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Old-House Ghost Stories

Old houses come with many quirks, but none seem to evoke as much fascination as the spirits of former owners who hang around to do a little haunting. By Tom Everitt

    Old-house ghost storiesA few years ago, Old-House Journal asked for your old-house ghost stories, and tons of you wrote in to share your otherworldly experiences. We thought our anniversary issue was a great time to revisit one of our most popular subjects, so we asked Tom Everitt, a Canadian real-estate agent who started collecting ghost stories after finding a tombstone in the back yard of his 1910 Edwardian home, to share some of his favorite tales from his book, True Real Estate Stories. So sit back and enjoy—and try not to wonder what that creak you just heard in the attic really was.

    The Adventures of Pete

    When my parents finally sold our old house on Queen Anne Hill in Seattle, they failed to mention Pete to the buyers. After all, what are you required to disclose when you sell a house? Not Pete, surely. My family moved out of town, but my sister still lived on Queen Anne.

    The new owners called her two weeks after moving in, screaming, “Did your parents know when they sold us this house that it was haunted?!”

    “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she calmly replied, before hanging up and laughing like crazy.

    I’d known about Pete since I was little. My brother Phil and I usually woke up early. One morning, he was up first, sitting on the stairs, looking out through the banister, when suddenly he yelped. I ran out to the hall, but Mom was already halfway down the stairs. She grabbed Phil and asked him what was wrong. He said he had seen something.

    “A blob,” he said. “It was kind of a blob.”

    Mom figured it must have been Pete, so she told us about him. He was a ghost, she said. Pete he never hurt us; he just played tricks. Things were always going missing: keys, toys, books. Usually they’d show up in a few days, but not always where they’d been. The buffet in the dining room was the place where things were most likely to be found, sooner or later. You’d be going through the dining room, and something you couldn’t find in your room or on the workbench in the basement, something you needed yesterday, would just be sitting there on the buffet.

    There were lots of ways Pete could have scared the new owners. I remember hearing footsteps on the attic stairs at night—creaking steps and then a door opening. One Christmas, tinsel on the tree swayed, one strand at a time, and the trumpet tree ornament played a tune. Our dog, Bitsy, would not, under any circumstances—even if you tried to drag or carry her—go into the basement or the attic. A friend of Mom’s stayed over once, and got so rattled she swore she would never spend the night in our house again. Pete took a lot of getting used to.

    One day, Mom was looking out the bay window in the dining room. Suddenly, she jumped, then turned around with her mouth wide open. She gave Dad, who was across the room, the funniest look.

    “Somebody just pinched me!” she said.

    Dad started to walk across the room, but suddenly lurched sideways and stopped. He looked toward the kitchen, then the other way, to where I was standing in the doorway.

    “Something just bumped into me!” he exclaimed.

    Mom answered, “It must have been Pete.”

    We always wondered if the new owners got used to Pete, or if they simply moved again.

    —James Robert Daniels

    What Lies Beneath

    Old-house ghost storiesEach Sunday morning during my childhood, my three cousins walked the two blocks from their home to ours, and we romped through all three stories of our family’s large Victorian house. Built before the turn of the century, it had once belonged to two families of doctors who practiced at the nearby hospital.

    My older cousin, Tommy, had a penchant for treasure. Week after week, I trailed him as he searched our home for booty. We pried up floorboards in the attic, pounded on closets for hidden compartments, and checked for loose steps that might conceal a hiding place, but we found nothing of value…until the day we decided to dig in the basement.

    The basement was large and rambling, with multiple rooms and a dirt floor. It was dingy and dark, lit only by a few light bulbs dangling on dirty strings. It had never been one of my favorite places. I hated the smell of earth and mold that wafted out whenever someone opened the cellar door, but I was game to search for treasure.

    Shovels in hand, Tommy and I dug into a forbidden dirt pile at the foot of the stairs. I don’t know quite what we hoped to find—gold coins or discarded diamonds, perhaps—but what we did find was much more surprising: a bone! It turned out to be a large femur bone, part of a human thigh, and I still remember the sick feeling that washed over me when my cousin held it up to the dim light.

    We quickly exited the basement to show the bone to my parents, who wisely requested that we dig no further. Even without their admonition, we had no desire to delve deeper into the pile, afraid of what we might find. In fact, the entire experience had quelled our desire to look for buried treasure.

    When I visit my hometown, I drive by the old house where I spent my childhood, and wonder if the new owners have ever stumbled across any bones in the basement. My cousins and I often joked that the house must be haunted. The discovery of the bones made us believe that it was.

    —Lee Ann Sontheimer

    The Invisible Hand

    When I first moved to the Ozarks, my favorite pastime soon became cruising the winding back roads and marveling at the lovely vistas they revealed. On one drive, I stopped in front of the most beautiful house I had ever seen and sat in my station wagon, totally mesmerized. I suppose I must have looked suspicious, because after a while, a woman emerged from the house.

    “Hi,” I called out. “I’m new around here, so I’ve been driving around getting acquainted with the area, and your beautiful house has me under its spell.”

    Old-house ghost stories

    She came to the car, and we introduced ourselves. Soon she invited me inside for coffee. Her name was Lee, and she lived by herself, like me, although things had not started out that way.

    “I moved here with my wonderful husband, Ted, from New York City,” Lee said over coffee. “He was retired from the construction business. We bought this charming old ramshackle of a house on 65 acres and began remodeling it. But my dear Ted died of a heart attack halfway through the project. So suddenly there I was, a 55-year-old woman in an unfinished house in the middle of the most beautiful ‘nowhere’ in the world. What was I going to do?”

    “Well, you obviously decided to stay,” I said. “And the house looks pretty finished to me. Who did the work on it?”

    “I did,” Lee replied. “Well, I did have some help,” she continued. “I don’t tell this story to many people, because it’s so unbelievable. After Ted died, I cried myself to sleep for weeks. My daughter, who still lives in New York, kept urging me to move back there. But I stayed on, even though I was miserable. Then one night, Ted came to me in a dream. He told me he would help me finish the house. And that’s just what he did.”

    Lee explained that Ted started appearing in her dreams nightly, telling her what project to tackle next and giving her detailed instructions. When she did the work, Lee swore she could feel an invisible pair of hands guiding her own. She continued for many months until the entire house was finished to perfection.

    “Once the house was finished, Ted stopped communicating with me. But he’s still here with me; I can feel his presence all the time,” she said.

    Lee and I became good friends, even though she knew I was a skeptic when it came to ghosts. But people in the area did confirm that they had seen Lee working on her house, and even offered to help. But she never wanted any—she told them she already had an extra pair of hands.

    One February, Lee went to visit her daughter and new grandchild in New York City. When she called me before the trip, I asked her if she was worried about leaving her house unoccupied.

    “No,” she answered. “Ted will be here to look after it.”

    On the second day of her absence I got a call from Lee’s neighbor, informing me that her beautiful house had burned to the ground overnight. I was stunned, and knew Lee would be devastated when she heard the news.

    Three days later, four teenagers confessed to burning the house down. They said they had broken in and were helping themselves to soda from the refrigerator when they were scared out of their wits by an indignant ghost who slammed doors, banged on walls, and turned the lights on and off.

    “We got out of there mighty fast after all that racket,” one of the boys told the sheriff. “But we went back the next night and set the house on fire.”

    “Ted doesn’t want anyone else to live there,” Lee wrote in one of her letters.

    Recently, I heard from Lee’s daughter. She told me her mother had passed on, and that she had sold the property to people who are building a new house, and seem very happy with it.

    “They’re together now, and there is no longer a reason for him to stay on at Lost Creek Hollow,” the letter concluded.

    —Renie Burghardt

    A Family Affair

    Old-house ghost storiesSelling real estate is always an adventure—but I never expected it to make me believe in ghosts. Then one spring, I listed a beautiful 200-year-old Italianate mansion on six acres. The day of the open house was beautiful, temperate and sunny. Visitors entered through the kitchen, where they sampled refreshments while waiting for me or another agent to take them on a tour. After the tour, we let the prospective buyer out the front door and returned to the kitchen for the next visitor.

    Toward the end of the three-hour opening, as I was letting someone out the front door, I was hit by a cold breeze. Turning to go back to the kitchen, I glanced to my right. Sitting at the piano in the parlor was a young woman, dressed in a plain gray dress, her dark hair drawn back in a bun. Her large, dark eyes held no light. She was sitting quietly, looking down at the keys. No music was playing. The hair on the back of my neck rose with goose bumps. Startled by seeing a visitor unattended, I went back to the kitchen to find the other agent.

    “Why is there someone wandering around the house without you?” I asked.

    “There’s no one else here,” the other agent answered.

    “Well, maybe she came in the front door,” I said.

    “What does she look like?” the owner asked.

    As I described her, the owner smiled.

    “You’ve just met Sally Ann.”

    “Who’s that?” I asked, with some apprehension.

    “Our ghost,” she replied.

    I broke out in goose bumps yet again as I raced back to the front rooms. The music room was empty. The living room was also empty. I ran up the stairs. The bedrooms were empty. Only one place left: the third-floor tower. Taking the stairs two at a time, I reached the door. It squeaked as it slowly opened. Empty. She had vanished. My heart pounding and body shaking, I slowly descended the staircase.

    Reaching the kitchen, I sat down, and the owner pushed a cup of strong coffee in front of me. My hands were trembling, and the hot liquid nearly spilled. The owner told me the story of Sally Ann.

    “Sally Ann, her husband, brother-in-law, and 8-year-old son were the original owners of the home. Sally Ann had an affair with her husband’s brother, and when he found out, the two men dueled in the hallway on the second floor. Both men died as a result of their wounds. Sally Ann’s son died a year later of typhoid. Sally died at the young age of 30 of what was said to be a broken heart. She shows herself only to people she approves of as guests in her home. But she is a kind ghost and is treated as another member of the family. Every once in awhile we see her son with her.”

    The owner continued. “I hired a seer to come evaluate the ghost situation. He identified all of the ghosts. The family is all buried at Lexington Cemetery. He told me to rent a metal detector and search around the fifth fence post from the front corner of the house. He said I would find Sally Ann’s wedding ring there. So I did. And two feet down, I found her wedding ring with her initials.”

    Walking to the sideboard, she opened a drawer and pulled out a small band with the woman’s initials on the inside. My breath caught, but I soon managed to calm myself down, telling myself it was just an old ring, and that Sally Ann, or whatever I had seen, was merely a figment of my imagination.

    Since the open house was over, the other agent and I prepared to leave. As we neared the front door, I again felt a cool breeze. The goose bumps returned. Slowly, I turned around. At the top of the stairs stood Sally Ann. She was smiling.

    I later went to visit the cemetery where the family was buried. There they all were, just as the owner had said. Still a cynic, I went to the historic archives to search for the stories. They were there, along with a picture of the widow. It was Sally Ann.

    —Cheryl Mee

    Published in: Old-House Journal September/October 2008

    { 1 comment }

    Indy October 13, 2012 at 3:42 pm

    Wow! I’d like to hear more ghost stories about true experiences, does anyone know of a good website?



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