(Photo Credit: Urbanghostsmedia.com)
I am pleased to say that I have never had anyone ask me “HOW can anyone like haunted houses?” (How can one not?) I have, however, had countless conversations involving the question in one form another.. “What do you think draws people to haunted houses?” There are as many answers to that question as there are individuals who are drawn to old buildings and places that Time seems to have forgotten. However, I would say those answers lend themselves to three primary categories:
1. Those who love the adrenaline rush that comes with the fear and anticipation of something no longer human materializing before them,
2. Those thrill seekers who hope to glimpse bloodstained floors, walls, instruments, furniture, etc. left behind by some heinous and traumatic demise, and finally, my favourite category,
3. Those who are drawn to the romance of the haunted house. It is this third category I will attempt to describe, both from experience and from the many wonderful perspectives that have been shared with me over the years.
The usual story behind any haunted house involves a tragic loss. There is an air of romance in this that draws most people. With the belief that ghosts are most often the result of a death too early, too violently and the heartrending emotions that attach themselves to a location draw the more romantic of us to a place like moths to a flame. There is a special place in the heart that may connect with that sense of loss. There is a flicker of hope that love does not end at death, that we are not forgotten once we go, and that the attachments we build in life can transcend the voyage into death.
There is also a longing, much like many of our historian friends endure, that brings us to want to reach out and find something tangible that connects us to another time, long before now, when perhaps life was simpler, grander, a time that certainly has been romanticized in book and film. It is one thing to reach out and touch an antique chest of drawers, an old water pitcher or run the tips of one’s fingers over the delicate silk of a wedding gown one or more centuries old, but just imagine the thrill of coming face to spectral face with the wearer of that gown, the bearer of the water pitcher, the craftsman who first put tool to wood and created that beautiful bit of furniture. What if that apparition were self-aware enough to impart insight, memories and emotions tied to the items?
It is in no way difficult for a hopeless romantic to walk the leaf-strewn and dusty halls of an old house and imagine themselves surrounded by brightly lit wall sconces, the sounds of a household alive and bustling with perhaps a maid scurrying by with an armful of linens or the lady of the house calling her children down to dinner. It is quite easy for a romantic to stand before an abandoned orphanage and hear the sounds of children laughing, perhaps catching a dilapidated swing move out of the corner of their eye, wondering for a moment if it is the influence of a slight wind or if one of the prior residents is still there, watching, looking for a playmate, or longing for new parents that never came. The heart squeezes slightly, mourning little souls that died of illness, who sat staring out windows for homes they dreamt of but never would get, and occasionally, the tragic death of a wee one down an old and forgotten well, or a hundred other tragic scenarios.
Then…. There are those of us who, after many years of odd dreams, or a sense of being out-of-time-and-place, tend to feel a longing to find the once place that we know we have not seen in this lifetime, but our spirit seems to swear exists. For those who subscribe to the concept of past lives, perhaps there is some fragment that gives them pause to ponder the house from the perspective of the ghost. Wandering quietly, sadly, mournfully, or blissfully unaware of the situation until by some odd chance, peace comes and here they find themselves again amongst the living, but with that tiny thread of connection to the old place. Perhaps the old place itself does not wish to be forgotten.
Long before paranormal investigations, there were Spiritualists with séances and table-tipping parties. Before then, it was not uncommon to know a place was haunted, to accept that this is a part of life and death, and like many cultures, learn to simply live with the “others” in a home. They were as much a part of the structure and the family as any relative. We prayed for the angry ones amongst us to find peace, left offerings to appease unhappy souls and only in extreme cases, called in help to send them away.
I know there are many who hope to find ghosts in old houses. It is a continuation of life “as it was” and brings with it a richness that comes only with the sentimental longing for the lessons and beauty of the past. It also brings a reminder that life is not always “fair” and reinforces in our hearts, that we have not lost sight of our own compassion. It helps us to imagine what we might have done in their stead, and to learn from those who carried on, but whose grief lingered.
“Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it.”George Santayana, Vol. 1, Reason in Common Sense
I hope you will all join me in continuing to remember and honour the past and those who bear the insights and lessons we can learn from. Romance is not dead while there are hearts reaching out to our predecessors and hands preserving the tangible connections to them.
Keeping it Spooky with a strong dose of Romance,