Occupants of or visitors to certain houses, hotels, castles, theatres, schools, or other buildings sometimes report experiencing odd, recurring, unexplainable phenomena, such as noises with no apparent source, objects that seem to move of their own accord, and apparitions of people long deceased. In such cases, people commonly say the place is haunted by a ghost. These sites exist all over the world, in urban and rural areas, and although the common perception is that haunted houses are old buildings, they can also be modern or recently remodelled structures, often inhabited by living people who are attempting to coexist with the apparent ghost.
There are thousands of supposedly haunted houses, each unique as to the degree and type of phenomena that people in the house experience. Any ghosts associated with the house are said to remain there no matter who lives in the house. In other words, the ghosts are not said to follow the occupants from place to place; instead, they are thought to be tied to the structure. However, a ghost from the Borley Rectory, one of the most famous haunted structures in England, was said to cause hauntings at a school in Willingborough, England, in 1953 and 1954 after some boys stole a brick from the rectory grounds and buried it on the school grounds.
In some cases in which people claim to have seen a ghost in a haunted structure, the identity of the living person the ghost is said to represent is unknown; in others, it is believed to be someone who died there. For example, the Tower of London in England, where many people were imprisoned and executed—a place considered one of the most haunted sites in England, if not in the world—is said to have both identifiable and unidentifiable ghosts. Visitors to the site have reported seeing many headless men and women in various places in the buildings and throughout the grounds. One of these ghosts supposedly can be identified from her clothing as Anne Boleyn, one of the wives of King Henry VIII who was imprisoned and beheaded at the Tower. Another wife of Henry VIII, also executed at the Tower, is also said to haunt there: Catherine Howard, whose ghost supposedly has its head but is often reported to be screaming. Still another Tower ghost, its features said to be intact, is reportedly recognizable as Thomas Becket, archbishop of Canterbury, who did not die at the Tower but once worked there as a constable. (Becket was murdered, supposedly on King Henry II’s orders, in Canterbury Cathedral.) Other ghosts reported at the Tower include Lady Jane Grey, Henry VIII’s niece, Sir Walter Raleigh, King Edward V, and Margaret, the Countess of Salisbury. The latter, executed in 1541, is said to scream on the anniversary of her death.
In some cases, the person who reports seeing a ghost in a haunted building does not know that anyone died there but finds out after describing what he or she saw. For example, on October 3, 1963, a woman at Nebraska Wesleyan University went into what was once the school’s music building, smelled perfume, and noticed a ghostly figure. When she told other people about this, she learned that her description matched that of a woman who had taught music at the school from 1912 to 1936 and who died in a room near where the ghost had been seen.
Most haunted structures get their reputation from the supposed appearance of a ghost, but others become famous for ghostly sounds or “presences”—that is, feelings that a spirit is present, but without visual representation of that spirit. For example, at Westminster Church in Baltimore, Maryland, where many notables are buried—including author Edgar Allan Poe—visitors often report feeling as though a ghostly presence is beside them or that they hear voices speaking when no one is there. Ghost hunters have visited the site on several occasions with audio equipment in an attempt to prove that the voices are real, but they have never been able to record them.
Ghost hunters typically take a fairly casual approach to investigating a haunting, whereas ghost investigators consider their examination of a haunted site to be a serious academic endeavour and therefore conduct a controlled, scientific study of the site’s phenomena. To this end, they use a variety of equipment in order to verify a haunting, including not only audio recording devices but also video, digital, and still cameras as well as measuring devices to determine whether there are any unusual temperature or energy fluctuations during the haunting. (Haunted houses are often said to experience sudden drops in temperature whenever or wherever a ghost is present.) Ghost investigators also take detailed notes during their investigations, draw a detailed map of the structure, interview witnesses, and study the history of the structure to see who might have died there.
Sceptics have suggested that this equipment is all part of an elaborate hoax designed to bring the ghost investigator, ghost hunter, or perhaps the occupant of the house fame and money. Indeed, some haunted houses generate millions of dollars, as was the case with the Amityville horror, a haunting that spawned not only a book but also eight major motion pictures. Consequently, sceptics often dismiss supposed proof of a haunting, saying the investigator has a financial incentive for faking the evidence. When people with no motive to lie report seeing or feeling the presence of a ghost, sceptics are equally dismissive, saying such sensations are figments of the imagination. When such people say that the temperature drops when they see a ghost, sceptics say that it is the result of a draft of cold air. When such people report hearing ghostly sounds, sceptics say it is the wind whistling or the house creaking or the furnace or some other machinery in the house making noises.
The Greenhaven Encyclopedia of Paranormal Phenomena – written by Patricia D. Netzley © 2006 Gale, a part of Cengage Learning