Tuesday, October 31, 2006

A Halloween Ghost Story

This past weekend, we went up to Prescott again (maybe I should just move there). My husband wanted to check out their annual Ghost Walk. I didn’t quite know what to expect because I’ve been to some really cool ghost tours in different cities (Boston and Santa Barbara) and some fairly hokey ones (San Diego). I have to recommend Prescott’s because it featured reenacted scenes from Arizona’s ghostly past. The walk is led by guides who take you to different locations. At each location you meet a ghost who tells you his or her story and the circumstances of his/her death. It was very entertaining and you got free hot cider and cookies at the end of the walk. I was scalded by an imbecile who couldn’t hang on to her cider, but that’s another story.

Someone just wrote in asking whether I’ve ever had any paranormal experiences and I have to confess that I have had some eerie experiences. I hesitate to label them as paranormal because I’m not really sure I understand what was happening. I’ve had many of these experiences throughout my life. Most of the time it’s just an uncomfortable feeling that there is unusual energy present in a place - for example, check out San Diego’s Hotel Del Coronado. It feels like someone else’s emotions are being superimposed on yours and for no good reason you can be walking along in a perfectly good mood and suddenly feel a wave of overwhelming sadness or rage engulf you. I find the feeling oppressive and I try to avoid places with really negative energy - for example, the Jerome Grand Hotel in Jerome, AZ. At least, that is how my eerie feelings work.

Another “paranormal” experience has less to do with feelings and more to do with unexplained occurrences. When my family and I first moved into our old house in L.A., weird things kept happening. Lights would turn on or off as you were walking away from them; footsteps could be heard upstairs when nobody was up there. Anyway, I started to write about my experiences when I realized that my husband had already written about them several years ago. Below is his account of our old home in Los Angeles. The names have been changed out of respect for the dearly departed.

We moved into the tidy, two-story house in the hills overlooking downtown Los Angeles in June. Drawn to the rustic canyon neighborhood by one of the best schools in the area, we purchased the thirty year old wooden structure from a German couple who were supposedly the original owners. They had raised their two sons in the home and now that the youngest was in college, they no longer needed the extra space.

We were amazed and delighted at the immaculate condition of the house, with its freshly painted walls and cream carpets. In truth, the house was so spotless and white that it felt a bit sterile and uncomfortable and we were afraid to make any changes that might disturb the fragile equilibrium of the space. Our furniture and belongings were duly placed in the rooms, but they had the appearance of objects which had been temporarily dropped off by some errant mover who would momentarily return to pick them up and take them on to their proper home. The house took on an air of intransigence and seemed to regard us as squatters who had somehow managed to steal a set of keys.

We heard the footsteps the first night.

As we sat downstairs in the living room watching television, the distinct sound of someone walking across the master bedroom upstairs was accompanied by what could only be described as a change in air pressure, like a large volume of air had been sucked out of the room. My wife and I exchanged nervous glances, silent affirmation that we had both heard the footfalls, though neither of us wanted to think that our brand new home might be haunted.

As I said before, the house was impeccably maintained with what could best be described as a peculiarly German sense of cleanliness and order. It had been designed and outfitted over the years, ostensibly guided by the maxim, “A place for everything, everything in its place.” This way of thinking was completely foreign to us, as we had been living in a much smaller house, too small for a growing family with a small child and her attendant closet full of toys. Our previous house had been cramped and cluttered with stacks of books, CDs and unopened mail. This new house seemed to have little tolerance for such sloppiness and loudly expressed its disapproval.

Things began to move of their own accord. Items disappeared from their last known location and reappeared later in an entirely different part of the house. One afternoon, as my wife passed by the downstairs bathroom, she observed a hand towel flop back down into the hanging position, as if some unseen guest had just finished drying their hands. Stopping and backing up to verify what she had only glimpsed out of the corner of her eye, she observed the towel still slightly swaying back and forth. The downstairs bedroom, which doubled as the office, was also the scene of inexplicable occurrences. In particular, the slide out mouse tray on the computer table seemed to appeal to the spirit, as it would mysteriously pull itself out during the night while we slept.

About a month after moving in, we decided to hang a large painting on one of the living room walls in an attempt to add color to the lifeless room. My wife called me at work the following afternoon to ask me why I had taken the painting down and left it laying face down in the middle of the living room floor, a full ten feet from the wall where it had been hanging that morning. Since I had not touched the painting and no windows were left open to provide a gust a wind that might have knocked the canvas down, we were at a loss to explain it.

“Do you think the house is trying to tell us that we have bad taste in art?” my wife gamely suggested. It was at this point we began to imagine that a presence somehow connected with the house was causing these phenomena in an effort to assert its ownership. This presence could be felt as a pair of watchful eyes whenever one of us alone in some isolated part of the house, particularly in the upstairs master bedroom or below the house in the laundry room. A small, hinged door led from this laundry room to the crawlspace underneath the house, from which the packed earth had been sufficiently excavated to enable a hunched over adult to move about, aided by a light fixture which had been efficiently wired from an outlet in the laundry room. This crawlspace was ingeniously equipped with wooden shelves which we quickly filled with boxes, awaiting unpacking.

Each new guest to our house who happened to visit at night would invariably ask, “You know your house is haunted, don’t you?” Shadowy figures darted around corners, appeared as reflections in mirrors, teased and provoked our peripheral vision. It became increasingly difficult to find a babysitter willing to stay late at night.

One evening, my wife and I were in bed and had just turned off the reading lamps when suddenly, the television in our bedroom turned on. “I thought you were sleepy,” she said, somewhat perturbed.

“I didn’t turn it on.” I replied.

We searched the room in the flickering light emanating from the television set and saw that the remote control was sitting, untouched, on my wife’s bedside table.

“Give me that remote!” I snapped and flicked the TV set off. Darkness cloaked the room for a moment or two, then out of the darkness, a sound of the TV being turned on and the whining rush of electricity as the screen glowed back to life. The sound on the television set began to get louder and louder; the green volume bars on the screen flashed higher and higher, measuring our increasing terror. Throwing on the light, I leapt out of bed and unplugged the TV from the wall.

“There. If it comes on again, we’re getting the hell out of here.”

I reasoned that the television must have had a short in the power board, affecting the volume control and, since it remained quiet, we were able get some sleep.

The next afternoon, my wife called me from her cell phone, her voice crackling with anger and anxiety. “Did you leave the upstairs television on before you left the house this morning?” she demanded.

I assured her that I had not. In fact, the set should still have been unplugged from the night before. She said that she had just come home to find the television blaring away at full volume and she was not going to set foot in “that house” until I got home and when was I leaving work anyway?

One night in late July, my wife and daughter had gone out to the grocery store and I was alone, reading in bed, while the downstairs portion of the house was dark and quiet. I suddenly became conscious of another presence in the house, the way a person knows when someone else is looking at them without actually seeing their eyes. I also felt that I could pinpoint this presence’s location as somewhere on the staircase leading from the entryway up to the master bedroom, where I lay. From the bed, I could only see the top landing of the stairs. At any second, I fully expected to see the head of someone I did not know appear above the half-wall as they climbed the stairs.

Then the entryway light came on. This could only be accomplished by flicking the single switch found on the inside wall, next to the entry door, and is typically the first switch one would throw upon entering the house. Yet no one had come through the front door.
“Hellooo?” I said in a nervous, joking voice, knowing full well that no living person was downstairs. The entry way light turned off in response. Now, I was truly shaken and I decided it would be best not to venture downstairs until my wife and daughter arrived as reinforcements.

The next day, I floated the possibility of trying to communicate with this spirit via a Ouija board or a seance. To this suggestion, my wife simply replied, “Are you out of your mind?”

We discussed what we knew of the history of the house, but were unable to come to grips with the identity of the ghost, since we knew that the couple from whom we had bought the house, the Linders, had moved into the house in 1970, a year after it was built. They had raised their boys and then decided to move away after almost thirty years in the hills of Los Angeles. Clearly, they had loved the house. But was the affection and sense of attachment that a living person held for their home strong enough to break off a piece of that person’s soul and leave it behind? Or could there have been another, someone as yet unknown to us? If the Linders hadn’t moved in until 1970, who had lived in the house the previous year?

I tried to drive these thoughts from my mind by whistling aloud as I opened the half door to the crawlspace later that night. I dreaded going down there now, but found it unavoidable whenever we needed some seldom used item that had been packed away. Stooping over to avoid hitting my head on the wooden beams which bore the weight of the house, I squinted in the semi-darkness as I scanned the labels on the boxes. Something moved in the shadows underneath the front part of the house, where the light could not reach - a skunk or perhaps a rat? The air grew thick and musty with the smell of unsettled earth. Looking down at the packed dirt floor, I silently wondered, “What secrets are buried here, beneath the floorboards of this house? Who are you and what do want to tell us?” Dust swirled and formed shapes, then quickly dissolved into thousands of shimmering motes fading in the light.

My answer came in the mail that same week. A bill from the county tax assessor’s office, addressed to the Estate of Mrs. Effie Goldman, who had once lived at our address and who owed the County of Los Angeles a significant amount of taxes due to a recent reassessment of her property value. “This is it! This must be her!” My wife said excitedly. “I can’t believe the county is sending a deceased person a tax bill. They must be getting desperate.” We now had a name for the unseen presence, but no explanation as to why she remained in the house.

Every summer, our neighborhood throws a block party, a chance for the newcomers to meet and talk with the old timers who remember what the area was like many years ago. As discreetly as possible, we asked the few neighbors we already knew about the Linders and whether anything strange had ever happened in their house. Most of the people were close to our own ages and knew little beyond the fact that the Linders were considered old-timers, having lived in the same house for thirty years and were the most normal family you could imagine. We were eventually directed to the table of a graying, kindly looking man named Bill, who smiled warmly at us as we approached.

“Well, hello! You’re the nice couple who moved into the Linders’ place, right?” Bill motioned for us to have a seat. “So, how are you liking your new home?”

“It’s great, they sure kept the place up.”

“Oh yes, they were always out working on the yard or fixing some part of the house. Very hard-working people, the Linders.”

“Bill,” I said, “this is going to sound like a strange question, but...did anyone ever die in that house while the Linders were there?”

“My heavens, no!” Bill chuckled. “Why, do you have yourselves a ghost?”

My wife and I smiled wanly at each other.

“Well, there’s more than a few of them up here, I should think. Folks up here have gotten a little passionate, you might say, from time to time.” Bill smiled to himself and seemed to be looking off towards some distant memory.

I asked him if he was living in the area when the house was built.

“Yes, I’ve been living here for nearly sixty years now, came here after the war. The neighborhood’s changed quite a bit over the years, you know. It’s nice to see so many young families, such as yourselves, moving in again. You know, they used to call this hillside the “Swish Alps” because there were so many of us living up here at one time,” Bill mused.

He continued, “The house you’re living in was built by a young man who was an engineer, he also wanted to be an architect. He designed and built that house himself in 1968, as a gift to his wife. They were newlyweds and this was going to be their first home together. Goldman was their name, I think. Anyway, they lived there only a short time, maybe a year. After what happened, he couldn’t live there anymore and he sold it to the Linders. We never heard what became of him after he moved away. Some say he moved out of the state, but he never built another house after that one.”

We pressed Bill for more details about Mrs. Goldman and the architect’s story, but he politely refused to say anymore. And so we pieced together the rest of the story for ourselves. The house had been built as a gift for a new bride, but a tragic, untimely death kept her from enjoying it. No wonder her spirit felt entitled to stay on and keep an eye on things. It was her house, after all.

Gradually, we felt comfortable enough to make changes in the house. A fresh coat of vibrant color on one wall of the living room, a minor kitchen remodel, and over time the strange manifestations seemed to occur less frequently, or perhaps it was just that we became accustomed to them. Visitors to our home still remark about the sounds of footsteps upstairs or mention feeling a woman’s presence in the upstairs bathroom, but we reply that it is just Effie keeping an eye on things. She shares her home with us, this house which belongs to her.


darkside777 said...

Happy Halloween!

This is all a true story...I have been in Alice's house when Effie was moving around. I was scared at first, but Snow put me at ease.."Snow said: Don't worry, it is just Effie, she won't do anything."

Lynnster said...

Alice, my mouse died when I was reading this post Halloween night. Just up and out of the blue. I'd known my keyboard was on a fast downhill slide but the mouse had shown no signs of impending death and it just all of a sudden dead as a doornail. And then I was stuck on the page for a while 'cos my keyboard was acting up and my mouse was dead. Kinda creepy, especially since I was reading about the TV coming on by itself right then. Strange, just thought I'd share!

Anonymous said...

That was a chilling story. The TV part gave me the creeps!

Anonymous said...

can we please hear more about the cider incident??

LA Geo said...

Hey Alice,

Can't tell you how much I enjoy the blog...Your writing about something as simple as making a dress is fascinating...

I really enjoyed the ghost story, especially because I live in a house where one of the former owners committed suicide in the garage..The first time I walked in there, I remember this overwhelming feeling of sadness...Anyway, I've made a deal with the ghost, you co-exist with me and I'll co-exist with you. If you leave me alone, I'll leave you alone...

Anyway, as an ex-LA punk (I moved to LA in 78 and started a bit late, in 79,) but I did get to see you with the Castration Squad at Madame Wong's once-I remember this write-up Craig Lee did in the LA Weekly about Shannon Wilhem doing somersaults off of a 6 foot cross-Do you remember that?

Well, I just wanted to post a big of LA chisme, I don't know if you had heard about this...But, I was trying to go online at Amazon to get a copy of the Decline of Western Civilization, hoping it was on DVD. Found out it has not been released yet, neither is it available on tape! I read up on one of the "Reviews" which said that one of the guys from I think Black Flag is holding up the release of the movie due to copyright laws...Did you know anything about it? Any idea where I could get a copy of the movie? I am now an old Psychologist in my late 40's who would love to reminice about my wild youth at the Starwood and all those crazy places...

Another question, why have you and Pat Bag never made up?

You can answer me on your blog or at my email GMeza@Aol.com.

I think you are just great and I am big ol' graying, gay fan!

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