Is that clown doll looking at you funny? It may very well be. Haunted objects are the subject of my book, Haunted Stuff: Demonic Dolls, Screaming Skulls, and Other Creepy Collectibles, and I'd think twice before picking up that doll house at the next yard sale, bub. Here are ten of my favorite haunted items from the book.
- Lady Lovibond
Was a woman's betrayal behind the sinking of the Lady Lovibond? Driven mad by the sounds of his beloved's wedding celebration to the captain below deck in 1748, the first mate, John Rivers, bludgeoned the seaman at the wheel of the tall ship and steered it to certain destruction on the Goodwin Sands off the coast of England in revenge. Now, every fifty years, the vessel has been spotted smashing upon the rocks only to fade before the eyes of its rescuers. One ship recorded hearing the sounds of music floating across the water as the Lady Lovibond nearly rammed into them. There was no official sighting of the ship in 1998, but I'll be on the beach waiting for it to appear in 2048—I'll save you a spot.
- Driskill Hotel
The Driskill Hotel in Austin, Texas boasts several ghosts, starting with the death of the young daughter of a state senator following a fall down the grand staircase in 1887. Soon after Samantha's death, a ball was reported bouncing in the first floor lobby, and her laughter echoes near the second floor ladies room and the stairs leading to the mezzanine.
The Driskill also hosts the Suicide Brides. Twenty years apart, two women took their own lives in the opulent room 427—one by hanging and one by a self-inflicted gunshot in the bathtub. The rooms in that section of the hotel have been refurbished, but rumor has it that 427 is resistant to change. It had to be repainted four times as the paint peeled from the walls, and the bathtub would fill with clear water—though there was no running water to the bathroom and leaks were never found.
- Aunt Pratt
The painting of a woman hung in a bedroom at Shirley Plantation in Virginia kicked up its heels at the thought of being forgotten. After being placed in the attic during a redecoration of the bedroom, Martha Hill (or Aunt Pratt, as she'd come to be known) created a "mighty ruckus" in the attic in the form of the family hearing a chair being furiously rocked until the painting was returned to the bedroom. In the 1970s, the Virginia Travel Council borrowed the painting for an exhibition of supernatural phenomena at Rockefeller Plaza in New York City. While there, witnesses saw the painting swing back and forth so wildly that the seal of Virginia, which hung next to it, also began to rock. The phenomena were captured on film after a reporter from CBS caught the action while on a lunch break. One morning, workmen found the painting on the floor, several feet away from its case and, in their words, "heading toward the exit."
- The Broken-Faced Doll: Mandy
Strange things are afoot at the Quesnel and District Museum and Archives in British Columbia. After acquiring a 1920s-era doll in 1991, the curator felt a little uneasy with the way the baby doll smiled through its cracked visage. The curator later learned that the donor would repeatedly find in the house windows securely latched that, moments before, would be wide open, and hear the eerie cry of a baby coming from the basement—only to find another open window...and no child. These reports creeped the curator out a little bit more. The doll settled into its new digs well enough, until patrons to the museum started complaining about how they felt the doll's eyes were following them as they crossed the room, or that its fingers would move and eyes blink. The doll has garnered national attention for its antics, and the museum welcomes those who are brave enough to stare into the eyes of the broken-faced doll and make their own conclusions of whether it is haunted...or simply just extremely creepy.
- The Blushing Portrait
Haw Branch Plantation sits tucked away in the hamlet of Amelia, Virginia. The owner's cousin sent a painting of a young, distant relative who had passed away; the owners, upon receipt of the painting, were disappointed to find the painting a mix of black, grays, and dingy whites, having been told of the painting's beautiful colors in green and pink. Out of respect to their cousin who had sent the painting, the owners placed the painting on the mantelpiece in the library and forgot about it. Days later, women's voices were heard coming from the library, where the owners only found an empty room. This continued until it was noticed that the painting of the young woman was taking on color. Over a year and a half, the painting was slowly infused with the promised greens and pinks, but also revealed a lovely redheaded woman. At some angles, it appears that the woman was blushing but in others it looks as if the portrait was bleeding. Local experts were called in to examine the painting for an explanation, but none were ever able to give a firm and logical answer.
- Golden Gate Bridge
A spectacular tourist spot in San Francisco, California, the Golden Gate Bridge welcomes visitors from all over the world—and leads some to their doom. Named the premier suicide spot in the world (with over 1,300 known deaths from jumpers since its opening in 1937), the bridge has a shadow over its beauty. On nights locked in the fog rolling off the bay, passersby may hear the screams of the jumpers before their bodies hit the water.
The Tennessee ran aground on the sharp rocks on the Golden Gate Strait in 1853. Luckily, all of her passengers and crew were saved before it sank, but in 1942, the crew of the USS Kennison reported seeing the ship sail under the famous bridge and into the fog without leaving a blip on the Kennison's radar.
- The Screaming Skull of Burton Agnes Hall
The untimely death of Katherine (Anne) Griffith of Burton Agnes Hall in Yorkshire, England left behind more than a tragedy of a young life cut short. After being robbed and beaten by one of England's notorious highwaymen near her home in the early 15th century, Anne was taken home to perish in relative comfort. Making her sisters promise to always keep a part of her with them, she died wanting to "remain in our beautiful home as long as it shall last." Literal much, Anne? Burying Anne's head along with her body, her family returned to the Hall to discover one very grumpy ghost pleading to come home. Disinterring the body a few weeks later, they found that her head had been severed from the neck and was completely bare of skin or hair. (You have total permission to get grossed out now.)
Returning with the skull to the Hall, the ghost and odd noises stopped until years later, when the skull was thrown away and Anne got her caterwauling on. The family eventually hid the skull within the panels in the Great Hall, and it has been quiet ever since.
- Belcourt Castle
Belcourt Castle in Newport, Rhode Island housed a diverse collection of artifacts from around the world—some just happened to be a little sassier than others. In the French Gothic ballroom, visitors to the mansion have described feelings of unease, a dip in room temperature, and getting the stink eye from a pair of salt chairs reportedly used by French royalty.
Salt chairs were so-called due to the fact that they have a chamber beneath the removable seat to store commodity such as salt and whatever crown jewels they had laying around. Now at Belcourt Castle, the chairs have been reported to repel would-be sitters, and even to have once tossed a person from the chair itself.
A row of suits of armor dating from the 15th and 16th centuries lined the back wall of the ballroom. Each March, the family reported hearing screaming coming from one set of the amour as a knight relived his final moments. A helmet was also rumored to swivel to follow tourists as they walk through the house. Other ghosts in the home include a robed monk, a British soldier, ladies dressed in evening wear, and a Samurai warrior who is believed to have traveled to the house along with the former owner's Asian collection of antiques.
- Chair of Doom
It's a little on the dramatic side, but with the chair hanging from a wall at the Thirsk Museum, in North Yorkshire, England, you can't be too careful.
Convicted of murdering his father-in-law in 1702, Thomas Busby placed a curse upon anyone who dared to sit on his favorite chair at the Busby Stoop Inn—the same one his father-in-law had sat in the night he was killed by a blow of Busby's hammer. After Busby's hanging, the legend of the chair's curse grew. Locals dared each other to sit in the chair and taunt the curse of a dead man—until a string of accidents made them wonder if they had pushed it too far. First, in the late 18th century, a chimney sweep was found hanging from a gatepost next to where Busby was hung years before. Years later, airmen who had dared the curse were found dead in an automobile accident the same day. More and more car crashes linked the chair to untimely deaths. The pub owner finally donated the chair to the museum after a man working on the roof fell to his death after using the chair earlier in the day.
- Hollywood Sign
Bright lights and the big city can also equal crushed dreams and a roll down the hill into legend. The Hollywood Sign looms over the sun-drenched valley in California as a symbol of ambition and fame—but what happens when it all becomes too much? Actress Peg Entwhistle felt her career had gone nowhere after she left New York to try her luck in the movies in 1932. Desperate and no longer wishing to be a burden to her family, she chose to plunge off the top of the letter H of the (then) Hollywoodland Sign. The next morning, a hiker found her coat and purse, with the suicide note tucked within, at the base of the sign and left it at the police station. They found the body two days later; it had rolled into the brush downhill. Two days after identifying the body, a letter arrived at her uncle's house giving her the lead in a new production at the Beverly Hills Playhouse.
Now, hikers report seeing a woman in 1930s-era clothing wandering at the base of the sign, only to disappear when they approached her. Park ranger John Arbogast claims to have smelled gardenias, Entwhistle's favorite scent, in the dead of winter. Police have often been called to the sign on reports of seeing a woman jump, only to find nothing but the beautiful view of the valley below.