Who's Afraid of a Haunted House?
It’s that time of year again. Time for all the
ghouls and demons to come out of the woodwork. Time for children to dress up in
imaginative costumes and go around their neighbourhoods asking for treats. Yes,
it’s that enjoyable annual holiday: Halloween. During this holiday, one
popular tradition, for many, is to go to the local haunted houses. In these
creepy commorancies, people delight in the chance to entertain their primal
fears. Many of us get a kick out of a good scare.
Of course, these are just false haunted houses. Annual occurrences of smoke and
mirror type frights. They are fun because everyone plays along. The demons are
actors, the ghosts, props. These haunted houses are fun because both spook and
spooked, know that no one is actually going to be hurt in the process. So then,
what of real haunted houses?
Here the rules change. This time the scares are real, and the safety of the
victim is placed into question. Now one comes face to face with the
supernatural. That is, assuming that there is such a thing as “the
Most neighbourhoods in many parts of the industrial and post-industrial world,
seem to harbour one, or two allegedly haunted places. According to Dennis
William Hauck’s National Directory of Haunted Houses, there are over 2,000
haunted places in the United States alone. This shouldn’t come as too much of
a surprise considering that the only real criteria for a haunted house is a
creepy atmosphere, a fairly rich history, and a few eyewitness accounts.
So, where are some of the best places to go, to see a “real” haunting? How
about two of the most haunted places on earth?:
• Whaley House – Located in San Diego, California, this is the current
reigning champion for the nation’s most haunted house. The abode was
partially built on an old cemetery, as well as some of San Diego’s first
public gallows. The residence has stood there for the past 148 years. Placement
of the house, has made it a prime scene for many gruesome acts over the past
century. Because of this, vast arrays of ghostly sightings have occurred on
this property. These include the ghost of a young girl who accidentally hung
herself on a clothesline whilst running down a hillside. Noted thief Jim
Robinson, was hung 5 years before the house was built. His place of death now
resides between the parlor and music room. Visitors have reported feeling a
coldness and constriction of the neck, when around the archway that separates
these rooms. Along with these two ghosts, there are numerous accounts of
phantom scents in some rooms, cries of nonexistent babies in other rooms, and
various apparitions that have been seen in the house’s mirrors and windows.
• Borley Rectory – Not to be outdone by the States, England is also host to
a number of haunted places. The most haunted of which is, allegedly, Borley
Rectory, in the small town of Borley, in Essex. The rectory (lodging for
priests) was built in 1863, on the site of an ancient monastery. Interestingly
enough, it was built on a spot that was already known to house a ghost (a nun
who was bricked up alive, in one of the monastic cellars). The rectory has
since had numerous sightings of the nun, as well as many poltergeist
activities, where various objects would be smashed, or displaced. Strange
sounds, odors and cold spots are all known to occur there as well.
While both of these places claim to be haunted, one must ask if haunting is
even a real thing, or just a psychosomatic phenomenon. Are ghosts real, or just
figments of our imagination? This remains a controversial topic among the
general public. A recent Harris poll (February 2003) found that a whopping 51%
of people surveyed, believed in ghosts.
Of course belief in something, and the reality of it, are not always one and
the same. After all, there was a time when much of the world believed that the
planet was flat, and that disease was caused by the influence of the stars.
While there is much debate over the validity of ghosts among the general
public, there is little to no debate among the scientific community. To date,
there has been no concrete evidence to suggest the validity of ghosts, or any
other preternatural occurrences.
Okay then, so what are people seeing? Along with the various ghost seekers out
there; there are also a handful of ghost-busters. Reading the various reports
from these guys, has shown that ghostly encounters are the result of one of two
The first term is just reserved for clinically insane, right? Not really.
Hallucinations are more common among the general public, than one might think.
A hallucination is simply a moment where one’s brain mistakes a sight, sound,
or smell, for something it isn’t. Most hallucinations occur during
“dazed” moments. That is, moments when the person is in a fairly relaxed
state. The two most popular times are just when one is going to, or coming out
of sleep, or when doing a relaxed, fairly monotonous activity.
Hallucinations that occur when one is about to go to sleep, or when one has
just come out of sleep, are called Hypnopompic Hallucinations, or “waking
dreams.” The brain is not fully out of “sleep mode” when one wakes up,
and thus, moments of dreaming, leak out into reality. Hallucinations can also
occur during monotonous activities like cleaning. When one is placed into a
daydreaming type state, apparitions have a tendency to occur. Many people
report seeing something out of the corner of their eyes. This is often the
result of their eye registering the sudden movement of some small thing (e.g. a
fly, their eyelash, or pieces of drifting material inside the eye itself), and
their brain associating it with a larger thing. Sometimes these take on the
form of a person standing, or sitting. The degree of the detail in the
hallucination, has a lot to do with how susceptible/imaginative the
hallucinator is. The result, though, is always the same. The second the person
looks away, the “apparition” disappears.
As for why so many people report the same thing; this has a lot to do with the
power of suggestion. People who are aware of the stories associated with a
particular place, are often predisposed to seeing the objects in question. Most
of the time, the hallucination is just attributed to some portion of the
stories the person may have heard (often getting molded to fit the scenario
after the fact). Other times, the hallucination is vivid enough to create a new
ghostly tale. This is usually the result of a person with a “fantasy prone”
personality type. That is, a person who is particularly good at fantasizing.
Many people like this go on to write fantasy/science fiction books, or claim to
have psychic abilities. They also tend to be easily hypnotized. Cases where
objects are found displaced, or moving, are often exaggerations of what
actually happened. Sometimes the person might even subconsciously move stuff
about in an effort to bring their fantasy to life.
Which, then, leads us into our second major type of haunting: hoaxes. Many
haunted places around the globe, are staged that way to elicit the feeling of
paranormal activities. Many places that have a history of being haunted, are
probably getting a helping hand from owners/staff members who are trying to
keep the legends alive. This can be small things like synchronized stepping
sounds during a certain portion of the night, to intentionally flicking light
switches on and off, creating ghostly images, and making up secondary stories.
Oftentimes, these “hoax houses” are readily ferreted out. Occasionally
though, a haunted house retains its air of paranormal for much longer, and
resists attempts at debunking. Take, for instance, the infamous case of the
Amityville Horror. The Amityville Horror took place in Amityville, New York in
1975. The home had been the scene of the gruesome murder of the DeFeo family by
family member Ronald “Butch” Jr. a year prior. The home was bought by
George and Kathy Lutz, and their three kids. Not long after moving in, the
Lutzes reported the demonic possession of their house, and gave a somewhat
detailed account of what occurred there during their 28 day stay.
The story was turned into a book by authour Jay Anson, in 1977. This was then
followed by a 1979 movie based on the book, and now a 2005 remake. All three
feature the tagline: a true story. This, though, was far from the case. Ever
since the initial tale was brought to the public’s attention, there have been
detractors. Yet despite the noted compilation, by researchers Rick Moran &
Peter Jordan, of over 100 different factual errors seen between the book’s
story, and the actual facts (e.g. the supposed demonic hoof print found in the
snow, could not have occurred as there was no snowfall that night), despite
these facts, the legend continued.
In the end, it finally took the confession of William Weber (the DeFeo’s
attorney), and the Lutzes themselves, to finally put this legend to rest. The
Amityville Horror was finally debunked, but the damage was already done. All
successive owners of the DeFeo’s old estate must now deal with multitudes of
gawkers and paranormal investigators, who insist on touring the ill fated home.
So this Halloween, if someone dares you to spend the night at the local
“real” haunted house; just remember the famous words of investigative
authours Robert Baker and Joe Nickell:
“There are no haunted places, only haunted people.”
The Iconoclast is a student at the University Of New Mexico and part of the web
building team at Gifteteria.com. View House and Home gifts at http://www.gifteteria.com/HouseNHomePage.html