When A House Guest Is A Ghost
By Connie Nelson
Home & Garden Editor
Star-Tribune - Minneapolis

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 missing.
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 are real."
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," said Savage.
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 body."
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 <>
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