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October 28, 2009

Living in a Haunted House

By Elaine Viets

Lightning flashed across the windows. A demented wind shrieked and tore at the old brick walls. Then the door began to close.Haunted house

Clunk! Clunk! Clunk!

The heavy wooden pocket door slid out of the walls by itself and shut Don and me into our bedroom.

Don got out of bed and checked for an intruder. Nothing was there.

It was our first night in our 70-year-old apartment. I was shivering with fright. Also, with the blasts of cold air coming in from the windows and doors.

We didn’t know it, but we’d moved into the haunted house of Utah Place. Don and I had rented the top two floors of an old two-family flat in South St. Louis. The absentee owner had let the house rot while collecting the rent.

The woman who lived downstairs handled our rental. When Mrs. Fulton told the owner her bedroom’s plaster wall was crumbling, he said, "Can’t you move your dresser to cover it?"

I was a new bride from the burbs, too dumb to understand the mysteries of plaster, insulation, plumbing and wiring. But I loved the apartment’s stained-glass windows, mahogany fireplace and high ceilings. The place had a piano room (we had no piano) and a parson’s seat (no parson ever sat on it.)

The owner gave us $400 for repairs, then graciously allowed us to pay thousands for the rest of the rehab. Mrs. Fulton patiently endured construction noise and dust. Once, she politely asked that I not vacuum the floor at three a.m.

A few months after we moved in, Mrs. Fulton wanted to talk to us. She looked worried.

"Have you noticed anything funny about the apartment?" she asked. "Any odd noises?"

We told her the loose windows rattled in the wind, the doors slammed shut and the floors creaked. But those were old house noises.

"You didn’t see anything on the staircase?" Mrs. Fulton asked.Stairs

"Just dust," I said.

"Thank goodness," she said. "The family who lived here before you said the place was haunted. They saw a woman in black on the staircase. She was supposed to be the mother of the owner, and she died of a fall on those stairs. They heard footsteps in the locked attic.

"The family moved because of the ghosts. The whole neighborhood knew. Some girls from Cleveland High School showed up here, wanting to hold a seance. I sent them away.

"I felt guilty renting a haunted house, so I went to the priest. I asked Father if he’d do an exorcism. He said to wait. If you saw anything strange, Father would bless the apartment."

We tried to see a ghost. We wandered the place at weird hours. Nothing appeared. But we did hear thuds and footsteps in the attic. We ran upstairs and found the cat chasing a squirrel.

People continued to claim our apartment was haunted. Repairmen said the third-floor bedroom was "spooky." A guest who spent the night there said he "felt something reading over his shoulder."

Our ghost was rude, as well as shy.Ghost

We lived in the apartment for more than 20 years. Mrs. Fulton bought the place, then sold it to us when she moved.

Don and I never saw the Lady in Black, no matter how hard we tried.

A psychic friend said the house had a "presence," but she thought the construction repairs had scared it away – or the cat.

I believe my mother-in-law got rid of the ghost. Mrs. Crinklaw bought us storm windows. They killed the monster heating bills. They also stopped the wind screaming through the windows.

That’s when the door quit sliding open and closed on its own.


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Oh, Elaine -- you really are my soul sister.

I went last week to a ghost-hunting expedition in my own 'hood, at the old Reyes Adobe Mission. 30 of us, led by one of the Top Ten Ghost Hunters in the U.S. used dousing rods, thermometers, cameras, etc. to ferret out KNOWN GHOSTS.

I, a true believe, saw nothing, felt nothing. But a guy named Earl, while using the bathroom, looked out the window to try and see a ghost, and startled two women outside, hoping to see a ghost inside the house. All 3 were momentarily very excited. 2 women saw Earl's ghostly presence, and Earl saw 2 female ghosts, dressed in jeans and sweatshirts.

I was stricken for the rest of the night with near-hysterical giggles. So was Earl. Thus endeth my ghost-hunting career.

Harley, have you ever heard of Barry Conrad? He's been hunting ghosts for Hollywood for about 30 years or so. We went to high school together.

Even if I met a ghost I'd probably be quite comfortable having one around. We lived across from a large public cemetery most of my formative years, and my grandfather was a sexton at the Catholic cemetery next to it. I grew up playing among the tombstones, and learned to drive by driving backwards through the winding paths, taught by a cousin who in turn had been taught by one of our uncles the same way.

Egads, you all have had such vivid lives. I went to the Hollywood Hotel when interviewing a celebrity ghost-hunter years ago in a different career . . . very fun, but we didn't see anything unusual through a day of traipsing around Hollywood to various haunted spots. (I did touch the inexplicable cold spot in the hotel ballroom, though.) However, back in the studio, we discovered some sounds on the digital tape that we hadn't. heard. when. recording. Yep, certifiable chills.

We've talked about "Strange Things" before, and I, for one, would dearly love to see concrete proof of The Other Side. But I like Elaine's version better....:)

Annnnnd.... this one's for Harley:

We live in an old house that makes lots of noises. The only ones with scary potential are the creaky stairs - because all hell will break loose if I hear one of the kids coming in late. No sneaking in this place.

Ksthy, I need to talk to your kids about going up on the sides of the stairs instead of the middle. Cuts down on the creaks.

My first apartment was in an old mansion in which a drug dealer had been shot and killed by the police. The kid who took the dealer's apartment swore he heard the guy's ghost on the staircase. I think it was just old customers who hadn't heard he was dead--tip-toeing into the mansion to score.

I like you "ghost-busting" Nancy. And William, thanks for posting the hilarious link.

Elaine - don't you dare!

That's my back-up security system!

My Grandmother Vierling, who was Southern with a melancholy streak, took me for walks in cemeteries. She used to tell me, "The dead don't hurt you, the living do."
I still believe that's true -- once the will has been read.

William, thanks for the link, even though it was for Harley. I know she doesn't mind sharing! Loved those movies. Did you catch a very young Al Franken among the cameos?

When my middle daughter was small she and her little boyfriend at daycare played Ghostbusters all the time, and "Swimer" was her favorite (of many) imaginary friend. Now that I see it again I'm thinking that was pretty creepy for a three-year old girl, but she was obsessed with that green imp.

Wasn't the Ghostbusters headquarters a firehouse?
Fort Lauderdale has a "haunted" firehouse. Supposedly the ghost of a young fireman haunts the place. The young man went out on his first assignment before his rubber safety boots had arrived, and he was electrocuted.
I wonder how much of that haunting is old-fashioned guilt?

I've had the very great pleasure of doing the "Haunted Edinburgh" tour twice. Good, creepy fun, but no inexplicable presences. Which is probably just as well.

Here's an example of good twisted kid logic for you. When I was about 7, we moved to a new house. One of the first things my parents did was invite the local monsigneur (sp???) to bless the house. Well, in my admittedly weird Catholic brain, the fact that he NEEDED to bless the house meant that there WERE demons, ghosts, and other nasties about. And, for some reason, I didn't entirely trust his blessing to keep them at bay.

What were we discussing yesterday about scaring kids???

I have never personally encountered a ghost, although I did get spooked by a ouija (sp?) board once.

However, with my mom and stepdad living near Gettysburg, it was inevitable that we would eventually do a Ghost Walk. Considered by many to be the most haunted place on earth due to the massive amount of death in the area and time. Totally spooky. And interesting.

To the point where we are doing it again in a couple of weeks. In Gettysburg, there is no need to wait for Halloween! The Ghost Tours are year-round. :)

Debby, the nuns told me Ouija boards were instruments of the devil and attracted evil. Another way to scare kids.

This isn't my story, but I'm telling for my daughter. During her semester abroad in London she did the aforementioned Edinborough Ghost Tour and didn't see, feel or hear a thing. Then on her tour of Dover Castle she went into the dungeons and tunnels. She tells me there were several levels of tunnels underneath the castle which spanned history (medieval, Napoleonic Wars, WWII,Cold War). As she explored the different levels, alone, she made her way to the very bottom medieval tunnel. She began to feel as if she was being watched and a cold feeling settled upon her. She quickly made her way out.

Me, I just think she's overly susceptible to suggestion. I'm a skeptic at heart and want to experience myself before I believe.

There are Ghost Tours galore in Charleston, SC year round, too. When my daughter was in her second year at the Citadel she and I went on one. Very interesting, but not at all spooky, especially since you can see beaucoups other tour groups tramping around at the same time. But it's such a lovely little town, and so rich in history, that I could take several of those tours and still not absorb all there is to know about the area.

I've often wished I lived in a house with a ghost, but that's probably because I never have. A co-worker of mine swears she has one who takes things and puts them back in a different place, but having seen her office, I'm inclined to believe it's more likely a lack of organizational skills. I do love watching "Ghost Hunters", though.

It must be a ghost leaving my sunglasses in the kitchen instead of by the door. It couldn't be that I'm forgetful.

We've got a poltergeist; we've both seen him. Early forties, wavy blond hair, long-sleeved white shirt, dark trousers. Late 1940s or early '50s vibe. Looks a little like Lyle Lovett.

He likes to look out the back door in the kitchen, which is where I've seen him several times. He also likes to move documents and sewing tools in ML's work area. Lack of organizational skills? Naaaah, couldn't be!

I think his name is Robert. Since I scolded him a couple months ago for making ML's life more difficult, we haven't seen him. But things aren't disappearing (as much), either.

"storm windows. . . killed the monster heating bills. They also stopped the wind screaming through the windows. That’s when the door quit sliding open and closed on its own."

Another advantage of "greening" your home. Now to deal with the "phantom" electricity users . . .

Closest I've come to a ghostly presence was the knock-knock-knocking sound on the Delta Queen, that could have been Mary Becker Green standing guard over me as I spent the night in the lounge near where her cabin had been during her life.
(Have to share this -- I Googled to get a link, and TLC and my storytellermary.com showed up in the search ;-)

Okay, Elaine, I tried to post a comment a few minutes ago and it didn't work. So, this is for you! Yes, I saw a ghost or at least I thought I did when I was just six and it happened on Halloween. I saw a white lady under a streetlight beckoning me to join her, to not be afraid but it was so spooky I hightailed it back home. Many years later I "felt" a cold rush of ghostly opera patrons go through me on the stairs of the famous Opera house in Paris--as I was going upwards. The hair stood up on the back of my head. Very bizarre.

Yikes, Melissa! That is scary.
Only you, Tom, would lecture a ghost. Sounds like he deserved it.

I've got my usual spirits around but have always wanted to do the Lemp Mansion tour.

Mary, I was in the Lemp Mansion, owned by St. Louis beer barons and the scene of suicides and murder. It was before the house was renovated. The front room gave me the creeps so bad I had to go outside. Never saw a ghost but learned later an owner had killed himself there.

I hopes this takes. I tried posting a few minutes ago but nothing is there.

I've gone on ghost tours, walked in cemeteries, and stayed overnight in supposedly haunted places. I haven't seen a ghost. I have been somewhat weirded out at home.
I was sleeping when something cold and hard struck me on the shoulder and slid off to my right. Not being a fool, I rolled left tapping a touch lamp on that side of the bed turning it on. I found on the far side of the bed a pewter picture frame with a photo of L. I kept that photo among others on a dresser on the opposite side of the bed in the direction I had rolled. The dresser was about 5 feet from the bed with a nightstand and its lamp in-between. It was the last photo I took of her about 6 months before she died.
I decided it was a rare indoor wind shear incident. A friend remembered that about the same time two years before L and I were driving home (we carpooled to work) and she said she thought it was time we started to look into getting a place together. She mentioned some newly rehabbed lofts then said, "I don't know what's wrong with my back but it feels like something's in there and I want it out." In a few days she was diagnosed with cancer for the second and final time.
I'm sticking with my wind shear angle.

Yep, Steve, I'd go for indoor wind shear too. The alternative gives me chills.

"Only you, Tom, would lecture a ghost."

Yes, but . . . what was I supposed to do? I didn't want to exorcise the poor stuck-in-place bastard; I just wanted him to play nice with the living. Odd thing was, I was certain he was there at the time. And it was a two-sentence lecture, honest.

Eerie story about your Lemp Mansion retreat, Elaine. You quail at so little.

Ever since writing about Robert this morning, I've been smelling old-fashioned barber shop hair oil. Strange, huh? Friends come from the oddest places . . .

Not strange Tom, I smell pot when my hub& brothers' spirits are around. I don't know what kind of face powder my Mom used but I'll catch the scent of it sometimes.
I'm trying to figure out who would send me the scent of oranges & tangerines. I've smelled it on & off today and there is no citrus of any kind in the house!

About 4 years ago, I was going to be involved in a reality show called, "Ghostbait." My job would be like "Q" or "M" from the James Bond movies, I would do some research in the library and then send the lads on a mission.

The lads consisted of Jose, who now lives in LA and is now married with child...and the long haired hippee freaks, Jerry & Woody. The plot would consist of leaving Woody alone in a graveyard and wait for ghosts.

I learned that after some 9 hours of shooting, no ghosts arrived and my research was never needed.

Elaine, there will be ghost stories told at the Lemp Mansion . . . soon, maybe Saturday?. I remember that the admission fees are for charity, but I don't remember which. I think it will be too intense for me, but might interest the very brave . . .

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