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Friday, 31. October 2008
Supernatural Cleaning MethodsA New York Times story today - getting in on the Halloween theme - discussed "Supernatural Cleaning Methods", a tongue-in-cheek look at how to get rid of ghosts in your house.
The chill of autumn has arrived, and it’s time to make your home cozy and snug. Replace those broken shingles, seal the window frames, start the water boiling and throw in some scented nutmegy things, or a rabbit if you’ve been disappointed in love.
But what to do about that ghost that has been making such a racket, scaring the guests and making it impossible to sleep? Sure, you can kid yourself that it’s a squirrel on the roof or a rattling pipe or a fog that comes up from time to time. (On Narragansett Bay? Sure, pal, that’s credible.) But eventually, when guests and family members become truly frightened, something must be done.
Such was the case with Kathleen Whitehurst, an artist in Arnaudville, La., who scoured the countryside to salvage materials with which to build her home and guest house, the picturesque l’Esprit des Chenes. Visitors complained of creaking stairs, sounds in the night. Some fled in terror. Finally, Ms. Whitehurst called in a specialist.
“She came all the way from Arkansas,” Ms. Whitehurst said in a telephone conversation. “She sat on my couch, and within 30 minutes she says, ‘Yes, you do have a ghost in your house.’ She goes into a trance, she came back to her body, and said, ‘He’s a Baptist minister, wearing a white robe, and he’s roaming the house.’ ”
The reason for this problem, incredible as it may seem, was recycling. Ms. Whitehurst had found three Gothic windows in a junk pile at a demolished church, and the ghost had come along with them. The specialist did what is often recommended in these cases, asking Ms. Whitehurst and two friends to make a circle with her around the lost spirit, and tell it, sympathetically but firmly, that it was timeto move along.
“All of a sudden, you could feel the electrical energy moving — it was so intense that all the hair on the back of my neck and hands was standing up,” Ms. Whitehurst said. “And when she said the final words” — Go, go! — “we got that zapped feeling. And he went up, and he’s never been back since.”
You don’t believe in ghosts? Then you are either tragically out of step with the times or possibly a slovenly spiritual housekeeper looking for an excuse to avoid tidying up. A recent Google Internet search for getting rid of ghosts yielded nearly two million hits. By comparison, a search for cleaning rain gutters yielded 191,000.
In a Harris poll last year of 2,000 adults, 41 percent said that they believed in ghosts. Although the National Association of Realtors says that it is not the legal obligation of a real estate agent to tell a prospective buyer about alleged haunting, many agents, like Diane Ragan of Keller Williams Realty in New Orleans, feel that if they hear of something that may distress a buyer, they have the duty to pass it on.
“Just last week I got a call from a past client who was calling for a friend who’d leased a place and wasn’t happy because it was haunted,” she said. “He wanted his deposit back. I told him the best thing his friend could do was plead his case.”
Can These Stubborn Spiritual Stainbuckets Never Be Removed?
Before attempting to cleanse a household of ghostlike sounds and scents, the homeowner must first determine whether such sounds and scents are actually of the other world. Happily, there is no shortage of instruction manuals on the subject. One, an e-book called “Is My House Haunted? A Practical Guide,” was written by Bonnie Vent, the medium who founded the San Diego Paranormal Research Project. Those who dismiss the paranormal may wish to check out her Web site, sdparanormal.com, and read the transcript of her conversation with the comic George Carlin, which occurred after his death. (Few were as skeptical of the afterlife as he.)
Ms. Vent’s guide, which costs $7.97, contains a paranormal activity log in which to record such things as electrical devices going on and off, unexplained noises and cold and hot spots. It lists common misconceptions, including the notion that “paying someone to spread lotions and potion all over the house” will make the spirits go away.
“What does work? Communication!!!” writes Ms. Vent, who is one of those people who is paid; her cleansing services cost $125 an hour. “This does not necessarily mean that they will leave, but you should be able to work out a livable situation.”
She also offered a word of warning: “There are people who will take advantage of others by using holy water, burning sage and spreading salt around the perimeter of the house. Spirit people are people — these things have no effect in the long term. You really have to get to the root cause.”
Also, as His Intimates Knew, Uncle Fred Never Flushed
With ghosts so plentiful, it is reassuring to note that most haunting sites, even those with logos dripping blood, take their responsibilities seriously, reminding homeowners concerned about paranormal activity that they should first seek more mundane reasons for strange activity. The tools may include tape recorders, video equipment and infrared photography.
Jason Hawes and Grant Wilson, the stars of the “Ghost Hunters” program on the Sci Fi Channel, have been helped by their expertise as plumbers.
“We had one case, somebody’s dead uncle Fred was a plumber and they thought that he was giving them a sign because every morning at 2 a.m. their toilet would flush,” Mr. Hawes said. “Come to find out, they would go to bed at about 11 at night and they had a leaky flapper in their toilet. Eventually, after two or three hours, the toilet would drain down enough that the fill valve would kick on, so it would sound like the toilet would flush.”
Any other examples?
“We dealt with a case where a guy was actually seeing apparitions in his house,” Mr. Hawes said. “It was happening only to him, nobody else was having problems. We found out he was on two medications, including an older one his new doctor didn’t know about, and they were making him see things.”
Mr. Wilson added: “Another reason we knew it wasn’t paranormal was the things he was seeing made no sense. There were grotesque things: flowers wandering across the room, faces turning inside out. Paranormal activity isn’t like that. Seeing flowers turning inside out indicates medical or drug problems, not a person without a body walking around your home.”
For Minor Hauntings, Do It Yourself
Problems began with the restoration of the former master bedroom. Ms. Burkey spoke of bad odors and lights going on and off. Her husband recalled “a definite presence.”
“When we started ripping stuff out, it was like the house was saying what are you doing, and would get really persnickety,” Mr. Burkey said. “When we started to take up the carpet and put down a wood floor, all sorts of things went crazy.”
Incredible! How could anyone have anything against a wood floor?
“What we heard was she had a white carpet in that bedroom that she was very much in love with,” he said.
White carpet — the decorating equivalent of falling in love with a married man, an enterprise doomed to failure and heartbreak.
The couple’s solution, which proved effective, was to cleanse the home with sage they bought at Marie Laveau’s House of Voodoo in the French Quarter.
“The salesperson suggested you burn it and carry it through the house, especially through the doors and windows, and make your own incantations telling the spirits they were free to leave,” Ms. Burkey said. “A friend of mine in Connecticut got the idea she should do it in the shape of a pentagram, but that was too black magic for me.”
The Shock of a Mao Jacket Might Have Killed Him
Guy Clark is an interior designer who restores and sells old properties. Spirits do not trouble him. His current home is a stone house in Bullville, N.Y., which was once owned by the makeup artist Kevyn Aucoin, who died in 2002. As he was lying in bed shortly after he took possession, Mr. Clark had a vision.
“I opened my eyes for a second and someone passed over my head through the window in a blue cabana suit, blue shorts and a shirt, like what people wore in the ’60s,” Mr. Clark said. “You can’t make these things up. I didn’t know the man, but I think it was probably Kevyn. He was airlifted out of his front yard and passed away from a brain tumor.”
How did Mr. Clark deal with the spirit?
“I said: ‘O.K., this is my house. If you need anything, I’m here, but you don’t live here anymore, move on.’ ”
However contradictory the message, the ghost apparently understood, for Mr. Clark never again had a problem.
Enough! Now, Let a Hardened Realtor Set the Record Straight
“I’ve had two properties that fall into that category,” said Judy Moore, a broker with 23 years of experience who works with ReMax Landmark Realtor in Lexington, Mass.
“The first one was the former parish house where the priest stayed, and it came up at the closing. The home’s owner said, ‘I just want you to know that there is a priest who haunts this house,’ and went on to tell the story that she grew up in the house, and one time her sister had makeup on top of the dresser and he swiped them off. I was horrified. The buyer could have just said, ‘That’s it, I couldn’t live there’ — but he was a creative type; he was fine with it.
“The other time was really freaky. This is a house that never did sell. It was built in the 1600s, nobody was living there. The first thing that happened when I walked in, my electronic tape stopped working, and I had the funny feeling that there were spirits in the house, and I don’t imagine these sorts of things. I was staging it, there were things that would move, but the worst thing — the really freaky thing — I was putting some dried flowers on the end of this old table and I saw something on the table that was bright red but watery. It looked like blood, but it was too thin, everything on the table was dry. That was the creepiest thing that has ever happened to me in this business.”
Suddenly, a Reporter Is Aware of Her Psychic Gifts
It should be noted that when the New England real estate agent mentioned above was reached on her cellphone, it was about 6 in the evening.
“So, are you driving down the Mass Turnpike in pitch-blackness?” she was asked in an attempt to set the mood.
“Oh my God — how did you know?” Ms. Moore said.
October After October, Reporters Trudge to His Door
Joe Nickell, the ghost hunter for the magazine Skeptical Inquirer, has a doctorate in English literature from the University of Kentucky and was once a professional magician. He has, he says, been investigating stories of ghosts for decades.
Ever catch one?
“I have not.”
One common reason that people believe they see ghosts is that they are experiencing lifelike dreams, Mr. Nickell said. This is why such visions often occur at bedtime. Also, many people enjoy the notion of being haunted.
“Unfortunately, most people are looking to have their beliefs confirmed, so they bring in ghost hunter types who believe they can get an electromagnetic field meter from RadioShack,” he said. “They go into a place and the meter starts going off, whereupon they think they are detecting a ghost. First of all, there is no evidence ghosts exist. Second, there is no evidence that if ghosts exist, they are electromagnetic. These people have no knowledge of microwave towers or faulty wiring in the house or other sources of electromagnetism. It’s just too silly for words and it oughtn’t be featured on major television shows. It’s an embarrassment.”
Give us an example of someone who was tricked.
“A young mother called me once very concerned about the possibility of ghosts,” he said. “She was getting strange photographs — a sort of curvy stripe, very white and bright. They have since begun calling those ectoplasmic strands. I looked at her camera. Her wrist strap was dangling. The flash was reflecting back the wrist strap, and it produced a great number of these.”
Frankly, the Believers Tell a Much Better Story
Brenda is a social worker with a master’s degree from the University of Pittsburgh. She lives with her husband, two young children and four ghosts (two adults, two children) in a 99-year-old house in Altoona, Pa. (After receiving death threats when she went public about her home, she prefers that only her first name be used.)
The odd happenings in her household began when her daughter, Anna, 6, was a toddler. Anna sometimes laughed and giggled when nobody was around. “I figured it was an imaginary playmate,” she said. “I was not really thinking paranormal.”
About this time the name Katie would just pop into her head for no particular reason, she added. “I was potty training Anna, she was sitting with her book. I stepped away for five minutes and I hear her fighting with somebody, saying, ‘It’s mine, it’s mine!’ I turned to go back, the book was levitating above her head like it was being held up by somebody a little bit taller.”
“That book was huge, a big Christmas flip book,” she continued. “She said, ‘Mommy, mommy, I’m sharing! I’m sharing with Katie!’ Then it clicked. I’m trying to remain calm because we’re potty training and anything can throw that off. I said, ‘Anna, who’s Katie?’ She said just a little girl who lives here.”
A month or so later, on a Saturday morning when Brenda was doing some dishes, she heard giggling and footsteps around her and saw the girl ghost.
“She had blond hair parted down the middle, the first piece tucked behind her ear like Marcia Brady,” Brenda said. “She was neat as a pin, in a little calico print dress that had a pinafore, off-white, all starched, kind of like Laura Ingalls. She had some kind of stockings, boots — that’s how long I had to notice what this girl had on. And a Peter Pan collar.”
Brenda said she had been doing the dishes, but could she have fallen asleep? There is this dream state an expert mentioned.
“No, no, absolutely not,” Brenda said. “The skeptics will pull out every little piddling thing they can. There is no gas leak, we are not sipping gas methane, our furnace is cleaned faithfully.”
Brenda now feels it is time for her spirits to be on their way. She has dutifully told them to go to the light. She has tried burning white candles for purity. She even had the people from “Ghost Hunters” in, appearing on their first season. How about sage? Did she try sage?
“I actually have a friend who is a Reiki master who said she would do a house cleansing,” Brenda said. “I would rather have somebody come in to guide them.”
Ever Notice a Spirit Never Washes A Dish or Takes Out the Garbage?
The meticulous housekeeper has by now noted that as with so much else, the world of the paranormal is specialized. Ghost hunters often call in others to rid a home of ghosts: so-called house cleaners, perhaps, or, in some cases, demonologists.
Patty A. Wilson, 43, the author with Mark Nesbitt of “The Big Book of Pennsylvania Ghost Stories” and a founder of the Ghost Research Foundation, is both. Ms. Wilson, who says she has been sensitive to the paranormal since childhood, kept quiet about her gifts for much of her life.
“I didn’t want to be the crazy lady in the caftan,” she said.
The time for homeowners to call for professional intervention, said Ms. Wilson, who does not charge for her services and is suspicious of those who do, is when they feel frightened or threatened.
One such case she had, she said, involved a Penn State student who had written an article about Ms. Wilson for the college newspaper. The girl called her about five or six years ago in an agitated state, saying that the house she was renting with several other girls was haunted by an “obese, overweight black shadow figure,” she said.
“He was kind of aggressive, stepping out into the hallways in front of them so they would have to walk through him,” Ms. Wilson added. “He physically touched two of the girls. One was sitting on her bed in her underwear. She jumped up screaming, so he let her alone. He also seemed to be around them when they were unclothed.”
Talk about your unnatural acts! Are black shadow ghosts considered to be particularly dangerous?
“Some are very aggressive,” Ms. Wilson said.
She advised the young woman to do some research on the house, and it was discovered that it had once been owned by two spinsters. They had taken in a neighbor who died of obesity at age 23.
“I thought that kind of fit the bill,” Ms. Wilson said.
The house never did get cleaned. The college student’s mother moved her out of the house, and that was that.
Does Ms. Wilson recall her name?
“Marianne,” she said, adding that she was unable to remember her last name.
Where might she be now?
“She joined Barnum & Bailey, in publicity.”
“Ghost stories are not neat and clean,” she added. “Everything doesn’t always get pigeonholed properly. They’re real stories about real people.”
After intense corporeal, electronic and audio investigation, Marianne, whose last name is Ways and who did local publicity for the circus as a college intern, is tracked down. Now 28, she works as an associate booker at the Comix comedy club in Lower Manhattan.
She tells a story that confirms much of Ms. Wilson’s. Her roommate did see the shadow of an obese man, and he did pop up as the roommate was coming out of the shower.
Ms. Ways never saw the dark shadows herself, but she sometimes heard weird noises and footsteps, and felt as if someone had broken into the house when no one was there, and it frightened her. One day when she was feeling especially anxious, she asked the person who lived in the adjoining apartment if anything weird had ever happened there.
“You mean, like, is it haunted?” the woman said.
Did Ms. Ways ever try to get rid of the ghosts?
“No,” she said. “I just left.”
Do Not Be Fooled by Cheap Imitations
THE concerned homeowner will know by now that there is dispute about how best to rid the home of spirits. Some tools that the uninitiated might feel would be effective are not. The Ouija board, for example, is considered by many to be a magnet for spirits, the equivalent of spreading a trail of crumbs if you are plagued by ants.
Megan Hoolihan, 28, manager of Marie Laveau’s House of Voodoo, has studied the occult for 18 years and seems to take her calling seriously. She says many people in the South believe sage has cleansing properties.
“I recommend making a mixture of powdered sage, holy water and cedar oil, some water from a church or that has been blessed by someone.”
What if you’re an atheist?
There may be something to this occult stuff, because suddenly the reporter feels a deep chill.
“Cedar oil has cleansing properties,” Ms. Hoolihan continued, ignoring the question. “You can also use lavender oil or violet oil. The smells are soothing; it’s a comfort.”
A bunch of sage costs about $9 at Marie Laveau’s. Couldn’t you use the stuff from the supermarket instead?
“You can use it; I don’t recommend it. It’s the same family, but not the same plant. The sage we carry is white sage or gray sage, and is grown organically.”
Source: Supernatural Cleaning Methods by NYTimes
Pictures: Gary Hovland
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