- A door suddenly slams, shattering the silence in an empty
room. A TV blares on, as if by itself. Car keys left on the kitchen counter
disappear, only to be found later in the shower. The sound of muffled voices
filters down from the attic.
- House hoax -- or haunting?
- That was an easy question for Virginia Van Dusen to decide.
In fact, she wasn't surprised to learn that her Minneapolis home was haunted.
Over the years, several family members had reported ghostly behavior --
the sound of footsteps, unexplainable problems with appliances, small items
- What did surprise her was that ghostbuster Carol Lowell
said she had discovered 12 ghosts in the 101-year-old house. (Lowell banished
most of the ghosts, including a family of four who she said died of the
plague in 1910, but allowed one ghost to remain, with Van Dusen's blessing.)
- "I have never been afraid of ghosts," said
Van Dusen, who has since shared some of her ghost stories in her neighborhood
newspaper. "In these old Kenwood homes, I'll bet there are a lot of
ghosts out there. You know, a lot of theaters are haunted, too. It's just
the way it is."
- From incredible to credible
- Almost everyone loves a good ghost story, especially
on Halloween. But it now seems that an increasing number of people believe
them. Skeptics and psychics alike say acceptance of ghosts and other paranormal
phenomena has grown.
- Echo Bodine, a well-known Twin Cities psychic, author
and longtime ghostbuster, calls the current interest in ghosts "unbelievable.
It's like the interest has tripled," she said.
- Sheryl Grassie, a local ghost writer, ghostbuster and
a former student of Bodine's, agreed.
- "The evolution of people's attitude is amazing,"
Grassie said. "There's something in the consciousness that ghosts
- Although Michael Schermer acknowledged that there has
been a gradual change in attitude since the 1960s, he wouldn't call it
an evolution. And instead of being amazed, he's dismayed. Schermer, author
of "Why People Believe Weird Things" and founder of the Skeptics
Society, considers ghosts and spirits "paranormal nonsense."
But he said he understands the reason some people grasp at easy, other-worldly
explanations for what may seem like mysteries.
- "The idea of a transcendent spirit is ingrained
in the human psyche," he said. "We are pattern-seeking, storytelling
animals trying to make sense of the world."
- Still, he called belief in ghosts "an assault on
critical thinking. If you believe in that, what else are you willing to
believe?" he asked.
- The scientific spirit
- John Savage considers himself somewhat of a skeptic,
too. He's also the founder of the Minnesota Paranormal Investigative Group.
Savage's group is affiliated with other national and international ghost
"research" organizations that claim to use scientific methods
to prove -- or disprove -- the existence of ghosts.
- Armed with digital and video cameras, tape recorders
and other more exotic tools of the trade (electromagnetic field meters,
thermal guns and Geiger counters), group members inspect reportedly haunted
homes to find scientific evidence of ghosts.
- "Nine times out of ten, there's usually an explanation,"
- But that doesn't mean he doesn't believe in ghosts. On
the contrary. "They (ghosts) do exist and they are definitely quite
active," he said.
- But just what they are is not widely agreed upon.
- Dave Oester, founder of the International Ghost Hunters
Society, takes a fairly benevolent view.
- "Ghosts are an extension of life after death,"
he said. "They have intelligence and emotions and personalities the
same as when they were alive. The only thing they don't have is a physical
- According to Oester, ghosts don't haunt, can't be seen
and shouldn't be "busted" because most often are "loved
ones and family members coming back to watch over you."
- Bodine begs to differ. She believes ghosts are spirits
of people who have died but have not passed over to the other side, that
they often have no relation to the people they haunt and that they can
wreak havoc on a household for no better reason than that they are bored.
She sees them, talks to them and usually convinces them to leave.
- Frightfully friendly
- However, there are a couple of points on which many ghost
aficionados agree: The vast majority of ghosts, while frightening, aren't
dangerous. (The horrible ghost is largely a product of Hollywood, they
said.) And although ghosts may roam cemeteries, theaters, saloons and train
stations, they seem to take up residence in houses -- and not necessarily
old or spooky-looking ones, at that.
- Oester suggested that ghosts make themselves at home
in homes because when they were human "most spirits lived in houses
of one kind or another and they're going to live in a house as a ghost."
- But Pat Linse, co-founder of the Skeptics Society, has
a different take on haunted houses. She said people sometimes use ghosts
"as a way to act out whatever conflicts there are in the family."
- A door suddenly slams. A TV clicks on. Car keys disappear.
House hoax -- or haunting?
- Linse, of course, would call it a hoax. But then she
adds: "There's a lot of fun to be had in ghost stories."
- -- Connie Nelson is at <mailto:email@example.com>firstname.lastname@example.org.
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