Sunday, September 27, 2009

Boo!

For the most part this blog is not biographical, but, there’s no rule against it. This past week I went to Gettysburg, my third visit, and it was as historically sublime as the last time I went. The first time I went it rained heavily and I was accompanied by one adult girlfriend and three female children who all seemed to think that Pickett’s charge was as exciting as watching the test pattern on tv at 3 in the morning (am I dating myself – do they even do that on tv anymore?).

For those of you who haven’t been to Gettysburg, it is the preserved town and battlefield from one of the most - if not the most - important battle ever to have been fought in our country since Yorktown. I can’t recommend it more highly as a great two day destination, even if the Civil War isn't your thing. One couple I recommended it to loved it so much, while they were there they reserved rooms to go back later that same year. A truly special place. I posted here after my last trip I believe two years ago and gave there a very short summary of the battle and a longer discussion (possibly intolerably long) of General Longstreet’s controversial role in that great fight. You can check out that post (4/16/08) if the Civil War interests you. I’m not going to repeat that all here, and, as I say all the time - this isn’t Wikipedia. There are a tons of sites on Gettysburg and as many, if not more, books.

Rather, I will discuss my personal experiences with the paranormal in my life up through Gettysburg this week. If there are two phrases you will rarely see written together in a sentence that I write, they are “personal experience” and “the paranormal.”  Frequent readers here know I am one skeptical fellow (see my 8/7/08 post - The Anti-Muldar Society - I don't want to believe). I will tell you now, certain as Scrooge, I do not believe I have been visited by ghosts these past two weeks any more than I believe beings from other planets are visiting Earth (although, admittedly, I do love reading about that subject or watching it on tv), but I will relay my experiences to you all the same as objectively as I can.

So, follow me back through the misty waves of time to Westbury, Long Island in the late 60s - early 70s, where a young boy we will call David and his friends are having some weird experiences in the unfinished part of the basement in his house. It seems like there is a ghostly presence there which makes unexpected noises and even occasionally moves things. We actually found this quite a bit of fun and emboldened with each others' presence, would frequently visit downstairs and await to be scared so badly that we would run up the stairs as if the devil were right behind us. One time that especially stands out in my mind, I watched my friend Rainer standing behind the door of an old closet, bb gun in hand (wondering, even then, what use to him would that be against a spirit) as the door began to slowly closed upon him, to both our horror. There was no reasonable explanation – no breeze and neither he nor I was touching it.

With a strange bravery that seems a little nuts now, we would turn off all the lights and wait not long for the inevitable footsteps and sounds that would come from the next room (the finished part of the basement) or even inside the unfinished room where we waited, although there was no one else home. In retrospect, it is hard to believe we did that at all, but we did so constantly. Bear, who frequently comments here, was then an acquaintance and not yet a friend. He visited the house in the 7th grade and wrote a story about it for the school newspaper (still have that story around, Bear?)

The truth is, the reason I think we were able to be so frequently frightened by our "ghost," but then managed to live in the same house without fear and actually fall asleep at night without even thinking about it, is because deep in our hearts we did not really believe. I was sure, even if I didn't say so out loud and spoil the fun, that there must have been some explanation for the uncanny events.

Skip ahead to about 1997-8. A friend of mine who used to clean my apartment (thank God for friends, but I'm pretty sure I paid her) tells me that while she was there, she heard a door open. I pointed out to her that I lived upstairs from other people and that it wasn’t a big surprise. She said, no, it wasn’t that kind of door. I asked her if she was going to tell me my long deceased mother was visiting me. She said that was exactly what she meant. I replied, “Great, so much for walking around here without clothes anymore.” But I did not believe. It was not a problem.

Skip ahead to 2003. I am in Ireland in an old house that literally had bats in its belfry (seriously, it had a belfry and bats.) In the middle of the night, the woman I affectionately refer to as my insignificant other tossed me out of the room and, bedspread in hand, I headed off towards the library where I knew I had seen a couch. I walked down the large eerie stairs past the impossibly large mirror with the long diagonal crack and into the library with the spooky pictures on the wall. I lay down on the couch, looked around, thought about some of my friends who would have had the hair on their head standing straight up, and said to myself, “Thank God I don’t believe in ghosts.” I went back to sleep. Skepticism has its benefits.

Skip ahead to last Sunday, September 20, 2009. I return from a breakfast with two friends, sometime in the late morning or very early afternoon. I entered my house and moved directly to the computer in the front room. From there, about thirty feet away, I can see the kitchen refrigerator and, in front of it, a black bullet shaped garbage can with a see saw top that moved moved up and down when you dropped something in it.

I was working on the computer for roughly an hour, half watching the Jet game (must have been after 1 o’clock p.m.) when I looked up. That may have been coincidental, or it may have been a reaction to motion in my peripheral vision. Whatever it was, when I looked up, I saw the top of the garbage can moving up and down. I immediately thought it was an optical illusion of some type, and stared at it for I believe five or six seconds. No illusion. It was definitely moving, and not just a little, until it settled down.

My first reaction was not that there was a ghost, but a living person visiting me, who must have either touched the lid or dropped something in it. I walked into my bedroom, picked up the knife I take hiking with me and walked into the kitchen. Nobody there. I went from room to room, closet to closet, and satisfied myself there was no one else in the house. It is small for anyone to have avoided me seeing or hearing them move about. Yet the lid moved.

I checked the garbage can for an explanation, such as a mouse, but found nothing that would explain it.

That's when I got that creepy feeling up my spine like you get when you are watching a scary movie. Later that night when I went to bed I asked myself if this was going to be a problem. I did think about it for a minute, literally said "Bah, humbug" out loud and went to sleep, I believe immediately.

And nothing further has happened there. Yet. At least there.

Later this past week I drove north to Gettysburg. I had chosen the bed and breakfast my friend and I would be staying at because of its reasonable price, and more importantly, its availability on the days we needed. When I spoke with the host, Keith, on the telephone, he told me that the house was well known to be haunted. He also said that it had been the subject of an episode on a television show, but that it had exaggerated the truth. One of the former inhabitants of the house, Tillie Fields, after whom the house is now named, was involved in caring for patients during the battle and was witness to much horror. But, her worst experiences were a few miles away from her house. Although her house, like so many others, was used as a makeshift hospital, probably nothing all that dramatic happened there. The house across the street was struck by a live cannon round, which is still stuck in the front of the building. Fortunately, the fuse had come out along the way and it did not blow up. Tillie's house was more fortunate.

Nor did Tillie die there. In fact, she had not lived there for decades when she finally passed on. So, who would be haunting the house? I don’t know. No one knows. Since I don’t believe (keep remembering that as this gets scarier), it’s not that important to me.

My friend, Mike, who lives in New York, met me there. The hostess who greeted us, Leslie, assured us that although the tv show greatly exaggerated what happens there, but also quietly insisted to my friend and I that there were ghosts which were harmless, but mischievous. I told her I didn't really believe and she said that maybe nothing will happen to us when we went up to bed. However, she also told us that after an experience recently, one guest fled the house in the middle of the night and wouldn't come back in, despite her boyfriend begging her to. Who knows if is true. The hostess has a motive to increase interest in the house and entertain her guests, however much she assured us she was not exaggerating. Unfortunately for Mike, the room he was going to sleep in was the one she claimed the most people report seeing and hearing spooky things. Each room has a book that guests can write in and many left a record of some ghostly experiences, usually hearing raps and footsteps or sometimes seeing small lights, but they didn't seem all that scared either. More amused, it seemed to me. One the other hand, they all seemed to be couples. As I knew from my adventures in my basement all those years ago, company breeds courage.

Close to midnight, we went to bed. I was a little concerned about my friend, and I wasn’t quite sure whether he believed in ghosts at all and whether our hostess had primed him to the degree he'd be frightened, although he is a usually a very collected fellow. After some joking, and my showing him the really creepy picture in my room of two very serious looking children, we said good night. I learned the next morning that he had fallen asleep with the lights on while reading. Honestly, if I were in that room, it is possible that might have happened with me too. Even skeptics can get spooked.

I read for about a half hour from a book of essays on Lincoln that I had picked up in town and then turned off the light to go to sleep. As often happens with me, I woke up in the middle of the night and read until about 5 a.m., when I felt sleep overcoming me again.

Perhaps I fell asleep or perhaps I was in the process of falling asleep, but I had a very vivid of feeling someone or something holding my left arm up and pulling on it. It was warm, tingly and so very real that as I write this, I get the same chilling feeling I got at that moment. Possibly because I was dreaming, I felt paralyzed, and try as I could, I was unable to open my eyes or move my body, despite the alarm coursing through me. For a few seconds I felt - I say felt, not believed - as if a ghost was holding me and it was more than a little disconcerting. Fortunately, I don’t believe, and after a few seconds of this, I reminded myself of that, and let myself fall asleep (if I wasn’t already) without even opening my eyes. Nothing more happened and when I awoke, it was light outside.

I reported my experience the next day to Mike, but I played it down, because, frankly, I didn’t want to scare him if he had a difficult night. Mike said his night was uneventful, although he kept the light on.

The next night there was a full house. I had no incidences at all, but I was awake again much of the middle of the night. I looked at my cell phone when I awoke that night and knew that I was up from about 2:30 a.m. until about 5 a.m. In the morning everyone except me, including Mike, reported hearing footsteps in the hallway in the middle of the night. Mike was certain it was at about 3 a.m. That one I could explain. I told them it was almost certainly me they heard. Whenever during the night I had gotten out of bed and walked in my room, the floor creaked beneath me and I wondered if I was scaring the bejabbers out of everyone on the floor. Apparently I was. I can't think of another explanation as I know I made the floor creek, but heard nothing from outside my own door. If they thought it came from the hallway, it is only because they could not, in the dark, with the doors all closed and lights off, tell where the sounds came from. I did also relate my experience from the night before to them and wrote in the notebook in my room what I had experienced, including my skepticism that it was a spectral event, despite what it felt like at the time.

Smart people I know believe in things I don’t. I accept that, but it hasn’t changed my mind. Still, even for this dyed in the wool skeptic, the two recent experiences – the one in my house and the one in the Tillie Pierce House, were quite strange, among the strangest in my life, and a little unsettling. I am no less a skeptic today, but can't deny what I saw and felt, and leave you to your own conclusion.

6 comments:

  1. Okay, let me get this straight.. you had a semi-dream of someone grabbing your arm and the other guests heard you walking in your room and thought it was a ghost. THAT'S YOUR GREAT GHOST STORY??? Well, slap me silly, ain't that a side-splitter? You know, I threw up once. It had colors in it. Maybe there's a blog in there somewhere...

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  2. Now, that's the Bear I know and love. Fearlessly trashing me, and missing the point by so much, you could play quarterback for the NY Jets (okay, maybe not this years' Jets, but you know what I mean).

    But, out of the goodness of my evalovin' heart, I am going to help you understand. To analogize to an English sentence, the topic of "ghosts," is the primary "object" of the post. Gettysburg is another "object". The "subjects" of the blog were - what I believe, attempting humility in my beliefs, honesty in reporting things I have experienced that do not appear to fit in with my own belief system, and respect for other people's beliefs that might challenge might own beliefs.

    I can see at the end of each blog I'm going to have to put a Cliff Notes type analysis for you.

    Thanks for commenting, though.

    p.s. Please don't really blog about vomiting. I set it up so when you blog, I get it streamed directly to my site and I don't think I want to see that one. I'm very squeamish about that stuff.

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  3. Anonymous1:04 PM

    Very Interesting!!

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  4. I think you are more of a believer than you realize! Perhaps you are experiencing these ghostly feelings because someone is trying to help you "see" the "ghostly" light! Try asking questions and interacting with whatever it is next time...

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  5. Well, if I ask a question and I actually get an answer, I'll be making one of those holes through the door you usually only see in cartoons when someone meets up with a ghost.

    Thanks for commenting.

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  6. LOL!! I'd like to see that.

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Your comments are welcome.

About Me

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I started this blog in September, 2006. Mostly, it is where I can talk about things that interest me, which I otherwise don't get to do all that much, about some remarkable people who should not be forgotten, philosophy and theories (like Don Foster's on who wrote A Visit From St. Nicholas and my own on whether Santa is mostly derived from a Norse god) and analysis of issues that concern me. Often it is about books. I try to quote accurately and to say when I am paraphrasing (more and more). Sometimes I blow the first name of even very famous people, often entertainers. I'm much better at history, but once in a while I see I have written something I later learned was not true. Sometimes I fix them, sometimes not. My worst mistake was writing that Beethoven went blind, when he actually went deaf. Feel free to point out an error. I either leave in the mistake, or, if I clean it up, the comment pointing it out. From time to time I do clean up grammar in old posts as, over time I have become more conventional in my grammar, and I very often write these when I am falling asleep and just make dumb mistakes. It be nice to have an editor, but . . . .