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 supernatural."
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 things.
1. Hallucinations 2. Hoaxes
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
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
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
author 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
So this Halloween, if someone dares you
to spend the night at the local "real" haunted house; just
remember the famous words of investigative authors Robert Baker and Joe
"There are no haunted places, only
About the Author
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