In culture after culture, people believe that the soul lives on after death, that rituals can change the physical world and divine the truth, and that illness and misfortune are caused and alleviated by spirits, ghosts, saints ... and gods.

STEVEN PINKER, How the Mind Works

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Railway enthusiast delves into stories of supernatural

Ghost trains. Phantom travellers. Poltergeists and demons. Perhaps humans haven’t been the only ones riding the rails way down the line.

Nova Scotia author Jay Underwood tries to unravel the truth behind such spooky sightings in Ghost Tracks: Surprising Stories of the Supernatural on Rails.

The Elmsdale writer delves into a range of spectral stories — everything from a grey lady haunting Inverness County tracks to dreams of a white horse becoming a harbinger of death on the Merigomish line.

Along the way, he offers earthly explanations for the lore’s possibly supernatural origins.

But Underwood, 51, is certainly open to the latter, having once seen what he believes was a ghost.

It happened when he was about 14, living with his family at a Royal Air Force base in Abingdon, England.

"My bed looked out through the bedroom door and down the hallway toward my sister’s room," he recalls. "I woke up late one night and saw a little girl standing in the hallway and I thought, well, it’s my sister Sara because she sleep-walked, so I got up and I went to put her back to bed, put my arms around her and they went right through.

"So I locked myself in the lavatory and spent the rest of the night there. . . . Afterwards I thought that probably wasn’t the smartest thing to do because a ghost could probably walk through a locked door anyway. But anyway, that was the sum total of it. It seemed quite real at the time."

Underwood says he didn’t talk much about the experience afterward, telling his grandmother (who believed in the supernatural) only years later when the family had moved to Canada.

Besides, he says, many who report supernatural experiences often face ridicule as a result.

"This is one of the things I found when I was writing the stories of the railway ghosts. It tends to get treated the same way as an unidentified flying object. A lot of people think they’ve seen them, but they don’t like to talk about it for fear of being dismissed as a crackpot of some kind. And what they may have seen may or may not have been a ghost but they know they saw something. And I spoke to several people who believed they saw or experienced something."

But that’s not to say Underwood buys into every spooky story he hears. In fact, he makes it clear that many of the book’s tales can be traced to far more human factors. Some appear to have grown out of train wrecks and other railway-related deaths seemingly tied to things like unfamiliarity with new technology, or overwork or lack of maintenance.

Even the prevailing mood of the times may have conjured some spirits in people’s minds. Underwood points to the gloom pervading the Commonwealth after Queen Victoria’s death as a factor.

"All these stories, it seemed to me, happened within a certain time frame, especially around the death of Queen Victoria and that seemed to me to be a pivotal point not just on Canadian history but in British history too because a queen who had reigned for that long and was so loved to suddenly die, it was a massive change in the way the society viewed itself. . . .

"At that time Canadians were still proud to call themselves members of the British Empire and when the head of the empire died suddenly there was this uncertainty about . . . what would the empire become without her presence. So a lot of that seems to be a reflection of the melancholy that pervaded the empire when she died."

But then again the rails had been steeped in superstition almost since the beginning, from a fear of the number nine to beliefs that dreams foretold pending deaths.

Fear of new technology may have inspired such beliefs too, he says, especially in the wake of numerous wrecks and accidental individual deaths.

Even in the late 1800s and 1900s, Underwood says, railway companies were emphasizing safety "so that when something did go wrong people would say, ‘Well, we did everything we were supposed to do and the accident still happened — there must have been some other force at work.’

"There was a certain amount of lack of sophistication associated with that era. . . . The world was transitioning from a Victorian era into what we are today, and in Victorian times there were still a lot of people who clung very strongly to tradition and superstition."

In many cases, though, lack of familiarity with new technology may have caused wrecks, explosions and freak accidents that lent themselves to ghostly interpretations.

But perhaps not all.

Underwood believes the tale of the Whiteside Terror, which he chronicles in Chapter 5, could be true. Without giving the whole story away, suffice to say it involves, at one point, a ghostly hand gripping a human neck.

"I believe the Grey Lady of Inverness certainly could be," he adds of another story about a female apparition people have claimed to see and hear around old railway tracks near Judique.

"I think in this day and age people like to use science to explain everything," says Underwood, a longtime journalist who is also president of the Nova Scotia Railway Heritage Society. "And I don’t believe that science can explain everything, in some cases. You know they’ve tried to use science to explain the Shroud of Turin, but they never have completely."

(above taken from " ". )

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Beban House's ghostly past continues to spook workers

He is slow on his feet and loves to take mid-morning, afternoon and evening naps, but Slater seems to have caused quite a commotion at Beban House since his arrival.

The family pet now calls the Nanaimo Tourist Information Centre home, but his owner fears the cat has stirred up the building's ghostly past. Employees at the Nanaimo Tourist Information Centre in Beban Park are familiar with the buildings haunted history. But it was only recently that they started to take it a little more seriously. Recurring incidents left them with chills down their spines and prompted them to contact the Vancouver Island Paranormal Society to investigate their ghostly suspicions.

Mark Drysdale, executive director of Tourism Nanaimo, says he's not convinced there are ghosts roaming the rooms and halls of the historic building. He doesn't even believe in ghosts. But after moving his cat into the building, strange things started to happen with no good explanation. Co-worker Amanda Envoy shares Drysdale's practicality, but they both figured it couldn't hurt to seek the opinion of a professional ghostbuster.

Rob Turner with the Paranormal Research and Investigation Group is still reviewing the evidence they collected in Beban House on the night of July 4. Envoy is eager to find out the results, even though she passed up on the opportunity to sleep over with the ghostbusters while they conducted their research. She's already spooked enough and didn't think trying to meet and greet the ghosts, if there are such a thing, would be in her best interest.

"Lets just say if ghosts do exist, then there's one here," Drysdale said with a laugh.

Beban House is one of Vancouver Island's most well-known hauntings, which was even featured on the television series Creepy Canada.

Before becoming Nanaimo's tourism building the top floor was used as a daycare. The operator of the facility often heard stories from preschoolers about an oddly dressed child playing with a red rubber ball. It was later realized that it is more likely one of the Beban's Chinese servants, a young boy who died in the house.

Drysdale has heard all the tales, but it wasn't until a few unexplained incidents got his wheels turning. Doors and windows he had locked were opened. Doors he left opened were locked. A vital key went missing and then reappeared weeks later. And Slater who was locked in a room over a weekend was sitting in the foyer on the following Monday. It's a mystery because the door to his room was still locked and there was no other way out.

Drysdale called the security company a few times to check to see if the alarms had been set off at any time or if they had detected any movements inside the building. The security records came back clean. That's when the tourism team decided to call in the experts.

Even when Drysdale and Envoy are in the office all alone, they never really feel alone. It's not that they feel like someone they can't see is staring at them. But rather, there's a presence of someone else in the room, on the stairs or in the corridor. Despite the eerie feeling, they don't believe the ghosts, or spirits, to be evil.

"It all seems to be quite harmless," said Envoy. "But it still creeps me out."

(above taken from " ". )

The Beban house is a beautiful home that was built by Frank Beban, British Columbia's leading timber baron. A mansion built on 160 acres of land, 3 miles north of Nanamio. In 1953 the city of Nanamio purchased the estate and eventually in 1997 it was turned into the Nanamio Tourism Headquarters. Through out the years before the estate became the headquarters it also served as a daycare centre, which is when it seems stories started to come to life by the young children. Children claimed that there were other children that dressed differently hanging out with them playing with balls of their own.

Eventually after some research of the daycare providers it was discovered that children once resided in this estate and even more info came out that they were the Chinese servant's children to the original owner Frank Beban. A young Boy has said to have died in the house of an accidental death.

After several investigations by ghost hunters and the curious there have been numerous accounts of weird and unexplained happenings, Psychics claim that there is more than the spirit of the little boy. The unexplained encounters have been recorded as water taps turning on, messages left on the answering machines and doors mysteriously opening and closing. Not to be left out is the strange eerie feeling of being watch when in the basement.

Monday, August 17, 2009

The Black Hope Curse

Just outside of Houston, Texas, is a neighborhood filled with upscale homes and manicured lawns. In the early 1980s, Sam and Judith Haney settled in at the far western edge of the development. Sam described it as their dream home:

“When we bought the house in Newport, it was the house th
at we had always been looking for. So, it was the house that we intended to stay at for a long period of time.”

But there was a morbid secret about the Haney’s perfect home, one that soon turned their lives into a never-ending nightmare. Sam said it all began when a mysterious old man showed up at their door with an ominous warning:

“This elderly man told me that he had noticed that we were putting a swimming po
ol in our backyard and that there was something about our backyard that I needed to know about. So I followed him around to my backyard and he pointed at the ground and said that there are some graves right here. And he marked a spot on the ground where they were. And I really didn’t know how to react to that. I didn’t know if he was just joking. I couldn’t understand why anyone would want to joke about something like that.”

Using a backhoe, Sam decided to see if the man’s alarming claims were true. Sam says it wasn’t long before he hit something:

“And at that point, we stopped with the backhoe and we got down into the hole and continued digging by hand. There were pine boards. When we lifted up the first board, we could see an indentation of a skeleton form. It didn’t take long to figure out that it was actual human remains.”

Sam immediately called the Sheriff and county coroner who conducted an official exhumation. Most of the bones had turned to powder. But 25 fragments were found, some so brittle that they disintegrated when touched.

A second coffin, located alongside the first, hadn’t been disturbed. Inside, two wedding rings were discovered on the frail index finger of the exposed skeleton. Judith Haney was mortified by the discovery:

“They handed me the rings and it was sickening to
think that I had desecrated somebody’s grave.”

Wanting desperately to do the right thing, the Haneys decided to find out whose remains were buried in their backyard. The search led them to a longtime resident named Jasper Norton.

Years earlier, Norton had dug several graves in the area. He told the Haneys that their home and a dozen others were built on top of an old African American cemetery called Black Hope. The deceased were mainly former slaves. The last burial was in 1939, and as many as 60 people were interred there in paupers’ graves. The two people buried in the Haney’s backyard were Betty and Charlie Thomas. They died during the 1930s and their graves were eventually forgotten.

Judith and Sam Haney made an extraordinary decision. They reburied Betty and Charlie in their yard, and prayed their spirits would rest in peace. But, according to Judith, peace was not forthcoming:

“There was a clock in my bedroom and one night it started sparking and putting out a sort of blue glow.”

When Judith checked the clock, she found that it was unplugged. That was only the beginning of the Haneys’ ordeal. On another evening, Sam went to work the night shift, leaving Judith alone:

“I heard the sliding glass door open and I heard what I thought was Sam saying, ‘What you doing?’ Everything was quiet, the sliding glass doors were locked, and I thought, ‘Well, you know, you must be losing your mind. This really must be getting to you.’ But much to my amazement that’s not where the story ended. In the morning I awoke, went in my closet to get my red shoes, and I could not find them anywhere.”

Sam backed up Judith’s story:

“So, of course, I started looking for them and went through all of her closets where she normally puts things. And we just couldn’t find them. We had walked just a short distance from where the gravesites were and I could see something on the grave. And they were both side-by-side like someone had just picked them up and carried them over and laid them down on the gravesite.”

Even more disturbing to Sam was the realization that this was Betty Thomas’ birthday:

“And I kinda got the feeling that it was like Charlie was giving Betty a birthday present.”

Judith felt she knew what was going on:

“I began to come to the realization that this was not all in my mind and that this had to have some relationship to Betty and Charlie’s graves being disturbed. Their spirits were saying, ‘This isn’t right.’”

The Haneys were not alone. A dozen of their neighbors also reported lights, televisions and water faucets turning on and off, and unearthly sounds and supernatural apparitions. Worse, these bizarre events were becoming malicious.

Like the Haneys, Ben and Jean Williams thought that they had found their suburban paradise when they moved into the same neighborhood. But Jean said she never felt at peace in the house:

“After we moved, in everything changed. When I tried to plant new plants, they just would not live no matter what I did. You know, fertilizer or whatever, they still would not live. And I constantly had a foreboding feeling, a feeling of things are not right or something bad is about to happen.”

The Williams said that near their flowerbed, sinkholes appeared in the unmistakable shape of a coffin. The Williams would fill them in, only to have them reappear a few days later. The Williams also felt their ideal home was being invaded by a menacing presence. Random shadows slid along the walls, followed by whispered words and a putrid smell.
At the time, the Williams’ granddaughter, Carli, lived with the couple. During the blazing heat of summer, Carli said she would stumble into bone-chilling pockets of ice-cold air:

“It would be very, very chilly and you’d have this feeling of foreboding, or just, you know, like something wasn’t right. Anywhere in the house you’d have a feeling that you were not alone. Somebody was watching you. It terrified me to be in the house by myself. The toilets used to flush on their own. As the water went down I could hear, it was almost like conversations. You could hear people murmuring to themselves. It was a presence or spirit or something there. Something that wanted to be heard. Wanted me to know that it was there.”

Jean Williams had no doubt as to the source of the disturbances:

“I absolutely believe that all of these things happened to us because we were on the graveyard, and that we were simply going to be tormented until we left there.”

Ben said he and Jean debated what to do next:

“Me and Jean, we talked it over. And she said, ‘Well what can we do? Walk off and leave it?’ She said, ‘We ain’t got enough money to pay down on another home.’ I said, ‘We’ve always been fighters. We’re gonna stay right here and fight it and try to beat it.’”

According to Ben, it wasn’t long before he got his chance:

“I came home from work around ten after twelve from the midnight shift, an
d I walked straight to the kitchen, opened the refrigerator door, and that’s when I seen these two ghostly figures. And they went straight backwards into the den. And then they started heading right down the hall to Jean’s. And it was standing right about a foot and a half from the end of the bed. The only thing I really thought of was, ‘They ain’t messing with me wife.’ As I dove through it, I felt a sticky cold sensation in my body.”

Down the street at the Haney’s, Judith said the disturbances caused her life to unravel:

“I was crying all the time. I was frightened. I was scared of doing my daily routine in my own home.”

The Haneys decided to fight back in court. They sued the builder for not disclosing that their home was built over a cemetery, in part, so that everyone would know what was happening at their subdivision. A jury awarded them $142,000 for mental anguish. But a reversal ruled on legal grounds that the developers were not liable. The verdict was thrown out and the Haneys were ordered to pay $50,000 in court costs. Sam Haney recounted the total cost of their ordeal:

“At that point we decided to file bankruptcy. All in all, we ended up losing the case, losing the money, losing the house.”

The Williams also explored legal recourse. But they say that they were told that without definitive proof of a cemetery on their property, nothing could be done. It was then that Jean made a decision that she will forever regret:

“That was the last straw. You want a body? I’ll show you a body. So, I thought to myself, I can dig about two feet a day and I knew I would reach a body.”

But soon after she started digging, Jean felt ill. Her adult daughter, Tina, volunteered to finish the job. After digging for a half hour, Tina also fell ill. Carli Karluk was there that day:

“I remember her saying that she was, that she felt funny. She was getting dizzy as well. She put the shovel down and she went back inside. And she just laid down on the couch. She’s like mom, daddy, I don’t feel right. There’s something wrong. The last thing I remember her saying was, ‘Mommy, take care of my baby, take care of my baby.’ And she looked so scared.”

While waiting for paramedics to arrive, Jean tried to keep her daughter conscious:

“Almost immediately her eyes started glazing over. And I was talking to her, t
rying to talk her out of dying. ‘Please Tina, talk to me.’ And all this time her eyes were changing until they got to the point where I knew that she wasn’t responding at all.”

Tina had suffered a massive heart attack. Two days later she died. Jean burdened the blame:

“I realize that I had desecrated another grave and now I’m paying. I told Ben, ‘We have to get out of here. It doesn’t matter what we lose, what we had.’ And I knew that if we didn’t, that I was not going to make it, because my fight was gone. I could fight no more.”

The Williams escaped to Montana and later moved back to another house and another neighborhood in Texas. Today they are a happily growing family, no longer plagued by mysterious noises, horrific apparitions or heart-breaking tragedies.

Back in their old neighborhood, none of the current residents have reported any paranormal activity. No one has ever been able to explain what happened to the Williams or the Haneys.