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Growing up in a haunted house

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Since it’s Halloween, the internet is full of more scary stories than usual. At this time of year, people love to recount their tales of spooky encounters they’ve had, but you rarely hear stories of haunted houses that are positive.

I’m not sure if I’ve ever mentioned it on the blog, but I grew up in a haunted house.

When I was born, my mother and I live with my grandparents. Parts of the house we lived in were rumored to be two hundred years old; once during construction on the oldest room in the house (the dining room, which had been a single room cabin), my great-grandfather found a bottle of whiskey with the date 1773 molded into the glass. other parts of the house had been added on over the years, and for most of those my family owned it.

If I’m remembering correctly, the first generation of my family to live there was my great-great-great-grandmother, one Mrs. Euphemia Putman Pickles, famously arrested (well, famously in my family) for engaging in a “fisticuffs altercation” with a Mrs. Knickerbocker over some allegedly stolen hay. As far as I’m aware, she’s not one of the ghosts in the house. I guess she could be, but no one’s ever found themselves on the wrong end of the spectral punch, so I doubt it.

The house is located two miles outside of the very rural town where I still live. For many years, there was an undertaker here, but not a funeral home (there is one now; the family who used to own it gave out full-sized candy bars on Halloween and commended us for our bravery, as they didn’t get many trick-or-treaters). The nearest hospital is twenty miles away, a nearly insurmountable distance before the advent of cars In the early twentieth century. Our little farming community did see the addition of a small hospital (it is now closed), due to a flux of tourism relating to our many pristine lakes and the fact that we were a stop on the now defunct Chicago, Kalamazoo & Saginaw Railroad. The point of me telling you all this is to help explain that for a very long time, people in this community lived in their homes, died in their homes, and were prepared to go to their final rest in their homes.

One such unfortunate soul was my grandmother’s little brother, Tony. During a typhoid outbreak in the 1940s, he contracted the sickness at seven years old. He died on a cot in front of the window where my grandma now keeps her phone. When he was alive, he used to wake up his parents by running into their room, putting his hands on their bed, and kicking his feet up against the wall. That still happens; small handprints on the bed in the same bedroom push into the mattress, and kicking rattles the wall. Tony has also been seen walking around the house by various family members. I believe I’ve seen him once, though I mistook him for my son (who very much resembles him) until I remembered that my son wasn’t with me.

Another family member who’s been spotted is my great-great-grandfather. He’s been seen standing at the top of the stairs. I remember that every night, reliably, I heard footsteps coming down the stairs. It wasn’t the creaking and groaning of an old house (when you live in a very old house, those fade into background noise you barely notice anymore), but the sound of a person coming down at a normal pace with weight on each step, exactly as it sounded whenever anyone came down.

When he died, his casket sat in the bay window in the living room, where the Christmas tree goes now. My great uncle was very young at the time, and was found sitting in the coffin with his grandfather, combing his hair. This is a cherished memory in my family, and spoken of fondly.

I swear we are not the Addams family, though I do wish they were somewhat distant relatives.

Another dearly departed family member who prefers to hang around is my great-great-grandmother, who died in the room that later became my bedroom. She loved children, my mother, especially, as she was a toddler during the years that my great-great-grandmother was bedridden, and would run into her bedroom every morning to greet her. When I was a child, I never had a creepy feeling in that room, though as I got older I became inexplicably freaked out by it.

A few months after my son was born, we stayed the night at my grandparent’s house, in my great-great-grandmother’s room. We put our son in a crib at the end of the bed and, because the room could get cold at night, hung a blanket over the end of the crib in case we needed it for him in the night. Sometime in the night, I woke to find my son lying perfectly centered in the crib, the blanket not only folded over his chest, but under his little arms and tucked into the sides of the mattress. The next morning, I asked my grandparents if they’d tucked him in during the night. My grandmother hadn’t gotten up in the night, and my grandfather said that while he got up to get a snack, he didn’t go near the room for fear of waking the baby. My grandmother’s explanation? “It must have been my grandma. There never was a baby warm enough for that woman.”

And that was the matter of fact attitude with which my entire family approaches the house. We all know it’s haunted, we’ve all seen and experienced things there, and it’s no big deal. Though one of my cousins is terrified of the place, and my aunts agreed that I was nuts for staying there alone when I was a teenager, the house doesn’t bother me. I’ve always liked the way it feels like you’re not alone. Being in a non-haunted house is lonely when no one else is there, but you can be the only living soul in my grandma’s house and still feel like it’s a busy house with lots of people in it.

The most recent person to pass away in the house was my grandfather, several years ago. While I haven’t seen him in the house, I do one day hope to. And I hope the house stays in the family for many more years to come. I’d hate to think of our departed loved ones trapped in some Beetlejuice-style scenario with people who don’t appreciate them.

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25 Comments

  1. YAY!! Ghost stories!! I also spent some time growing up in a haunted house. We were renting it and to my knowledge, no family (besides some living relatives) had ever visited us there. We lived there 8 years and only I, my mom, and my grandmother experienced anything our of the ordinary. Never saw any ghosts but we all heard a gentleman calling my name through out the house any given day or time. I swear I once heard my name coming out of a can of peaches in the pantry. Things would would move, strange noises were heard. All of us noticed increased activity after my youngest brother was born. None of my friends would ever spend the night because they all said the house creeped them out. All three of us once dreamed, at the same time, that my great aunt Carmen told us all to go back to sleep, she would take care of my brother who was crying. When my mom got up, there was a fresh bottle in the crib and my brother’s diaper was dry. Now, my mom NEVER let my brother go to sleep with a bottle, there was no way that kid slept 10 plus hrs and didn’t pee once, and my great aunt Carmen had passed away 6 years earlier. My mom was however her favorite niece and she would do anything for her when she was alive. Guess that held through in death too. We all dreamed of her and my great grandmother a lot while we lived in that house. When we moved, the dreams stopped.

    October 31, 2015
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  2. Jessica
    Jessica

    What a wonderful post! Its nice to think of people that were loved and loving in life, still maintaining those attributes in death. You are absolutely right, this point of view is missing in popular ghost culture.

    October 31, 2015
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    • I completely agree with you. *tacks idea on cork board*

      October 31, 2015
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  3. Megan M.
    Megan M.

    I love this. Just, all of it.

    October 31, 2015
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  4. I’ve moved around far too much in my life to have strong family ties to any one house, but the way you describe it, I can absolutely see that sort of haunted house being a positive, even benevolent, environment rather than a frightening one.

    October 31, 2015
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    • Mouse
      Mouse

      I’m in the same boat with you- I’ve never lived anywhere long enough to set down real roots- yet alone long term ones like that. I think I have ghost envy. What a wonderful thing.

      November 1, 2015
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  5. This was really lovely, Jenny!

    I’ve never had personal experiences with ghosts (I had a Ouija board as a teen but a pretty willful imagination so yeah), but my mom has with her grandparents. One time she was trying to figure out what to make for dinner, and when she opened the freezer a tupperware of spaghetti sauce (the same recipe that my great-grandma used) flew out, so my mom said, “Okay, grandma, spaghetti it is!”

    Another that was sort of freakier was that the night that my bio-grandma (who was very abusive and my mom basically cut ties with her) died, my mom woke up in the middle of the night and saw this weird orange light in the hallway even though none of the lights were on. It got closer until a white light from my mom’s bedroom window shot out and essentially scared the orange light away before disappearing itself. My mom didn’t put two-and-two together until my grandpa and uncle came over saying that my bio-grandma died the night before and it really freaked my mom out. This was also the same bio-grandma who’s favorite daughter hired an Elvis impersonator to dance on her grave, so maybe my family’s too spiteful to have very many positive experiences with ghosts.

    My paternal great-grandpa’s house is still standing in England, and I’d like to visit it one day, so maybe I’ll meet his ghost or the ghosts of his horses that my grandpa hated?

    October 31, 2015
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    • ElBandito
      ElBandito

      ‘My paternal great-grandpa’s house is still standing in England, and I’d like to visit it one day, so maybe I’ll meet his ghost or the ghosts of his horses that my grandpa hated?’

      England has a crap-ton of ghost stories, some of which I really want to see (you have no idea how many times I wish I could see Boudicca screaming down the London Underground in her chariot–at least something to kill the monotony of weekday commuting). But a few family members of mine did see a phantom white dog a couple of times in one NEW house that we lived in. The first time happened when my dad opened my kid sister’s bedroom door just to tell her that it’s dinner time, when suddenly a little white dog ran out of the door and scurried between my dad’s feet. My dad at first thought that it was our living dog Nana (we had two white dogs, but only Nana had no problem with heights and often went upstairs), which made him call her out and almost make a playful grab for her, only to find that the hallway was practically empty (plus, my sister told him that she didn’t have Nana in her bedroom at that time). He swears that he thought it was one of our dogs, because the ghost was so vivid that he could see its ears flapping as it ran, but he then realized that unlike our pets, the dog had a bobbed tail. My mom then saw the same dog (white fur, floppy ears, small bobbed tail) wandering the garden outside, which prompted her to get out of the house to try to find it. The house was only built four years before we moved in, and we used to have a little white dog that had a bobbed tail until I was 8 years old–so we wondered whether it was our old dog following us after death, or if the previous family had unfortunately lost a dog before we moved in. Needless to say, our dogs didn’t seem to notice anything out of the ordinary.

      November 2, 2015
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  6. Lieke
    Lieke

    I’m seconding everyone else and saying that this is lovely. To be honest, I hadn’t really thought about the supernatural like that. (Especially not during Halloween when everything supernatural seems to be presented as evil).

    October 31, 2015
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  7. Artemis
    Artemis

    This is such a nice post!

    I lived in a haunted dorm for my last two years of college. It had been a hospital throughout most of the 19th century, and from the first time I saw it while exploring the campus I felt super drawn to it. And I am not usually the kind of person who talks about being “drawn to” places.

    During the two years I lived on the third floor, I generally felt really safe and almost watched-over. Sometimes when I was drifting off to sleep, I would hear people talking and moving around my room. I know that there’s a name for that particular type of hallucination, when you’re just falling asleep, but it’s also something I’ve never experienced anywhere else that I’ve lived.

    My senior year, I was coming home one night after an improv show, and as I walked down the first floor hallway I heard footsteps behind me. Not a big deal, it was a dorm. Obviously people are coming and going all the time. But when I looked over my shoulder, even though I could still hear the footsteps, there was no one there.

    I loved that building. Though I also knew a girl who lived in the basement who definitely had poltergeist activity in her room, so I’m glad I was on the third floor…

    October 31, 2015
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  8. AltoFronto
    AltoFronto

    I grew up in an old town, so it has quite a large population of ghosts. My favourite tales are of the children’s laughter that can be heard in the corridor at one of the cafes, or the 19th century doctor who can be seen at the top of the stairs in his old medical practice, repeating the phrase “I’m searching for–“.

    My friend told me that her house once had a coachhouse and stables attached, and that Jack, the ghostly stable-boy, had been a childhood friend of hers. Her mum had walked into the room to find her sitting on her bed, chatting away to someone invisible, and my friend had introduced Jack as naturally as you please.

    I’m a bit of a skeptic myself, but there have apparently been quite a few corroborated sightings of roman legions and chanting monks wading knee-deep through the ground, marching at the level of the ancient streets below the new tarmac, or a grey lady walking the old perimeter of the now-ruined castle walls.

    My dad claims to have sensed, or had his gaffer-tape stolen by Alice, the ghost who haunts the local theatre, where he worked. It’s said you can see her leap from the balcony at the opening night of every performance.

    Radio4 had a great programme on yesterday about UK theatre hauntings, if you fancy a listen. http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b06kgghc

    October 31, 2015
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  9. Suzy
    Suzy

    I grew up in a haunted house too. It has been in my family since just before the turn of the last century and parts of it are well over 200 years old. All of our ghosts were nice ghosts, too. I was never scared when I was young because I knew everyone visiting were family. My grandpa visited (it was his childhood home) the night he died. And my Aunt Ceile moved in (as a ghost) for a bit after my parents bought some of her furniture. Really funny story, when I moved into my first apartment I borrowed some furniture until I could buy my own and one piece was Aunt Celie’s tallboy. A lot of odd things happened in that apartment kept happening like unexplained lights moving and missing items, not to mention my roommate’s cat would not come in my room for anything. I kept telling my aunt I was just me and she could relax, but I finally bought a dresser of my own and took the tallboy back to my p’s. My roommate told me later that she was about to buy me a dresser herself because the weird stuff was getting to her.
    I love good ghost stories. Scary one’s are all right, but I like to hear that other people have had the same sort of experiences my family did.

    November 1, 2015
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  10. Maranda
    Maranda

    These are all such lovely stories! I’ve never lived in a haunted house, but I have been followed all my life by the spirit of my father who died in Vietnam when I was a year old. I have a picture taken at my wedding reception that shows a man standing next to me that my photographer said was not in the shot when she took it. My mother later identified him as my father. He also visited me in the hospital when each of my kids were born. When my son was born, the husband saw a man enter my room and stand over my bed while I was sleeping. When my daughter was born, the same man was seen sitting in the chair next to my bed. Both times he disappeared when my husband talked to him.
    He tends to show up when major life events happen, like my children graduating, my in-laws and my grandfather passing, and when I had a serious car accident. Those are the times he’s actually been seen, but I think he’s with me more often because I hear, and one time even saw, his dog tags jingle. They hang around the neck of a stuffed bear that he bought for me just before he shipped off for the last time and are nowhere near a drafty area, so I believe it’s him moving them.
    I know it’s not a haunted house, but I kind of enjoy being a haunted person!

    November 1, 2015
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  11. Kayla
    Kayla

    One of the houses I grew up in (my family moved several times; academia) had a ghost cat. We had two (living) cats, and occasionally I’d see a cat out of the corner of my eye, but when I turned my head expecting to see one of the flesh-and-blood kitties, nothing would be there. This went on for a couple years until I mentioned it to my mom one day, and she said, “Oh, yeah, there’s a ghost cat here. I see it sometimes, too.”

    My fiance and I are moving into a house that was built in 1847, and I’m really curious to see if anyone’s still hanging around.

    November 1, 2015
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  12. Arctic Ape
    Arctic Ape

    I’m curious: Where did you grow up? Are there 18th century houses in US outside of the Eastern Coast?

    In my country (Finland) there are very few houses that old because almost everything was built of wood. I imagined it was similar in colonial-era America.

    November 1, 2015
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    • Suzy
      Suzy

      Not a huge amount from the 18th century, but the 19th sure. Most were built of timber so unless they were nearly constantly inhabited they would fall to bits. But I’m from Ohio and you’ll find lots of houses from the mid 1800s and some from earlier. Cleveland especially abounds with huge old hiuses. So does Cincinnati, Portsmouth, Stubenville…any city that sprung up along a major river or one of the Great Lakes. That’s where the money was. My parents house was a farm house and simply because someone always living in it and fixing thing that went wrong, it’s lasted for over 200 years. Nothing compared to the houses in Europe, but not bad for a timber structure.

      November 1, 2015
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    • JennyTrout
      JennyTrout

      I live in Michigan. We were colonized by the French in the late 1600’s, and there are definitely still buildings from the late 1700’s and early 1800’s standing around here. I know that my family’s house and one other house in the area are two of the oldest, but the original structures have been incorporated into larger houses, like the cabin that became the dining room of our house. It would be very rare to find a wooden house here from that time that survived without becoming part of a larger, newer residence.

      The oldest surviving building on register is part of the fort on Mackinac Island, build in 1780. But I have a feeling we’ve got some old buildings around that have lasted that just weren’t accounted for officially, like houses various settlers built.

      November 1, 2015
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      • Arctic Ape
        Arctic Ape

        Thank you; history is cool 🙂

        November 2, 2015
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    • Skippy
      Skippy

      I live in the southwest; this area was colonized by Mexico in the 1600s and 1700s. The structures are mostly adobe, though, so talk about not being likely to survive! Plenty of hauntings around here, plus once the railroad came through wood houses were built in the 1800s.

      We also have La Llorona. I live between a ditch and a river; I do not fuck with Llorona. (But she’s not a nice spirit as discussed here.)

      I just wanted to add along with Jenny that there are lots of areas of the U.S. settled at the same time/previous to the northeast.

      November 2, 2015
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      • Rhiannon
        Rhiannon

        Wow, La Llorona always sounded pretty scary, have you ever seen or heard her? That would freak me out. Not like Jenny’s friendly family ghosts.

        November 5, 2015
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  13. Kylie
    Kylie

    I feel like haunted is the wrong word. The house is full of impressions of some very lovely people. 🙂

    November 1, 2015
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  14. mimijones
    mimijones

    Thank you for sharing, it’s always lovely to hear some positive depictions of the supernatural!

    ~your friendly neighborhood witch

    November 1, 2015
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  15. Kate Lemieux
    Kate Lemieux

    It’s so nice to hear of a positive experience with a haunting. I would think the fact that you know who they are and have a good idea of their motivations makes them much less frightening than they might otherwise be. Ghosts of people you don’t know are strangers, and you have no way of knowing if they’re benevolent or malevolent, so I think the default is to be frightened of them. The house I grew up in was only built in the 50’s (I live in SoCal, there aren’t that many really old houses), so it hasn’t really had the time to build up that kind of history, and as far as I know, no one has ever died there. However, I went to college at the University of Redlands (still here in SoCal) that has been around for a while, and I lived in one of the older dorms. My room one year definitely had a ghost. My experience with her was positive, I believe because I acknowledged her, and talked to her sometimes, although she would occasionally play little tricks like locking doors and knocking books off shelves (never my books, though). However, one of the girls who lived in the adjoining room (we shared a connecting bathroom) was so terrified that she moved to another dorm. She said she went into the bathroom one night and saw a girl in the mirror whose neck was at an unnatural angle.

    November 2, 2015
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  16. blanche
    blanche

    during college my friend had a ghost who would tidy up! my friend isn’t a super neat person, but more than once she came home to find something straightened up– like all of her shoes paired up and sitting in a straight line in the closet, or everything on her desk or corkboard squared up to make the edges parallel. it kept happening even after she got the locks changed so that only she would have a key to her room. (landlord and roommate had keys to the front door, and i think the landlord had a key to the original lock.) frankly, i think the ghost explanation is less terrifying than the idea of some living human getting into her room!

    November 11, 2015
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