I have a theory that “hauntings” happen most often in houses that “turn inward.” By that I mean that the architecture of the house is such that one lives within the walls and rarely pays attention to what goes on outside. And that's the way most houses were built for a long part of human historyas fortresses and shelters against the outside. It's perhaps only in the twentieth century that we started building "glass houses" centered about a view of the outside. We rarely looked out of the windows of the Summit Avenue mansion except from one large room on the north side that I used as my office. Often the heavy drapes we had were closed to keep winter drafts to a minimum or to help cool the house in the summer. And even though it was located on a corner lot, what was there to see except a neighbor’s house with the same thick walls and inward turn?
Many houses with documented hauntings, such as reported in Grave’s End by Elaine Mercado, have this characteristic. In that book, there was even a hidden room in the basement with no windows that was the center of malevolency.
Not all phenomena in these inward houses are malevolent. I experienced only two instances that I felt to be malevolent in the Summit Avenue mansion, but I’ll save them to another time.
Instead I want to talk about a wonderful house I lived in before moving to the mansion. It was really a large urban cottage, and had been built by my grandparents when they first moved to St. Paul in 1907. My grandfather was an active businessman, a humanitarian, and an occultist. At one time he was a national vice president of the Theosophical Society in America. And long before civil rights entered the consciousness of white mid-western Americans, he founded a group called “The Brotherhood of Races.”
The home was a refuge. Thick walls, leaded glass windows, and dense shrubbery kept the sounds and sights of the city at bay. It was a house with its own sounds, and a feeling of awareness in every part of the house. It was dark and comforting like a warm blanket.
I have stories to tell about my grandfather, but for now I will only say that as a young boy I was fascinated with his librarybooks on auras, the astral body, reincarnation, “The Secret Doctrine,” Egypt, etc.
Every afternoon he came home from the office and meditated for two hours. As young grandchildren, we were told he was napping. Later I would learn that he used this time for active work in other planes.
Sometime after both grandparents passed away, I moved into the house. It was a wonderfully warm and comfortable home. The dining room had a painted mural showing my grandfather fishing while grandmother rowed the boat. The beamed living room ceiling had light fixtures of their own designshowing Indian swastikas in stained glass. During World War II they covered these esoteric symbols to avoid being thought to be Nazi sympathizers! One of the bedrooms that I converted to a home office was heavily paneled in mahogany.
Sometimes I would hear my name called out. One time I was reading, and suddenly looked up to see a large carved statue I had placed on the fireplace mantle move straight out about five feet before settling to the floor. It was like something or someone was saying “pay attention!” Small things would often disappear from one place to turn up later at another. And I dreamed a lot! And after I moved from there I would often return in my dreams.
The single-car garage was detached from the house, and had a small side room where my grandfather would go once per week to smoke a cigar and study his agate and mineral collection. That, too, was a magical place, turned away from the outside world. Surrounding it were lilac bushes, and I felt the presence of fairies there.
One of the characteristics of these “inward facing” houses is that they have a life of their own. The Goodrich Avenue home of my grandparents not only had its own sounds, but seemed to have its own breath. And there was a distinct difference in feeling from the basement to the first level and then to the attic. Each had a unique “presence” that affected the people. The Summit Avenue mansion had this as well, whereas other homes that are more outward facing lack this.
It is within this environment that I believe paranormal phenomena more easily happens. It’s like the house provides an insulated space that contains and stores psychic energies from dissipation. I think of it as a kind of battery that takes energies from the people within and stores them for later release. In the case of hauntings, such as the sad case of the girl who hanged herself, I suggest that the extreme emotions and pain she felt as she took her way out continued on, “recorded” in the wood of the walls and stairs. At times those energies would affect the awareness of people in that vicinity.
Was her soul earthbound? I don’t believe so. It’s just a recordingnot of sound or light, but of feeling. At the same time, it was the “left behind” energy and consciousness of a living person. Perhaps it does exert a kind of drag on the soul that has a new life on the other side. If we can release that energy, the soul, too, experiences release. I believe that reacting to the phenomena without fear, and with acceptance and even humor, does release the energy naturally over time.
But as long as the energy is stored, those feelings can be experienced and may induce the perception of sight and soundjust as can a recording. Can the phenomena become objective instead of only subjective? It seems so. There are many observations of psychic phenomena by objective electronic equipment, andof courseby more than one person.
At one time, three newspaper people asked to spend the night on the third floor in the hopes of a big story. It was OK with me. After some talk, I left them to their vigil and went to bed. In the morning, they were gone. Later one of them called and said that the night was mostly quiet, but when they heard some noises in the hallway by the staircase they investigated, saw nothing, but photographed the space. Then each said they felt sadness and sorrow, and they left, about 3 AM. The developed photograph showed squiggly lines of light where they had seen nothing.
Of course, they made that part of a big front-page story on Minnesota ghosts. For months I was deluged by sightseers wanting to tour the haunted mansion. Some wanted to hold séances; others wanted to do rituals and cleansings to release the earthbound soul. Teens would park by the side of the house at night and attempt to scare each other.
Why are we fascinated with ghost stories, and why do we think of them as mostly scary?