For the past fifteen years I’ve been taping a certain radio show on Halloween night. People call in from all over North America to tell the world about their ghostly encounters, and I’ll generally listen to the recordings the next day. For whatever reason, the stories intrigue me. People with highly creative minds write these imaginative tales and then line up to give a stunning performance on the air waves. Except I don’t really believe that’s what’s going on. For the most part, the narrators, I am sure, are being honest. Whether the story is true or not, they at least believe what they’re saying. And now, the count of celebrities who have outed themselves on Biography Channel’s “Celebrity Ghost Stories” is around two-hundred.
At some point, an observer has to ask himself just what he believes. Could it be that all these famous faces are part of a big conspiracy to put one over on the public, in whose good graces they need to be for their careers? Anything’s possible, but I can’t see any real benefit in doing that. Money? I doubt the Biography Channel could afford to pay these people enough to get them on board of a lie and still turn a profit. These celebrities, too, are taking a risk that pouring their hearts out will come back to haunt them, so to speak. Are they all being square with us? No. I think Marilyn Manson for one was lying through his teeth about his brush with the supernatural–and I’m a fan–but I believe Alice Cooper was sincere, even though a scary story fits ever-so-conveniently with his onstage persona. Brett Michaels and Vince Neil are two more rockers I think were honest in portraying it as they saw it. I don’t see a man–Neil in this instance–stooping so low as to use the death of his little girl as part of a prank. That’d be beyond the sociopathic.
So, are there ghosts? I don’t know. I’ve never seen any kind of apparition. I’ve never seen objects move, drawers open, doors slam, or any such thing. That said, an incident happened when I was about sixteen that I can’t imagine forgetting, an event that would suggest maybe there is something to the existence of a spiritual realm. In any event, it defies reasonable explanation as far as I can lay it out.
It took place at an abandoned house off a gravel road out in the country, where my friends and I had hid before from the law while swilling beer. We would park our rides behind the two-story building and hang out for an hour or two on a weekend night, usually in early spring before the weeds grew too thick. Here we were free to crank up the car stereo as loudly as we liked; no residences were in earshot of our little night haven. The few times we had gathered outside of that house, though, we had not discussed entering it. Of course it would only be a matter of time until a lull in the conversation inspired one of us to throw out the dare.
The house had been built long before the advent of rural electrification, and the last person to live there—an old doctor, I later learned—had refused to modernize when he had the choice. On this particular night the group of us (we were five in number) crept up the porch steps, across the threshold, and into the ancient living room. The scent of decaying newspaper, plaster, and wood pounced on us immediately. The beams of our two flashlights lighted up black, cylindrical ductwork from an era when central heating almost always involved cordwood. Tattered and yellowed paper and crumbling adhesive covered the walls. The floor planks, bare and loose, creaked under our shifting weight. We found no inside toilet, and drew the collective conclusion that the outhouse must have disintegrated many years ago. The empty lower floor gave us nothing much to see, which left the upper story for exploration. That’s where we really wanted to go anyway.
The steps ascended to a hallway that accessed the T-shaped structure’s three bedrooms—east, west, and north. We split up into two groups to avoid crowding. The bedrooms, to our disappointment, were as bankrupt of interesting objects as the rooms below. More empty space, more piles of broken plaster and shreds of wallpaper. The windows were latched as they had probably been for a decade or more. After checking the bedroom closets and coming up empty, we decided to make a beer run.
The methods we used to acquire alcohol at sixteen and seventeen years of age usually involved bribing a store clerk. Suffice to say we were stocked up and back at our drinking grounds fairly quickly, no more than thirty minutes later. I suppose it was out of boredom that we decided to drink our beer sitting on the floor of one of the bedrooms. Again we entered the house and climbed the stairs single file. The lead man and the rear guard held the flashlights as I tripped along, as I recall it, in one of the middle positions. We chose the west room for our party, it having the best view out of the three. We stumbled into the hall, turned left behind the man up front, and watched the light land on a closed bedroom door. One of us had apparently shut it on the way out, and nothing about that was remarkable until the alpha of the moment turned the ivory-white knob and pushed. The knob turned freely but the door didn’t budge. “What the…hey! This thing’s been nailed shut.” As those words sank in, the speaker pushed harder and added, “From the inside.” The guy behind me reached over to the middle door and, turning the knob, could not open it. At the same time, the man in back was pushing on the east door. “They’re all like that,” he said. By then the gravity of it hit us, and we bolted. The scene reminded me of the Three Stooges trying to get through a doorway together. We pushed and shoved and squeezed down the stairs and out of the house. Without any kind of discussion, the bunch of us beat a retreat into the car just in time not to get left behind by the driver.
The atmosphere inside the vehicle was all silence and pregnant with the teenage version of “Let us never speak of this.” I can only account for myself, and I was running the incident through my mind, trying to decipher how it all could have happened. I’m sure everyone else was doing the same thing. I saw those knobs turn far enough to withdraw the latch. I saw shoulders trying to force the doors open. Whether or not the assessment that the doors had been nailed shut was accurate or not, I didn’t know. Neither did I recall if those doors had exterior keyholes; don’t think so. At the very least, someone had been watching us from one of the empty fields that surrounded the property—someone sitting in the dirt late on a chilly night with a key to the interior doors of a house that had been vacant for years. That person apparently had no key to the front door, though. Or maybe someone with a turn-of-the-century room key happened to drive by in that half-hour span and decided to run in and lock the empty upper-story rooms but not the house.
All these years have passed and I still don’t know what to think about that. Nor do I know what to think about dozens of celebrities lining up to tell their stories of other-worldly visitations. It occurs to me that of the five of us bailing from that house that night, I’m now the only one who doesn’t know what’s on the other side. I guess we learn the answers soon enough.