Collecting old-house ghost stories from our readers is a long-running tradition at OHJ. Starting with our 10th anniversary issue in 1983, we’ve published countless tales of the friendly spirits (and a few not-so-friendly ones) who haunt your old houses. We’ve brought some of the most chilling characters back to life (so to speak) in this online collection.
The Barefoot Boy
When I first encountered spirits in my own home, I was unnerved and also doubtful of my sanity. After all, if I were crazy enough to tackle a third restoration project in nine years, then maybe I could be crazy in other ways as well! However, time and an open mind have helped me accepts and enjoy these little meetings between the past and the present; now, a home would never really be a home without these unexplainables.
In August 1979, we moved into a three-story 1857 brick Victorian to begin our third and most ambitious restoration. The structure had been built as a gracious home for a state senator, and then served as a doctor’s home and office, a school superintendent’s house, a restaurant, and finally for 25 years as a nursing home. It stood unattended for two years before we purchased it.
Needless to say, there was (and still is) a great deal to be done. However, by September of 1979, we considered ourselves fortunate to have repaired the roof and furnace, replaced missing windows, and installed a working kitchen. Over the weekend, we had ripped out a containment wall surrounding the curved mahogany staircase in the front hallways.
That particular morning, my husband had gone to the next town where he taught school, and I was halfheartedly contemplating painting one of the 15′ ceilings when the phone rang. As I told my college friend of our progress, I noticed the chandelier flashing on and off through the transom over the door leading into the formal parlor. I commented to her about the odd occurrence, wondering about the competency of the electrician who had recently inspected and approved all the wiring. She, however, began to worry that someone had come in through one of the eight exterior doors and was playing a nasty trick on me. Nothing would calm her except that I go immediately to investigate, while she listened in case something truly disastrous was happening.
As luck would have it, the closest doorway was blocked with ladders and tools. Therefore, I took the more circuitous route through the dining room, into and added room, and down the front hall. My two schnauzers trotted along, one on either side, as I entered the hallway. Suddenly, the door between the hall and the parlor literally flew open, as if a gust of wind had pushed it. Both dogs began to whimper and back up as very distinct, heavy footsteps came toward us. There was positively nothing to be seen, and I searched my mind for a logical explanation as the dogs turned tail and deserted me. Then all logical thoughts left me as an icy air encircled me and the footsteps continued past me, to die at the doorway I’d just used. I was very shaken, but I did carefully inspect the parlor: All the windows were sealed tight, and all the lights were off.
For several days, I was the victim of my husband’s and friends’ teasing about ghosts and strange noises. In fact, I was beginning to believe I’d been the victim of my own overactive imagination, when both my husband and I were awakened in the pre-dawn by the explosive sound of shattering glass—not a small tinkling, but a massive crash. With visions of tree limbs coming through the 14′ windows on the first floor, we raced down, only to find everything exactly as it should be. Then we ran back to the second floor to inspect the windows and antique mirrors, and finally to the third floor, where once again, everything was intact. In the daylight, we explored the yard around the house and finally the street for broken glass. In cautious questioning, we determined that no one else in the village heard a thing. Since that time, we experience the same phenomenon two or three times a year, and have yet to find a reason for it.
The footsteps in the front hall continued until we removed the room that was added to the rear of it and restored the door that hung there originally. We then found ourselves listening for what had become over the months an almost-pleasant sound. But upon completion of the former parlor, we found a new friend who liked to serenade us with soft, lilting tunes. If what we have since discovered is true, then perhaps the senator who built the house is back playing his beloved harpsichord as he once did for his family and friends in that very room.
Perhaps the most memorable and least explainable experience during our residence was my encounter with the barefoot boy. Once again, I’d been painting—a never-ending task, it seems! After an extended period of time, I began to wonder what had become of my husband, who had gone to the basement for “just a minute.” In all honesty, I dislike the basement area intensely, with its eerily trickling spring (a Victorian luxury) and mausoleum-like silence. I loathe the thought of anyone being there for more than a few minutes.
As I rounded the corner into the kitchen, a startled boy of about eight stood looking at me. He was clad in a too-large, grayish shirt and faded coveralls, and had bare, wet feet. I gasped, and he picked up an unusually cumbersome lantern and began backing toward the outside door. As he backed, he also began to fade—”fade” is the only word that describes what happened to him. At that moment, my husband burst into the kitchen, carrying a rusted lantern he had unearthed in the basement. It was identical to the one the boy had been carrying. Later, a museum curator identified it as the type of hanging oil lantern often found in churches or meeting halls, and seldom carried, as it was awkward to handle and easily blown out. We can find no explanation for its being buried in the basement, unless of course some little boy did it a century ago.
Living in a village founded in 1803, where most of the buildings were erected between that time and 1900, ours is not the only home with unseen guests. And once you learn to accept these glimpses into the past as a rare favor, life in an old house becomes so much more delightful!
—Ruth Ann Dixon
Old Washington, Ohio
Originally published in “Calling All Ghosts,” October 1983
It’s been a while since we’ve heard from Charles. Friends tell us it’s because he’s happy now that his home is restored to its former glory.
Charles fell backwards off the huge 11′ retaining wall that holds up our 1892 Queen Anne. He was a prominent dentist and got quite a write-up in the local newspaper as he lingered for seven days. Dr. Charles O. Perkins “crossed over the river of death” on August 17, 1901.
We bought the house in 1976, and it was in a very sad state. It had five apartments and was on the border of being condemned. Charles soon made himself known. On a night when the house was empty of its tenants, he made a noisy debut. The kitchen stove legs rattled, the closet door opened and closed, the lights went on and off, his actual presence was felt in the room, and my husband, Richard, was cut off repeatedly as he frantically telephoned a friend. With all this commotion going on, Richard made a rapid exit.
The next day, at the suggestion of a friend, Richard read a Reader’s Digest article about ghosts, particularly poltergeists. He returned with renewed spirits and hoped to communicate with Charles. Charles was a bit tamer after that. For a period of three years, we heard Charles literally bumping around the house. Occasionally, something would fly across the room. Throughout this time, neither Richard nor I felt fear, only curiosity.
The only variance in bumps and bangs occurred one stormy night. I heard an intense conversation between a man and a woman going on outside my bedroom door. I couldn’t make out any specific words, but I felt it was a serious matter they were discussing. When I went out into the hall, the talking stopped; when I went back into my bedroom, it started again. The conversation seemed to come from up high, under the skylight of our staircase. I repeatedly looked out and up in the hall and found nothing. Again, my main sensation was curiosity, not fear; I felt very safe.
As we have restored our Victorian—taking out the awful apartments, rewiring, roofing, plumbing, landscaping, scraping, painting, and wallpapering—Charles has disappeared into the woodwork. When people ask us how he is, we say, “Fine,” knowing that he probably is. His beautiful home, which he had built so long ago, is a landmark in the town. We really miss him and hope to meet again—another time, another place.
Originally published in “Calling All Ghosts,” October 1983
My house is a rather plain example of the Queen Anne style, built in 1903 by a practical man who gave it very few flourishes. However, it remains almost unchanged and so authentic that it has been a delight to restore. Before we moved in, we only had to give it a good cleaning; we planned to live around our restoration projects.
The first “unexplainable” occurrence came during one of those early days of heavy-duty cleaning. I was in the cellar, sweeping up the stucco particles that had fallen from the sandstone walls, and coughing from the soot that had accumulated from years of burning coal. I was completely absorbed in my task, and unaware that we had worked almost through the night. My husband, Terry, was washing walls on the first floor. It was the shrillness of his voice calling for me that caused me to rush upstairs.
He was in the sitting room, off the parlor. He had been on a ladder, washing the ceiling fixture, when a soft voice, one that he mistook for mine, had spoken his name. He said the voice had come from directly behind him, almost at the level of his ear—while I had been down a flight of stairs and working in a far corner of the cellar.
We were both very tired and decided to leave our chores until the next day. Before we left for our apartment, I went upstairs to take a quick look at the little bedroom. We had fixed it up and furnished it before any other, just so that one room would seem homey in the chaos of moving. I found the ruffled curtains, braided rug, and antique furniture very reassuring, and I took the time to straighten the crazy quilt on the bed before I left.
We didn’t return until late into the next afternoon. As Terry carried in cartons, I went upstairs to set my prettiest house plants around the little bedroom. The crazy quilt, smoothed ten hours earlier, was rumpled, and the pillow bore the indentation of a sleeper’s head. To be very truthful, I was delighted at the thought of owning a “haunted” house. It was going to make terrific conversation at the housewarming!
The sitting room, where the voice was heard, temporarily became an antique shop. About five years later, the shop had closed, and I found myself living here alone. I moved my bedroom to that room, as I didn’t like sleeping upstairs anymore. We hadn’t decorated or papered the sitting room, because it had been a constantly changing arrangement of furniture, pictures, periods, and designs. It was dingy without the clutter, and my beautiful Victorian bedroom set made it look that much worse by comparison. I didn’t sleep very well the first few weeks.
My mother came to spend the holidays with me. We shared my bed and slept without a problem. Two nights after she left, I awakened from the restless sleep that I’d become used to, and saw the figure of a woman approaching me from the end of my bed. She was slender and appeared taller than she was, as her hair was piled up and fluffed. She wore a long, lose-fitting dress with no color to it. He face was plain and expressionless.
My reaction was not that of a cool, scientific observer, as I always imagined it would be. All I felt was absolute terror. I called out, “Mother? Mother?” in confusion, as though it were her and nothing else. I did manage to look away to check on my dogs. They were sleeping on my bed, as usual. I even reached out and touched the nearest; the physical contact with his fur proved to me that I was really awake. But neither he nor the other was sharing my experience (as many authorities say they are supposed to).
The figure glided rather than walked as it came forward. It even seemed to pass partially through the footboard of my bed, as though it did not exist for it. Meanwhile, I kept repeating, “Mother! Mother!” over and over, like a frightened child, until the apparition dissolved at the door leading to the parlor.
I sensed its presence one more time a few nights later, but would not open my eyes to see if it was there. I decided that sleeping upstairs wasn’t so bad after all, and the sitting room became my TV room, now cheerfully papered and furnished with the only furniture in the house that is not antique. Nothing has disturbed me since.
In 1981, I began to look into the background of my house. I followed OHJ’s advice and talked with neighbors and relatives of the original builder. A surviving daughter of the family that lived there until 1945 was kind enough to correspond with me. She even sent me photos from her family album. One picture, taken in 1916, was of her sister Gertrude. She went to South Dakota shortly after it was taken and died there giving birth to a son. The boy was sent back to Ohio to live with his grandparents.
His grandfather was the depot sergeant for Penn-Central. The old depot, now restored, is still standing just across the street. The boy went to work for the railroad, too, but was killed when still a young man in a freak accident. He was a switchman and was run down by a train while changing the track—about 30 miles from here, on the same tracks that I can see from my windows. He slept on an old iron bed, one which I thought had belonged to the people from whom we purchased the house, but which actually has been against the wall in the little bedroom upstairs for at least 60 years.
His mother and I have met. I wonder if Gertrude was wearing the same loose summer dress as in her picture on the night she paid me a visit.
Olmsted Falls, Ohio
Originally published in “Calling All Ghosts,” October 1983
We stumbled on a listing for an imposing Victorian in the old Highland area of north Minneapolis. The real-estate agent informed us that the house was occupied by the builder’s descendant, a widow in her mid-eighties. Special arrangements were required to show the house; she would only allow it to be shown after dark.
The evening of the showing arrived, and we rang the doorbell. It seemed like forever until the door was opened by a very little elderly lady who received us with an air of formality and pride, apologizing for the fact that the house did not look its best. But to us, the dimly lit entry hall with its winding oak staircase and 20-foot ceiling was all we needed to fall in love with the old house.
The closing went according to schedule; we signed what seemed to be a ream of documents and then handed over the check. It was ours! We would take possession on the last day of the month: October 31. Now, we are not superstitious folk, but always believed in not tempting fate. That night we experienced a full-scale thunderstorm that blew the covers off the traps in the basement sewer lines, shooting murky water high into the air. We had no trick-or-treaters that night. For some reason, the neighborhood children avoided the house, even during the day. I felt that the way to gain entry into a neighborhood is through its children. The house had a new owner now, and I’d find out their thoughts about the house. Everyone I questioned said it was a “haunted house.” I could not agree more with the vivid imagination of young minds: It was a strange old house occupied by an old lady who lived in the servants’ quarters and never had lights on in the front rooms. We would change all that.
There was one thing that seemed rather strange, which surfaced in our conversations with the owner during our visits prior to closing: She constantly referred to someone named Billy. We later found out that Billy was her son, a war veteran who had met a tragic death in the house. It was obvious that, in her mind, Billy was still a resident of the house, because she referred to him in the present tense. We didn’t realize how much he was in the “present tense” until after we took up residency.
Within a week, marbles (the old, pre-cat’s-eye variety) began to appear. They were always found in the center of rugs or traffic patterns, so as to be quite obvious. We did not bring any marbles with us when we moved in, and we brought most of the rugs with us. (We did not then have our two cats, so we couldn’t blame these strange occurrences on them.) At the same time, small dirty handprints began to appear on the back hall stairway, much as if a small child was making his way from the back door up to the bathroom on the second floor. Washing these handprints from the walls did little, as they reappeared the next day. A variety of small items appeared, including Billy’s military dog tags, a cookie cutter with the name “Billy” scratched on it, merit badges, and a number of Catholic holy cards inscribed to Billy from nuns at the parochial school a couple blocks away. In all, nearly 100 marbles made their appearance over a period of two years until, when investigating a corner of the attic tower, we found a cloth marble bag with a few pre-cat’s-eye marbles in it. The collection we had amassed, when added to the bag, filled it to the top with no room to spare. No more marbles appeared from that time on.
Other visits from Billy are worthy of comment. His presence could be felt in the form of a cold spot, often encountered without warning, both in the library and in the upstairs sewing room that had served as his bedroom (where he had died). On several occasions, doors would slam and the sound of small feet would be heard running in the upstairs hallway toward the back stairs. One evening, the drawers in the upstairs linen closet opened and closed with such a racket that one would wonder if someone was throwing a temper tantrum looking for a misplaced item. The most spectacular performance occurred when a 9-foot-high pocket door, which had been jammed into the wall off its track, slid from the wall into the closed position. It has worked perfectly ever since!
Although most of the activity took place during the first two years we lived in the house, it usually coincided with projects such as moving furniture or redecorating. It appeared as if Billy wanted to let us know that he knew what we were doing to his house. Almost 10 years after we moved into this fine old Victorian, we finally put the finishing touches into wallpapering the last room. It was the eve of the Day of the Assumption (a Catholic obligatory holy day), and that day we received a holy card and a scapular medal. It was Billy’s last visit; nothing more has appeared to remind us of his presence. Billy’s mother has also passed away.
We have related the stories about Billy to friends and those interested in “spiritual presences.” Interestingly, we have not been the only ones to receive a visit from Billy; friends and family staying overnight or living with us for an extended period have reported encounters with him and have found souvenirs left in their paths. Overall, Billy never did anyone harm, although we often had the feeling that he was looking over our shoulders. After all, it was his house; he had grown up there and died there. We’ve been told that Billy was a phenomenon known as psychic teleportation and that he manifested himself through the strong will of his mother. No changes had been made to the house since its construction; we were the first to threaten the status quo, a cause of concern for Billy and his mother. Billy left us when he was finally satisfied we would do no harm.
—Charles W. Nelson
Originally published in “Ghost Stories,” September/October 1988
I bought a lovely 1916 bungalow in Pomona: leaded glass, beautiful woodwork, and a newly remodeled kitchen. But it had as many as eight coats of faded, torn wallpaper; the bathroom was a mess of ’50s remuddling; and the yard was as overgrown as Sleeping Beauty’s castle. For me, it was perfect. I didn’t know until after I had bought it that eight families had moved in and out in the past five years. The reason why was clear to me on my first days of occupancy.
My daughter and son-in-law had helped me move, and spend the night in my bedroom while I crashed on the couch in the den. Over breakfast, she began to scold me for getting up and hanging pictures the night before. When I told her I hadn’t gotten out of bed, she just laughed with an, “Aw, Mom, I heard you pounding nails.”
Later in the day, alone, I passed my open bedroom door, and standing in the doorway with his hand on the door was an old man, about 70, over six feet tall, with salt-and-pepper hair, wearing a plaid flannel shirt and bib overalls. I saw him clearly but knew he wasn’t real. Then he vanished, like someone had erased him from the bottom up. For some reason, I wasn’t frightened.
Over the next two years, Mr. Price (as I found out was his name) made life miserable for a half-dozen people in my home. One son-in-law refused to be in the house alone, even in broad daylight. A young lady who housesat for me one vacation was angry I hadn’t told her about him. The sound of boxes crashing off the closet shelves kept her awake, and the closet door, which stuck and was hard to open, swung freely back and forth.
There was never anything out of place in the closet or anywhere else, although we were treated to the most awful crashing sounds. The sound of the huge ceiling fan smashing through the glass top of the dining room table would send everyone running into the dining room, only to discover that it was still securely fastened to the ceiling. That was a favorite trick of his. He also made the sound of a cast-iron kettle dropping from a height of six or eight feet.
Every night for weeks, I came home to find my soap in the bathtub floating in a couple inches of water. Living alone, I started to speak to Mr. Price. Out loud, feeling like a fool, I said, “Don’t do that. Soap is expensive.” The soap stopped. One night after going to bed, I felt someone lift the blankets. I sat up in bed and shouted, “That’s too close!” It never happened again.
It seems that Mr. Price, when flesh and blood, lived in the house next door. He died January 1, 1970, of a suicide. My neighbor told me about Mr. Price after I started asking odd questions. I asked if she knew what he looked like. She didn’t, but said she’d find out from the other neighbors who’d known him. That night she bolted into my house and said she was told that Mr. Price was a tall man, a farmer type who always wore bib overalls. Then I told her what I’d seen in the doorway. She said he had been a carpenter; in fact, he had built a scaffold in the garage from which he had hanged himself. That explained the pounding sounds. She told me that sometimes when I was away for the weekend, they would hear furious hammering, like a berserk carpenter, coming from my home for up to two hours. She also admitted that they too were being visited by Mr. Price, who had a habit of being light-fingered with her husband’s tools—until one afternoon her husband went into the garage and had a “talk” with Mr. Price about leaving his tools alone.
To my knowledge, I was the only person who actually saw Mr. Price, unless you count the afternoon when my four-year-old grandson, after being punished by his mother, said he was going into the back bedroom to play with the grandfather.
Mr. Price’s visits became less and less frequent as the remodeling on my home neared completion. I guess he was happy with the job I was doing and finally stopped coming altogether. I have since moved back to Indiana and am currently remodeling and restoring a 1926 beauty, but you know what? I miss Mr. Price.
—Joan M. Smith
Originally published in “Ghost Stories,” September/October 1988
Our saga began in March of 1978, when my wife took me to see an old Dutch Colonial house in the Old Emerywood section of High Point, North Carolina. When we arrived, I could see that much work needed to be done: sagging roof, peeling paint, rusted wooden screens, unkempt yard. The inside wasn’t much better. My first impression was to say, “Forget it”; however, something told me that this house would be a great fixer-upper. We moved in in August of 1978, after making a great deal with the owner, a widow who was moving to a nursing home. Her husband, Mr. Martin, had passed away at the home the previous year.
Our oldest child was the first to experience our uninvited house guest. Raymond, who was 5 at the time, would come downstairs after bedtime, saying that he had heard someone walking down the hall and wanted to know who it was. We would tell him to go back to bed, that it was just the squirrels running across the roof.
About two weeks later, I woke up in the middle of the night when I heard footsteps coming up the stairs (which were covered in linoleum, making the footsteps very loud). I thought that we had a burglar. I sat up in the bed to see who was coming up, but nobody appeared—just the sound of footsteps. My sitting up woke my wife, and she asked what the matter was. I told her what had happened, and she said that it wasn’t a burglar but something else. She had had the same experience the night before and had stared and stared at the hallway, but no one ever appeared. She hadn’t told me about this before because she thought that I would think she was crazy. Now, of course, I didn’t think she was crazy at all. Just to be sure, we got up and searched the entire house. Nothing was out of the ordinary at all.
Two more weeks passed, and we had more experiences. I came home from work one day, and my wife told me what her day had been like. As the children took their naps and she was watching TV in the den, she heard someone walking around in the room directly over her head (a bedroom made into an office for me). She thought someone had broken into the house through an upstairs window. She had been terribly frightened as he walked all around the room, moving furniture, with those loud feet going clomp-clomp-clomp for about 15 minutes. She was frozen with fear. She couldn’t leave because the children were upstairs, and she couldn’t go upstairs because we had no weapons, and she didn’t want to confront him unarmed. She called her parents to come over and help her, and when they rushed in and went upstairs with her, there was nothing there: All was silent, and nothing looked disturbed. Her parents told her it was squirrels. But as she said to me, if it was squirrels, then they were built like cows and had the feet of elephants.
We soon named our friend “Mr. Martin.” We learned from the neighbors that the real Mr. Martin was a heavy smoker who suffered from emphysema. It became a family joke to say, “Mr. Martin turned on the light in the bathroom again last night,” or, “Mr. Martin left the front door open again last night.” (That front door, standing wide open on countless mornings after I’ve securely closed it and locked it the night before, nearly drives me crazy.)
No one in the household smokes, but it wasn’t long until we noticed the smell of smoke hanging strongly in the air when we would walk into a room or in certain areas of the yard. This usually occurred when we were engaged in a project concerning the house—it seems he would stand there smoking and supervising as we painted or hung wallpaper. I was hanging wallpaper in my daughter’s bedroom one day, and someone tapped me on the shoulder. I turned on the ladder to see what my wife wanted, but she wasn’t there. No one was there. “Of course,” I said—why not? On another occasion, while doing yard work, the smoke smell became particularly strong. We learned from the next-door neighbor that this particular section of the yard had been very upsetting for Mr. Martin. Several years earlier, the teenager next door had, with Mrs. Martin’s permission, planted a garden on the spot. Mr. Martin, then sick, was so upset that Mrs. Martin asked the teenager to take out the garden and replace it the way it was before. It was so eerie to smell freshly lit cigarettes as I worked in this spot, just as if he were standing right beside me, asking me to stop.
We now have three children, and the oldest is 15. Everyone has had their own experiences with Mr. Martin. They have all had the footsteps experiences, cigarette-smoke experiences, lights-on and front-door-opening experiences. But some have had their own unique experiences. On at least two occasions, our oldest has heard Mr. Martin’s labored, hard rasping in the den, where he died. One day we came home and found the oldest standing outside on the sidewalk. He said that Mr. Martin had been breathing again in the den with him, and he wasn’t going to stay in the house with him anymore. (It’s funnier in a group; it’s unnerving when you’re alone with him.)
In June of 1984, I awoke in the middle of the night and actually saw Mr. Martin in the hallway upstairs. He was surrounded by a brilliant light, and then vanished into the wall in the hall. My next-door neighbor had a picture of him and showed it to me after I’d told her about this experience. It matched what I had seen.
I believe that he was looking for his wife that night; they had lived in this house for 32 years. She had died in August of 1978.
Several weeks ago I came home from work to the smell of cigarette smoke on the front porch. I am sure that Mr. Martin was there—with a cigarette, sitting on the porch on that nice spring day, enjoying the neighborhood, just as he used to long ago. We hope he likes what we have done to the house.
High Point, North Carolina
Originally published in “Ghost Stories,” September/October 1988
From the very first day MaryLou and I bought our 220-year-old farmhouse in Connecticut, we felt a presence, as though someone was reading over our shoulders. After we moved in, it was very quickly apparent that the house came complete with a permanent resident—and somehow, MaryLou knew it was a woman. Doors opened, closed, and sometimes slammed; things often were not where we had left them; footsteps frequently could be heard, especially upstairs in our daughter’s bedroom. To us, this was a warm, joyful feeling, not at all adverse—a feeling of well-being filled us.
Not everyone felt that way, however. A workman repairing the sill at the back of the house had access to the basement from outside, but the door inside at the top of the stairs into the house was locked. He wanted to get in and tried the door. No one was at home, and the door was indeed locked. But as he tried the door, he heard footsteps coming toward him across the living room floor. They stopped at the door. He asked to be let in. No answer. He went back outside to see if one of us had come home: no cars in the drive, no open doors or windows. He couldn’t get in. He went back into the cellar and up the stairs, calling out to be let in. The footsteps left the door and went back across the living room floor. The workman left—quickly.
A phone call to the previous occupants concerning several practical items such as plumbing and construction repairs ended up to be very revealing. The conversation concluded, “You do know that there is a ghost in that house, don’t you?” Yes, we certainly did. They had known it during the 20-odd years they lived there, and never had a bad experience. Only once did they see the spirit. The wife, her husband, and her daughter all saw a figure come down the stairs from the second floor. At first, they thought it was a child—very small. But on second look, they saw it was an old woman, with gray eyes, dressed in gray. Then she disappeared. So it was a woman—MaryLou was right! But who was she? No one had a clue.
In researching the history of the house, I learned that it was built between 1752 and 1777 by Elnathan Knapp, and was sold father to son for three generations in the Knapp family. In 1882, Ira Knapp and his bride, Thankful Barnum Knapp, took over the farm from his father, Elnathan Knapp, Jr. Ira and Thankful were the last of the Knapps to live in the house. Ira died in 1871; Thankful, then 65 years old, refused to leave the house to live with one of her sons close by. She insisted on staying in her home alone, and so she did, until she was killed by a fall down the cellar steps in 1890, at the age of 85. She was buried the next day beside Ira in the little cemetery of the church they had joined in 1843, about a half mile from her home The Knapp genealogy describes Thankful as very bright and active all her life, with gray eyes, and very small, weighing only 90 pounds. It all fit together.
Thankful Knapp is still in her house. And she is delightful. MaryLou had been missing a bracelet for several weeks, and one day she simply said, “Thankful, please help me find it.” The next morning, it was on the kitchen floor in full view. One day last winter, our daughter, Lynn, came home from school without her house key. She went into a pantry off the kitchen where our dogs can get in out of the weather, and tried the door from the pantry into the kitchen: It was locked and chained. She called out, “Thankful, please let me in. I’m cold.” After petting the dogs, she tried the door again and it flew open.
A great delight was to watch our cat, Moby, playing with Thankful. He would jump up and spin around, pawing in the air, then run full speed into another room and back, changing direction suddenly several times. He finally ran smack into a wall and sat there staring at it, as if wondering why he couldn’t go through it. After pawing the wall for a minute, he took off for a doorway leading to the other side of the wall, and resumed chasing, jumping, and playing. On Sundays Thankful is not present, or is not active. Moby would walk from room to room all through the house, calling “Meow?” to his friend. It was a sad day for all of us when Moby died; Thankful became quiet for more than two weeks.
One other time, Thankful became quiet for several days. That worried MaryLou until we realized that it was January 22, the date Ira Knapp had died. He had been ill for several days before his death 117 years ago.
We now go to the little church where Ira and Thankful were members. They are buried there, and Thankful’s gravestone reads, “Gone, But Not Forgotten.” She certainly isn’t forgotten—in fact, she isn’t really gone.
—Thomas G. Lyle
Originally published in “Ghost Stories,” September/October 1988
The Man in Black
In the summer of 1942, as a pigtailed girl of 11, I stood gazing up at the spacious Queen Anne with awe. I had spent the first part of my life in a large city, and this hilltop house looked like a castle. It had everything a young tomboy could want—more than eight acres of woods and orchard, 250 feet of private lakefront, and that amazing house with its wraparound porch, a wood stove in the kitchen, and best of all, a tower! I had been promised the tower bedroom with its view of the lake.
We set about refurbishing the house with enthusiasm. My life was as perfect as I could wish. I liked my new school, made friends, swam, hunted, fished, and prowled the woods. I constructed a tree house in the orchard where I spent many hours munching on apples and pears while I read. I can’t recall exactly how long we lived in the house before he began to make his presence known.
From my room I would hear someone walking in the attic. At first I assumed it was my mother, but I always found her in the kitchen or garden, denying she had been upstairs. Then one night I was awakened by a sensation of being watched. I opened my eyes to see an ominous figure looming over me, completely in black. He wore a tall hat and a cape or cloak that he held over the lower part of his face. Above high, hollow cheekbones, sunken, red eyes glowered. I screamed for my father, and when he entered the room, the apparition vanished.
The manifestations became more frequent, and my visitor became more visible and clearly defined. In warm weather I began dragging blanket and pillow out my window to sleep on the little mop porch outside my room. In winter, on weeknights when my father was in the city, I would feign cold and beg to sleep with my mother. On weekends I would again scream for my father. The apparition never appeared in any room but mine, but sometimes I could hear his heavy footsteps in the attic, especially if I was alone in the house. I made it a practice never to be alone in the house after dark. If my mother was out, I bundled up my homework and went next door, where a kind childless couple always welcomed my company, or I sat on the porch until her return.
I only saw the last of him when I grew up and left that house for good. Many years later my parents came to visit me, and we were looking through some old photo albums. There in a picture of our old home, peering from the window of my tower bedroom, was his face. My mother said it was only the reflection of tree branches. Two other snapshots taken at the same time from the exact same location showed only an empty window. When I had the photo enlarged, the darkroom technician refused to make more than one print, saying he felt uneasy working with it. I hadn’t discussed the apparition with him. My mother then admitted that our home was supposedly haunted. She hadn’t wanted to upset me while we were living in the house because, she said, “You were such a nervous child.” The ghost was rumored to be a judge who had either shot or hanged himself in the attic.
In the summer of 1996 I stood gazing up at the house once more. It had been “let go,” as they say, but now had new owners who wanted my advice on restoring it. They were full of plans to strip paint from the golden oak woodwork, remove cheap paneling from the walls, and revitalize the gardens.
The husband greeted me outside with a warm hug, then looked a bit uncomfortable. He asked if I would mind answering a rather odd question before we went into the house where his wife and children awaited us. “My children believe they have seen a ghost in the tower bedroom,” he said. “Is there a ghost in the house?”
My answer was, “Yes.”
—Patricia S. Orcutt
Wisconsin Rapids, Wisconsin
Originally published in “Ghost Stories,” September/October 2002
Several years ago, we purchased a wonderful 1913 Arts & Crafts house in Fort Worth, Texas—a gracious, spacious lady perfect for our large family.
We bought it from a very reluctant seller, a locally famous pawnbroker known as Uncle Mel. He adored the house but had been required to sell it off in a difficult divorce settlement. Long after the house was empty, he continued to play cards with his friends there and made no effort to find a buyer. Certainly, he negotiated with us as if he were quite content to own it forever.
When we finally acquired the house, we moved in with ambitious plans for a full restoration, including restoring a handsome central oak staircase that had a passageway leading to our master bedroom on the second landing.
One night about three years after we moved in, we tucked all four kids into bed and retired to our bedroom to read. We were wide awake, and the house was blissfully quiet. Suddenly, we both heard heavy footsteps outside our door, thudding up the oak staircase—deliberate, fearless footfalls. We bolted up in bed. Bob grabbed a machete, and we went to the door and cautiously opened it. Seeing nothing, we proceeded to each of the kids’ bedrooms, checking to see that they were both safe and fast asleep.
We then searched the entire house with the machete at the ready. We opened every closet, looked behind the furniture and curtains, and even searched the dark basement. It was so strange. We found nothing, yet were both absolutely sure we had heard the footsteps of an intruder. Returning to our bedroom, we talked about our thoroughness. Finally convinced that no one could possibly be in the house, we turned out the lights.
The next morning Bob went out to get the paper and opened it while still standing on the driveway. The answer to our puzzle was right on the front page. Uncle Mel had been murdered on the previous night.
—Robert and Beverley Camp
Fort Worth, Texas
Originally published in “Ghost Stories,” September/October 2002
The Guardian Angel
When my husband, Mark, and I were newlyweds 16 years ago living in Charleston, South Carolina, Mark told me his dream was to raise our family in his hometown of Conway, 90 miles northeast. Since we both love old houses, I asked Mark to show me the old section of Conway.
We cruised past an abandoned, sorely neglected house with a yard that covered half the block. “Oooooh,” I said. “Who owns that spooky old place?” Mark remembered it as being apartments and had no idea. “If you buy me that house, I’ll move to Conway,” I said.
Five years later Mark found a job in Conway and, at the same time, that spooky old house came on the market. Built in 1864, it had been returned to a single-family home again, but the heating system for all 13 rooms consisted of four electric baseboards. For air conditioning, there were three window units. We considered it “luxury camping” and figured the kids, ages 3 years and 10 months, were too young to know better. It was livable and affordable.
August 13, two and a half months after we moved in, was our daughter’s first birthday. I took the children to North Carolina to spend the night with my parents, but Mark was unable to go. That night he was awakened by the cries of a baby, so lifelike that he was at the crib before he remembered he was home alone.
A couple weeks later we were exploring our church’s graveyard when we found the family plot of the man who built our house. Surrounded by an iron fence, it was big enough for six, but occupied only by William Gurganus and his infant son, Norman, who had died in 1867—on August 13.
Further research showed that Gurganus came to Conway in 1860 at the age of 24 and took a 17-year-old bride, Lucy. They had three children—two boys and a girl, as we would eventually. William died at only 34, and Lucy remarried a “top-hat totin’ lawyer” who left her destitute. In Cheraw, South Carolina, we found the grave of William’s oldest son, Hyman, buried at age 25.
It took us five years to save enough money to begin the restoration, at which point we moved into a small rental house that adjoined our property. I was lying in bed one night, wide awake next to my sleeping husband, when a swirling white mist began to fill the room. I asked the apparition to let me know if it was William Gurganus by making my sleeping husband lift his hand. He did so.
The following day, carpenters working on an upstairs wall found a time capsule containing the November 28, 1864 Wilmington Daily Journal; William Gurganus’s signature; a letter from his brother, a confederate soldier stationed near Wilmington; a leather ledger book containing many local names; and a pencil sketch of a uniformed man declaring, “Mr. President, the people of my part of the country are starved and can’t take it any longer and I mean to lay the bill on the table.” How did it happen that we found these items just then, especially since the house had undergone so many different alterations?
When we moved back into the completed house in November 1999, our 11-year-old son Luke claimed the upstairs—with the largest bedroom in the house, full bath, study, and music/playroom—as his personal domain. He lived large and loved it until one day at 6 a.m., when he returned from the bathroom to see a dark-haired, bearded man sitting on the twin bed next to his, looking out the window. The man turned to Luke, smiled, and disappeared. Luke immediately ran downstairs and jumped in bed with his sister. I tried to convince Luke that William is our guardian angel and means no harm, but not surprisingly he slept downstairs next to his little brother for the next couple months. He’s back upstairs now, as long as I leave on a light in the next room.
We feel comforted thinking William must be happy with our family in his house.
Conway, South Carolina
Originally published in “Ghost Stories,” September/October 2002Published in: Old-House Journal September/October 2008