Monday, March 19, 2018

What Dreams Might Come: Ghosts and Dreaming

The following is an excerpt from the book Anatomy of a Ghost; A Guide to Analyzing the Dead pgs. 93-97

by Robin M. Strom-Mackey

I include this story not because I'm fully certain whether the event was normal (and just weird) or paranormal, but because it demonstrates how widely opinions can vary between expert paranormal investigators.  On the one hand, look how very far out on a limb one investigator goes in order to explain the situation in rational terms.  Then again, another seems to accept it as paranormal out of hand.  My husband and I who experienced it have never been able to make up our minds about the event one way or another.  For me, honestly, it remains an unsolved mystery.


 I was getting ready for an investigation. I’d done the phone interview with the client, and then did an initial walk through.  It’s a fairly mundane procedure, done during daylight hours when I determine whether there is enough reported activity to actually warrant a full investigation.  It also allows me to figure out where the activity is occurring and where I will need to have my team set up equipment. I was comfortable with the client, Lindsey, who honestly seemed more curious than frightened.
The Thursday night after the walk-through was serene, I did the walk-through after work. There were no problems that night.  Friday was a normal workday with no untoward stress. Friday night, however, was one of the most bizarre of my career.    When I woke the next morning, while memories were still sharp I recorded what had happened. Here is what I wrote:

October 10, 2014: Around nine pm we were putting my son to sleep. He has a small sugar bear [glider] named Hiccup. We had Hiccup out and we were playing with him. Sugar gliders are like tiny flying squirrels. He’ll run up your arm or leg and then leap to another person and land on their head or back, run around, jump to someone else... My husband, son and I were all in on the little adventure. Eventually we put Hiccup back in his cage, tucked my son into bed, and went to bed ourselves.

It was around 11:30 – midnight. I had been sleeping, but then I noticed that my husband had come up to the foot of the bed. We were talking about something, but as soon as we stopped talking about it I seemed to forget what the conversation had been. I thought this odd at the time.  I wondered to myself, “Why can’t I remember what we were just talking about?” I didn’t have time for further reflection because I realized that my husband, had brought Hiccup in with him. The little creature leaped off Gene and was running around on the bed. I followed his movements, because I didn’t want him to get loose and lost. Hiccup ran up the furrow in the covers close to me and I cupped my hands around him in preparation of gently lifting him up and containing him. As I was cupping him my husband put his headlamp on [he keeps a small flashlight, head-lamp by the bed at all times]. As the light beamed down on my hands Hiccup seemed to disappear. I thought he had burrowed deeper into the sheets so I was ruffling the covers trying desperately to find him when my husband asked me in a very bewildered voice, “What are you doing?”

Slightly exasperated I replied, “What do you mean what am I doing? I’m trying to find Hiccup.”

“Hiccup isn’t in here. He’s in his cage,” Gene said.

“No he’s not, he’s right here. I just had him in my hands,” I explained starting to get confused and still talking to my husband at the foot of the bed. “You were the one that let him loose. Help me find him.”

“What are you talking about? I’ve been here asleep the whole time, I haven’t been playing with Hiccup.”

At this point I may have been struggling to wake up fully, because it slowly dawned on me that Gene was in fact beside me in bed, and that I was playing with an imaginary Hiccup, and sitting up in bed conversing with…no one. “If you’ve been asleep the whole time, then who was I talking to?” I asked.
“ That was your son, he got up to go to the bathroom,” my husband explained. “I just saw the bathroom light turn on.”

“It was not our son. He’s not been out of his bed.”  How I knew this fact so adamantly I cannot explain. After all I'd just been playing with an imaginary critter. But somehow I felt absolutely sure that our son was tucked up in his bed fast asleep.

My husband didn’t agree. “I’m pretty sure it was your son. I saw a dark figure at the foot of the bed when I woke up, and saw him turn around and head down the hall to the bathroom.”

We discussed this possibility a little further, until my husband finally got out of bed and went to my son’s room. Our son was predictably in his bed sound asleep, and no one was in the bathroom. Gene did note that the light was still on in the bathroom.   Not an alarmist, he came back to bed wryly pointing out, “I think you brought something home from your walk-through.” With that said, he turned over and went back to sleep.  Gene is not easily rattled, as you can see.

It was hot in the room, however, and I realized that I was too warm to sleep comfortably without opening a window.  In order to open the window, I needed to get up and turn my back to the bed and doorway. There are two reasons I didn't want to do this. The first I just mentioned; the idea of turning my back to whatever might be in the house was unnerving. The second was because we have a large four-poster bed that stands about 2 feet off the ground. It’s easily high enough for an adult to crawl under. Eventually I realized that I was being paranoid, and opened the window.

The cool air helped, and I fell back asleep. But this time I had a distinct dream that the blanket I was sleeping under was slowly being pulled off me by a force from underneath my bed. I jerked awake. I’m now realized, quite vividly, that whatever was playing with me was reading my thoughts. Somehow, I’d conveyed my worries about what could be under the bed, and it had used that information, just as it had fabricated the incident with the imaginary sugar glider.

I managed to go to back to sleep again.  Once again, I had a very vivid dream that felt like it was being manipulated from outside myself. This time I got the cliché’ haunting experience, the feeling of being held down in bed. I know it to be a dream and I also recognize my own sleep paralysis as something separate from the sensation. Groggily I finally woke up enough and told the entity verbally to, “Get off, get off me.” I was no longer panicked so much as exasperated at that point.  I was annoyed because I had started to understand that something was toying with me, perhaps trying to scare me, but that the creature was a bit of a buffoon.

That was the third time I’d been awoken that night by crazily vivid dreams. I was annoyed, worried and wide awake. As I was  lying in bed I heard the creaky step outside in the hall squeak as if someone was on the step. Then I heard another small noise I couldn't identify. I nudged my husband awake again, and asked him if he had his handgun with him [lest we had a human invader]. He assured me he did.  This was the final experience I had that evening. Each successive incident seemed like it was losing energy.

We did ask my son in the morning if he had heard or seen anything, or been out of bed that night. He said no to all three. He did remind me of the time he himself had a dream that Hiccup was loose on his bed. His calls had awoken me and I had gone into his room and woke him up. He, like I, had been adamant that Hiccup was loose.  I had forgotten that incident.

*** End of Account ***

Being a paranormal investigator, I find this story extraordinary on so many levels.  And I can say that I can pick it apart now, only because of the amount of time that has gone by, without any further re-occurences. It’s much easier to be critical when you’re not actually emotionally involved.  But let me start with the easier answers.

The third occurrence, when I felt like an entity was holding me down on my chest and arms is probably the most easily answered. Indeed, I answered it at the time I wrote it, chalking it down to sleep paralysis.  Sleep paralysis is something that occurs naturally in mammals. It’s a type of protective tendency that sets in when an organism is in its deepest sleep, causing a temporary paralysis of the limbs.  In this way if I dream I’m fleeing from an assailant, I don’t actually start flailing in bed. In the same vein if my poodle, Uther, is dreaming that he is chasing a squirrel he doesn’t actually take off running and throw himself inadvertently off the balcony.  Its nature’s way of keeping our bodies safe when we’re in our deepest, most vulnerable stages of sleep.

Sleep paralysis (SP) is a physiological response, quite natural. Coupled with this I apparently had the “Old Hag” syndrome experience – old hag meaning a witch. The Old Hag was known for visiting victims at night and sitting on their chest.  What actually happens is that because my chest and arms were paralyzed it felt as if something was holding me down. Because I was only partially awake, my body was still not responding, instead feeling like it was under spectral attack.  SP is a fairly common phenomenon. I might also have experienced a hypnogogic or hypnopompic hallucination which are also common with SP.  Such acute episodes can be caused by stress, fear, being overtired.  They also occur more regularly if someone is sleeping on their back or on their stomach.

The second dream as well is easily dismissed as a nightmare. I was already emotionally distressed, and probably had a bad dream because of it.  I didn’t for instance actually see the sheets being pulled down.

That leaves the first incident.  Obviously, the night left me bewildered and I sought the advice of two experts I knew in the field.  Greg Pocha, Director of Parapsychology, Afterlife and Paranormal Studies for the Eidolon Project Canada ( theorized that I had experienced a somewhat rare sleep anomaly called a False Awakening (FA).  An FA is the polar opposite of an SP in that the person is not paralyzed but moving about freely, acting out their dream.  They feel like they’re awake, but they’re sound asleep.  In my FA I was sitting up in bed, conversing with my husband and chasing an imaginary critter.   I didn’t actually wake up until my husband turned on his headlamp and started asking me questions.

Pocha speculated that I had a Type 2 FA which is accompanied by sensations of confusion, tension, stress, apprehension, feelings of foreboding, feelings of heightened expectancy and feelings of ominous oppression.  Apparently Type 2 FA’s can also produce hallucinations, such as seeing people that are not there; husbands standing at the foot of the bed, for example, or imaginary sugar
gliders running around on the covers.  FA’s are more common in lucid dreamers as are SP’s.  Until that night I’d never experienced either an SP or an FA.

Pocha pointed out that I likely have a telepathic connection with my son, which he speculated was common among mothers and their children.  Note that my son had had a similar dream about his sugar glider getting out.  This is one of his first pets, and required specialized care.  Hence, especially when the animal was new to the house, my son would often suffer bouts of anxiety. I’ve always considered myself about as sensitive as a rock, so this suggestion surprised me.   And then he spent a night away at a friend’s house.  He left me to take care of his pet, which I did. However, I awoke in the middle of the night in a panic over whether I had fed Hiccup his nightly apple slice.  I was so concerned that I went down stairs and got him another, just in case. Hiccup ate well that night.  When my son came home the next day I asked him how his night away had been.  He said it had been fine, except in the middle of the night he had awoke in a panic, thinking he’d forgotten to get Hiccup his apple. Had his panic over his pet radiated to me?

Pocha’s answer seemed to tie up the experiences I had in a nice, neat scientific bundle.  I might have been subconsciously anxious about the upcoming investigation and that anxiety created not one, not two, but three lucid dreams resulting in an SP and an FA experience – all in one wild ride of a night.  I didn’t know I was feeling terribly worried about the investigation, but that’s why we call it subconscious or below consciousness.

For skeptics this appears explanation enough, except for two minor details…. First my husband saw a similar dark figure at the foot of the bed, which in a stretch we might say was a shared telepathic hallucination.  Second, the dark figure we saw at the foot of the bed turned around, walked out of the room, down the hall and tripped the motion sensor night light in the bathroom.  Pocha’s response, “I will have to agree with your husband’s first, and most logical conclusion, that it was indeed your son that was seen at the foot of the bed. Why? It must be fairly obvious that you were suffering from episodes of sleepwalking. Thanks to chromosome 20 (the exact gene is still unknown) there is a genetic link passed down, so the likelihood of your son suffering the same noctambulistic fate is better than average.  I can safely surmise that the chances are excellent that your son was indeed sleepwalking, being silhouetted from the light of the motion detector that he had just set off. In your words the figure turned around and headed back down the hall. Apparitions tend to take the easy route and just fade out. As well you state that you were struggling to wake up, apparently your husband was in the same state, as apparently you woke him up. This gave plenty of time for a sleepwalking boy to return to his bed and be asleep - because he was never awake.”

This is not to say that Pocha dismissed the idea that a spirit could follow someone home. In fact he vehemently warned me to take some precautions against such a fate.  He just felt it unlikely that on an initial walk-through I would have caught the attention of something that would be so interested in me as to follow me home.  I wasn’t doing anything provocative enough to garner attention. Incidentally, I also asked another acquaintance who had studied parapsychology about this particular incident.  His explanation was more to the point. Heck, he could have tweeted it to me. “Yup,” he said, “it sounds like something followed you home. “

Post Script

Before this incident neither my husband or I had ever witnessed our son sleep walking. However, sometime after the incident my husband decided to check on our son late one night and found him  standing behind the door of his room, fully asleep.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Lilburn Manor; Another Chapter in a Haunted Past

By Robin M. Strom-Mackey
Author of Anatomy of a Ghost: A Guide to Analyzing the Dead

"But it was five years later that I just started having this gnawing feeling that I just had to get there.”

Overlooking historic Ellicott City, Maryland is the stately Lilburn Mansion.  Already notorious for its haunts, the aging mansion built in the likeness of a castle has a tragic past of loss and sadness.  Enter a young, impressionable woman with a love of history and you have a recipe for a ghostly obsession that lasted years.  
In my collection of interviews I came across a case where a person became an unwitting mouth piece for an entity.   This case doesn’t appear to be a case of the more sinister form of possession, but a case of spiritual obsession.  Obsession by a spirit is somewhat different from possession. In this case a living person can become obsessed, or fixated on an idea or behavior that is obviously out of character and sometimes self-destructive. They can be urged to do compulsive acts, but they don’t lose sight of themselves. In other words they may feel the need to do something, but they don’t black out or lose control. They realize what they’re doing, and understand that the compulsion comes from without and not within themselves.  In Judy’s case she remained aware of what she was doing, and understood that the compulsions she was experiencing were not of her own choosing. 
Now retired and living near the beach in Maryland, Judy had been a hardworking career woman all her life. She ran a restaurant and a catering service for many years before giving up the long days and nights in the kitchen for semi-retirement as a book keeper. She recounted for me an episode in her life in which she seemed to be obsessed by the tragic spirit of a woman and the stately remains of an edifice of tragedy.
In an interview I conducted with her, Judy recounted how it began. “I was between eighteen and twenty-five at the time when this happened, and it was really what started my interest in the paranormal. But you know you grow up, you raise kids, you have a job and you just don’t have the time to pursue it. I know this is going to sound weird, maybe not to you because you deal with this, but it certainly sounded weird to all my friends at the time. I used to live in Clarksville at my brother’s. I used to love to walk in Ellicott City. There used to be a place called the Phoenix which was right on the corner of Cranberry Avenue and Market Street. My girlfriends and I used to go down there and have lunch all the time. One day we just decided to go riding around and seeing what the houses were like. So we drove up there and that’s when it started. This house looked like a Castle, it was up on Cranberry Avenue, up where the railroad used to be. You’d have to go up a hill to get there.”
“We were up there and I thought, wow, what a cool house. At the time it wasn’t inhabited but there were no trespassing signs everywhere. And we thought, we can’t go in here. So we took a couple of pictures of the outside of the house which is really cool. Around six months later we saw an ad in the paper that the house was for sale. They were asking a million –three at that time and that was 1980 to 1982 maybe. I certainly didn’t have that. Not too long after that it sold to a person, I don’t remember who but I have it on my timeline. Then after that it sold to the doctor who owned it for a long time. So we took a couple pictures of it, as I said, and then we drove back down to Ellicott City, and I said I want to go back to the Phoenix and ask about that house.”
And I did, and they said, 'Ooh. That’s the haunted house in Ellicott City. So I asked, ‘well what happened up there?’ They said, ‘oh, well there’s someone up in the tower. There was a fire there and children had died, and it’s had many owners. But everyone stays away from that house because it’s supposedly haunted.’”
So captivated by the house did Judy become, that over the course of the next couple of years she would research the property extensively. The following are from the notes that she made and kept all these years later.
The building is not a house in actuality, but a mansion of some 7000 square feet. Built in the 9th century Gothic and Romanesque Revival style with stone and granite, it boasts twenty rooms, a four story medieval style tower, twelve foot ceilings and seven fireplaces with marble mantels and surrounds. The property also boasts a three-story carriage house and the only three-story smoke house ever built in Howard County.
It was built in 1857 by Henry Richard Hazelhurst. Originally from Abington, Berkshire England, who moved to Ellicott City after making a fortune in iron works. Henry had lost his first wife in 1848, but remarried a second time to Elizabeth Virginia McKim. The family moved to the area around 1857 with their two children, Maria and George. Soon after the mansion was finished a third child, Catherine, was born. Soon after Catherine’s birth, however, tragedy struck the family. Maria, aged three years, died of a childhood illness. Throughout the course of the next five years Elizabeth delivered three more daughters, Margaret, Julia and Elizabeth.
During the Civil War the Hazelhurst’s allowed the mansion to be used as a hospital for wounded soldiers. Following the war, the family’s financial interests may have taken a down-turn, as Henry apparently was forced to sell off several acres of land surrounding the mansion, which was distressing to the family. The original plot of land was 2500 acres, eventually it was whittled down to eight.
Elizabeth reportedly suffered bouts of depression for twenty some years. Judy’s notes suggested that the depression was brought on by the loss of daughter Maria. The loss of a child is a tragedy beyond words, even in an era when such losses were common. The birth of later children apparently did nothing to assuage the loss. Elizabeth passed away in 1887. She was fifty-nine years old when she died of an unspecified illness.
Her daughters would be even less fortunate. Indeed, none of Elizabeth’s daughters would live to reach the age of forty.
Catherine the third child, and the first to be born in the mansion, was reportedly very close to her mother. She died only four years after her mother’s death. She was thirty-three when she passed in 1891.
Only two years into her marriage, Julia died in childbirth in 1893, at the age of thirty-one. She was laboring in the tower of the mansion trying to deliver her first and only child when she died.
Not much is known about Margaret, only that she died in 1895 at the age of thirty-six. Henry, who was losing his family one by one is quoted as saying that the mansion was “A place of tragic memories.” Still Henry lived to old age. Accounts vary, but he either died in 1890 or 1900, either at the age of seventy-five or eighty five. He was laid to rest at St John’s Cemetery of Howard County next to wife Elizabeth. The last and final daughter, Elizabeth, followed her father to the grave five years later in 1905.
The first born, and only surviving child, George sold the mansion in 1906. He moved to Catonsville, Maryland and died in 1919.
A waspish man by the name of Wells bought the mansion next, and inhabited the mansion with his family into the early 1920’s. Apparently a bit of a character, Wells earned a reputation with the town’s folk for his petulant demeanor. He was known to snap at anyone that attempted to speak with him. One who valued his privacy, Wells had a seven foot hedge planted around the front of the property. The Wells family stayed mainly in the house, emerging only on Sunday mornings to attend church. Wells was found dead one day in the mansion’s library.
John McGinnis and family were in residence in the mansion by 1923, when a devastating fire destroyed much of the interior. The family managed to escape the blaze, but were forced to rebuild. During the renovation they added the medieval style battlements to the roof of the tower, replacing the steeple gothic roof that had been the original design.
Apparently the mansion earned its haunted reputation with the town around that time. According to Judy’s research, activity in the mansion included the sounds of a small child crying in an upstairs bedroom, and an apparition of a young girl wearing a chiffon dress who was reported as playing in several rooms of the mansion. There were also reports of an apparition of a man and a small child walking hand-in-hand down the hallway. A male apparition was also reported standing in a doorway. The aroma of cigar smoke, a habit not uncommon in Hazelhurst’s era, was smelled and sometimes witnessed in the library, a curling cloud of smoke wafting toward the ceiling in an otherwise empty room. The chandelier in the dining room was said to swing with vigor at times, once during a family gathering. Footsteps, sometimes heavy footsteps, were at times heard around the building, and on the tower stairs. And once, a vase full of flowers was said to elevate off its stand, pouring water and flowers out onto the floor.
Windows in the manse appeared to be uncooperative, refusing to stay closed. This was especially true in the tower. One owner attempted to tie the errant windows down with rope. By the time he got outside to inspect his handiwork, however, the windows of the tower were open again, the ropes lying on the floor beneath.
Judy commenced her story, upon learning that the mansion was up for sale. “Right then I thought I want to buy that house. But I couldn’t.”  The one-million dollar asking price was inconceivable to a woman who waited tables.  Her dream mansion was such that, she had to concede, just a dream.
“And then years later, I think it was five years later when I lived with my brother, that’s when that started happening to me. I had taken other friends around and we would look at it and just ride around the streets. But it was five years later that I just started having this gnawing feeling that I just had to get there.”
“I thought at the time, this is weird, but I’ve got to go [to the house]. And I would go, and I would sit and I would bawl my eyes out.” She admitted that she had no idea why she was crying, but that she was simply overwhelmed with, “complete sadness.”
In her research she had found accounts of tragedies, any one of which she might be tapping into. The house had burned down. A lady that had lived in the house had lost three children. Owners of the property had come and gone with great regularity. For all its grandeur it hadn’t been a house of joy for its inhabitants.
“I’ve got loads of stuff, I went to Ellicott City, the historical society and I gathered so much information. I always wanted to explore this home. Years ago in the early 2000’s a couple were trying to make the house into a bed and breakfast, but Ellicott City wouldn’t allow them to do that. But it’s still, it’s lived in, but there are many, many stories about it.”
“For some reason I connected with a woman in the house, who was very, very sad. I could be at my brother’s and it could be any time. Every two or three months, it could be three o’clock in the morning or it could be noon. If I was asleep I would wake up and I’d have this insatiable desire, I had to get to the house. I’m surprised no one ever called the cops on me. Because I’d go and I’d sit outside the house in my little car and I’d bawl my eyes out for  an hour. And then it was done, and I went home. But it was reoccurring and it would happen every two or three months with regularity for three years, and then it absolutely stopped.” Judy admitted that she probably repeated the ritual a dozen times over the three year period while she shared a grief so terrible with an unknown woman that it communicated beyond the veil.
“I did, I thought I was cracking up, but the feeling was just so strong in me, and I went, and I would have this experience and I would go home, and then I was so relieved. And then it wouldn’t happen again until a couple of months later. It was weird, but it was cool. So I decided that I needed to find out more about this house, and the owners, and the timeline. The stack of papers [she accumulated] is probably this thick [around two inches] and I wrote down a timeline of when the fire was, who owned it, who built it, how many acres it was. That was so interesting for me to go and do that kind of research.”
“So that was why I did so much research on the home. I don’t even recall now the name of the woman that lost the three children, but I always felt a connection that maybe she was the one that did that. I don’t know.”
“I knocked on the door one day, there was a doctor living there, a lady, and I kind of introduced myself and I told her my story and I asked her if I could come in. But she didn’t know me, and I don’t blame her for saying no. It was just so fascinating.”
“My brother thought I was crazy, my friends thought I was crazy. So I really didn’t [share it with anyone] because it was personal to me. It felt very personal that someone was reaching out to do that. I just went with it. When it stopped, I was kind of sad that it stopped. I realized it had been six months or so and I realized, wow, I haven’t been to that house in a long time. And it never happened again.”
What is fascinating to me about this account is the fact that Judy never actually entered the dwelling, and had no knowledge of its history at the onset. She apparently made an immediate connection to the property, though, obvious by the fact that she took pictures of it on the first encounter and went downtown to inquire about it immediately.

Final Analysis
Why was she the one of the whole band of friends that was affected in this way? Can we assume that she was the only one with the empathic ability to tap into the tragic energy? I wonder also if the energy, the sadness she apparently was in tune with, was actually a consciousness or just a type of residual sadness that lingered about the property.
The episodes Judy underwent certainly didn’t seem to have had any purpose beyond the sheer expression of pain. This energy appeared to require nothing but expression. The expression of sadness, expiation, all those years after. The death of a child, three children, a woman in childbirth…Judy would go on to become a mother herself.  Did the spirit sense a bond? Was it Elizabeth still mourning the loss of Maria? Was it one of the later residents who also experienced tragedy in the mansion? We will never know, beyond the fact that death and loss left an imprint on a place that transcended the passage of time.