Mysterious sights and sounds
Sascha Burkard/shutterstockClearly we have a fascination with haunted houses in this country, but professional ghost hunter Greg Newkirk doesn't think most of them are so scary. Instead, he says, "I think they're trying to send us a message." Newkirk, who has appeared as an expert on TV shows such as TLC's Kindred Spirits, Travel Channel's Mysteries at the Museum, and Destination America's Paranormal Lockdown, has practically seen it all, and only very rarely finds himself truly spooked. He says most hauntings aren't evil—only misunderstood. "I think a lot of the classic signs that people run into are mysterious noises that seem to come from places they can't locate, a lot of bumping and scratching on walls, seeing full-bodied apparitions, and things moving from place to place when you've not touched them." Of course, anyone who has seen a horror movie or a ghost show probably already knows this. What you might not know, however, is that what you call "a haunting" may not be the real deal. Newkirk has been called to houses where the causes of these phenomena have actually been carbon monoxide poisoning which caused people to hallucinate. Mold too, can cause the same reaction. For houses with legitimate ghosts, there are more telling signs that your house is haunted. These are the 20 best haunted houses in America.
ravi vaghela17/shutterstockFact: Ectoplasm is a substance that still mystifies even the most seasoned paranormal experts. Historically, it has been reported to show up during seances through a spiritual medium. Newkirk himself has experienced the phenomenon in real haunted houses. "There was a house that I investigated several years ago where the family claimed that things were moving on their own," he says, "and while I was there I actually had a strange, viscous fluid show up. [It] dripped down my arm, out of nowhere. And [the family] claimed that would happen all the time. It was a very strange kind of off-white, almost like a raw egg kind of fluid." Ectoplasm is not often seen or experienced at your run-of-the-mill haunted house, but paranormal experts see it as a sign of certainty that there is a paranormal presence at work. Check out these eight haunted Airbnbs.
Imageman/shutterstockObjects don't move on their own—unless you live in an old drafty house where strong winds make doors open and close. Otherwise, there has to be some kind of force applied to get it to move. That's why when you see things flying around your house without visible cause, you can be pretty sure that there is something—or someone—other than you in your house. "I've seen books thrown through the air by an invisible force. I've watched a grown man with a $2,500 camera in his hand drop the camera to the ground because something was strangling him," Newkirk recalls. Soaring objects are another staple of horror flicks, but inexplicable movement can be even more sinister than that. Another well known and televised expert in the field, psychic medium Patti Negri, has had some even more intense experiences than flying books. "I've had people literally burst into flames in front of me," she says. "The house where [they caught] on fire had been a famous movie star's house, Mary Astor, in the early days of Hollywood. Then all sorts of people lived there. The Rolling Stones, the Mamas & Papas…The last person there was Marilyn Manson and the house was too scary for him, so he moved out." When she visited the Black Dahlia house in LA, she herself was violently thrown against a wall. If anything small or big like this happens in your home, you can be sure you've got a haunted house.
Reis Photography/shutterstockThough "feeling watched" isn't a quantifiable factor, people who live in genuine haunted houses do report it a lot. Many believe in a kind of sixth sense. Basically, you might be in a house with a really bad vibe. "Cold chills move throughout the room," Newkirk details, "and even just the feeling of being watched. Sometimes whispers, or being awoken in the middle of the night because of the feeling that somebody's standing there." Whether there is a normal explanation for this sensation or a paranormal one is hard to know for sure, but it's definitely a contributing factor for nearly any house that is afflicted by spirits. Science has a reason why ghosts may be haunting you.
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June Marie Sobrito/shutterstockWhen we think about possession, our minds immediately go to demons, demons, demons. Ghost hunter Newkirk says that more often than not, demonic possession and even a demonic presence is not behind whatever it is you're experiencing. A "normal" ghost can possess you too. The tip-off is if someone you know is acting extremely strange all of a sudden. "We see cases of possession or influence by a spirit all the time," he says. "If you start to notice someone has taken on a pretty distinct personality change, that can be a sign of that." (Of course, mental illness can also be to blame. Here's what psychologists wish you knew about depression.)
libby j hansen/shutterstockIf you suspect you might have a haunted house on your hands, you should probably dig into the history of your property. "Once I was in somebody's condominium," psychic medium Negri says, "and this woman just could not breathe in her bedroom. She didn't have breathing issues but in her bedroom she just couldn't breathe. I found out that her room had caught on fire and the [previous] woman had died." If you're experiencing things you can't explain, doing research might help clear it up for you. The hope is that once you know what happened or what you're dealing with, you can then ease the haunting. However, some places just can't be cleared of their histories. "One house had everything going for it," Negri recalls, "from Indian burial ground to being a drug house for years. When I first went there, seven people had already died, one in every room. I [was] seeing dead bodies everywhere. I would clear it and then it would ooze back up. That probably had some demonic stuff to it." These are stories from the most haunted places in the world.
Physical and emotional disorientation
Milosz_G/shutterstockMuch like a horcrux in the Harry Potter series (don't miss the props that were stolen from the movie set), a haunting can have a terrible effect on your mood and even your physical state. It can leave you feeling angry or weak. Newkirk reports having this kind of experience while investigating the famously haunted Hinsdale House in New York. "That's a place where it's a very extreme haunting. There's something about that place when you walk into it, it gets very, very confusing. Some of the things that we started to see in this place and hear in this place—including drumming and strange lights—was very disorienting. I noticed that my mood would change when we were in this building and I would have to keep leaving it regularly." These Halloween movies will scare you senseless.
The three types of hauntings
Daniel Brigginshaw/shutterstockNewkirk sorts hauntings into three categories: intelligent, residual, and intentional. "There's the classic haunting which is an intelligent haunting. The spirit seems to interact very intelligently with people. And then the other common one people run into a lot is a residual haunting." An example of a residual haunting would be like the one Negri experienced at the condo that burned down and seemingly still felt like it was filled with smoke. "With that, it just kind of plays over and over and over. It doesn't ever really acknowledge that people live in the house. It just is. It just happens. Sometimes it's because a traumatizing event happened on a particular date. There's no intelligence there, so there's really nothing you can do about it." Lastly, an intentional haunting is actually more about living, breathing humans than ghosts. "It really comes from people who have put so much energy and intention into the belief that their house or object is haunted that they've ended up actually manifesting a haunting." Think of kids who follow urban legends and routinely go visit the place of the supposed haunting. They feed the story so much that they actually open the place up to paranormal activity. See what researchers have to say about near-death experiences.
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What to do if your house is haunted
Darryl Brooks/shutterstockBoth Newkirk and Negri agree that the best way to deal with a haunting is to make a firm statement. Talk to the presence in your home and let it know what your intentions are. "Generally, most people who come to find out that their house is haunted can live peacefully with whatever spirits are there. If it's something that really, genuinely bothers you, say something as simple as 'You need to leave.'" Negri adds that, to back up your statement, make it in the name of whatever it is you believe in most strongly. For some people, it's Christianity. For others, it's their own power inside themselves. Putting that extra energy into your statement makes it more effective. Finally, if you try to use sage, just be cautious and use it the right way. "Sage is great but in my opinion, it's a little overrated because it's harsh. It's so cleansing it almost creates a vacuum. It's like dusting your whole house and then leaving your doors and windows open in a sandstorm. If you're going to do sage and clear your house, then come in with something holy or something magical so you fill it back up with [your] intent." So next time you think something in your space is off, keep in mind these telltale signs that your house is haunted.