Ev­ery­body has a ghost story

T

The Prince George Citizen - - SPORTS - Caitlin GIB­SON The Wash­ing­ton Post

hey saw her only once.

That was be­fore Linda Roberts-Anti­noro and her hus­band, Mike Anti­noro, had moved into the his­toric stone house sur­rounded by slop­ing hills and a scenic stream.

As they vis­ited the Mary­land prop­erty on a blus­tery af­ter­noon in Jan­uary 1990, and stood gaz­ing at the locked and empty home, they no­ticed a shad­owy fig­ure in the win­dow above the front door. Linda didn’t say any­thing. Her hus­band was a New York City fire­fighter, a no-non­sense type of guy. It’s prob­a­bly just re­flec­tions of trees, Linda told her­self. But then Mike turned to her, per­plexed: “Did you just see some­thing in the win­dow?” She felt a chill.

Dur­ing the more than 25 years they lived there, they grew ac­cus­tomed to the oc­ca­sional sound of foot­steps above them when no one was up­stairs, or the in­ex­pli­ca­ble re­lo­ca­tion of a can­dle from the fire­place man­tel to other cor­ners of the room.

And – well, that’s the whole story.

Linda and Mike never ac­tu­ally saw their ghost again.

For all our de­light with hor­ror films and su­per­nat­u­ral folk­lore, the rather un­der­whelm­ing truth about many real ghost sto­ries is that they’re just a wee bit... bor­ing. Too sub­tle or am­bigu­ous, re­ally, to be­come the stuff of leg­end. Yet th­ese are the most ubiq­ui­tous: Most of us know some­one who thinks they once saw some­thing.

About 45 per cent of Amer­i­cans be­lieve in ghosts, ac­cord­ing to a 2013 Huff­in­g­ton Post and YouGov poll; Pew re­search shows that 18 per cent of Amer­i­can adults are con­vinced that they’ve seen or been in the pres­ence of a spirit.

Colin Dickey, author of Ghost­land: An Amer­i­can His­tory in Haunted Places, and his wife host an­nual ghost-story par­ties: “Ev­ery­body’s a bit skep­ti­cal, un­til the first cou­ple of sto­ries come out,” he says, “and then ev­ery­body seems to have a story. That’s kind of the en­dur­ing pop­u­lar­ity of this genre, be­cause for so many peo­ple, they have, some­where in their his­tory, some­thing they can’t quite ex­plain, but yet don’t want to dis­miss out of hand.”

Ash­ley Jones, a 28-year-old ar­borist from Gaithers­burg, Md., is one of them. She grew up as one of fif­teen cousins who spent a lot of time at her grand­mother’s his­toric farm on Mary­land’s Eastern Shore.

As a child, she of­ten slept in a front room of the farm­house. That’s where she once woke in the mid­dle of the night and glimpsed a whitish, translu­cent fig­ure of a man strid­ing past her, wear­ing a uni­form-like suit and a top hat. On another oc­ca­sion, she awak­ened to see the same ap­pari­tion, this time ac­com­pa­nied by a ghostly woman in a long gown. On both oc­ca­sions, she says, she forced her­self to close her eyes and go back to sleep, con­vinced that it must have been a lin­ger­ing frag­ment of a dream.

“I didn’t want to be seen as the nut in the fam­ily, so I didn’t bring it up to any­one,” she says.

But things kept hap­pen­ing in the house, she says – a Christ­mas train set that sud­denly started run­ning with­out any­one turn­ing it on, the sound of creak­ing stairs when no one was walk­ing on them. Then one of her younger cousins, who had slept in the same front room of the house, an­nounced one morn­ing that she woke in the night and saw a pale, shim­mer­ing man sit­ting on the hearth, wear­ing a top hat.

“My stom­ach dropped,” Jones re­calls. “There was no way, with no­body know­ing what I saw, that she would come up with that ex­act same out­fit for the guy.”

Jones never knew the ex­act his­tory of her late grand­mother’s farm­house, which was sold last year, or the iden­ti­ties of res­i­dents who might have lived there long ago. But Dickey thinks many ghost sto­ries are ul­ti­mately fu­eled by our cu­rios­ity about those who have gone be­fore us – that haunt­ings ul­ti­mately re­veal more about the per­son who per­ceives the phan­tom than the phan­tom it­self.

“If it’s a house where there’s not a fa­mous haunt­ing – maybe it’s not a well-known prop­erty, and yet it’s been around since the 19th cen­tury and has changed hands a num­ber of times – I think there is for many of us this sense of want­ing to feel con­nected to that past,” he says. “We want a con­nec­tion to a his­tory that we per­ceive but feel is just out of reach, and ghosts are a re­ally com­mon way for us to ex­press that.”

In some cases, that his­tory is more clearly de­fined: Fay Hobbs Man­they has al­ways known that her home, an apart­ment on the third floor of a his­toric build­ing on North Fair­fax Street in Old Town Alexan­dria, Va., was the set­ting of a tragedy in 1879.

Laura Schafer died there on her wed­ding day, when the em­bers of a fire set her gown ablaze as she dressed for her cer­e­mony. The build­ing, which Man­they has owned for 15 years, is a pop­u­lar stop on lo­cal ghost tours.

Other visi­tors – and es­pe­cially tenants in the com­mer­cial space down­stairs – have re­ported a slew of bizarre ex­pe­ri­ences: strange noises, whoosh­ing air, ex­treme cold­ness or heat.

And yet, Man­they has never wit­nessed any of that her­self.

“I don’t doubt that Laura’s here, I re­ally don’t,” she says. “It’s just a gut feel­ing, and be­cause I know the his­tory.”

Jen­nifer Cornell, who works in Or­lando, Fla., is sim­i­larly cer­tain the for­mer res­i­dent of her rented 1920s-era bun­ga­low is still around. A neigh­bor across the street told Cornell all about Ella, the el­derly widow who had lived and died in the house in the late 1960s, even shar­ing pho­to­graphs of the for­mer school­teacher.

That helped Cornell make sense of cer­tain in­ex­pli­ca­ble phe­nom­ena in Ella’s for­mer home. Cornell once watched a heavy bath towel swing wildly on a hook, “but there wasn’t a draft in the house,” she says. Her dogs would some­times pace and stare in an empty back­room, as though they were watch­ing some­one. Lights would oc­ca­sion­ally shut off for no dis­cernible rea­son.

But Cornell found all of this oddly com­fort­ing: “I’ve al­ways felt pro­tected here,” she says. Now, the house has been sold and will soon be de­mol­ished, and Cornell is think­ing of mov­ing to New York.

“I’ve al­ready told Ella that she can come with me if she wants,” she says.

Last fall, Linda and Mike bade farewell to their own al­legedly haunted house, re­tir­ing to another home in Mary­land. The prop­erty is still on the mar­ket, Linda says; when it sells, she will pass along the records she’s kept about the orig­i­nal own­ers of the house, who are ru­moured to have of­fered shel­ter to run­away slaves on the un­der­ground rail­road.

As for the less tan­gi­ble as­pects of the house’s his­tory – Linda hopes a prospec­tive buyer won’t be thwarted by the pos­si­bil­ity of a be­nign, if su­per­nat­u­ral, pres­ence.

Linda’s skep­ti­cal hus­band once de­vised his own test to de­ter­mine whether there truly was an al­l­know­ing spirit hang­ing around.

“He left a Power­ball ticket out, with a pen­cil,” she says, “but the ghost never filled it out for him.”

WASH­ING­TON POST PHOTO VIA BRET CURRY-A24

Casey Af­fleck, left, and Rooney Mara ap­pear in the 2017 film A Ghost Story.

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