Thursday, September 27, 2018

The Mildly Haunted B & B

I set my second book, Dead Voices, in a haunted bed & breakfast. Jim and I even booked a room at a local B & B so that we could try one out, but also so that I could interview the owner. It was an interesting experience, but it wasn't haunted.

Fast forward to last weekend in Hannibal, Missouri. When I booked the suite where our friends joined Jim and me, the owner told me that her place was possibly haunted. She added that nothing about the place was frightening. She and her husband, as well as guests, had experienced things like whistling, or an unexplained cough, or other small, almost negligible things. Except that there was no explanation for any of those noises when experienced. Usually the person -that is, the living person- was alone when the noise occurred.

We spent last weekend in Hannibal, and our first night there,we took the ghost tour. As always, there was a great deal of local history included in that tour, and it culminated at an old, old cemetery that included the grave of a slave, an unusual thing to find in a white cemetery. But although we got to explore the place with flashlights and dowsing rods, the cemetery was actually pretty peaceful and calm. Nonetheless, after the tour was over and we headed back to our digs, I made everyone walk through some salt that I sprinkled on the ground. I figured better safe than sorry: we certainly didn't need to add anything to whatever was already in our building. 

The next day, we went exploring historical Hannibal and by early afternoon were ready to head back to our suite and freshen up before thinking about dinner. When we arrived, however, we couldn't get into our shared bathroom in the hall. Apparently someone from the next suite over was using our bathroom, a total breach of etiquette since they had their own! Still, the door was locked and my friend could hear water running. We gave our neighbor about ten minutes or so before checking  the bathroom again. This time, the door was closed but opened readily at the turn of the knob. There was no sign that anyone had been in there, and the sink, tub, and shower stall were all dry. No one had been running water.

That incident didn't feel malevolent, even if it was a bit strange, so we thought no more about it and had a nice evening that included an amazing dinner and a generous helping of ice cream from the nearest shop. 

But that night, our last night, I had trouble sleeping. If the night before had been peaceful, even after a ghost tour, Saturday night was a different story. I kept feeling something or someone had come into the room with us and I would think, "I should open my eyes and see who's here." And then I'd think, "Maybe not." It was a night of waking up constantly. Sometimes I would look around and not see anything, sometimes I'd keep my eyes closed because I had a feeling I would see something. I couldn't get past the feeling that Jim and I had a visitor.

The next morning, he told me that during one of the times I was actually asleep, the light above the bed turned on, then off, then on, then off, and then on and off one last time. The odd thing about that is that neither the light fixture nor the attached ceiling fan worked. The owners had even acknowledged that fact by setting up a portable air mover in the room and leaving the bedside lamps lit.

We shared Jim's story with the owners over our final breakfast there, and they told us that they had heard the same thing before; someone else had talked about the light turning itself on and off several times in the middle of the night. We also learned that the suite next to ours had once driven away a guest, who felt uneasy in the room and complained that he felt someone was watching him when he showered. Our hosts also mentioned that they found themselves completely locked out of the building on two different occasions.

So the haunting there, whatever it is, is pretty mild and not at all menacing beyond that feeling of having a third party hanging around. Truthfully, I'm grateful that's all it was, and that Hannibal didn't feel the need to go all Gettysburg on me!

Thursday, September 20, 2018

One Last Good-bye

Among the saddest and most poignant of ghost stories is the tale of a loved one who has passed, or who is passing, coming to say good-bye. I think sometimes it's subtle, like a random thought of a favorite uncle coming to mind for no reason. Or maybe spotting the loved one's favorite-and rare-bird at a particular time. Sometimes it's more obvious, like the person actually "dropping in" or making a phone call. Mine came to me in dreams.

My father passed away shortly after my thirtieth birthday. He and I had a peculiar relationship, more coach-athlete than father-daughter, or at least that's how I characterized it when I reached adult status. When I was small, my siblings assured me that I was his favorite. I don't know about that, but that's what I was told. As I got older, he and I started butting heads about various things, and there was one long-lasting difference of opinion that I don't think was ever completely resolved before he died. I think we basically agreed to disagree, although I don't doubt that he believed he was in the right until long after he crossed over to the other side. (My father could be stubborn that way.)

At any event, my dad diagnosed himself with cancer long before any of his attending physicians did. My father was a doctor and he knew what he was looking at. And because he was a doctor, he knew he didn't want any kind of treatment beyond something for pain when he got to the point of needing it. He did attempt one round of treatment, perhaps for the sake of my mother and the family, but after just that one, his original decision stood. Maybe about five or so months after the news of his illness was shared with the family, he became bedridden. Now, his one goal was to pass away at home, and since my mother was a nurse, and since my brothers, brother-in-law, and husband were willing to take turns spending the night to give my mom a hand in his overnight care, he got his wish: taking his last breath in his own bed with family as his personal hospice. Everyone pitched in willingly to make that happen.

At one point, my mom called the whole family to the house because she was sure he was about to leave us. It turned out to be a false alarm, but a short time after that, my dad came to me in a dream. I dreamed I was in his room and he turned down the sheet and blanket to show me a huge lesion on his leg. "What is that?" I asked him. "Cancer," he replied. I woke up right after that and felt sad and helpless and also somewhat mystified. It was such a strong and clear dream. I was sure he had come to me that night.

Within the week, all of his children were called back to the house again, and this time it was for real. He had lapsed into a coma by then, and we knew it was just a matter of time. I arrived shortly after dinner; my father left us a little after one in the morning with all of us at his bedside.

Jim and I were raising our children in the suburbs, and since it was such a long drive home from my parents' house in the city, and since we were all sad and bone-tired, I decided to crash on the living room couch until the following morning. And that night I dreamed of my father once more.

This time I entered his room and was surprised to see him standing at the bedside, looking like his old self, full of health and positively chipper. He looked at me when I entered and he said, "Time to go."

I remember gazing back at him and saying, "You look great!"

"I know," he replied with his characteristic grin and a bit of a wink.

The rest of that week was pretty sad: helping my mom with the day-to-day tasks and yet planning the funeral, getting an obituary written, making the phone calls, and all the things necessary at the time of a loved one's death. But through it all, I was never completely downhearted; I couldn't be. I felt like he had come to say good-bye, but also to let me know he was healed and happy and that I shouldn't worry about him at all.

We didn't always see eye-to-eye, but my dad was always a dignified man, a strong presence, and a class act. I think he came back to make sure my last memory of him would be exactly that.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Welcome To My World

"Welcome to my world" is a statement I write frequently when I sign one of my books for a reader. For this piece, however, someone else is offering me a welcome, and the world is one that only sometimes (thank you, God) touches mine.

Last week, I wrote about places that were haunted but didn't reveal anything in particular to me when I visited. The week before that, I wrote about places I didn't find out were haunted until after I had been there, and experienced something just a wee bit suspicious. Today is about going someplace that is reportedly haunted and coming away thinking, "Yup, that place is haunted."

On most ghost tours, Jim and I are treated to deliciously scary venues and fascinating history, great photo ops, and usually, not much else. That's fine; we enjoy ghost tours just for the experience. Besides, who doesn't like listening to a bunch of scary stories in the appropriate settings? But there have been at least two places that gave us more than a good story and an interesting site.

The first place was the Ryan Mansion in Galena, Illinois (and a big shout-out to Terri Reid, who suggested the Galena ghost tour in the first place!)  The Ryan Mansion is a 24-room private home/museum that was built in 1876. When we toured it, it had been renovated and restored and it was positively gorgeous. The upkeep is imperative or it could wind up easily looking like that house on the Munsters; as it is, the place is definitely worth a visit, ghosts or not. 

The ghost tour we took was the first I've ever been on that included a ghost box as well as an EMF detector, and dowsing rods for tour participants to play with on site. We went into the front room and were treated to a ghost box session. (For those of you who might not know, the ghost box is a device that picks up both AM and FM radio waves, in theory to allow spirit to use the energy to communicate. If you ask a ghost box a question, at some point it will spit out disjointed answers cobbled together from random words on different wave lengths.) The front room is known to be haunted, and there was definitely an uneasy feeling as random words were tossed out by the ghost box in answer to questions that the guide was asking. Incidentally, all the words spoken by the ghost box made sense in context of those questions.

The guide also handed out the EMF detectors and the dowsing rods so that people could pick up on different energies, or even communicate yes-or-no fashion with the dowsing rods. There was a door in this room that was known to open and close on its own, and if you stand close enough to it with the EMF detector, you will see the lights go up into the active zone as something or someone unseen passes close enough to trigger it. If you ask the dowsing rods about someone being present, they will give you a "yes" or a "no" answer. We got plenty of "yes-es" that night.

 I didn't see anything there, but I could feel something. It was cold, but it wasn't malevolent. It was just there. Perhaps whoever it was felt as curious about us as we were about him/her. So while it wasn't out-and-out scary, it was definitely unsettling, and very tangible. I won't say I was sorry when the guide said that it was time to leave. Especially since I felt as if we were escorted back onto the bus by something unseen.

The second place is from a little longer ago, up in my beloved Door County. There is a company up there called Trolley Tours, and  a ghost tour is one of their mainstays. It doesn't just run in October: it runs as soon as tourist season opens some time in May and keeps going through early November. We took the tour in summer, and had the good fortune of having one of those unusually cool summer evenings that made the tales just a bit more chilling, and the experience jut a bit more shivery.

One of the stops on the tour is a place called the Alexander Noble House, right in the heart of Fish Creek. The house is currently run as a museum and I know I've written about it before, especially since this past year they featured an exhibit called "A House in Mourning" that entailed the entire house being decked out for a Victorian funeral. When we visited last summer, our lovely tour guide had already had some weird experiences there, but then, the place is haunted.

When we visited for our very first time on the Door County ghost tour, we were led up into a bedroom at the top of the stairs and told that the mirror in the room frequently featured images that only showed up in pictures. "You won't see anything when you look at it," the guide explained, "but if you take some pictures of it, you might be surprised when you look at them later." That sounded interesting, so both Jim and I took a few pictures with our cameras.

We were allowed to roam the place for a few minutes after the official house tour ended, and then we were all shepherded back onto the trolley. "I didn't see anything," Jim said as we took our seats. I hadn't either, so as our ride pulled back onto the street and headed toward our next destination,we went through our pictures. He had taken more shots than I had and was just glancing through them quickly. "Nothing," he said.

But that's not what I saw. "Go back a few," I told him. "And look there." In one of the two pictures he had taken in the upstairs bedroom, there was the image of a face in the mirror. "What do you call that?" I asked.

I won't print his answer.

I'm going to be taking another ghost tour within the next few weeks, so if there is anything noteworthy, I will certainly come back and report.

Thursday, September 6, 2018

I Thought This Place Was Haunted...?

Last week, I wrote about running into something paranormal in a place I wasn't expecting it to be. This week, I wanted to write about haunted places I've been that somehow didn't seem all that haunted. And there have been quite a few.

I've been dragging Jim along on ghost tours for years. We started modestly: a Chicago tour with  Richard Crowe, this one by boat along the Chicago River and parts of Lake Michigan. I think Jim probably enjoyed the boat ride more than he did the ghost stories, although he does like the history included on tours. When we had a chance to take a ghost tour in York, "across the pond" in England, I jumped at the chance and he agreed. Now, however, whenever we travel someplace new, he'll ask me if I've looked into a local ghost tour. Cool!

And we've done quite a few of those, both close to us as well as in states not so close. We've hit Savannah, Gatlinburg, Branson, Charleston, Austin, and Williamsburg. Closer to home, we've taken tours in Door County, Galena, and Naperville. During the course of those tours, we were averaging about eight to twelve locations on each one. All of those locations were purportedly haunted. But quite a few of them just felt, well, old.

I read somewhere that if people are told that something can be seen, they are more likely to see it. By that statement, I should have seen all sorts of wraiths popping out everywhere we stopped. That didn't happen, though, so I'm not sure that the stated observation is always true. On most of those tours, I wanted to see something.(Maybe because I'd never seen one before?) But that didn't happen. The Pirate's House in Savannah is a good example of that. Given that the place's earliest foundation was built in 1734, that it has a cellar and tunnel arrangement where unsuspecting sailors were dropped and then spirited away and forced to work on ships they had never wanted anything to do with, and was rumored to be the death place of a certain Captain Flint, one would expect the building to  be crazy with ghosts. And while it is certainly filled with shadows, and the cellar and tunnel area is very unpleasant, it didn't feel haunted, so to speak. It mostly seemed musty and old and damp.

The same was true of Charleston. The tour, as always, was fascinating, especially the bits of history that are included with every tour. And although we walked to all sorts of different historical sites, some of them associated with truly disturbing events, nothing jumped out at us at any particular location. Maybe that's a good thing, though, seeing as how our lodgings in Charleston were actually included on the tour! Big surprise to us, I'll admit. And although there were a corner or two in the place that felt a bit uneasy, nothing actually turned up in our rooms. I guess I should be grateful about that. Maybe I might have had more experiences if our tour had included the Old City Jail, but that place was bad enough during the day with ninety-degree heat and Southern sunshine. I can't even imagine what it would be like at night. (We opted against that tour because the Old City Jail was the entire tour. No thank you.)

The York ghost tour was so long ago that I can't remember all the places that we stopped. Our tour guide was a stage actor, so his stories were well-told and very entertaining. But again, none of the places we stopped at struck me as any more disturbed than the surrounding structures. York is a very old city (can we say Roman Empire?) and by rights should be quite haunted. It probably is. But for some reason, nothing showed itself that night.

On the other hand, because I am not a medium and my sensitivity is probably sporadic at best, it is quite possible that there were any number of ghosts doing the Virginia Reel around us in Williamsburg, or coming at us with ethereal weapons in York, and I would never have known. Maybe I should be grateful that I don't have the Michael Penfield ability of being able to see every dead person and his brother at any given location.

But I didn't mean to suggest that all the ghost tours we have been on have been a complete bust. Next week, I'll finish off this little three-post arc with places that were known to be haunted -  and didn't disappoint.