As one who has been known as a skeptic about ghosts, I still always said that if the day ever came where I felt like I experienced what I could not readily provide adequate explanation for, then I would admit it. Those who are staunch believers in ghosts and the paranormal can now have their fun at my expense. As of Christmas Eve and Christmas Morning of 2019, I received what was no doubt my greatest gift ever.
I had the great privilege of getting to spend Christmas Eve night with a group of friends whom I have come to regard as family. Although the daughter and her husband own a home that has a notorious history that bears description as being haunted, we did not begin the holiday evening at that residence. Instead, we all got together at the mother’s home, which is around the corner from the haunted home that I just referred to. We were a six member group that evening. There were my friends who are husband and wife, there was her mother and her significant other, there was the sister of the husband, and lastly, there was me.
After consuming a marvelous dinner that was served in a dining room that is as regal as anything I have ever seen in a movie, the night began with an abundance of laughter generated by the congregation of some of the best senses of humor I have ever encountered. What I found amusing was when my wonderful hostess urged that we all hold a seance there in the marvelous dining area. Eventually, she began leading our table in what has to have been the most comical seance that has ever been performed. If Monty Python were to act out a seance, it would not be funnier than what the personalities present at that table were able to playfully conjure. I still laugh out loud every time I think about that event, and I don’t think I’ve ever had a better time with a group of people. As one who believes in putting all things paranormal to the test in the tradition of the magicians that I have learned from, I am always willing to put anything to the test that comes attached with a claim that says it can facilitate contact with the otherworldly. I’ll be happy to let any psychic perform a reading on me, I’ll give any ouija board a test run, and sitting in on a makeshift seance is just one more thing that I am more than willing to observe if it means putting one more claim to the test.
At some point after the impromptu Christmas Eve seance was held, we all shuffled across the entry way of the home to the beautiful living area. In that room under the watch of a gorgeously decorated Christmas tree, we all exchanged gifts and enjoyed more laughter. It was at around 1:30 AM on Christmas Morning when we all ambled back across the hall to the dining room where we all took our places again at the dining table. The resumed banter continued until it was unexpectedly interrupted at approximately 2:00 AM.
It was at this time that my gracious hostess began to show concern in her face. As she increased the volume on her security camera software that is monitored remotely via her smart phone, we could all hear that her dogs were barking. Her face began to show even more concern and the tension was passed around the room when all of a sudden her smaller of two dogs yelped as if in high distress. It was at that point that panic set in, it was assumed that a break-in was occurring, and her husband darted to his vehicle so he could get to their home around the corner as quickly as possible. I could not catch up with the husband quickly enough so I followed him around the corner to the home in my own vehicle. I later came to find out that what his wife had seen visually on their security software was first their two cats running underneath the bed in the back bedroom, followed by their other two dogs running into the same bedroom frantically.
After I pulled into the driveway by the side of the house, and after I emerged from my car, the husband came from the side door of the house. Being a former Marine, he had already cleared the house and found no signs of any intruders. The tools sitting outside this side door were all still where they had been, and the garbage bag present was untouched. There was no indication of any theft from that area or any scavenging done of the refuse sealed in the plastic bag. I followed the husband back into the house and we both looked around with nothing seeming to be out of place. By his presence, the dogs began to calm down and he reassured them with calm words and by patting them with comforting hands. Because calm seemed to have been restored, the decision was made for us to go back around the corner and rejoin the Christmas festivities.
As soon as the husband and I pulled back up in front of the mother’s house from which we had come, the wife was outside with her phone in hand. The dogs were once again in a major state of hysteria. The wife, the husband, the sister, and I all began to grab our presents and other items so we could all get back to the house where the dogs were. We made a dash for a second time back around the corner.
As I arrived back at the home, I once again entered the side door. After we all began walking around the house checking to make sure all was normal, the wife eventually pointed out that the smaller of the two dogs, while in its state of terror, had urinated all over a rug in the back bedroom, which I looked at visually as I walked completely around the bedroom trying to ascertain what may have happened to cause such a melee? There were no signs that any human intruders had been in the home anywhere. And, there were no signs that any straying wildlife had been in the home or had disturbed any garbage.
So, where do eyebrows begin to raise? Well, if one knows the history of this property, where the game of correlations arises is because of where the dogs were panicked in the home and because of the stories that are associated with this area of the home. The only camera that was activated by the motion of the dogs was in the back bedroom. This bedroom is adjacent to the back hallway. The hallway is where apparitions are reported to have been seen in the home, and if one believes the video footage passes muster, where on two different occasions forms of some type were recorded on camera in the same hallway. Numerous reports are also attached to the bedroom where the property owners sleep, one of which is a chair moving half-way across the floor on its own. Therefore, all of the ruckus of the dogs happened within a few feet going between the bedroom and the hallway.
Does this course of events prove substantially that the home is host to one or more ghosts? It does not based on critical questioning and by invoking rigorous standards of protocol. There are indeed a multitude of things that could conceivably upset a dog or dogs and cause them to play off of each other’s exhibitions. One of the rules to follow in the paranormal game is not to jump and create correlations that may not actually be there. So, there were no apparitions spotted, but only dogs witnessed to be in a highly agitated condition with biological residuals indicating panic. And, just because the software for the security camera all of a sudden lost sound when we were all first becoming aware of what was happening with the dogs, does not necessarily mean that some electromagnetic event was taking place at the other end to cause the loss in sound. It turns out that the first of the sequence of text messages from the security system actually started at 1:24 AM. We did not become aware of the alerts until close to 2AM. It is possible that the continual alerts generated by the constant motion of the dogs for almost half an hour eventually contributed to a streaming hangup with the security software.
But, if I step back and relive this night in my mind while being a firsthand witness to the events, it is easy to understand why one’s first reaction is to think and speak in terms of the subjective rather than the ultra objective. For starters, I saw how disturbed the dogs were. I saw how one of the dogs, in conjunction with the yelp heard over the phone speaker, may have at the same point lost control of its bladder and left behind urinary signs of a very fearful reaction. And, yes, the dogs were displaying their emotions in two adjacent rooms where a chair has been reported to move on its own and where apparitions have been reported to have been observed, not to mention a wall that separates the two rooms that has been said to sometimes emanate large banging sounds in the absence of plumbing or any other readily assigned causes. Furthermore, the home has numerous accounts of classical types of haunting phenomena dating back to at least the 1930s and that have been cited by a long list of eyewitness reports.
So, what does a skeptic like myself do in a situation like this one if more subjective correlations are allowed to be entertained? Hopefully, a reader will be pleasantly surprised by my reactions. As stated above, in the strictest sense of science, there are no rock solid corroborations existing from this account that took place on Christmas Morning. But, in the spirit of science, it is also always not only acceptable, but commendable, to say, “I don’t know,” when such a scenario is experienced. In science, one does not fabricate. Instead, in science, you come back and test another day and wait for an answer at another time if such an outcome is called for. There are too many gaps in the story that I saw unfold. There is no video that was recorded from the incident. It is only possible for those of us who were there to recall the scene as we saw it after the fact. What we do know is that nothing appeared in the video except the dogs and cats themselves. Again, from the software undergoing a brief hiccup to dogs being upset, most of the detail I did not get to observe, so it is not possible for me to fill in knowledge gaps in case there were some things more recognizable as contributing to this out of the ordinary occurrence. But, I was there, and the wife of the family and I would agree that even if I had been able to see the entire event unfold on the screen, I would not have been able to put forth any more of a concrete explanation as to what had the dogs so upset.
Allow me to quote from skeptics who appear on the national stage. Although I haven’t confirmed it through email, I was actually surprised to learn that Bryan and Baxter, a paranormal investigation duo who have gained notoriety with their skillsets and their opinions on field methods, are quoted as having experienced some things which might endure difficult explanation. They have presented at skeptical conferences, and the concluding comments of an article devoted to them by Barb Adams of, “Amerika Now,” are as follows:
“Beyond the deception they uncover, and the explanations they present, they still encounter some strange phenomena that they can’t explain immediately. They’ve seen chairs move mysteriously in an empty room, they’ve heard disembodied voices, and they’ve felt the touch of unseen…people?
Sometimes, the questions remain unanswered. At least for now….”
These concluding comments actually surprised me since in all the videos I have watched of Bryan and Baxter, I have never seen them state things quite so strongly from their experiences with investigations. Since I have not corresponded with them about this article, I will let them comment on whether this quote accurately represents some of their findings in the field.
One of my mentors, Joe Nickell, has some interesting quotes in an article featured in, “The New Yorker,” magazine. Although Joe is a skeptic, it is neat to see in the article that he tries to stick to the nature of inquisitivity in the spirit of scientific inquiry. Although I have had a skeptical bent in my thinking for many years now, I personally try to follow the evidence and base my conclusions on where it takes me. If I didn’t follow this practice honestly, I would never have gone out into the field in the first place. But, as an inspiration of mine as a field investigator, Joe made me proud with the following comments:
“What we need is a kinder, gentler skepticism,” Nickell said. “I’m tired of these debunkers coming by my office and saying, ‘Hey, Nickell, seen any ghosts lately? Har har har.’ ” He shook his head and poked at his granola. “I’m not saying there’s a fifty-fifty chance that there is a ghost in that haunted house. I think the chances are closer to 99.9 per cent that there isn’t. But let’s go look. We might learn something interesting…”
And, yes, I intentionally included this quote right before I admit to the world that I have said on more than one occasion that I do believe the home that is the centerpiece to this blog entry needs to be studied. The lore goes back decades with numerous claimants, and the property needs to be understood once and for all. I have an investigative protocol worked up for studying the home, and if there are any answers to be found, I do feel that at least some answers could be found there.
Furthermore, Joe goes on to say:
“I’ve spent thirty years investigating the paranormal,” Nickell told the crowd, “and I kind of resent this idea that I’ve been wasting my time.”
I’ve been engaging the discussion over science and the paranormal for going on eighteen years now, and I echo Joe’s sentiments. It’s a discussion for another time, but there is credible scientific reason for continuing onward with this battle, even if the results are the same for a majority of the time. But, just as important as crying foul in the often flawed evaluation of the paranormal and the errant logic often applied to its understanding, it is also important to look a little deeper on those rare occasions where something may make us think a little harder. If such a policy is not adopted, science can suffer in the end.
And, finally, in quoting from this article on Joe, maybe some good can be found in the way I have approached the topic of ghosts in more recent years. In conjunction with the literary discussion over the poem, “The Night Before Christmas,” the comments are made in the Nickell article:
“He was a spoilsport with only the best intentions, a saint who performed no miracles but who didn’t discount the possibility, however faint, that miracles might occur in the future.”
As many times as I said that I do not believe in ghosts, I also always said that in investigating ghostly claims, one has to get up out of the armchair and go where the ghosts are said to roam. Whatever disagreements the very many may have had with me and my reasoning, I have always espoused investigating and making sure that the venture is data driven. After Christmas Morning of 2019, I espouse the investigation all the more. Ghosts, in the observed sense, have never been a part of my past. Is there a chance, if I keep searching, that perhaps they will be in the future?
And, in bringing this blog entry toward a close, I will call on Michael Shermer. Dr. Shermer is someone else whose work I have been familiar with ever since I began looking into the realm of the paranormal. Dr. Shermer is a nationally recognized skeptic and the editor-in-chief of, “Skeptic,” magazine, and I will call on one of his articles he wrote for, “Scientific American,” for the sake of making my point.
While getting prepared for an eventual wedding ceremony to his wife, Dr. Shermer’s fiancee had several family keepsakes shipped Stateside. Many of the heirlooms were damaged in the shipping process. Her grandfather, who was the only father she had ever had, included an old transistor radio in his belongings. It made the trip to the U.S., and it arrived unable to operate at all.
Ironically enough for an arch skeptic, during the day of Dr. Shermer’s wedding, his bride made him aware that music could be heard coming from the back of the house. After searching for the source of the music, it turned out that the old radio started playing on its own and played into the night, never to work again. Dr. Shermer’s wife had been grieving the fact that her grandfather was no longer alive to be able to give her hand away in marriage. As a skeptic herself, her inclination was to still believe that her grandfather was with her on that very important day. No doubt, a strange episode in the life of a skeptic extraordinaire, not unlike my own on Christmas Morning.
After returning to provide solace to the dogs a second time on December 25th, the wife in my social group mentioned how the event was one more in the property’s history that simply, “is not normal!” Dr. Shermer’s closing words in his article about his bride’s radio have a tie-in with such a wonderful quote. His words serve better than my own in this case:
“The emotional interpretations of such anomalous events grant them significance regardless of their causal account. And if we are to take seriously the scientific credo to keep an open mind and remain agnostic when the evidence is indecisive or the riddle unsolved, we should not shut the doors of perception when they may be opened to us to marvel in the mysterious.”
It is probably safe to say that I have been marveling since last Wednesday.
So, what am I saying? Have I traded in my skeptic’s card? Have I assigned far too much significance to a single episode where there is not even any direct correlations available to argue for a ghostly encounter having occurred? Why the embellished comments that I awoke on Christmas Morning in the same way as did Ebenezer Scrooge with a renewed vigor and lease on life?
The defenders of science need not worry that I have betrayed my commitment to sound thinking. No, I’m saying something more mundane, but after almost eighteen years of searching where there was never anything even remotely exciting, I’m simply saying the following. My excitement stems from the fact that Christmas of 2019 gave me all I could ever ask for in contemplating chasing this quest for another eighteen years.
It simply gave me a reason to keep looking.