In the Beverly neighborhood on Chicago's south side, old, massive homes line some of the streets in a spooky Halloween-type setting where tree branches look as if they might reach out to grab unsuspecting motorists and plunge them into depths unknown. One of those homes on one of those streets belonged to my friend, Clare.
On the day I met her, I sat in front of her home for the first time, staring at the structure from inside my car. Something about the house caused my heart to palpitate and I felt instantly uncomfortable. The discomfort was so palpable, in fact, that I had to force myself to brush off my uneasiness just to make it up the sidewalk to the steps. With much trepidation, I climbed the stairs and tried to convince myself that my fearful perceptions sprouted only from my overactive imagination.
"Want to see the rest of the house?" Clare asked after we drank tea at her dining room table.
No, not really, I wanted to say. But I accompanied her from room to room, anyway, the uneasiness following me with every creak on the floor and through every doorway. As Clare showed me around her spacious house with its giant rooms, she asked me if I wanted to see her basement.
I didn't, but having never met her until that day, I didn't want to admit to her that basements have always frightened me. As I peered around the eerie underground space, I thought about Wes Craven. Was Clare's basement a model for his A Nightmare on Elm Street movies? Would I find Freddy Krueger lurking in the shadows?
1984, the year I first met Clare, was the same year the first Nightmare movie appeared in theaters. Combining my feelings and observations with Clare's admission that she and her family shared their home with a ghost, I absolutely, with no hesitation, believed that a ghost lived in her home.
I met Clare through my oldest daughter, Keeley, who had been friends with three of Clare's children. Escaping the rants of her stepfather, Keeley moved in with Clare and had no apprehension at all about moving into Clare's home despite the fact that Clare AND her children had clearly stated that the house was haunted.
Unlike her mother, Keeley believed in nothing paranormal, so it was no wonder when, on her first night living in their home, she ignored admonitions not to intimidate the ghost – Keeley thought everybody was joking about him.
Since Keeley was the only one tired enough to sleep that first night, everybody but Keeley remained downstairs. All of the bedrooms were upstairs, and if Keeley wanted to go upstairs by herself, she would be alone. Clare and her children were concerned about how Keeley would react if the ghost decided to appear to her in some form, so they reminded her again and again about the ghost.
In addition to the original Nightmare movie, Ghostbusters had also made its debut that same year, and after Clare and her children reminded Keeley again about their "houseghost" and asked once again if she would be OK going upstairs by herself, Keeley climbed the squeaky steps and flippantly remarked, "I'll be fine – if he bothers me, I'll just call the Ghostbusters."
Clare and her children exchanged knowing glances, thinking her remark would be just enough to set off the ghost, and warned, "He's not going to like that," but Keeley was so certain that no ghostly activity whatsoever would occur, she dismissed their warnings, ascended the creaking stairs to the room they had assigned to her, and jumped on the bed, ready for a good night's sleep.
Nonbelievers generally don't believe in ghosts until they experience their own ghostly encounters. Some former nonbelievers, after having had experiences with ghosts, now run their own ghost hunting companies. Some of them even televise their findings. Ghost Adventures on the Travel Channel and Paranormal State that used to appear on A&E are two ghost hunting programs that come to mind.
I sometimes wonder what would convince a nonbeliever of a ghost's authenticity, because while I have had my share of ghostly encounters (read Touched By a Ghost if you want to read about one of them), I have always believed in them.
Keeley, on the other hand, had never believed in them. So on her first night at Clare's house, after she had found her room and sat down on the bed, in less than a minute, one single event challenged every belief Keeley had ever held. Because in that minute, as she sat down on the bed, with Clare's family awake and only one floor below her, the bedside table lifted off the ground beside her, and hung in mid-air, rocking.
Something strange happens to the throat of a person who is frightened beyond comprehension – a voice chokes into silence and any attempt to make sound becomes thwarted. Though she tried to scream for help, no voice erupted; though she tried to thrash her arms and legs around, no movement ensued.
Like the Cowardly Lion who holds his tail, closes his eyes, and cries, "I do believe in ghosts" (in the movie version of The Wizard of Oz), Keeley would now admit to believing in ghosts.
So what about you? Do you think that not believing in something means it doesn't exist, or are you open to the possibility that beings exist beyond our abilities to perceive them through any of our five physical senses and that they roam among us on this planet? If you don't believe in ghosts, what would it take to make a believer out of you?
One more thing: consider the house's history when purchasing a home in any old neighborhood. Why? Because when Clare sold her house and I asked her if she told the new owners about the occupant she left behind, she responded, "Nobody told me when I moved in and nobody asked me when I sold it."
I can tell you with certainty that if I ever move into an older home, I'll find out about its history BEFORE I move in.