of dread. My kid says that when I die, he’ll come in and take away the things he’s supposed to, but won’t spend the night. Lisa doesn’t think she’d stay without me, but not because of the ghosts. And not because she hasn’t experienced her own weirdness here. It just doesn’t scare her. Just as it didn’t scare my mother or grandmother.
Or my sister, who hasn’t experienced anything here that she found unusual.
My parents used to have a circle of friends who would come over frequently as I was growing up. I’d be around and hear the conversations, and occasionally the topic of the ghost would come up. I’d usually get the credit for those stories. At least the ones I heard when I was in the room. One of my parent’s friends, a pleasantly inebriated man seemed to take the stories to heart. Inevitably, once his eyes had reached the proper shade of red, he’d come and find me and want to hear about the ghosts. My sense was he’d seen something himself, but didn’t want to say anything.
Or maybe he just felt what many other people have felt here.
Something I’ve noticed is that when you see a ghost, you also feel a ghost. It’s a distinct feeling, being face to face with something that flies in the face of all logic. And there are times when once you’ve felt it, you can feel it when there’s nothing visible. You can tell from the atmosphere, like a sailor can smell a storm on the sea. Sometimes it’s mellow, just the feel that you’re accompanied. And sometimes it’s not very pleasant at all.
Carmi, Illinois … built on the river where the woodlands and prairie meet
I live in a small town, Carmi, Illinois. Don’t think Chicago, you’re better off thinking Kentucky if you’re into longitude. We’re also a short distance from the Big Wabash river and southwest Indiana. Go west and a tiny bit north and you’ll spot the arches in St. Louis, across the Mississippi.
The town was built on the Little Wabash river, which is two or three blocks away. It used to have light river traffic, and the native Americans used it as well. They had a pretty distinct presence here up till the time the settlers came in. They put up a bit of a token fight, but quickly moved along. It wasn’t worth fighting for, even for them.
The ancient cultures were present here since the time of Christ. But that’s a few minutes away, to a place even more forgotten than this one.
Carmi was founded in the 1820s. My ancestors had a hand in that, one of those who pushed into this area back when it was just wilderness. So my roots are here, and roots have a way of wrapping themselves around things. Especially people.
We have a population of just over 5,000 – the most I’ve seen living here was 6,200. But in the bustle of the mid twentieth century, that figure was likely higher.
The house is on the north side of town, across the tracks, with all the baggage that entails. Back in the early to mid twentieth century, the tracks were the place to be. It’s where people and commerce came and went. There were hotels, taverns and jobs. Which meant more money to spend in taverns. My Granny Bert used to talk about the burlesque shows that came through town during the wild days.
Those were snuffed out by the time I came along – reduced to the girlie show at the county fair – and the railroad didn’t play a big part in daily life any more. The hotels and restaurants disappeared and the town began to dry up.
The structure of the house
It’s a two story house, one of the few in the neighborhood, so at least a bit pretentious. On that same note, my mother, who could be pretentious as well referred to the living room as the parlor for a while. That might have been dementia kicking her back into an earlier era, but I’ve taken to calling it that as well. And when it comes to ghosts, that’s likely how they would have seen that room.
There is no identifiable architectural style to the outside of the house. It used to have a full length porch on the front, with columns that seemed a lot larger when I was a kid than in the photos I look at now. Back in the seventies, my parents got the idea to enclose the porch and expand the front parlor, which became the living room at that point. It was a popular thing to do back then, and the result is most of the old historic houses in town now resemble boxes.
It used to be when you entered the front door you were in a hallway, with a staircase in front of you leading to the second floor. To the right was the door into the parlor, at the end of the hall was the door leading to the dining room. They knocked that wall out so that now when you walk in the door, you’re in a large open room, with the stairs to the left, fireplace to the right, and what used to be the front porch now part of the room.
About 2010, they added a large bedroom to the north side of the house, the Annex, which blocked off most of the windows on that side of the original structure. That’s dreadful.
You see, temperatures around here in the summer often hit the high nineties and stay there. Below ninety degrees, it’s possible to live an only slightly miserable existence with the windows open and fans running. The side windows provided a cross breeze, which allowed the house to breathe. With those blocked off, the house essentially only has one functioning lung. My parents kept the place climate controlled, but for half of the year we let it breathe now. That lets the past seep back in, living the way the house was meant to be lived.
When we moved in the floors were still hardwood, cherry woodwork, the walls plaster, the windows old and rattled on windy days. Even now, the rooms where we’ve peeled back the carpet and exposed the wood floors have an amazing sound. It’s why we use the house for a recording studio. But it still pales to the sound of those old plaster walls.
Back then, a thunderstorm was amplified inside the house. The walls, the floor, the entire house all vibrated. We had a band recording here last year, and I was coming down the stair while they were playing downstairs, and heard a sound that made me sit on a stair and just listen. It was like listening through a tunnel. The house was channeling the sound and creating one of its own, with every wall in the place alive and vibrating. It’s as close to that old feeling that ever come.
The windows would rattle on a particularly hard clap of thunder, and I didn’t have a curtain in my room, so the lightening in storms was as bright as the sun. Looking back, it was gothic heaven, but at the time it was terrifying.
Across the street is an elementary school, the original building predating this house. A new one was built after the tornado of 1925, with concrete walls a foot thick. It’s abandoned at night and in the summers. For a few years, the only other house on the block had set empty. it’s only been fairly recently that it found a tenant. So for a number of years, it’s been very quiet here. It’s true, you can feel isolated, even in town.
Sit outside on the porch at night, you hear the sound of the cicadas, the crickets and all the night bugs. Occasionally you’ll hear an owl, in winter you hear cows, and just about sunset, coyotes off in the distance. What you don’t hear a lot of is traffic.
The house on both sides of us are long gone now, and I’ve got two and a half plots to myself. Which makes for a big yard, which the wife and I have been filling with trees and gardens, both conventional and witchy. We like the shade, and we like the way the trees block the view. When the leaves are full, and you sit outside at night, it’s possible to feel like you’re in a forest.
As long as you don’t look behind you, at the upstairs window at the second story. The eyes watching you are now likely to be Pooka, the upstairs cat. But it wasn’t always that way.
The ancestors we inherited with the house
The Fickert family owned a hardware store a block or so from the train tracks, on the downtown side. They were a German family with good sense. They bought a plot in a new subdivision opening up in north Carmi, exactly one block east of where this house sits. My grandmother told me that when she was a girl, this part of town was called stump town. Because all the trees had been cleared for houses, leaving just the stumps. But by then it was heavily populated by first and second generation German families, with a German church sitting in the middle.
A few decades ago a guy I grew up with was living a couple blocks away. He said his step kids used to wake up at night and run into his bedroom, and tell him and his wife that there was a green mist in their room. Being an asshole, he sent them back to bed. One night, utterly pissed off he marched into their room, to find a green mist hovering over the floor. He said he looked into it, and on an old map, found that this used to be the pauper’s graveyard. And we had a fair share of paupers back in the 19th century. He said he’d been told the tombstones, when there were tombstones had been moved to another graveyard, but the bodies were left here. In part, under his house.
I wouldn’t put money on the truth of that story, but I can say he believed it when he told me.
A prominent railroad man bought the plot at the far end of our block and built a large house there which still stands. It faced Maple street, which he thought would become a major thoroughfare. He figured wrong on that one, and the house is now empty except for cats, raccoons, snakes and perhaps the ghost of his daughter, a piano teacher all her life. She never married and lived there alone till her death in 1970. I always remember her wearing a black dress, her white hair in a bun, and the sound of her piano wafting out of the front parlor of the house.
It’s still possible to hear music coming from the house, on a hot afternoon, or a moonlit night.
My neighbor and I snuck into the house after her death. I swear to God, on the wall of an upstairs bedroom was a small handprint, that of a child. It was dark red, not like paint, but like blood. The name Mary had been written beside it with a finger dipped in the same substance. This was high on the wall, as though someone was holding a child up there. The old lady’s cat eventually sprung out on us and we fled from the top floor to the basement and out the window we came in.
My neighbor tried to make friends with the cat, but to no avail. It went feral, and was still in the house a few years later when it was bought. I’d still see it around from time to time, growing increasingly wild. When I moved back here, twenty or thirty years later, I saw a cat hanging around the house one night. Feral as hell, and a dead ringer for that old cat.
My neighbor’s house was actually separated from mine by another house. As a kid, it was occupied by an elderly couple, a single story house, with the gingerbread trim on the front porch that dated it likely around the turn of the twentieth century. The gingerbread trim, plus a grape arbor and root cellar in the back made it easy to believe in fairy tales when I walked out my front door.
So Mr. Fickert, who owned the hardware store had a son, Emil. Emil married Elizabeth Miller in 1908 when he was 21, and in the 1910 census, they were living on Sixth street, a couple blocks away. In 1912 they had a child, Gladys.
The first time this house shows up on a map is the 1912 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map. It also shows a house on the other side, which was occupied by another little old lady when I was growing up, a widow, the mother of my kindergarten teacher. Her and her husband had been survivors of the 1925 TriState Tornado, the most deadly in our history. A lot of their relatives weren’t so lucky. As I’ve learned from smaller tornados since then, you could have heard the 1925 one from the front porch of our house.
It’s highly likely that the hardware business was booming, and Emil could afford to build a house on what was at the time, the edge of town. By 1920 certainly, Emil and his family were living here, his parents just a block away. If this had been occupied by anyone else before the Fickerts it had to be for a very short time.
Emil died suddenly in 1927, at the age of 39. He could have died in the house, I’ve never looked into that. I’ve never wanted to know.
By 1930, Henry Deppenmeier and his wife Bertha were living here. Despite his Germanic sounding name, his people came over from Britain. Henry was a country boy, and when his parents died, he tried to carry on the farm with his brothers and sisters. But eventually he moved to Carmi and became a plumber. Bertha had been a household servant for more than ten years, to a prominent Carmi lumber merchant. They were in the house, just the two of them till 1950, when Henry died at the age of 66.
Henry is the only person to live here which he have a description, albeit at a younger ago. According to his draft papers, he was medium height, a stout build, blue eyes and light colored hair. It’s entirely possible that Henry died in the house, but again I haven’t looked into that. Nor into the death of Bertha, which came less than three years later. It’s possible she stayed on in the house. So perhaps I wasn’t the first to live here alone. Just the only one to survive it.
The trail grows cold after Henry and Bertha. I remember touring the house before we moved in, about 12 years later. It looked a bit of a mess, even to eyes not yet two years old. Our old house was small and clean. This didn’t seem a step forward. There was a boy about my age, a tubby fellow, eating a bowl of baked beans on the back porch. He wore a red striped shirt, and shorts. He had beans all over him and he scared me. I stared back, totally creeped out at the thought of living here.
It was an ominous start to life in this house.
A supernatural welcome wagon
The first person to experience something in the house that I know of, was my Granny Bert.
She was sitting in the front parlor the day we moved in, when she said she saw the “man who used to live here” walk through the wall and through the room. I didn’t get to ask her what man that used to live here. She’d have lived in the neighborhood long enough to know all the men who used to live here. My mom didn’t ask I guess, and didn’t tell me this story till I was about forty years old, after a lifetime of lying to me about nobody else seeing anything here.
On countless occasions I’d get so creeped in my bedroom at night I’d have to come down and tell here. She always told me it was my imagination. She didn’t want me to be scared. Didn’t work.
Walking through the wall is easily explained. My parents were told that there were pocket doors between the front parlor and the dining room, which would make sense. There was a large picture window in the front of the house, so that would create a direct line of air flow for ventilation and cooling. At some point, before my folks bought the place, the doors were walled up.
It could be bullshit, but on a particularly loud clap of thunder, or very windy nights, you can hear a rattle coming from inside the wall.
We moved into the house either late in 1963 or early 1964. Which means I would have been either two or three years old. I remember mom crying and rocking me in front of a window when Kennedy was shot, and in my memory it’s here.
I still spent some time in a crib when we moved in, mainly for napping. Mom would put the crib in front of the picture window and lay me in it to sleep. Then she could work outside or on the front porch, and hear if I woke up. There were no air conditioners then, so the windows were always open.
One day she looked up at the window from the front yard, and saw a man standing over my crib. She moved towards the door and could make out his shape, but she didn’t recognize his face. She came up the steps of the porch, into the hall and directly into the front parlor, where my crib was. There was no one there, but there were wet footprints on the wooden floor.
That’s another little tidbit she neglected to tell me when I’d wake her up after something happened in the night. Instead, she told me I’d imagined it.
Say hello to The Man
When I was about five years old, I’d spent the weekend with my Granny Bert and Ben.
Ben wasn’t technically my grandpa, in that he and Granny Bert never married. But in every other respect, he was my grandpa, and later I was to learn he always referred to me as his grandson. That meant a lot to me.
In the end he was afflicted with dementia and the last time I spoke to him he was about to leave for my house to kill me. In the end, he never showed up, and eventually he was put in a special home after driving to Kentucky to foil an assassination plot against George W. Bush. Crashing a presidential appearance with firearms is never a good idea.
Anyway, that night I got home, greeted the parents and they sent me up to my room to get ready for bed, The staircase is about sixteen stairs, with a landing where you hang a right and go up two more steps. There’s a short balcony and two doors, for the two bedrooms. Each bedroom has a small room off of it, one a bathroom now.
At the top of the steps, on the landing there’s a window, which used to look out on the neighbor’s house and yard. That night I stopped and looked out. I thought it was Ben I saw in the yard, but then I realized whoever it was, was wearing what I’d later realize was a cloak and hood. It was a man, looking up at the window, and it struck me that he had no color. His cloak was grey and so was his skin. He had his right arm out to his side, the palm of his hand facing me, as if to give me a signal.
I turned and asked mom and dad, who were downstairs if Ben was here. They said no, and I looked out again, and the figure was still there. I watched for a bit, then asked my parents if they were sure. They were, and when I looked back it would be gone. I didn’t give it a lot of thought, mainly because at that point, I didn’t even know what a ghost was. That came later, and when it did, I realized what I’d seen.
My sister’s screams in the night
Originally my bedroom was upstairs, at the front of the house. My two sisters wanted their own bathroom, and the back bedroom had one. So that was their room. Till the night of the thunderstorm.
The kitchen is downstairs, and unlike the rest of the house, there is no second floor above it. In the back wall of the upstairs bedroom, there’s an opening that leads into the roof above the kitchen ceiling. It was closed off with a plank of wood, about ten inches wide and a foot or so tall. It’s heavy wood, about an inch thick. It was held in place by two nails driven into the molding around it.
My niece, who absolutely never under any circumstances slept in that room called that opening “the Portal to Hell.” She never saw anything in there that I know of, but it gave her the chills.
So I’m a little kid, and I was sleeping through the thunder when I heard screams, and realized mom and dad were upstairs, trying to get my sisters to calm down. I didn’t know what had them so upset. So I walked into their bedroom just in time for another clap of thunder and flash of lightening, and saw that wooden plank fly from the the hole in the wall and across the room. I was then escorted back to my room.
One of my sisters I lost to cancer and never asked her about it. My other sister, who has never noticed anything unusual scoffs at this story. But it was backed up by mother, who always taught me to listen to my parents.
After that I swapped rooms with my sisters. They didn’t want to sleep in there anymore, and mom and dad figured I was too young to be scared in there. They figured wrong.
In the new room, the bed faced the closet, with the Portal to Hell directly behind my head. Every gust of wind, every loud clap of thunder made that plank in the wall rattle.
That was unnerving, but I was obsessed with the closet. I was a Beatles fan, and I had a poster as a kid, of John Lennon. He was dressed as a modern day knight, and the caption was Sir John. I thought it was great, then I turned down the lights to go to sleep, only to have him staring at me through round framed glasses.
So I slept with the closet door open after that, so I didn’t have to see him when I was trying to fall asleep.
On the left side of the closet were four shelves, set back into the wall. It was junk from the previous owners, and whatever mom stuck up there. On the third shelf was some bronzed baby shoes, elaborately presented and for someone I didn’t know.
Starting at a very young age, when I knew I was alone, I would try to climb those shelves. They were wooden planks sitting on blocks of wood, which jutted out from the walls. There was no reinforcement, so every shelf wobbled under my feet. And for years, I couldn’t make it up to the top shelf. But I was obsessed.
By the time I could finally reach the top, I’d grown, and weighed a lot more. The danger that the shelves might collapse was very real. Eventually I was able to pull myself up to the top, but by then, my head had grown large enough, that I couldn’t see what was up there.
Years later, after I’d moved out, there was a chimney fire, and the chimney was adjacent to that closet. The closet had to be torn out. Someone had to take that top shelf out, and when they did, a coin rolled out. A gold coin, dating back the 1890s.
Alone in the house, stuck in my bed with a ghost outside the bedroom door
When I was eight or nine years old, I was in my bedroom one morning, home sick from school. I can date this because a year or two later, I got a book from Weekly Reader Books, Haunted Houses by Larry Kettelkamp, published in 1969.
On the day in question, I wasn’t really sick, I just didn’t want to go to school, so I told mom I didn’t feel good. Surprisingly she let me off the hook. I knew she was going to be out for part of the morning, so I could do whatever I wanted up in my room.
Mom hadn’t been gone long, and I was still laying in bed. I had some magazines scattered about, likely Civil War Times Illustrated or Famous Monsters of FIlmland. and I heard someone coming through the dining room. There’s a spot on the floor of the dining room still, where when you cross it, it creaks. You can’t sneak past it, which my mother played to her full advantage later, when in high school they moved their bedroom in there. So she could cross examine me when I came in at night.
I heard the floorboards creak and yelled out to see if it was mom. It had to be. Dad was at work, my sisters at school. There was no answer. The footsteps coming up the stairs sounded heavier than usual, slower than mom or dad. My eyes flew to the door. There’s only about three foot of the stairs visible from where the bed was, mainly of the banister of the stairs, a few foot from the landing. I saw a figure move through, and a hand, and cloak on the railing of the banister. I recognized it instantly as The Man from the yard, years before.
He stopped outside my bedroom door, along with my heart. I stared at the door, there was no sound. Eventually I couldn’t stand it any longer and made a dash for it. I realized if it was still on the landing, and I made for the steps I’d run right into it, but I ran into the hallway anyway, screaming to my sisters’ room. And then through the window and out on the roof of the front porch, where I stayed till mom got home.
When I got the book of ghost stories a year or two later, there was a photo on the cover, which looked as close to what I’d seen as I’d ever want to see again. I could never look at that book cover at night. I still can’t.
I hadn’t seen anything on my dash through the door, but to this day I can remember how it felt, knowing it was just outside. Any time I saw him, I had the same feeling.
There were times after that where suddenly I’d get the feeling, but saw nothing. A lot of times. Some years later my first wife and I had just gone to bed. We were having a tense conversation, and we grew quiet. I felt the presence in the room I had felt as a kid, but said nothing. After a while, I realized her eyes were wide open, and finally she asked me if there was someone else in the room. I told her I felt it too. We lay there in terrified silence, waiting for it to go away.
All this had an effect on me, obviously. I’ve got issues. It’s fifty years later since I saw the hand on the bannister and I’m still thinking about ghosts. As a kid, I slept with the light on till I was almost out of high school. I still do at times, when the house feels particularly alive. I’m not afraid of the dark, I just want to see what’s happening. Ghosts don’t need the dark, as I learned that morning.
After my sisters moved out I was able to move into the front bedroom, where I’m writing this now, and nothing too strange has ever happened in here. Unless you count the little room off to the side, where my bed used to be. And where I saw something so horrible I still can’t fully remember it.
The Angel of Death crashes the farting competition
A couple years after the incident with the stairs, I camped out in my neighbor’s back yard. We walked the streets at night, telling ghost stories, like those about Black Annie who was said to haunt the area around the railroad tracks a couple blocks away. There was the railroad tracks themselves, the outer limits of our wandering, and expressly forbidden. An old man had been hit by a train there recently, and his shoe was found by some classmates. With the foot still in it. There was the house behind my own, my neighbor’s aunt. Her husband had died recently, and she was experiencing his presence at night, sitting on the bed beside her.
Later, we cooked beans over his homemade cooking stove, and those have an effect on young boys. It turned into a competition, and eventually the air in the tent wasn’t fit to breathe. So I stuck my head out for some fresh air.
It was humid and dark, but there was a dim streetlight in the alley behind the house. In the yard across the alley, staring at the tent was my friend in the cloak. I described it to my neighbor, who said it sounded like the angel of death. Staring into its eyes, I could believe that. He wanted to look so I let him. He didn’t see anything, and when I looked again, it was gone.
I only saw it one other time, about seven years later, in a country graveyard five or six miles from here. There were four of us in the car, and we all saw something and we got the hell out of there. It was years later that I asked two of the three with me what they saw. One only saw a mist, the other wasn’t sure what happened. I saw the same man in the same cloak, with the same disapproving gaze.
What I learned that night in the graveyard, is whatever I’ve seen in the house, doesn’t haunt the house. It was miles away. It haunts me. Likely the same fellow standing over my crib all those years ago.
About twenty years later I happened to be driving around the countryside, late at night and passed the entrance to that graveyard. I tried to drive around the chain blocking the road, which should have been easy enough. To make a long story short, about ten minutes later the car is engulfed in flames, while I stood there watching.
The official verdict was a gas line leak. But something stopped the car that night and gave me a reason to get out. If I hadn’t got out, I’d have burned alive. So perhaps whatever was out there saved me.
Or perhaps it’s what caused the gas leak, and serendipity caused me to get out and survive. There’s no way to know.
That’s when I started learning to close myself off.
Enter the poltergeist
My parents went through a phase where they were into faux gold leaf finishes. That resulted in three large picture frames. They were antiques, held 10×12 prints with a frame six inches wide on each side. Rather ornate and heavier than hell. Into each went a senior photo, one for each of my sisters and one for myself, ordered according to age and hung on the wall of the stairs. Mine was at the top, next to the window where I’d first seen the ghost.
It was my senior year or just after, a few months after encountering the specter in the graveyard, when I came home and found my photo propped up against the outside of the staircase. I figured mom or dad wanted to do something with it, or I’d been disinherited for something or other, and went on upstairs. When my mom got home she asked why it was against the staircase. I said I didn’t know, maybe it was dad.
It wasn’t dad. It wasn’t anyone who might have been in the house. The first thing that came to mind is someone took it off the wall and carried it down the stairs. But who?
We went to the top of the stairs where it had hung, and the screw in the wall was still there. There was a gouge in the wall, about three foot directly to the left of where the photo had hung. It was a small gouge, maybe an inch wide and six inches or so long. Obviously done with the corner of the frame. The only damage to the frame was one corner of the frame had come apart.
For years I assumed the picture had moved sideways and hit the wall. Now I realize that if it’s moving to the left, it’s not going to dig into the wall. For that it has be pulled from the wall, away from it. Then it had to hit the wall with a forward motion, albeit coming from the right. That could have been done if you yanked the frame wildly from the wall and accidentally hit the frame against the wall to the left. Or if you threw the frame against the wall.
The former makes the most sense, till you notice that the gouge is nine or ten feet above the stair below it. No human could have been holding the frame when it dug into the wall. That pretty much drove a stake through any human explanation. But let’s assume for a moment that the hands doing this were supernatural in origin, capable of floating above the stairs, and then carried the picture down and placed it where we found it. Then the question is why?
The alternative explanation? The supernatural hands that pulled it from the wall, threw it back against the wall, where it fell nine or ten feet, bounced down eight to ten stairs, and rolled around to the side of the staircase, without breaking the glass. That’s what I believed for years, and likely still do. For the picture wasn’t upright, which it would have been if you simply carried it down the stairs, Instead it was upside down.
Mom and dad bought an antique lamp, which used to be an oil lamp, and they had it converted to electricity. The lamp had a habit of shutting on and off, in what seemed to be a deliberate manner. Forty years later they finally had the electric bit replaced, by a preacher from their church who found the lamp a bit disconcerting. It still shuts on and off when it feels like it.
When cable TV came in, we only had a few stations. If you used the remote control you had to scan through the dead channels, or punch in the specific channels that had a signal. Once, when dad was about to change the channel, it began changing it for him. But it never landed on the dead channels, and instead only landed on those with a signal. Dad threw the remote across the room.
After that it became a trick which happened with a disturbing frequency.
I was away at college when my sister had her first baby. Mom took off for the hospital, and finally got word to dad, who headed home to change clothes after work. It was after dark when he got there. From a block away he saw all the lights in the house were on, and figured I was home from school. I wasn’t. By the time he got there, the house was in darkness.
Run away run away!
I can’t say I was sorry when I moved out. I didn’t miss the weirdness, the fear, and after a number of years elsewhere, along with recreational drugs and alcohol, I stopped being afraid at night.
I’d been living on my own for over a decade, and in that time had almost no experiences I couldn’t explain. Unless the conversation on ghosts came up, I didn’t really think about or talk about my time in the house. And the specter that haunted me seemed to have been thrown off the scent by crossing the Wabash river.
Then I read a book by Anne Rice, The Witching Hour. In that book, one of the characters talks about a man he saw as a child, who shouldn’t be there, and all the old fears came rushing back. Reading the narrator describe his experiences were too eerily similar to my own. After a day or two of reading, I couldn’t sleep at night, certainly not with the lights off. So against even my better judgment, I kept reading, all night long. At one point the story describes a painting by Rembrandt, and I realized a print of the painting they were talking about hung directly over the bed I was in.
After a few months of therapy, I was able to sleep again.
A decade after that I was living in a house in Vincennes, Indiana. It had its own ghost as well. I wasn’t worried that his ghost was haunting me, as it was confined to the apartment above us. Most of the time it was just doors slamming, footsteps up the stairs and walking from room to room. In an empty apartment. I even put tape across the door so I could see if anyone was going in there. It was still there the next morning.
Occasionally it was more than footsteps, but the fear never came back like it did in the old house. I was a witness, not a part of it.
About a decade or so later I started traveling more, became a photographer, then a writer and realized I had affinity for all things weird. And it seems, an audience. From that point on, my interest in the supernatural was strictly academic. I spent a decade in New York, and traveled to haunted locations up and down the east coast, but only had a couple of experiences that smacked of the supernatural. And none of those had an effect on me.
Eventually it was time to come home, though I didn’t mean it literally at the time.
The Prodigal Son
I didn’t exactly have a plan when I came back. I had a son, about eight years old who lived in Evansville, Indiana, about 45 minutes from here. My plan was to crash at the parent’s house for a few weeks, then find a place close to him. About that time, mom and dad finished the annex on the house and moved into it. Which left the entire upstairs vacant, so I decided to stick around a little longer.
I went back east a couple of times for projects, and when I returned from the second one, neither of my parents could walk. It took a while to figure out the problem, which came down to medication. I realized that without me here, they needed to be in a nursing home. So moving out meant they had to move out too, and that would have killed them. So I stuck around, far longer than was healthy.
Mom’s last night in the house was a horror show. She had a urinary tract infection, which can drive the elderly mad. Quite literally. She was falling the night before, and I threw my back out picking her up in the bathroom. The bathroom is like Russian roulette to the elderly. It’s the most dangerous place in the house, they’re often asleep before they go there, and it’s easy to fall. And with my parents, there was the issue of diuretics, which sent them to the bathroom more often than you can imagine.
The next night I heard someone yelling and went down. Mom was wedged between the toilet and the wall, an impossible space for her to fit into. I managed to extract her from there, but even with my help, she couldn’t get to her feet. I tried picking her up as I had the night before, but my back barely let me bend over. I begged for her to get up, pleaded. It was then I remembered an incident from my childhood. I was staying with my Granny Bert, who cared for her ailing mother. She had had a stroke and was confined to her bed. Eventually, she couldn’t even help to feed herself. I still remember my grandmother pleading for her to help her, so she wouldn’t have to go into a nursing home.
I looked at mom and knew she wasn’t going to be able to get up. And I couldn’t get her up. The only option was to call for an ambulance. Once she was in the hospital, we both knew she’d never be back here again.
I slid her along the bathroom floor till she was propped up by the wall just outside. I sat next to her, we were facing the open door, waiting for the ambulance. We both knew this would be her last night in the house. I’m sure like me, she was running through the years here, the kids growing up, moving out … the better part of a lifetime spent under the same roof. We had an honest conversation for once, the last time I saw her fully cognizant of where she was in life. Then the ambulance arrived, and she never spent the night here again.
For several years, this was a big part of my life. The stress caused by their failing health no doubt recharged the house’s batteries with energy generated from the tension. And at times drove me something close to madness.
One down, one to go
There are spots on the carpet I can pick out and remember exactly what parent and what bodily fluid caused them. They’re faint, but still there.
Mom died first, and my niece was spending the night before the funeral. She was sitting in mom’s old chair, and felt fingers playing with her hair. Which is something mom used to do. And can be expected, if tradition is correct and the spirit floats around till the body is in its grave.
A few years later Lisa’s son was visiting, and had the same thing happen. I had it happen up in the studio. It’s comforting … at first.
Dad was actually the first to undergo a catastrophic health incident. He was sixty three years old, a year old than me now, when he had a massive stroke. Dad was a talker, and it initially left him unable to talk. Eventually he could talk, but it was a struggle. That had to break his heart. The stroke left him most paralyzed on his right side. Luckily he was left handed. Dad was always lucky, if nothing else.
After mom died, we spent a lot of time together, and one day I realized, I’d become his best friend. It was a good feeling, but also a responsibility. I knew moving out would break his heart, send him into a nursing home and likely death.
A few months later he was trying out a golf cart in the yard and hit a tree. I had a consussion. He ended up in the hospital, then rehab in a nursing home, and he never came out of it.
And I found myself here alone, for the first time. While he was in there I was told that since I’d spent so many years caring for my folks, I could claim the house as my own. I was afraid it would tie me to this place, but I also realized that as a dedicated renter my whole life, this would by my only chance to own a house. So I took it.
I never decided where I wanted to live, just that I didn’t want to live in this town, and in particular, this house. And suddenly here I was, for life.
Dad says goodbye
It was some time after dad went into the nursing home, and my best friend, Todd Lane was here alone, waiting for me to get home. He was sitting in the living room and heard me come in the back door. He listened to me walking through the kitchen, then the dining room and then he said he heard me stop at the door to the living room. And I never came in. He got up to see what I was doing, and nobody was in the house. I found him sitting in a chair in the yard when I got home.
It’s worth noting Todd Lane has been in and out of this house for fifty years, and has seen some strange shit. But that’s the only thing that sent him running from the house.
One night I was in the kitchen, and suddenly I got the smell of Brut cologne. If you’ve never smelled it, it’s a foul, strong smelling alcohol laced men’s cologne, and very identifiable. I laughed and said to myself, “dad must have just died.” I wasn’t laughing because he was dead, but because that’s an old ghost story cliche.
I started upstairs and the phone rang. It was the nursing home telling me to come quickly. Dad had just died.
My niece again stayed a few days after, and helped clean the place out. One night I came home to find her sitting on the back porch. It seems someone had come into the house, the same as with Todd Lane, but nobody was there. So she decided to wait for me outdoors.
And then there were none
After the death of both of my parents, I was in the house alone for the first time. That got a bit freaky, even for my standards. The house has been here for about 115 years, and that was the first time when it was inhabited by a single person. One thing you learn when you live alone, is that there’s a different level of silence than when you live with other people, even one other person. Every sound you hear is a sound you, and no other living soul made.
My kid was here and we were putting up the Christmas Tree in the front parlor. Or rather I was putting up the tree, he was watching TV. I got down on the floor in a forward squatting position, which ultimately leaves one’s ass sticking up in the air. As I was about to plug in the lights, I felt my kid poke his big toe in the general direction of my anus, and fell forward on the floor.
I was incensed, and whirled around to confront the little shit. Only to find the chair behind me, dad’s chair, empty. The kid was on the couch, looking at me slack jawed, saying “whut?” because of my string of profanities. There’s no denying that was dad. Or some entity that knew him very well. Because dad would never have passed up an opportunity like that.
It was a cold winter. After the last couple years of dealing with my parents, my business had almost no business, and there is almost no work to be found here in my field. So things like heat and hot water became a luxury. Todd Lane asked how I managed to masturbate in the cold.
I slept in a small room off the side of my office, barely large enough for a bed. It has its own radiator, so I’d let it heat up, then turn off the heat and climb in. By morning you could see your breath. But it was a welcome change from when my parents were in charge of the thermostat. They kept it burning hot, or icy cold.
When my parents were alive, I kept a doorbell up here, next to the bed. So if they had an emergency, they could use one of the ringers scattered over the downstairs. I’d wake up, climb over the footboard of the bed which was tricky even when fully awake, and trudge down to their bedroom to see what horror awaited me. This went on even after their deaths, and after I’d thrown away the doorbell. By the time I was fully awake, I’d realize I was standing in an empty bedroom.
The space between dreaming and being awake is a bizarre, unknown territory. It’s possibly for part of the brain to still be dreaming while the other half is awake. And occasionally what you see there is so horrifying that you immediately attribute it to a dream, and are able to let it go.
One of the drawbacks of writing something like this is that it brings back memories. Memories I’d just as soon forget.
Sleeping in that little room, occasionally I’d be awakened by the sound of the radiator beside me banging. As long as it did it again shortly after I woke up, it’s okay. I knew what the sound was.
One night I was awakened by a banging sound, and immediately thought of the radiator. So I’m laying in bed, looking out through the door which is inches from my feet. If something suddenly appeared in the doorway, I’m trapped. There’s nowhere to go but through it. I don’t fit through the window any longer. At moments like this, the claustrophobia was intense.
The banging started again, it was downstairs. Another radiator? No, it was too consistent. Footsteps, unnaturally loud footsteps. Coming up the stairs. My mind flashed to the other bedroom, seeing the cloaked hand on the railing of the stairs. It felt like it was coming back with a vengeance. Then it was outside the door of the room, and it went silent.
My first thought was I’m definitely awake. My next thought was maybe I wasn’t fully awake, and I imagined the whole thing. And that nothing was about to appear in that doorway. Because this had happened before, always under the same circumstances. And there was never anything there. So I relaxed.
And then there was something there. I don’t know what, because to be honest, I didn’t remember any of this till tonight. It came back with a rush. It happened maybe three or four times before this one, with nothing coming of it. And my memory of this one ends at the moment I screamed.
Another teenager awakens the poltergeist
My parents kept the house climate controlled for years. The windows never opened. That spring I opened the windows and the house had a chance to breathe. It took a few months, but I was walking through the downstairs that May, and I swear I heard the house taking a deep breath, and then exhale. It made its point. It’s still alive.
Later that year, my kid, who by then was now seventeen or eighteen was telling me that he heard someone walking through the dining room earlier that day. I told him it was probably his imagination, as I hadn’t heard anything here in years. He swore it was true and I shrugged it off. I didn’t particularly want to know if it was true. There had been incidents, the kind you’d expect, like seeing mom or a shade about her size gliding into her old bedroom in the Annex. The bathroom door where many a tragic night was spent, would open on its own, as you watched. There were nights Todd Lane and I would sit and watch it open at the same time.
That same night the kid told m about the footsteps – it was a Sunday – we were watching The Haunting of Hill House on Netflix in the front parlor. Todd Lane was there, likely asleep by that point. It was a quiet part in the film, and I thought I heard a noise in the kitchen. My ears perked up, and then I heard the unmistakable sound of footsteps coming through the dining room. I looked at my kid, he looked at me and said “I told you so!”
Since then I’ve grown used to them, though it’s still rare that I hear them.
The house welcomes the new lady of the house
A bit later Lisa moved in. The day she did she found a cup of hers, with an earring in it. An earring that used to belong to my mother. It was for pierced ears and Lisa doesn’t have her ears pierced.
Once during an argument, I went outside to work in the yard. A bit later I get a text from her, asking where I was. She had laid down for a nap. She heard a voice, then a deep sigh, followed by footsteps in the dining room. She was in the front parlor, where the ghost had stood over my crip.
We were in there one night were expecting a visit from Todd Lane. We heard someone coming through the kitchen and figured he’d come in the back. He has a slow gait, to put it mildly, and we heard the slow footsteps, through the kitchen, across the creaky dining room floor, and then stopping outside the door to the parlor. The cat was sitting up as well, listening. But there was no one there.
Once Lisa and I came home to find all of my shoes lined up neatly in a row. Now one would think that was mom, straightening up. But mom was forever tripping over things like her shoes. That wasn’t mom. That isn’t the only time something has happened here that looks like my parents, Unless you actually knew my parents, and perhaps that’s what scares me most.
It’s one thing to see residual ghosts, walking through a room they passed through in life. I’ve seen that before elsewhere, and though disconcerting, it’s not terrifying. It’s even the first ghost story I know about this house.
The fear comes in when you realize that whatever you’re dealing with is interacting with you. Trying to get a response out of you, Something trying to convince you that it’s someone you know, someone you love. To me that sounds rather dark, so I still try to stay shut off. So the things I see I see because something wants my attention.
This spring we had some flooding in the basement. If it was cleaned up and with the addition of stage props, it’s an ideal location for a number of several different horror films. Bricks walls, larger bricks on the floor. Ancient shelves with jars and bottles full of murky, black liquids. Plus an alcove the perfect size for the ancestral coffins.
I noticed in the flood that bricks on the floor aren’t level. There are little islands that the water doesn’t reach, and on one of them I saw some rocks that didn’t match the usual strays bits of gravel down there. And something white and shiny. It was small, less than inch, and had a design. It’s porcelain, a Chinese boating scene, likely part of a tea set from the early 20th century. And there’s no way it had sat there for the past 80 to a hundred years, as I walk past that spot a couple times a week at least. Plus the basement has flooded for at least sixty years. You’d think loose pottery sherds would have dislodged long ago.
So as I said, some things seemed designed to catch my attention.
This weekend my wife Lisa told me she gets a sensation in the back patio that someone is watching her from the house. I told her it’s from the upstairs back bedroom, the bathroom actually. She said, “yeah, that’s it.” I’ve had the same feeling since I was a kid, and even now, by training more than conscious thought, never look up there at night.
The house today
Some time ago Lisa was telling me that she never felt at home here, because it feels like someone else’s home. I told her I could relate to that, for it’s never felt like my home. Except as a child. Then it was my parent’s home.
So we’ve set about making it our own, the best we can. Even before she arrived here, I was yanking up carpets and painting. It’s ironic that by making it our own, we’re making it more like it was when I first moved in here. If I could, I’d strip the floors to bare wood and the walls to plaster. But that’s not affordable. All we can afford is a bit of paint, while we decide what to do with the carpet, and clear out sixty years of accumulated family history and impulse buying.
The dining room is missing trim around the ceiling, the stairs have had the carpet pulled off and needs painting. Or the layers of old paint stripped away. The kitchen floor is popping up, the mud room ceiling tiles are missing. In short, it’s a house in flux. When you think about it, ideal for stirring up poltergeists.
If you know where to look, there are still blood stains on the carpet, signs of former occupants now long gone still all over the house. I can stand up from where I sit at my desk, and look over to where the bed used to be in that small room. Where I woke up to something so horrifying it that it scared me so badly I can’t even remember it. I step out in the hall and off to my right is the portal to hell. Once my childhood bedroom, now refashioned into how I would have done it if I had some cash, several black lights and Amazon had been around.
I start down the stairs and there to my right is where my senior picture used to hang, till unseen hands threw it down the stairs. The bannister on my left is where I saw the hand of the ghost in the cloak coming up the stairs. Beside the window of the parlor is where the remote control starting working on its own. To the right is where the picture window was, when my crib sat in front of it and my mother saw a figure standing over me. To the left is where my Granny Bert watched the guy who lived here walk through the wall from the dining room.
The left is the door to the dining room where I sometimes see the hem of of a white dress preceding me through the door. It’s the room where you get the creak of the floor when footsteps are coming through the house. It’s where the dowser’s wand goes wild. To the left is the Annex, where someone that isn’t me climbs into bed with Lisa. Where my shoes were all arranged in a row. Where my mother was spotted by a few of us, albeit as a brown ghost just after she died. Where a friend of mine saw for an instant a man in a train conductor’s outfit standing over me while I worked.
And though the other door is the kitchen, where I smelled my dad’s cologne as he died in a nursing home across town.
Welcome to our home. For it is a home, not a house. It’s been lived in continuously for over a century, in an almost constant evolution. It’s long in the tooth and showing its age, and is dependent on my fortunes to turn around the aging process, or decline into ruin.
Ghost Hunters Wanted
I’m not looking to cleanse the house, or send the spirit back to where they belong. Because for all I know, this is where they belong. After all, it’s where you find them. And for the most part, we’ve grown used to them.
What we’re looking for are people who can look at the case, do a bit of investigation with whatever skills you possess, and see how you explain what goes on here. I might agree, I might not. I have my own theories after all, though the bottom line is, all of my theories fall apart when I start applying logic.
Parapsychologists, paranormal groups, mediums, spiritualists, even preachers are welcome to inquire. Serious inquiries only. I’ve dealt with the supernatural long enough to know that there are those out there those who deal in bullshit. This is my home and I don’t care to have that smell wafting through my bedroom.
So be prepared to convince me. And be prepared to be disappointed. If I added up all the paranormal moments I’ve had here, you’re only looking at maybe a half hour spread out over about thirty years. Unless you know where to look, or how to speak to those who share the house, it’s likely to be a quiet night. Those who can promise results are those who carry the smell of bullshit the strongest.
If you’re interested, click here to send me a message, or leave a comment below.