Thursday, September 26, 2013

Is My House Haunted?

For whatever reason this question seems to pop up from time to time, no matter what home I seem to dwell in. Creeks, clicks, and doors swinging open aside, I think that the genesis of this common inquiry is squarely blamed upon, being in a family that has remnants of a guilt laden Catholic upbringing. This coupled with the often odd history of an already “lived in” home, that has from time to time presented us with a gift of some eerie reliquary. Notwithstanding any real logic, I have often questioned the metaphysical properties of what can only be termed as a strange occurrence.

The house I currently live in cannot be deemed as authentically “old”, at least by my definition. It was built in 1959, on some neglected farm land near a creek and a few old Indian trails. My house and about forty others were built by one contractor and supplied a cheap, reliable place to live in the suburbs so folks could move out of the city. It has up until this point held five families, and the layers of tacky wallpaper and shoddy home repairs spell out a detailed history of the place. However there are a few things that have cropped up from time to time that leave a sort of eerie feeling in my stomach, the first of which I encountered while replacing ductwork in the crawlspace.

My home was built at a time before central air conditioning was a standard necessity and as such all the ductwork was metal for the gas heater that supplied it. Once a central air conditioning unit was installed no one ever thought to insulate much less, remove and replace the old ductwork. This resulted in condensation moisture that would collect on the ducts and then drip into the crawlspace. In the laundry room it would drip onto the drop ceiling and create mold. So I had to remove all of this and replace it with something insulated and new.

As I took task to removing the ductwork, I noticed that old newspaper was used to pack around the duct as it passed through a concrete divider. I removed all of this and took it out to review. The paper was old editions of “The Bulletin” that ranged from 1971 to 1973. This by itself was not that odd. In my time I have seen much stranger things used as insulation.  The one thing that put me off and gave me an eerie feeling was that these were not complete editions of the paper; there were only obituaries, and stories about violent crime. The most shocking was a few articles concerning a serial killer on the loose in Philadelphia in 1972. To the best of my knowledge I know of no serial killer in the city around that time. The papers were very brittle, old and spent the majority of their life absorbing water and moving through temperature extremes so I just shrugged it off and threw everything away.

The next incident where my home offered up some ghosts from the past was the year when my basement repeatedly flooded. Despite the fact that my home is more than thirty-five feet above the older homes, it is still twenty feet BELOW the homes along the main road, and as such when there is an excess of rain or the ground is heavily saturated, the water moves slowly through the New Jersey clay working its way down to the creek. When this water encounters something nice and hollow, like my basement, the hydrostatic pressure literally forces water into it. This caused me a great deal of stress, and emptied my wallet to the tune of five grand to get French drains installed. To keep the cost low I decided to demolish the basement myself and finish it once the drains and pumps had been installed. I was so distraught and angry about this that I immediately started on the demolition to take my frustrations out on SOMETHING.

Everything had to come out. The walls, the floor, even the ceiling. Anything that could have had moisture damage needed to be removed. It was my guess that similar flooding had happened in the past so the carpet and drywall also needed to be trashed. Luckily I work for a company that sells mold remediation products so I was able to be proactive and clean everything up nicely. This endeavor produced two items that I considered to be eerie.

While removing one of the walls a small clear plastic pill container, not the standard kind but the kind one would see in the earlier 70’s fell out and onto the ground. Inside was a small doll of a little girl. It appeared to be a school girl with books molded out of blue plastic. This was a true WTF moment. Why would this be stuck in my wall for nearly forty years and why would someone place a small figure of a school girl inside an airtight container. It was baffling if not weird and to this day I never dared to open the container for fear that something might be unleashed upon this world.

As if that wasn’t enough confusing fun to be had, the house had yet more strange and interesting things to offer up. The ceiling in the basement was simply painted drywall nailed onto the floor joists’ of the upper floor with no insulation. I had figured that since I was remodeling the basement that I might as well remove all of that to insulate and install recessed lighting. After a couple swings with the hammer the drywall started to fall. I took one mighty swing and ripped a three foot section of the ceiling down. In addition to the drywall there was an array of papers and folders that fell from the ceiling. Yet another WTF moment. I gathered all the papers up and started to file through them. Apparently this was an entire dossier of a Chinese woman that once lived in the house. The papers were dated from the late nineties to the early two-thousands. I arranged the paperwork in chronological order as best as I could and began reading. It appeared that the women lived in the home with her husband, and both emigrated from China. They both had very odd names with a lot of X’s in both the first and last name. I didn’t even attempt to pronounce them. As it turned out the women was being beaten and stalked by another man who had the exact same name as her husband, who also emigrated from the same province in China. This apparently went on for years and they could not get the problem resolved so they inevitably ended up moving. I am still not sure why these documents were hidden in my ceiling.

Now all of this is fine and well. One would expect an older home to have such strange trinkets lying about that beg to tell a story or two. None of this would seem to lend itself to trigger any sort of superstitious fears or annex any part of my better judgment. That is until we all started hearing disembodied voices around the house.

I like to think of myself as a pretty down to Earth and pragmatic guy. Usually when something happens that I do not understand I meet it first with curiosity and attempt to find a cause and affect relationship that produces the outcome that has baffled me. So when my wife told me that she started to hear noises in the basement while getting ready for work in the morning, I didn’t think too much of it. Of course older homes make noise. A few days later she then reported that she heard people talking in the basement while she was upstairs curling her hair, again in the morning when no one was home. I dismissed this and told her that she needed to get a better night’s sleep. I could tell that this creeped her out a little bit, but like me she tends to be pretty pragmatic as well.

A few weeks pass and we all but forget about the incident. One night while we all gathered for dinner, Mezzy (step daughter) looked a bit disheveled, nervous, and nearly bursting at the seams ready to tell us something. My wife asked her what it was all about. Apparently Mezzy was upstairs in the bathroom getting ready to shower in the morning when no one was home, and started to hear people talking downstairs in the basement. She knew no one was home, and thought some people had entered the house and were trying to burglarize it. She snuck down to the kitchen and grabbed a knife to inspect and when she went into the basement there of course was no one there. My wife had an understanding look in her eyes since she had experienced a similar incident. I immediately asked if she was sure there wasn’t a radio on somewhere or if her phone might have been on speaker or something along those lines. They both seem pretty convinced that something was going on and I could tell they did not feel entirely safe. But what could be done, I am not the type to call a shaman much less a priest about this business. I again dismissed all this by saying “We are too busy to deal with ghosts, and if they are going to live here I am going to charge them rent.”

Again a few weeks pass, and no one speaks of these incidents. I work remotely from home on Fridays, so from time to time I get the house to myself once everyone leaves for work and school. This is a time of quiet solitude that I do thoroughly enjoy. I will brew up a latte, start some laundry and click away at my keyboard until the early afternoon. On this particular Friday I did not have any laundry to process. I managed to get that out of the way the night before, so I was able to afford a nice slice of time with NOTHING or NO ONE making noise.  Or so I thought.

Now just to be clear, my Friday morning Latte is nearly 32 oz. It is a gigantic cup that I bought specifically for the purpose of my Friday morning routine. It is quite large and gives me enough pep to start me in on my weekend. Because, I consume such a large quantity of what is essentially a diuretic I have to make several trips to the bathroom once I consume the whole cup. So I make my way upstairs to the kitchen from the basement. There are two sets of stairs, one leading from the basement to the kitchen, and the other that leads from the living room to the upper level of my home where the bathrooms are. As I make my way through the kitchen and turn the corner into the living room, I hear a women’s voice. I could not make out what she said, but it sounded like it came from the steps that lead to the upper portion of my home. I did not think too much of this and wrote it off as I might have misheard a creek in the steps as I was walking towards them, this dismissal was further expedited by the discomfort posed by a rapidly expanding bladder.

About an hour passes and I am ready to head up stairs again for another bathroom trip. This time when I approach the steps I hear a steady dinging sound, and again a woman’s voice but this time much more clear. “Hello?”

I am taken back a bit. I look around and see nothing. All the while a steady dinging is heard from an origin of what appears to be my steps. I reply back, “Uh hello?”

“Yes, I know. It’s ok I will be there soon” says the disembodied voice. Ding, ding, ding still being heard in the background.

If I didn’t know any better it sounded like someone speaking in a conversation. But what the hell was all this dinging? I wasn’t sure if I should be scared or intrigued, but for whatever reason I was creeped out enough to head out my front door to regroup my thoughts. I walked outside all the way to the sidewalk near the street to think about this. It was a pleasant day. The air was cool and thin. It felt good when I inhaled. I took a deep breath and looked around a bit.

What did I see? Two houses down the street from me was a woman sitting in her car with the door open talking on a phone. I could not hear anything that was going on, but sure enough when I walked back inside and stood in the rough location of the bathroom or near the steps leading to it. I could hear the car dinging because the door was open and the key was in the ignition. Furthermore I could faintly hear the one-sided conversation of a woman on the phone.

OK, this is one gigantic WTF?!?!

So in conclusion I ask again, “Is my house haunted?”
In retrospect, it would appear that each time someone heard something was always in the morning, in a quiet house. Not a lot of noise outside. The AC or heater never run this time of year and I would suspect that the cool thin air allows sound to propagate enough until it hits my aluminum chimney which is essentially a big pipe that I would guess resonates around the same frequency of human speech. Hmmm a test with an oscillator might prove that.

Yes, yes it is. It is haunted with silly monkeys conjuring realities to explain away the confusion of what is clearly a beautiful example of acoustic physics at work in a quiet house. I couldn’t wait to tell everyone. My wife gave a little smile when I told her. It was the smile that said “Wow that’s awesome!” Mezzy on the other hand refuses to believe it. I suppose her world might always have witches being burned at the stake.

What can I say we’re all Jocko Homo.

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