haunted

Ghost Stories from 7 Haunted Libraries Around the World

April 7 through 13 is National Library Week in the US, and we’re honoring the occasion by bringing you ghost stories from haunted libraries all around the world! Much like the iconic library scene in the movie Ghostbusters, these literary atheneums are stacked with creepy ghosts, shadow figures, and paranormal activity. Not only do we love tales of the paranormal, we also think circulation of some library appreciation is long overdue, so please check out these 7 haunted libraries around the world before we reference another bad library pun!

7) STATE LIBRARY OF VICTORIA - MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA

Dating back to 1854, there’s no surprise that Melbourne’s State Library of Victoria has more than a few resident ghosts. The Arts section of the library is reportedly home to the ghost of a former librarian named Grace. Said to be a benevolent elderly spirit, she continues to keep an eye on the place and make sure that a more confronting spectre, who roams the southern end of the closed Arts stack, stays in his place. The Music room is frequented by a nattily-dressed mustachioed ghost who is known to leave music books out of place after he is finished perusing them. The ghost stories of the State Library are so numerous that many clairvoyants have been brought in, and Melbourne’s Haunted Bookshop owner Drew Stinton is keen to get the building included on the city’s tour of haunted locales. - From The Paperblanks Blog

6) COMBERMERE ABBEY LIBRARY - CHESHIRE, ENGLAND

The library at Combermere Abbey, near Cheshire, England, is said to be haunted. The ghost is rumored to be Lord Combermere himself, who died in 1891 after being run over by a horse-drawn carriage. After members of the Abbey staff reported possible ghost sightings and other paranormal activity, a photographer set up a camera in the library. The camera's shutter was left open for one hour.

The staff could claim no involvement with the photo-taking, as they were all at Lord Combermere's funeral, which took place four miles from his home. And yet, when the plate was developed, a ghostly image appeared, seated in the Lord's favorite chair.

To the modern eye, the photo may well appear to be a simple double exposure. But many people at the time were convinced that a ghost had been captured on film. - From Ranker

5) PEORIA PUBLIC LIBRARY - PEORIA, ILLINOIS

Long before the Peoria Public Library was ever built in Peoria, IL, a house stood on its site. In the 1830s, a Mrs. Gray owned the home, but fell upon hard times and could not pay her mortgage. The bank foreclosed, and she was forced to leave. But before she did, Mrs. Gray is said to have put a curse on the propertyand anyone who would ever own it. Whether it was her curse or just coincidental bad luck, each subsequent owner experienced a sinking of their fortunes.

The library was built in 1894 on land that was once part of Mrs. Gray's estate. That's when truly creepy things began to happen. Each of the first three library directors suffered mysterious deaths. The original library was torn down in 1966 and replaced with a new structure, but the eerie occurrences continued. Staff have reported hearing ghostly voices calling out their names, and feeling the temperature drop to chilling degrees. Some also claim to have seen the ghostly figure of one of the dead library directors. - From Ranker

4) THE AFRICANA LIBRARY - KIMBERLY, SOUTH AFRICA

The Africana Library in Kimberly, South Africa is said to be haunted by the spirit of a man who once worked there. The library was built in 1882, but it wasn't until the early 1900s that the city was able to hire a credentialed librarian. His name was Bertrand Dyer, and while he was qualified for the prestigious position, he soon began to engage in a type of fraud. He would place orders for books, but inflate the price list presented to the city for payment. Dyer pocketed the extra cash.

But his scam was discovered, and Dyer was so ashamed that he decided to commit suicide. He took cyanide, but it did not have the immediate desired effect. He suffered in great pain for three days before succumbing in the library where he worked.

The library is now a museum, and visitors have reported seeing the ghost of a man in Edwardian attire, floating up and down the halls of the building. Some have observed him rearranging books on their shelves. Others claim that if they are having trouble locating a particular book, Dyer will help out by knocking it off the shelf. - From Ranker

3) BELLWOOD ELEMENTARY LIBRARY - BELLWOOD, NEBRASKA

Why is it that one of the creepiest-sounding apparitions appears at the library with the most innocent patrons? Bellwood School District was founded in Bellwood, Nebraska in 1880. Students at the elementary school need to walk quietly through its library stacks, so as not to disturb the ghost of a severely burned woman who reportedly haunts the building, often seen staring out of windows in anger or despair. The library seems to be the site of other paranormal activity too, including scary noises, unexplained sudden cold spots, and the sound of jingling keys. At night, hopefully after all the elementary children are safe at home, ghostly figures have been witnessed patrolling the halls around the library. While the reasons behind the Bellwood Elementary hauntings have not been uncovered, there are reportedly some records from Bellwood’s past that document concerns over the use of coal-burning stoves in the building. Could this historical detail offer an explanation about the ghost of the burned woman? - Lindsay Merkel

2) PHOENIXVILLE PUBLIC LIBRARY - PHOENIXVILLE, PENNSYLVANIA

In the community of Phoenixville, the Phoenixville Public Library is a facility with a rich and notoriously haunted history. The library first came into existence in 1896 as a small collection of books donated to the Phoenixville School District. In 1901, philanthropist Andrew Carnegie donated funds to purchase a plot and construct the public library building. A children’s section of the library was added to the basement in the 1920s, and the following decades saw continual increases in the library’s collection and facility.

Although there is little information available about why or how the Phoenixville Public Library became haunted, it has been so for as long as anyone can remember. Several apparitions have been reported over the years, both by employees and library patrons. The original librarian, an old woman in ghostly form, is reported to reside in the library’s attic. A little girl is believed to haunt the children’s library in the basement, and sometimes the elevator leading down to it. And the specter of an old man and his dog have been sighted, inexplicably strolling through the library shelves.

One employee, who worked at Phoenixville Library for 17 years, witnessed several examples of paranormal activity during his tenure, including how, after he had carefully pushed in the library’s chairs at closing time, they were found scattered all around the Carnegie Room the following morning. Rocking chairs have also been spotted rocking with no one in them, cold spots have been felt, doors were heard shutting on their own, and fleeting figures have been glimpsed.

Phoenixville Public Library has been the site of several paranormal investigations, and teams have reported lots of unexplained equipment malfunctions during filming; one team member who was attempting to film a “mockumentary” project on site even alleged that he dropped something in the attic, which disappeared and was never seen again! When the Chester County Paranormal Research Society spent the night in the library, a night surveillance camera reportedly to caught a book flying off a shelf.

Having personally visited this library many times, I never experienced any paranormal activity while inside, but I can say that there is something eerie behind the calm, quiet atmosphere - much the proverbial feeling of “being watched,” even if no one was nearby. Maybe it’s only because I’m aware of the library’s haunted history that I conjured up these spooky feelings, but I still always expected to turn and see something otherworldly around every bookshelf, from the adult room to the children’s basement to the stairwell. The legend of Phoenixville Library’s ghosts is a strong one!

For an up-close investigation of the haunted Phoenixville Public Library, check out an episode of para-reality show “SCARED!” below that was filmed in the library in 2009. - Lindsay Merkel

1) WILLARD LIBRARY - EVANSVILLE, INDIANA

What exactly is going on at Willard Library? Judging by pictures snapped on multiple “ghost cams” throughout the building, Willard Library looks to be some kind of paranormal portal into the spiritual dimension. The library’s history is rather benign, having begun its legacy as a private donation library from Willard Carpenter and incorporated to the city of Evansville in 1881. The building, resembling a Victorian Gothic structure, was first begun in 1876, but a depressed economy halted its progress, leaving the foundation unfinished until 1882. It is home to a vast range of genealogy and local history special collections, and also to the ghost of the famous Grey Lady.

 The Grey Lady, Willard Library’s most well-known apparition, roams the stacks quietly, aptly wearing a gray dress and veil. Her identity is not certain, but according to legend she may be Louise Carpenter, Willard’s daughter who was allegedly unhappy when he died and left most of his estate to the library; her haunting of the library is her revenge for an eternal grudge against her father. However, the Grey Lady has never been reported to be a malevolent presence, so this tale may not hold true, but she has been reported as a near constant presence! She was first spotted by a custodian in 1931, and since then has racked up hundreds to thousands of reports of ghostly activity. She makes her presence known through sightings, moving around books, turning lights and faucets on and off, touching people and creating cold spots, and also emitting the strong scent of musky perfume. Some of the documented run-ins with the Grey Lady include:

  • Psychics visiting the library in 2007 say they were able to verify that a ghost has been there, and paranormal investigative groups have brought in equipment designed to locate it.

  • Several library employees have reported seeing the ghost, including Margaret Maier, Children’s Librarian, and Helen Kamm, Library Assistant.

  • During a visit to the library, lecturers from the University of Southern Indiana say they saw the ghost peering into water.

  • Policemen responding to a security alarm at the library spotted two ghosts in an upstairs window of the library.

  • A library patron reported an encounter with the Grey Lady in the library elevator, and a local weathercaster also reported an encounter with the spirit.

Though it has been almost a decade since the Grey Lady apparition has actually been seen, when an assistant children’s librarian saw her in a basement hallway in 2010, paranormal happenings continue to occur throughout the building – and they don’t all appear to be the work of the Grey Lady.

Since 1999, Willard Library has been running ghost cams throughout the building, continually filming different areas and streaming online for at-home ghost hunters to search for onscreen ghosts. While some captures could be explained away as misidentified objects, sunlight or shadows, or even real people walking through the rooms, other images are creepy and puzzling. From misty figures to shadow specters to something that looks oddly like a wolf head on a suit of armor, the paranormal happenings at Willard Library are famous, mysterious, and plentiful!

See some of the creepiest camera images below, and click HERE to check out the Willard webcams for yourself. - Lindsay Merkel

Another Grey Lady sighting?

A shadow figure appears to descend the stairs.

Check out the lower left corner… is it a library patron or a ghostly visitor?

What. Is. It.

An amorphous light appears in the dark library.

What exactly is this child seeing?

Some people have speculated this is a black backpack… others believe it to be something more sinister.

Again… is this a real library patron, or a ghost child caught on camera?

Although we narrowed down our blog to these 7 spooky libraries, there are no shortage of haunted libraries across the globe! Do you have any library ghost stories of your own? Share with us in the comments!

NEWS: Chapman University 2018 Survey Shows Paranormal Beliefs Are on the Rise

For the last 5 years, Chapman University in California has conducted a battery of surveys focusing on in-depth examinations of American fears. Their research studies a range of topics, from government, health and environmental matters, to disaster preparedness, personal anxieties, and paranormal beliefs.

In 2018, their most recent survey revealed that government corruption is currently the primary fear that concerns Americans. However, the survey also revealed that fears and beliefs in the paranormal have been gradually rising over the past few years! Take a look below at the breakdown of the paranormal study, directly from Chapman University:

Paranormal America 2018 Chapman University Survey of American Fears

The Chapman University Survey of American Fears Wave 5 (2018) includes a battery of items on paranormal beliefs ranging from belief in aliens and psychic powers to Bigfoot and haunted houses.

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Paranormal Beliefs

Currently the most common paranormal belief in the United States is that places can be haunted by spirits (57.7%), followed closely by the belief that ancient, advanced civilizations, such as Atlantis once existed (56.9%). More than two out of five Americans (41.4%) believe that that aliens visited Earth in our ancient past and more than a third believe aliens are visiting now (35.1%). Of the items we asked about, Americans are the most skeptical about fortune tellers, with only approximately 17.2% believing that others can see the future.

The Prevalence of Paranormal Beliefs

Paranormal beliefs have become the norm in the United States, if we examine how many such beliefs a person holds. Using the seven paranormal items included on the Chapman University Survey of American Fears Wave 5 (2018), we find that only about a fourth of Americans (24.1%) do not hold any of the seven beliefs. What this means is that more than ¾ of Americans believe in at least one paranormal phenomenon.

All Paranormal Beliefs are On the Rise

The Chapman University Survey of American Fears has included the same set of questions about paranormal beliefs on three waves of the survey. What is striking is how rapidly such beliefs are rising.

Belief in six of the seven paranormal items increased between 2017 and 2018, the only exception being the belief that fortune tellers and psychics can foresee the future. All seven items have risen in levels of belief since 2016. For example, Americans are fourteen percent more likely to believe that aliens once visited the earth than they were in 2016. Americans have become seven percent more likely to believe in Bigfoot in only two years.

Given that our survey includes a margin for error of +/- 3%, we should note that some of these changes maybe be slightly bigger or smaller than presented. However, the major pattern is clear – American is becoming more paranormal.

What do you think is responsible for this increase in paranormal fears and beliefs? Share with us in the comments!

Written Confession: Ghost Cat Caught on Camera in Arkansas

The following written confession + video was submitted via social media:

“My wife and three kids and I were in vacation last weekend in Eureka Springs Arkansas. We had to go visit the Crescent Hotel and do the ghost tour. Long story short, I caught a pic of what can only be described as a ghost cat. It was a ‘live’ pic on my iPhone. When playing the short clip that the live pics take you can actually see the ‘ghost’ run down some steps and appears to jump onto the arm of a sofa. It’s the craziest thing ever!“

10 Creepy Things People Found in Their Homes

Finding pentagrams carved into your concrete patio is not exactly a warm welcome to your new house… but that’s exactly what our interview guests on Episode 115: The Satanic Slaughterhouse discovered in their home! And they aren’t alone in their creepy finds. The Internet is full of photos of weird things left behind by former homeowners, usually uncovered by unsuspecting and mystified new residents. Here are just 10 creepy things people found in their homes:

1) It seems this obvious serial killer also enjoyed self portraiture. I found this painting tucked away behind the washer/dryer in the laundry room of my new house.”

2) If you hear slow, rhythmic rocking noises in the middle of the night, it’s time to find another rental. “Had to go to the attic to check for moisture in a house I’m renting. This is the only thing stored there and it sits directly above my bed…”

3) I would have much preferred to find a Jumanji board. “I found a Ouija board behind a heating vent”.

4) The former owner was probably trying to burn it before it killed them. “Bought a house. Found this creepy doll in the furnace room.”

5) I guess there’s no property disclosure law for satanism. This person found evidence of Satanic rituals and activity in both his basement and attic after moving in. The realtor showed him neither when he saw the house. Probably for a reason.”

6) Um… what is “IT”, exactly? “Boyfriend and I move into house and discover this engraved above his bedroom door. “It Never Stops.””

7) That definitely explains the scary noises in the basement. “A couple discovered there was a chapel hidden underneath their home dating back to the 1700s. They found it by checking out where the metal grate by their front door led.”

8) Seal it up right now, forget you were ever here. “I just found this in an old closet in my house. I nearly shat myself.”

9) How are the recently deceased supposed to read this? No, wait, I don’t want to know. “Found this in the pantry in my new house.”

10) This old baby stroller looks not at all haunted. “I should never have opened the attic”.

For even more creepy finds, check out the full list “25 Creepy Things People Found in Their Homes” at eBaum’s World!

What creepy items have you accidentally discovered (and maybe wished you hadn’t!)? Share with us in the comments!

New Horror Movie to be Filmed Aboard the Haunted Queen Mary

It’s either creative genius or a paranormal disaster in the making - a new horror movie is underway and being filmed onboard the famously haunted ocean liner RMS Queen Mary!

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The Hollywood Reporter has announced that the new scary flick will focus on two photographers and their young son, who come aboard the Queen Mary and soon become ensnared in the ship’s paranormal past. The movie’s synopsis reads: “As the terror unfolds around the family they begin to realize there is more to this sumptuous ocean liner than meets the eye: its remarkable legacy masking violent secrets. As Erin and Patrick uncover the haunted layers that the vast ship contains, it becomes increasingly clear that there is only one way out for them — to go even deeper.”

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After the film’s script spent several years tucked away without a suitable production crew to bring it back to life (ironic pun kind of intended), the upcoming movie now has a bevy of paranormal movie specialists to execute the project (wonder where are all these death puns are coming from...?). Taking the helm as producer will be Gary Shore, who busted box offices in 2014 with the movie Dracula Untold. The film will also be produced by Nigel Sinclair and Nicholas Ferrall of White Horse Pictures, which gave us The Woman in Black, and Brett Tomberlin of Imagination Design Works, the team that created 2018’s creepy Winchester movie.  

While the RMS Queen Mary has been the subject of many documentaries, shows, and stories, the film The Queen Mary will be the first horror movie shot onboard the actual real-life ship. Will the on-site location provide the perfect spooky backdrop for the film’s plot? Or is shooting a horror movie on an already haunted location just tempting fate (and Queen Mary’s spirits) to sink the film?

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Known as one of the most haunted places in the world since it became permanently docked, RMS Queen Mary has a long history of hauntings. During her 83-year existence, the Queen Mary made 1,001 trans-Atlantic crossings, which were reportedly accompanied by 49 recorded deaths and a collision with another vessel that resulted in 239 deaths. Other lore claims that a murder took place in one of the ship’s cabins, a crew member was crushed to death by a watertight door, a woman dressed in all-white dances by herself in one of the luxury suites, and several apparitions of adults and children in old-timey garb sometimes wander the decks. Now functioning as a hotel Long Beach, California, the creepy Queen Mary certainly seems like a perfect set location to capture the spirit of fear!

But cast and crew should be wary that the film doesn’t join Hollywood’s list of “cursed” movies - a number of classic flicks (many of them horror-related) that have been marked by disaster or ghostly activity (or both). Spooky films like Poltergeist, The Omen, The Crow, and others were plagued by murder and death, serious illness and injury, hauntings, and more during and after their filming. Setting the production of a horror movie inside the real haunted RMS Queen Mary may be an exact recipe for one such disaster (or ghostly activity, or both)!

Only time will tell if The Queen Mary horror movie will ride the wave of success, or if a curse from the ship’s spirits will leave it dead in the water (that’s the last of the ghost ship puns, I swear). Will you be lining up for a ticket when The Queen Mary arrives in theaters?!

Cursed Movies According to Slapped Ham

Cursed Movies According to Slapped Ham

TGIF, amiright? If you’re staying in and surfing through Netflix for a movie on this Friday night, you may want to skip these haunted titles. According to Slapped Ham, these 10 films are cursed movies that still haunt the cast and crew. Were they all affected by supernatural forces, or just really, really unlucky? Watch and found out, if you dare!

For those who are not able to watch the video, here is the list of cursed titles for you to check out later!

10. The Passion of the Christ 

9. The Wizard of Oz

8. Superman 

7. Poltergeist 

6. Rosemary’s Baby

5. The Crow

4. The Exorcist

3. The Conqueror 

2. The Addict 

1. The Omen

Were you surprised to see any of these titles on the list? Which cursed flick are you tempted to watch now?

Opera Ghosts: Echoes of the Rhoads Opera House Fire

On the corner of South Washington Street and East Philadelphia Avenue in Boyertown, Pennsylvania is a red brick building. Three stories tall and largely unadorned, it doesn’t stand out from its neighbors, blending in to blocks of similarly-styled buildings without a second glance. Small shops rotate through the ground floor, while apartment dwellers come and go through its top two tiers. Except for a commemorative plaque hung on the front of the building, one would never know that on this particular site, 171 people died in a single night. 

The Rhoads Opera House in ruins.

Although the history of deadly disasters in the United States seems to widely overlook this small-town horror, Boyertown itself has never forgotten the shocking tragedy that was the Rhoads Opera House Fire

The Rhoads Opera House Fire

On the evening of January 13, 1908, over 300 theatergoers and 50 actors gathered at the Rhoads Opera House for the opening night of a production called “The Scottish Reformation.” The term “opera house” was a bit of a misnomer, as the theater only comprised the second floor of the commercial Rhoads building in which it was located. Though the venue was in fact small compared to its grand name, the play was eagerly attended by the hundreds, and featured the latest slide projection technology and dramatic staging effects. Through an unintended tragedy of errors, it was this new technology that served as the catalyst for the catastrophe to come.

The Rhoads commercial building before the fire.

While the rapt audience waited for the play’s third act to begin, an inexperienced projectionist with only two days of training mistakenly turned a wrong valve on the projector, which then hissed and startled a few theatergoers seated nearby. Hearing commotion in the audience, several actors raised the curtain to see what was the matter. When they did, they tipped over a kerosene lamp that had been set on the stage for extra lighting. The overturned lamp immediately started a small fire, but theater personnel quickly responded to tamp down the flames. With the fire nearly extinguished, some of the men in the front row decided to move another kerosene tank, kept under the stage, that fueled the theater’s footlights… as a safety precaution.  The decision proved deadly when the tank’s framework broke, dumping the tank of kerosene across the stage and igniting the small fire into an inferno.

In seconds, the stage became a virtual tinderbox. Its curtains burst into flames, quickly followed by the wainscoting of the 12-foot ceiling, until the entire auditorium was engulfed in “waves” of fire.  Frantic audience members scrambled towards the main exit, only to find themselves trapped inside when the panicked crush of people tried pushing against doors that opened inward. Although the second floor contained two window fire escapes, they were unmarked and located three feet off the ground, nearly unidentifiable amidst the chaos. Chairs, debris, and bodies made the auditorium a maze of obstacles that blocked exits and cost precious time getting to safety. When one of the main exit doors was finally broken open, some victims were trampled to death as the crowd stampeded forward, while others fell to their deaths down the building’s staircase. Still others jumped from windows to the ground below, and not everyone survived the attempt. But most of all, trapped theatergoers burned alive. While many people did manage to escape outside, nearly 200 men, women, and children perished while the fire raged. 

After the fire.

Smoking rubble after the fire.

Hours later, when the very literal smoke finally cleared, the full scale of the fiery tragedy was revealed. With a death toll of 171 people - 170 who attended the play and one firefighter - the little community of Boyertown had shockingly lost one-tenth of its population. In a few cases, entire families - husbands, wives, children - had died in the opera house blaze. Two-thirds of the dead victims were women and children, leading some to surmise that the men in attendance had abandoned them to fend for safety by themselves. When rescue workers entered the burned-out building, they discovered bodies piled six feet deep at the top of the stairway, where the surging crowd had bottlenecked and trapped themselves inside. Because of the overwhelming number of bodies, three makeshift morgues had to be set up in surrounding buildings, while the remaining town worked to identify the victims and cope with the sudden, shocking loss of life.

“Main entrance of Opera House after fire Boyertown, PA, Jan. 08”

Another angle of the fire’s aftermath.

A line of residents looking for loved ones among the bodies of the fire victims.

In the days that followed the disaster, 15,000 people converged on Boyertown to attend dozens upon dozens of funerals. The renowned Boyertown Burial Casket Company, which was to become one of the largest casket manufacturers in the world, was hard pressed to meet the sudden demand for its products and its gravediggers, and had also lost a few of its own workers who had attended that doomed performance of “The Scottish Reformation.” In an unfunny twist of fate, those workers had unknowingly crafted the coffins they would be buried in. Over 100 new graves were dug in Boyertown’s already large Fairview Cemetery, including a common grave for 25 victims whose remains were so badly charred they could not be individually identified. While the town mourned in earnest, the theater fire made headlines across the country, and spurred new legislation for fire safety laws in Pennsylvania. There seemed to be no one in the town who had not been in some way affected by the Rhoads Opera House Fire.

”Interior of Opera House after fire Boyertown PA Jan 08”

An enhanced version of the photo above: “Victims of Opera House fire Boyertown PA Jan, 08”.

Thousands gather in Boyertown after the fire to identify loved ones and attend funerals.

“Preparing for the burial Opera House fire victims Boyertown PA Jan. 13, 08.” More and more graves being added to Fairview Cemetery.

OPERA GHOSTS

Even after 111 years, traces of the tragedy have always remained. To many in the local area, Boyertown is considered one of the most haunted small towns in America. Between its historic buildings dating back to the 1700s, the looming specter of the Boyertown Burial Casket Company (which operated until 1988), and the imposing Fairview Cemetery with its approximately 7,000 graves, there is little doubt that the town is home to all kinds of paranormal activity. There is also no doubt that a significant amount of that paranormal activity has been attributed to the horrific theater tragedy that claimed so many lives. From nearly the very night of the deathly fire, the Rhoads Opera House ghost stories began. 

”Ruins of the Opera House Boyertown PA Jan, 08”.

”Digging the grave for the unidentified after Opera House Fire, Boyertown, PA Jan 13, 08”.

Following the fire, while the ruins of the building still smoked, police were called to the scene to remove an elderly man from the wreckage. He told the responding officers that his dead wife’s ghost had called him to that specific spot on the site, to talk to her a final time.  

Workers attempt to remove and identify bodies after the Boyertown theater fire.

Officers were further called out to the ruins on multiple occasions, for weeks following the event, because residents and passersby claimed they could hear screams and cries coming from inside the building’s hull. A woman who lived nearby also claimed that spirits of the dead victims had taken over her house, though details of her paranormal experiences have not emerged. 

The Boyertown theater fire making headlines.

”Scene at the temporary morgue after Opera House fire Boyertown PA Jan 08”.

The sound of on-site screaming has continued to recur, for years, along with investigations of moaning and strange noises coming from inside Fairview Cemetery. Although the remnants of the Rhoads Opera House building were torn down and rebuilt a few years after the fire, the haunting experiences live on. A present-day resident who lived across the street from the old Opera House shared, “I’ve lived here my entire life and have heard so many ghost stories about the building. One old resident of the apartments there swore that every year around the same time a woman dressed in fine clothes would walk through the apartment, proclaiming to be late for the play.” Still another resident reported that, when the new building housed a dance studio sometime after the fire, the younger girls refused to use one of the dance rooms because it was “full of ghosts.” Even the area surrounding the fire site bears invisible traces of tragedy, with some believing that the victims who were placed in the makeshift morgues never truly left. 

A covered body is removed from a second story window.

“After Opera House Fire Jan 13, 08. Boyertown PA” - a devastating look at the victims laid out in temporary morgues.

Thousands attend funerals for the Rhoads Opera House Victims in Fairview Cemetery.

An artist captures the scene as victims of the Rhoads Opera House fire are taken to Fairview Cemetery for burial.

The Mansion House Hotel in the early 1900s.

Present-day Durango’s Saloon.

The most notoriously haunted of these morgues is probably Durango’s Saloon, a present-day bar located one block from the fire site, in what was formerly the Mansion House Hotel. It was in the basement of the Mansion House Hotel where rescue workers laid out corpses pulled from the Opera House rubble. Today, Durango’s Saloon still seems to be rife with paranormal activity, from shadowy figures glimpsed out the corners of eyes, to items being moved or pushed over, to strange mists appearing in photographs. The bar’s owner once even found himself locked in his walk-in freezer when its large, heavy door inexplicably slammed closed behind him. When local paranormal investigator Scott Wiley conducted his own investigation in Durango’s Saloon, he reportedly captured some compelling EVPs during his three nights in the bar. During one session Wiley asked aloud, “Who’s there?” and says he caught the whispery but distinct reply of “Binder.” Research of the area uncovered that a Henry Binder was in fact the proprietor of the old Mansion House Hotel in the early 1900s - until he was killed in the Rhoads Opera House fire. Binder’s body was buried up the street in Fairview Cemetery, but his spirit, it seems, lingered behind.

With the horror of the Opera House fire impacting so many people, for so many years, there is probably no shortage of those who can share a ghostly story about the theater fire, or about haunted Boyertown itself. I have a few stories of my own.

My haunted Boyertown house

Part of Fairview Cemetery today.

Listeners of The Confessionals may recall the very early Episode 3: “Hatman and Ghostly Interactions”, where I shared with Tony a number of spooky and paranormal occurrences that I experienced while living in several different homes. The home where I had the majority of my eerie experiences was an old Victorian, built in 1900, located on the same road as the Opera House fire site (0.4 miles away to be exact). In even closer proximity was the huge, somber Fairview Cemetery, barely 400 feet away and visible from the house. My elementary school bus stop was actually directly in front of the cemetery entrance... not exactly the most inviting of places to hang around when you are 5-to-10-years old! I remember walking through the cemetery on some occasions and being confounded by the sight of old, ornate gravestones marking the burial places of children who were my own age and even younger - how could they have lost their lives so early?

My elementary school bus stop.

Though I was too little at the time to be familiar with Boyertown’s history, the ghostly impression that Victorian house left on me has drawn me to learn more about the home, hoping to uncover a possible reason behind what, to me, was its pervading sense of spookiness, punctuated by unexplained events and fearful feelings. One experience in particular, which gives Episode 3 its name, was the very brief but distinct sighting of a hatted shadow figure watching me from a doorway. Though the glimpse was quick, the figure was clear: a featureless shadow man, bearing the silhouette of a tail coat, higher collar, and top hat. He never appeared again, but I have always wondered about what I saw. That wonder has led to my amateur research uncovering a tenuous but tangible connection between my old home and the Rhoads Opera House Fire. 

The doorway (left) in my old home where I glimpsed a shadow figure in a tail coat and top hat. At that time the doorway did not have any attached doors; these were added by a later owner.

Through archived newspaper articles, I recently discovered that a man named Leon E. Mayer lived in the same house that I did, in at least the late 1930s and early 1940s. Further records revealed that at around 15 years of age, Mr. Mayer lost both his father and his sister in the 1908 disaster. Dr. Charles Eugene Mayer and his 18-year-old daughter Gwendolyn were in attendance at “The Scottish Reformation” when the fire broke out. According to a Reading Eagle article published on the 100th anniversary of the fire, “Mayer fought off smoke and flames to reach his wife and carry her to safety outside the building. Then, he went back in to rescue his daughter. It’s not known whether Mayer found his daughter amid the smoke and flames, but neither made it out.” After their deaths, Dr. Mayer and Gwendolyn were buried in Fairview Cemetery. 

Dr. Charles Mayer. March 18, 1863 - January 13, 1908.

Gwendolyn Mayer. September 30, 1889 - January 13, 1908.

As of yet, I haven’t found the key detail that I’d like to know - who lived in my creepy old house at the time of fire? - but this little revelation about the Mayer family is still intriguing. Leon Mayer and his family, like so many families in Boyertown in 1908, suffered a tragic loss that would forever be attached to those left behind with their grief. Did Leon Mayer carry a piece of his grief with him while he resided in the home where I used to live? Did it manifest in the strange activity that I experienced? Was it his likeness that appeared in shadow form in my living room doorway? Or does the figure date back even further - was it is an echo of Dr. Charles Mayer, lost to the Opera House fire just down the road? I can’t say with any certainty whether Leon Mayer moved in to my former home well after the fire, or if it was his family home where he had once also lived with his father and sister; I can only speculate and theorize while I continue to dig into small-town history. But even if my paranormal experiences in the Boyertown house are not at all related to the the former Mayer family residents, there is still the fact that the town lost a tenth of its inhabitants in the Rhoads Opera House Fire, and touched nearly every family with its devastation. There is a strong possibility that whoever did live in my home in 1908 bore their own personal connection to the fire, and, perhaps, left a residual force behind them.

Again - this is pure speculation based on a few thinly related facts. But one other thing that stands out to me now is the appearance of that shadow figure in the doorway. Reports from the night of January 13, 1908 recorded that Boyertown’s theatergoers were “dressed in their Sunday best.” “Sunday best,” for a man in the early 1900s, was unquestionably a tail coat, collar, and top hat… a uncanny match for the shadow man who appeared in my circa 1900 home, only blocks away from the Rhoads Opera House.

With only the few historical facts I’ve found so far and my own experiences to consider, I can’t help but wonder…

THE LEGACY OF THE RHOADS OPERA HOUSE FIRE

While looking into my previous home’s history, I found one other story that caught my attention, not only because it further involves the Mayer family, but because it also reveals how quickly after the Boyertown fire its ghostly legacy seems to have begun. The story comes from Dr. Charles Mayer’s own grandson - not from Leon Mayer, but the child of his younger son - and was published on his blog in 2012. In it he recounts how his father woke on the night of the fire to the sound of the hall clock. Strangely, he says, the clock chimed not 12, but 13 times. The next morning, he was confronted with the terrible truth that his father, Dr. Mayer, and sister Gwendolyn would not be coming home again.

A current view of the site of the Rhoads Opera House fire.

Although details in the full story differ from other records (something to be expected as more and more years separate us from the original inciting event), it is clear that the tragedy of 1908 is still leaving its mark. Generations later, families are still affected by who was lost, and a town is forever different because of what transpired. Today the site of the Rhoads Opera House fire is occupied by offices, apartments, and a cozy secondhand bookshop. The fire and the death it brought are over one hundred years in the past. But for anyone who has heard the echoes of the screams from the Boyertown building on the corner of Philadelphia Avenue and Washington Street, the dead may not be altogether gone.

The plaque on the former site of the Rhoads Opera House - “Dedicated to the 171 people who perished within these walls in the tragic fire of January 13, 1908”.

“To the Memory of The Unidentified in the Boyertown Catastrophe Jan. 13, 1908.”

“Rhoads Opera House Fire: A disastrous fire destroyed the theater that stood at Philadelphia Ave. & Washington St. on Jan. 13, 1908. It claimed 170 victims, many buried here, due to overcrowding, poorly designed and unmarked exits, and inadequate fire escapes. The tragedy prompted the Pa. General Assembly to enact fire safety laws and improve construction and inspection standards, making public buildings safer and influencing similar legislation in other states.”

For more information about Boyertown and its haunted history, contact the Boyertown Area Historical Society. To hear my own haunted experiences of Boyertown and other homes in Pennsylvania, listen to The Confessionals Podcast Episode 3: Hatman and Ghostly Interactions on your favorite podcatcher.

New York's Spooky Island of the Dead

New York City is home to many famous places: Broadway. Times Square. Central Park. The Statue of Liberty. The Empire State Building. Wherever you are in the world, you've probably heard of these big-name attractions, located only in The Big Apple.

What you probably haven’t heard about are the 1,000,000 bodies located just offshore.

Yes, bodies. On Hart Island, a small plot of land in the Long Island Sound, approximately one million people are buried in a potter’s field. The lonely island has a long, eerie history that stretches into the present... where the freshly dead are still buried in open graves.

Hart Island, New York.

Hart Island, New York.

Hart Island satellite image.

Hart Island satellite image.

Hart Island’s history began during the Civil War, when the island - only a mile long and a quarter mile wide - was used as a prisoner-of-war camp. Over 3,000 Confederate soldiers were held there for four months in 1865; 235 of them died and were buried there, marking the island’s beginning as a massive gravesite.

Over the following decades, Hart Island became a place to isolate outcasts of society. In 1870, the island was used to quarantine patients during a yellow fever epidemic. In the late 19th century, it was the site of a women's lunatic asylum. Well into the 20th century, the facilities also functioned as a tuberculosis hospital, a workhouse for delinquent boys, a prison again, and a drug rehabilitation center. The island was even briefly a missile base - all the while amassing the bodies of men, women, and children in its public potter's field.

Hart Island burial, 1890.

Hart Island burial, 1890.

Along with the Civil War soldiers buried there, the dead of Hart Island are primarily the remains of the destitute, the unidentified, and the stillborn; even dismembered body parts have been disposed of in the mass graves. Called “City Cemetery,” the graves of Hart Island make up the largest tax-funded cemetery in the world. On a weekly basis, the bodies, in plain pine boxes, are stacked three high and 25 across in trenches. The process, carried out by inmates of nearby Rikers Island prison, is unceremonious, straightforward, and stoic.

For a long time, the burial sites were even reused: after 25 to 50 years of being buried (long enough to sufficiently decay) new bodies were interred on top of the old, crumbling ones. In 1977, vandals started a fire on Hart Island that destroyed most of its burial records to date, sadly eliminating the only remaining proof of existence for many of the deceased.

Also adding to its grim history are the deaths of four teenagers who drowned when they attempted to sneak onto the island. Only one body was ever found, washed up on the Hart Island shore.

Women's lunatic asylum on Hart Island.

Women's lunatic asylum on Hart Island.

Even though burials continue to occur each week, access to eerie Hart Island is very restricted. The public can only venture to the island by boat, once a month, and can go no further than a memorial and waiting gazebo at the dock. For those who have family buried on the island, a monthly visit is permitted to the burial site, but they must be accompanied by a member of the Department of Corrections. No public photographs are allowed, and paperwork to visit must be filed well in advance. Part of the restriction is a safety issue, as Hart Island is now a ruin of abandoned buildings from its previous incarnations. Among the structures are rusted hospital beds, old documents, discarded shoes, and empty caskets, creepy remnants of the island's long history. But it could be supposed that the restriction is also to ensure that the island graveyard, where so many unclaimed and unwanted have been laid to uneasy rest, stays out of the public eye. 

Mass graves, 1992.

Mass graves, 1992.

Despite its spooky history and mass corpses, a formal paranormal investigation has never been conducted on Hart Island. It is the belief of paranormal investigators that souls of the dead are undoubtedly trapped on the island, as witnesses and inmates who have been there have reported hearing the whispering of voices - many of them children - and the feeling of being watched. Hart Island has even made it onto lists of the nation’s “Most Haunted Islands.” But with so much difficulty accessing the site, it may never really be known how many of the dead still “live” on Hart Island.

Bones eroding from the earth on Hart Island.

Bones eroding from the earth on Hart Island.

Recently, however, it has been made known that the Hart Island dead are rising, in a very literal sense! After enduring years of storms, Hart Island is eroding. As the shoreline deteriorates, skeletons in the mass graves are being unearthed. Some of the bones are collected and reburied as they wash down the beaches, but still others are carried out to open ocean. Miranda Hunt of the Hart Island Project has revealed, “Entire skeletons are sort of falling out of the hill onto the beach, and then they're washed away with the tide.” The problem is so significant that the area of erosion has even become known as "bones beach." The rising skeleton situation has been ongoing since the 1990s, but only lately have efforts been made to stabilize the surfacing bones. The city is finally in the process of repairing the damage, but those repairs aren't scheduled to begin until sometime in 2019, giving ample time for many more displaced remains to simply wash away.

With its creepy past and gloomy present, it’s no wonder that Hart Island is not usually mentioned along with New York City’s famous landmarks. Indeed, there are actually a number of eerie New York islands that are kept quiet from the public, including similarly spooky North Brother Island - the strip of land where Typhoid Mary met her demise and New York saw its biggest loss-of-life disaster prior to 9/11. After over a century and a half of death and more than one million corpses, Hart Island is well-deserving of the title, “Island of the Dead.”

For more stories, facts, and photos of Hart Island, check out "Buried from the Public: Hart Island, New York" on Sometimes Interesting.

Hart Island burial trench.

Hart Island burial trench.

Our Trip to Alcatraz, America's Most Haunted Prison

Picture it: San Francisco, 2017. I was three months pregnant with our first child, Tony’s beard was at its zenith, and we were vacationing in Frisco for our ten year wedding anniversary! It was probably only our third vacation ever in the last decade, so every day we were checking multiple places off of our “must see” list. Our trip would certainly not have been complete without an excursion to a very famous and historical landmark - Alcatraz, one of America’s most haunted prisons.

A Brief History of Alcatraz Penitentiary

Known as “The Rock”, Alcatraz Penitentiary has a long, chilling history, which seems to echo through its dilapidated buildings as tales of Alcatraz’s hauntings continue to this day. 

Originally built as a military fortress in the 1850s, Alcatraz was converted into a military prison in 1868. Situated one-and-a-quarter miles offshore in the San Francisco Bay, the island’s steep, rocky topography and location in shark-infested waters made it an ideal place to confine violent criminals. The first fortress-prison was demolished in 1909, and a new prison was rebuilt in its place by the prison’s own inmates. After the prison fell into disrepair in the 1920s, it was again closed, restructured, and reopened in 1933, this time as a federal prison claiming to be “escape-proof.” Alcatraz continued to function as a prison for dangerous federal criminals until it was closed by Robert F. Kennedy in 1963, due to the huge financial cost it required to keep it in operation. A few years later, in 1969, a group of Native Americans claimed the island, and held it in occupation for two years, before being forced out by federal marshals in 1971. Finally, in 1972, the island prison was added to the new Golden Gate Recreation Area, and officially opened for tourists and the public.

The Haunted History of Alcatraz

At any given time, approximately 250 dangerous prisoners were housed on Alcatraz, including gangsters Al Capone and “Machine Gun” Kelly, crime boss James “Whitey” Bulger, and murderer Robert Stroud, “The Birdman of Alcatraz” - just to name a few of the criminals from the prison’s bloody history. The reasons Alcatraz earned its title as the most haunted prison in America are many. Some of the creepy occurrences contributing to Alactraz's haunted legacy are as follows:

  • Statistics: During its years of operation, there were 14 escape attempts from Alcatraz, involving 36 men. Twenty-three of the men were caught, 6 were shot dead, 2 were confirmed drowned, and the remaining 5 were thought to have drowned, either in the bay or swept out to sea. (The government's official position is that no one has successfully escaped from The Rock; however, conspiracy theories abound about three men, Frank Morris and the Anglin brothers, surviving their escape attempt, never to be recaptured. You can check out this fascinating story here!) In addition, Alcatraz saw 8 murders by inmates, 5 prisoner suicides, and 15 deaths by natural causes or illnesses. (Want more Alcatraz facts? Go here!)
  • Psychological and physical trauma: The treatment and punishment of prisoners was reported to have resulted in psychological and physical trauma for some of the inmates, a number of whom were driven insane before their time on The Rock was concluded. Some of these treatments and punishment included:

 - The Spanish Dungeon: Located underneath Cellblock A are cells is known as “the Spanish Dungeon.” Reportedly used during Alcatraz’s military prison era, the dungeon cells were used for the more “unmanageable inmates,” who would be taken below and chained to the bars of the dungeon, allegedly without clothes and food on some occasions.

- The single Strip Cell: Feared by inmates, the Strip Cell was a steel-encased cell with no sink or toilet where unruly prisoners would be locked, without clothes, in total darkness. Offenders were usually placed in the freezing cell for 1 to 2 days at a time.

- The Hole Cells: The Hole cells were similar types of cells, where prisoners were isolated from others and provided with only the bare minimum to survive- bread, water, a low wattage light bulb- for sometimes up to 19 days. 

  • Cell 14D: Cell Block D is the most famously haunted cell block. In 14D, one of “the Hole” cells, a prisoner in the 1940s once spent the night screaming that a creature with red glowing eyes was killing him. In the morning, the inmate was found dead by strangulation, and no person was ever discovered to be responsible for his death. 
  • The Battle of Alcatraz: From May 2 to May 4, 1946, inmates attempted to take over the prison. The 3-day fight and standoff resulted in the deaths of 2 corrections officers and 3 inmates, and the injury of 11 officers and 1 inmate. Two convicts who participated in the takeover were later executed (at San Quentin) for their roles in the officers’ death. (You can read more about the frightening Battle of Alcatraz here.)

These events are only a number of potential causes of paranormal activity stemming from Alcatraz's long history. The book Ghosts of Alcatraz by Kathryn Vercillo shares an introductory history and many haunting experiences that have taken place on the island. One excerpt from the book reads:

"Not too far away, just off Cell Block C, is the Utility Corridor where three prisoners who attempted to escape (Coy, Cretzer, and Hubbard) were ultimately captured and grenaded to their deaths. In this same corridor, a welded shut door muffles the eerie sounds of the spirits on this cellblock . . . A guard who was watching the area at night heard odd noises coming from behind the door. It sounded as though something was knocking around in the corridor down there, but when the guard opened the door, he saw nothing that could possibly be making the sounds. He closed the door and was going to continue on his security rounds, but as soon as the door shut behind him, the noises started up again. Thinking that someone must be in there playing some sort of joke on him, the guard opened the door again and looked around the area extensively. He never found the source of the noise. When he closed the door again, the noises again resumed . . . Since that time, this area has been blocked off and that particular door has been welded shut."

In the many decades that have passed since the 1850s, strange events and encounters on the island have never ceased to be reported. From whispering in the cells, to ghostly figures, to sounds of clanging bars and doors shutting, to disappearing smoke, to cold spots and areas where visitors are suddenly overcome with emotion, there are no shortage of ghosts lingering in Alcatraz. 

Our Alcatraz Experience

I'll answer the big question first - no, we didn't encounter any otherworldly activity on Alcatraz! However, our trip to Alcatraz Island was an experience not to be missed (although we almost did miss it!) - and we're glad we had the opportunity to go!

Alcatraz, as one of the most important "must see" items on our trip agenda, was the first big attraction we intended to visit while in San Francisco. But, when we showed up at the ticket office bright and early on the first morning of vacation, those plans hit a bit of a snag: tickets to Alcatraz were already sold out, for the entire summer. With daily tours leaving every 30 minutes, every day, we were dumbfounded that there was nothing available - even considering the landmark's popularity - for the next two months! 

Trying not to cry at this disappointing news (which is the natural reaction to any kind of news when you're pregnant) I jumped on my Smartphone and started searching the Alcatraz Cruise website. We couldn't come all the way to San Francisco and not make it to the "main event" of the trip, right?! Lo and behold, the site came through for us: there were two tour tickets available online, for two days later - the only openings for the entire week! The tickets were promptly loaded into the virtual cart (thank you, pervasive consumer-based technology), and we returned to the pier later that week for our boat ride to Alcatraz. And, lesson learned: always pre-order tickets for popular national attractions before flying across the country to visit them.

Even in June, the ride to and from Alcatraz across the San Francisco Bay was freezing. The wind whipped hard enough to take your breath away, the waves were choppy, and fog rolled in and out across the horizon. From the mainland, Alcatraz looks comparatively close to shore, but after crossing the channel, it's difficult to imagine how a prisoner could actually survive a swim from the prison to dry land. (Lookin' at you, Frank Morris and the Anglin brothers... in whichever undisclosed country you're hiding out in.)

If you're looking for a creepy island where you can enjoy ghostly horrors of the past — and who doesn't look for that in a vacation? - Alcatraz is the place to visit! It’s remote, eerie, and desolate, even with hoards of tourists stomping around. There is a quote, often attributed to Mark Twain, that says, "The coldest winter I ever saw was the summer I spent in San Francisco." After visiting San Fran in the summer, we can both can attest to the truth of this statement; temperatures that week didn’t rise about the low 60s, and it was colder still on Alcatraz, surrounded by water and wind. The chill was everywhere, and the surrounding bay and sky alternated between blue and slate gray throughout the afternoon. Alcatraz is not a cheery place, to say the least.

We opted to skip a guided tour, although looking back I think it would have added even more to our experience by expounding on the island’s history. But since we both hate crowds and love abandoned places, we explored the eerie sights on our own, most notably:

  • The ruined buildings: Many of the island’s residence buildings are in ruins, some having been demolished and some destroyed by fires in 1970. It was interesting to note, though, (in a "Yikes, I hoped they always locked the doors" kind of way) how women and children - the families of Alcatraz’s guards - had lived only steps away from some of the country’s most dangerous criminals. 
  • The morgue: This wasn’t the large, laboratory-style morgue fabricated in Michael Bay’s movie, “The Rock.” (Although I won’t lie, that would have been cool too.) Alcatraz’s actual morgue is tucked away on the far end of the complex, housed in the entrance of an old Civil War tunnel. Despite its small size and the crowds around it, it was still a creepy place, with the mortuary slab still in place and the vaults shrouded in the darkness at the back of the room. Not a place you’d want to hang out in after dark. Or in broad daylight. Or at any time at all, really.
  • The cellhouses: Speaking of places you wouldn’t want to hang out in after dark... The cellhouses, the centers for the main horrors and hauntings comprising Alcatraz’s history and lore, were disturbing. Granted, decay and disuse have done them no favors, but they are still scary places. Cramped, stark, and with no exposure to direct sunlight, the cells were bleak sad cubicles. The buildings were also long and shadowy, ideal places for things that like to come out in the dark - and I don’t mean the Tooth Fairy (cue eerie musical riff). If not for the presence of so many people milling about, I think the overall atmosphere of the place would have felt much more ominous and agitated. My heart goes out to any lonely guard assigned to patrol Alcatraz at night; may he have nerves of steel and carry a big stick.

Although we didn't witness any ghostly activity, experiencing Alcatraz was well worth it, both for its storied history and for its potential to encounter the paranormal.  If you have the chance to see it, we recommend the experience! ...Just maybe call ahead for tickets. Please enjoy some of our touristy pictures of Alcatraz below, and stay tuned for a future blog post about our visit to Eastern State Penitentiary! (Because for some reason, we keep ending up at haunted prisons.)

And now I'm going to watch "The Rock."

Have you visited any famous haunted locations? Share with us in the comments!

Written Confession: Darren H. and the Haunted Location That Followed Him Home

The following Confession was shared by Darren H. via The Confessionals' Facebook page:

"My wife and i went to one of Australia's most haunted locations. An old homested called monte cristo .This place is rather haunted and has a notorious history which is rather famous now a days and is used as a tourist attraction. Any way we spent a few hours touring the place and my wife came to the opinion that ghosts dont exist and set about saying this aloud around the place .

Fast forward a week and we had come to notice some strange noises and eerie feelings around our place. We then decided to consult a friends mother who is a psychic about what was going on. She was of the belief we had bought home with us the spirt of a young bloke who wanted to prove he existed. We were instructed to light some white candles and tell the spirit we believed in him so he would leave. A day later or so the activity increased which made my wife imcreasingly frightened so i made the smart descision to challenge the spirit . I said out loud to it to pick on me and leave my wife alone. The rest of the day was un eventful till around two in the morning when i awoke to the bed sheet shaking up and down on us and immediatly thought what the hell is the cat doing...i then remembered the cat was outside. This was the last we heard from that spirit.. he ceratainly proved he existed to my wife and i......not that i needed convincing."

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