About Me

Growing up in a small New England town with a mother who was an antiquarian it was inevitable that I would be exposed to old things. After graduating from UMass/Amherst I lived in Connecticut, taught school, married, and raised three children in suburbia. A move to Newburyport MA renewed my interest in all things old. This background has now evolved into research, writing, consulting and all the things I love to do.

Prudence Fish

Thursday, October 31, 2013


What better time of year than Halloween to think about the possibility that some houses are haunted.  Many people will swear to it.  Others scoff at the idea.  Some scoff only because they don't want to admit that they believe it.  What do you believe?

In my travels and associations I have met two people who have told endless stories of strange occurrences in houses in which they had lived.  And some people seem to be more susceptible to encounters than other.  Like most people, I am fascinated by these tales.

Have you ever wondered why very old houses usually seem to be the target of such stories?  The older the house the more rampant the stories.  As a Realtor selling many old houses over the years numerous potential buyers asked if the house was haunted with a smile on their face but perhaps only half joking.

The earliest first person account I had ever heard was about a house that seemed to have a problem.  It was in New England.  The house was built in the second quarter of the nineteenth century which did not make it ancient but still pretty old.  Strangely enough, the spirit that seemed to be lurking around was a woman who was dressed from the period around 1940.   She was not very old at all.

I first heard this story around 1980 from someone who had put the house under contract to buy but had moved in prior to a delayed closing.  After a few months in the house the buyers were so freaked out they walked away from the sale and all but ran from the house.  

Often upon arriving home a vision of the woman would appear in the window.  Other things would be out of place, sometimes harmless, sometimes not.  For instance, there were two upstairs bedrooms in the cape.  Apparently this lady had a flare for decorating because the curtains in the two rooms were swapped.  No harm done by that.  Just strange! 

Another freezing winter day a trip home for lunch found the garden hose that had been stored for the winter attached to a faucet, the yard flooded and reduced to a sheet of ice.  That is a bit more annoying than swapping drapes.

But it got worse.  A trip outside to warm up the car on cold mornings invariably resulted in a locked door preventing re-entrance back into the house. This was getting more mischievous.

Being shoved through the shower curtain and sent crashing into the shower wall was a bit scary.  Picking up a large bag of dog food, having it grabbed out of your hand and hurled across the room was outright hostility!

Finally, being awakened during the night with your Doberman standing over you, staring at the corner of the room and snarling was too much.  These people were ‘outa there.

Throughout this ordeal a constant recurrence was footsteps slowly descending the staircase from the second floor that exited into the living room through a door with a thumb latch.  In this instance the footsteps would  descend the stairs, the thumb latch would jiggle and the door would shake but no one entered the room.
Once when I saw this house a sign on the door said
"The Twilight Zone"!
About fifteen years later I was in that “neck of the wood” and thought maybe I could find this house.  As I drove slowly down the street a man emerged from the house.  He had just moved in and had heard stories but as yet had noticed nothing.

Several years later I passed this house again.  The same man was outside and offered to show us the house.  He attested that he was aware of the situation but could live with it.

As I entered the living room I particularly looked for the door to the staircase.  It was there just as had been described to me  but the thumb latch had been removed.  Hmmmm.

The other instance involved a house built in the late 1860s by a veteran of the Civil War and the Battle of Shiloh.  He built a large Victorian house with a tower.  It is in a neighborhood noted for other “incidents".
Some of the events occurring were harmless enough such as seeing a 19th century man, presumably the Civil War veteran, himself, in a black suit walking up the driveway toward the house but vanishing before reaching the front door.

haunted house

At other times there would be footsteps stomping around on the second floor in one particular room but no one was there.  The  mother initially thought it was the children.  She  tried to catch them in their mischief.  But the children were always discovered playing quietly in another part of the house.  This scenario was repeated numerous times.

Other bizarre events were the times when the lady of the house would awaken from a sound sleep to find a man at the foot of her bed!   I can't even imagine how unnerving that would be. 

Of particular interest was a door next to the fireplace.  The the thumb latch would jiggle and the door would open.  No amount of fixing, even reversing the way the door opened, helped.  The sound of the thumb latch and the opening of the door continued.

A new owner only stayed long enough to have one experience.  Before moving in he arrived in darkness one night to bring things inside.  As he approached the stairs with only a bright moon for light he felt something grab him around the ankles.  He dropped what he was carrying and left for good! 

One day a medium came for tea by invitation not knowing any history of the house.  As she departed from this social visit she volunteered the information that there were three entities in the house.  One was a tall man but that was not all.  There was also a mother and a child.  Research indicated that long ago a mother and child had been struck and killed by lightening in a pasture nearby.  Could this be the mother and the daughter that the medium identified?  

The house has changed owners several times.  Some have coped better than others when it comes to coexisting with spirits.  Its present condition is unknown.  

And  finally, my own spooky experience that, thankfully, has nothing to do with my house!

I was in Nova Scotia with cousins attending a three day family reunion of my mother’s family, early “planters” from Connecticut.  They had emigrated to Nova Scotia at the invitation of the government after the expulsion of the Acadians.  (Remember Longfellow's Evangeline?) 

On Sunday, the final day, a special church service was held for the reunion attendees in the Covenanter Church, a charming 1804 meeting house where our ancestors had worshiped.  It was a simple meeting house with a center entrance and a high pulpit for the minister.  It was pristine and inviting.  A steeple was added in 1818. Being there seemed so special.

As we were sitting in the back near the front door about fifteen minutes or so into the service the thumb latch (another thumb latch story) jiggled and the door shook violently.  Clearly some descendant was running very late and eager to get in but being unnecessarily and quite rudely disruptive.  Someone ran to the door and quickly opened it.  No one was anywhere to be seen.  And there were no bushes in which to hide. 
Old meeting house looks like a NE house with center entrance
I have to admit to being more than a little freaked by that.  In my mind I can still hear that door being shaken today as though only yesterday.   What was it?  
Isn't it strange that the common denominator in each of these three stories was the problem of the jiggling thumb latch?
A steeple  added to the gable end
of the meeting house in 1818
So perhaps part of our mind wants to believe and the other part wants to laugh it off.  Or maybe we just won't admit to what we believe or aren't even sure what to believe.  Perhaps some people have overactive imaginations but what about the times when the reputation of a house persists over many years and many owners?  That is harder to dismiss and harder to explain.

Is your house haunted?

What are your thoughts on haunted houses?  Are you buying it?

So long, Everybody!  Happy Halloween from Pru

1 comment:

  1. I just love a good ghost story and have since childhood when my dad would tell them to me as bedtime stories. It made my mother furious as she felt they were much, much to violent to tell a child and would cause nightmares. All those stories of headless horsemen, rising bodies from the grave, mummies, and my favorite The Case of M. Valdemar by Poe still remind me of childhood bedtime and dad winking at me as he told "spook stories", as he called them. Today as a woman in her late 60's I do believe ghosts stories are a gift from the beyond to marketers in the Bed & Breakfast and Tavern business!