Tag Archive | "Ghost"

Owner of Haunted House Sued!

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 The annals of weird lawsuits is about to be thicker by one more page.  A young New Jersey couple is taking the owner of their rental home to court for not warning them that their rental property is … haunted!  Yes, an actual court date has been set for later this month (April 2012).  If the Yahoo reporter who broke this story had cared enough to inform his readership of where, exactly, the house is located, I would have made plans to sit in on the proceedings in that township’s courthouse and then report back to you, dear readers, the outcome.


Lacking this information, I can only speculate as to the suit’s denouement, given the limited information that was released.  Tenants Jose Chinchilla and Michelle Callan claim to have evidence of the haunting, which includes taps on the shoulder (undocumented), sheets yanked off their bed (undocumented) and an EVP (Electronic Voice Phenomenon) snarling, “Let it burn” (documented on audio tape).  The couple also hired a paranormal investigation team to check out the property, hinted to be located somewhere on or near the Jersey shore.  The team photographed lights turning on and off by unseen hands, and a bowling pin toppling over for no apparent reason.



Do these things indicate a true haunting?  Or were they somehow manufactured, as claims the owner of the house, to weasel out of paying the rent?  And how will a judge view the evidence?  While the flickering lights and spooky voice may be unsettling, are they enough of a basis for a lawsuit?  Was anyone harmed here? Was anyone even threatened?  Apparently, they were not.  On this basis alone, and although I believe strongly in the paranormal, were I the judge, I’d toss the case out of court. I would order the couple to ante up, and I’d issue a warning to the owner to advise future tenants concerning the unseen tenants of the property.


But what of cases in which the haunting has had definitive and deleterious effects upon the occupants of the home?  I’m speaking of cases in which documented evidence exists and multiple occupants and property owners, dating back several generations, are convinced that the site harbors not only spirits, but evil spirits?


One case of many was Summerwind.  An odd conglomeration of architectural styles, this private home once graced a seemingly peaceful tract of land in our corn belt.  Built before the Great Depression by a wealthy couple, whatever lived in that home that was not of this Earth caused every servant in the house to flee and quit on the spot.  The skeptical owners, however, remained.  But one night while all alone in the house, the door to the basement swung open of its own accord, framing a vision so horrifying that the man of the house shot at it.  Two bullet holes remained in the door, untouched for years.  The owners fled immediately, never to return.


Fast forward to the early 1970s.  Enter a family of six: two little boys, two little girls, their mother, and the man she married.  The family assumed that Summerwind, now a handyman’s special that they’d rented, would be their dream home.  It turned out to be their worst nightmare.  Gripped by a malevolent spirit felt and seen by various members of the family, the head of the house descended into paranoia, violent behavior, and a creepy penchant for playing “funeral home music” on an old organ left in the house.  As a direct result of this radical change in personality, he lost his business, his mind quickly following suit.


Friends ran from the house screaming.  The little girls, then aged 8 and 10, had planned to commit suicide, as life in the house had become intolerable.  Their mother had taken to sleeping outside in the woods, to avoid whatever had taken full possession of her husband.  Only when she was reduced to abject poverty, to chopping up the furniture as kindling to offset the lack of heat and electricity (the utility companies had cut them off) did she beg her dad to rescue them.


The man did so, in his camper, shaking his head the entire time at things that go bump in the night.  His daughter and grandchildren moved to Canada and never again saw or heard from the man so possessed that he played that organ all through the night.  The inference was that the family had been forced to go on public assistance (Welfare).  Meanwhile, the granddad had decided that his son, recently returned from Vietnam, needed a project.  The granddad then rented Summerwind, but the then-owner refused to leave her car to accompany father and son even as far as the front door.  Caveat emptor, caveat renter!


A good handyman, the Vietnam vet took on the job as a labor of love, but quickly abandoned it, refusing to speak of what had so spooked him.  Later, he confessed to hearing two loud gunshots in the house, so close that he’d feared for his life.  But all he found were the two ancient bullet holes in the basement door, no odor of fresh gunpowder and no new bullet holes anywhere.


Regressed by his sister, who had dug deeply into studies of the paranormal, the son was directed to unearth a box in the basement that predated the signing of the U.S. Constitution.  The box was thought to have contained the original deed to the land: a gift to the Caucasian owner in 1767 from the two once-feuding and then-reconciled Native American tribes that had originally owned the land.    The son, the daughter, and the granddad of the 1970s revisited the now empty Summerwind.  The niche where the box was assumed to be found was exactly where the family, through the regression, had been led.  It was a secret spot that no one would have bothered with, if not for the regression.   And yes, it was in the basement.  But there was no box and there was no deed, so the family abandoned their quest and never again set foot in the house.


Years later, Summerwind caught fire during a lightning storm and burned to the ground.  A few brick pillars remain standing but the oldest daughter, one of the kids who’d plotted to end her life with her sister and who thankfully did not, swears that she will never return to the site, house or no house.


Let’s add up the witnesses.  Conservatively, let’s assume that the original owners had two servants.  Add the original owners, the family of six from the 70s, the granddad, the Vietnam vet, and the then-owner of Summerwind.  This is at least thirteen people adversely affected by the haunted location, including three owners.  Clearly, this was a case in which two separate sets of owners knew about the malevolent haunting.  In such cases, do the owners bear the onus of alerting would-be tenants to the resident evil? 


I believe that they do.  Unless the outcome of the Chinchilla-Callan case proves favorable for the plaintiffs, no legal precedent will exist to force, say, a Summerwind’s owners to come clean.  But the owners do have a moral obligation to their tenants.  Most rental agreements stipulate that the property be “occupant ready,” a term that includes having the house cleaned.


Well, there are ways to clean houses and then there are ways to clean houses.  If the judge rules in favor of Mr. Chinchilla and Ms. Callan, we may see a legal precedent come to pass in which allegedly haunted locations must be cleansed, prior to occupancy, by spiritually-minded mediums, ministers, Catholic priests, and zealous independent paranormal investigators.  And if that’s not one for the law books, I don’t know what is!


Séances, Psychics, and Ghost Hunters: Smoke and Mirrors or the Real Deal?

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Starring Demi Moore, Whoopi Goldberg, and the late Patrick Swayze, the film Ghost remains a classic not only with romantics enamored of a good love story, but also with those who believe that life does not end with the death of the body.  Brutally murdered, the soul of Swayze’s character, Sam, remains tethered to Earth in order for him to warn his lover (Molly, played by Moore) that she too is in danger.  Desperate for an emissary able to bridge the worlds between the living and the dead, Sam stumbles upon Oda Mae Brown, a rather reluctant spiritualist played by the irrepressible Whoopi Goldberg.  Unaware of her true gifts and hailing from a line of psychics, Oda Mae bilks clients wishing to contact their loved ones on the other side, via séances.  Her cash-cow subterfuge continues until Swayze intervenes, convinces her of her talents, and spooks her into helping him protect Molly and bring his killer to justice.


The comedy in much of Sam and Oda Mae’s early interactions was, of course, a result of an inventive twist: most of us have been schooled to believe that psychics are full of what makes the grass grow green and that séances cannot possibly call forth the dead.   But are they?  And can they?


The ritual of the séance rose to its height in Victorian times, ingeniously marketed by a woman who called herself Madame Blavatsky.  Ingratiating herself into high society, this diminutive and charismatic Russian immigrant preyed upon her clients’ grief and curiosity, employing sleight of hand that would have made a magician proud.  Levitating tables, unexplained flickering lights, disembodied moans, ghostly apparitions, and trances through which the dead “spoke” from beyond the grave all marked the séances of Blavatsky, who was eventually exposed as an impostor.  When the famed escape artist, Harry Houdini, lost his beloved mother, he frantically sought a medium capable of contacting her.  Undeterred by the infamy of charlatans such as Madame B., Houdini searched in vain until the day that he died.


Despite Houdini’s failure and the machinations of the self-proclaimed spiritualists, human beings continued to search for means through which they might communicate with the dead, or at the very least, gain proof of life after death.  As part of Blavatsky’s ruses, her accomplices often conjured up apparitions of what became known as ectoplasm.  These filmy specters were nebulous clouds (smoke) said to represent the spirits of those passed on.  Although the majority of the photographs capturing ectoplasm proved that the ghosts were manufactured, there remained a handful that defied scientific explanation.


Modern-day ghost hunters, including psychics, utilize sensitive, state-of-the-art recording devices and cameras to gather evidence of those who linger in the earthly plane, including ectoplasmic proof.  Those who are on the level have no problem submitting their evidence to intense scientific scrutiny, and in fact, invite such analysis.  And the fact remains that a certain degree of this evidence cannot be explained away as smoke and mirrors; in fact, it cannot be explained, period.


Over the years, a growing body of data substantiates the fact that places — physical locations — retain energy.  This includes voice recordings of spirits and photographs of the here-and-now that, inexplicably, illustrate visages as well as full-body images of those long gone.  What happens to one’s spirit when his body is cremated or buried?  What if one does not heed the call to meet one’s maker, but chooses to remain instead rooted to this world, perhaps out of malice, perhaps out of love, perhaps out of nothing more phantasmagorical than genuine confusion?  Do these souls capitalize upon the talents of mediums or the use of other vehicles by which their very existence may be substantiated?


The Ouija Board is one such time-honored vehicle that should be approached with trepidation.  The board itself is printed with letters and numbers. Participants (the living) very gently rest their fingers upon the placket, a triangular-shaped piece of wood or plastic, and ask questions of those gone before them.  The placket is thought to move upon the will or whim of spirits, touching upon the alphabet and/or numbers to spell out answers.  As a child in Catholic school, I was taught never to treat a Ojai Board as a game, for it was believed to be — even by the Catholic Church — a portal onto another world, a world perhaps best left unexplored.


I did not give this caveat much thought until, long after I’d graduated, a woman I trust, a woman who has never been given to flights of fancy, told me a story that raised the hackles all along my spine.  After an acquaintance of hers, a friend of a friend, had died of a drug overdose, those closest to him were in terrible shock, as the man had been quite young.  Wishing to know if he was all right on the other side, two of these people appropriated a Ouija Board one night and asked my friend if she were willing to participate.  Having an open mind, she agreed.  She swears that her hands, and those of her friends, barely touched the placket.  And yet, upon questioning, the thing spelled out the dead man’s full name, the reason for his death, his apology to those he’d left behind, and his explanation that his death had been an accident, as the drugs with which he’d injected himself had been too pure.


Still skeptical, my friend asked the spirit where he was at that moment. She’d hoped he would describe heaven and dearly prayed that he would not describe hell.  To her amazement and horror, the man spelled out the name of the establishment that he used to frequent, the one whose clerk was rumored to have supplied the drugs that had killed him!  Many years after this incident, this woman has never again stepped foot within sight of another Ouija Board.


During the course of producing work for a great number of clients, I met and later established a friendship with a very gifted psychic; often, she had supplied the police with clues that helped them solve puzzling and/or high profile murders.  This was always done at the command of the police, who were aware of my friend’s reputation and accuracy.  She had given me a few readings and I’d always found her to be quite accurate.  However, her gifts did not really phase me, as I have researched the paranormal ever since I was a small child.


What did stun me, however, was something that happened one night as we were having dinner in a nice restaurant.  Our conversation had been anything but metaphysical; we were discussing work and other mundane things.  As I raised my arm to call the waitress to our table, my friend caught sight of a bracelet that my husband had given me the prior Christmas.  Admiring the bracelet, my friend reached out quite naturally to touch it.  Suddenly, her gaze went flat and in a rather deadpan voice relayed very personal things about one of my in-laws; things so personal, in fact, that most of the family were not aware of them.   Due to the nature of this information, I had never shared it with my psychic friend.  This particular in-law had touched my bracelet but once, the previous Christmas, to admire it!  When the woman “came out of it,” she explained what I already knew: that objects hold the energy of those who had once possessed or touched them.  She also confided that this was how she had broken a number of the murder cases, by touching personal items, such as keys and wallets owned by the victims, to “read them.”


Maybe the answer to the question of connecting with our loved ones beyond the grave is not a matter, after all, of seeking out a third-party psychic, or ghost hunter, or medium.  Maybe it’s simply a matter of faith, of waiting patiently for them to contact us. 

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