Anecdotal Evidence in the Case for Ghosts

By Shannon Baker | E-Mail

We were all standing around a co-worker’s kitchen, sampling the tasty hor d’oeuvres and sipping our wine, having a conversation about an upcoming program at our library. A group of paranormal investigators was coming to talk to the public about investigative techniques and to display samples of evidence they had compiled, which led me to ask if anyone had ever seen a ghost. The nonbelievers among us quietly scoffed and looked amused while those who felt that they had had a legitimate experience jumped to tell me all about it.

I find that as soon as people discover that you are receptive to tales of paranormal experiences they jump at the chance to talk about it. Part of that is our innate love of story-telling and part of that is the fact that most people keep paranormal experiences to themselves, fearing ridicule. Perhaps with mainstream television shows like TAPSon SyFy and A Haunting on Discovery, people will begin to feel free to tell their stories and therefore we will learn more about the nature of haunting. Anecdotal evidence is what spurs scientific investigation into paranormal events. A person has to experience a phenomenon and then report it in order for someone else to begin an investigation. Therefore, anecdotal evidence is not to be disregarded in the pursuit of paranormal research.

People’s stories are important, particularly when gathering evidence of repeat occurrences. When multiple people over the course of time have experienced the same vision of a ghost in the same location, the anecdotal evidence mounts and appears to validate claims of haunting. We need to listen to the stories in order to begin to prove or disprove a person’s claim. The main difficulty with anecdotal evidence is that it is often an experience that happened so far in a person’s past that it is impossible to go back and make any investigation. Also, memory tends to alter things slightly over time. And keep in mind that you are only getting one person’s point of view, which can be skewed. If someone is an absolute believer in ghosts and wants desperately to see a ghost, he or she may interpret a cold spot or a vague shadow in a corner as definite proof of ghostly activity. But then, this is why we have paranormal researchers working hard to try to gather concrete evidence of paranormal activity.

When I write about the paranormal I try to keep my tone as unbiased as possible, which is difficult as I am a believer in ghosts. I was a believer before I had personal experiences and I am more of a believer after these experiences. I’ve been interested in ghosts and hauntings since I was 12 years old so to say that I’m completely unbiased about the subject would be a lie. That said, I can look at things objectively and know that what I personally experienced may have been something other than ghostly activity. However, I also love a good story and, boy, do I have some good stories. So here I plan to relay some anecdotal evidence of my own and I will let you make your own decisions, or just enjoy the story for the story’s sake!

The story that I told at this party where we were having our entertaining ghost discussion was about the first experience I ever had. I was maybe 13 or 14 (notice that my memory is a bit untrustworthy on this point—I cannot remember exactly when this happened) and sleeping over my best friend’s house. Her father was a history teacher and in the process of renovating the family’s colonial home. They had found many interesting relics in the walls, like a very old rifle and some old iron tools, but I thought that the place lacked atmosphere. They loved the place but to me it had an awful musty smell and not a single comfortable place to sit and relax on any of the reupholstered period furniture. Kirsten’s room was a little better; it was at least bright, with windows on three sides of the room. It was a fairly long room with a decent amount of space between the twin beds, one on each of the long walls. There was a window between the beds and a cedar chest where she kept her stereo. I remember being subjected to Bon Jovi and Skid Row and other popular hair-bands (I was a Depeche Mode fan, what Kirsten called “funeral music”).

That night we went to bed at a reasonable hour after staying up listening to the radio, gossiping, and all the other stuff teenage girls do. I woke up in the middle of the night and laid still for a second or two, trying to find my bearings, when I noticed that there was a figure bending over me, whispering. It was a woman and she appeared to be either all yellow or in a yellow dress or nightgown, I wasn’t sure. She wasn’t glowing and there was a small lamp left on in the room so it wasn’t dark. I was terrified! I rolled over on my side facing the wall so that I couldn’t see her and shut my eyes tight. I could still hear her whispering to me and I tried hard through my fear to determine what it was that she was saying. I never did make out her words but I felt that it was important to her that I hear her (she was probably asking me to get Kirsten to stop playing her stereo). She was in no way malicious, in fact, my impression was that she was kind, but I was still frightened and wanted her to go away. Eventually the whispering stopped and all I could hear were crickets outside and eventually I fell back asleep.

When I told Kirsten about it in the morning she told me that she had been woken up in the middle of the night a few weeks before by a woman’s voice telling her to get in the other bed. She grumbled but the voice was so insistent that she did as she was told. In the morning she asked her mother, “Why did you come into my room last night and make me get in the other bed?” Her mother replied that she had not come in at all but had slept through the night. I slept over her house infrequently so there weren’t many chances for a repeat appearance and to be honest I didn’t want to see it again. It would be the only time I actually saw a ghost, but I would have other experiences after this.

When I was a teenager we lost an old family pet that had been with us since I was five years old. My dog was a best friend and a guardian to me for most of my life but eventually he became too old and ill and my parents had to have him put to sleep. It was very traumatic for all of us, but I remember my mother was especially upset. She went with my father to the vet and regretted it; when they got home she ran into the house and straight to their bedroom, crying. My mother is usually a very reserved person so this obviously affected her very deeply. A month or so after the loss of our dog I began hearing a noise like nails on four paws tapping down the wood floor in the hall. Gopher wouldn’t let anyone cut his nails and they grew long and clicked when he walked or ran. Because the sound was faint at first I thought that I was just reminiscing, however, as the days went on the sound grew louder. One day I heard the clicking moving down the hall and felt that it was behind me, following me to my room. I hate to say it, but I was seized with fear and ran screaming into my bedroom and called for my mother. The sound stopped at my bedroom door and I felt a little silly. After all, if it was anything it was only my beloved dog. However, he was dead, and the thought of the dead returning disturbed me deeply. Plus, like everyone else in the world, I had seen Pet Sematary and was afraid that it was not the same pet I had known.

After my mother came into my room and I told her what happened (which I normally might not have done but I had to explain the screaming) she told me that she had been hearing the same sound. This surprised me, but at least made me feel like I wasn’t losing my mind. We never heard the sound after that and I feel bad that I screamed and ran away from him. I hope that it was just an imprint of something that had been repeated in our house for so long that it still echoed down the hall.

This next experience I’m about to relate may or may not be ghost-related. It may not be anything but the over-active imagination of a 16 year old girl. It may only be coincidence, but I’ll let you be the judge. I can be sure of the time period because of events surrounding it, but let me get down to the story. About 4 miles from my parents’ house there is an old cemetery where all of my grandmother’s descendents are buried. I liked to wander in that cemetery, looking at the old headstones, seeing all the family names, reading the epitaphs. I usually only went during the day but one night when my friend Dave was driving me home we passed the cemetery. I had an overwhelming urge to stop and I asked him to make the right turn into the parking lot. I only had about 25 minutes before I had to be home and really didn’t know why I wanted to be there.

We took a quick walk up the lighted paths around the old church, avoiding the dark areas, and then walked back to the car. I was puzzled but as we were heading to the car I noticed a headstone off by itself right near the parking lot. As many times as I had visited that cemetery, I felt that I had never noticed it before and it felt like something was drawing me to it, even though it was in a dark area where I wouldn’t be able to read the stone. I walked over to it and looked down at it, feeling a powerful urge to touch the stone. I didn’t want to touch the stone and was disturbed by the fact that I felt compelled to do it. I also felt silly because I was afraid. Finally I just did it—I laid my hand on the stone and held it there on the top of it for about a minute then I let go. I said to Dave, “Well, I didn’t feel anything and I’m still alive. I can’t really explain why I needed to touch that stone.” Then he took me home. About a week later I was out during the day and decided to stop to read the inscription on the stone. Buried there was an Irish sailor named Alexander Speer who died among strangers in Cape May . Etched into the stone were the sad words, “By strangers buried and by strangers mourned.” Remember the coincidence I mentioned before I started this story? I was leaving for Ireland in two weeks. Did I carry his spirit home with me? It’s a little disturbing to think that I may have had a spirit with me for a full two weeks, but I also admit that perhaps I was only a victim of my subconscious. I had walked through that cemetery many, many times in my 16 years and I probably did read that headstone but forgot it. Perhaps when I was there that night I was subconsciously drawn to the one stone that related to my upcoming trip. Who can say? I don’t claim to know, but it does make a good story.

The other two encounters were brief and both in old buildings on the Cape May mall where I worked. The Cape May mall is a three block stretch of Washington Street that is blocked off to traffic in order to accommodate pedestrian shopping. The majority of buildings were built in the 1800s and quite a few of them are reportedly haunted. There were no such stories about the first store where I worked; the most unsettling thing about it was the lack of heat in the winter. One day I was standing behind the counter at the register and I felt a cat rub up against my legs. Being a cat owner, I automatically reached down to pet it, only to find nothing there. I felt it again one or two more times and asked two of my coworkers if they had noticed anything. Both had felt the same thing so concretely that they were certain it was a living cat. It only lasted about a month and then no one experienced it again, as far as I know.

Three or four years later I was working in another store about two blocks down from the first one. This building with its apartment above has plenty of stories surrounding it—it had been a dentist’s office in the early 1900s and a former owner and her husband said they saw the dentist in the apartment frequently. Also two spinster sisters had run a shop downstairs in the late 1800s and they allegedly haunted the building along with the dentist. I always expected to experience something but never noticed anything at all. I asked my boss but he refused to discuss it; his wife told me that things would unexpectedly fall off the wall and another coworker told me that once she had closed the stockroom door but it opened again. None of these occurrences are the type that cannot be explained by natural causes so I do not include those with any certainty as anecdotal evidence.

The reason for the lack of activity in this particular store may be the fact that the larger store, the spinster sisters’ store, had been split in half and made into two separate stores. The side where the other store was located had more activity and also had full inside access to the basement and the apartment; plus it contained the sisters’ back room where they would chat and sew in their free time.

Eventually I had an experience that I can’t explain but that I don’t necessarily jump to classify as paranormal. I was in the store alone counting the money after closing. It was about 4 or 5 o’clock on a Sunday afternoon in the winter. I remember the time because the store next door closed earlier than us on Sundays in winter and I am sure all the staff had gone home long before I was finished for the day. I was playing a CD that had a rendition of Swan Lake and as that song faded out I heard a person whistling the Swan Lake tune. After I finished counting the drawer I repeated the song to see if it had whistling at the end that I had never noticed. I also checked it at home wearing headphones. There was no whistling on the CD. Swan Lake has been a famous song for a long time and would be familiar to any of the reported ghosts in the building. I found it very interesting and not at all frightening to have heard the whistling. Perhaps the spirit was happy to hear a familiar tune after so long a time? Or perhaps my ears were playing tricks on me and I never heard whistling at all.

In the other half of the building they reported much more activity. Merchandise moved around in their stockroom and people heard footsteps when the place was empty. When the store was a bookstore, and still intact as one store, people reported laughter and voices coming from the back room where the sisters used to sit and sew and laugh and talk when business was slow. So who is to say? No one has investigated scientifically but the anecdotal evidence indicates that it may be an interesting place to research. It was recently opened up again as one store by my old boss, as it was when the spinsters ran it and when it was a bookstore. I wonder if he’d admit to any paranormal activity now…

So next time the conversation is going nowhere at a social gathering just ask the question, “Has anyone ever seen a ghost?” You’ll be surprised the way the discussion turns. And make a mental note of any of the more interesting ones for future reference if you are considering becoming a ghost researcher. The stories themselves are a great starting point.