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HERE WE DEAL WITH the ghosts of famous people, whose names nearly everyone will recognize. This category includes historical celebrities, national figures, heroes, leaders, and also celebrities of Hollywood, the theatre, people who once made headlines, and people who had some measure of fame, which is usually a lot more than the proverbial fifteen minutes that, according to the late Andy Warhol, everyone can find.
There are many houses or places where famous ghosts have appeared that are open to the public. These include national monuments, local museums, historical houses and mansions. But are the famous ghosts still there when you visit? Well, now, that depends: many ghostly experiences are, as I have pointed out, impressions from the past, and you get to sort of relive the events that involved them in the past. It is a little difficult to sort this out, tell which is a bona fide resident ghost still hanging around the old premises and which is a scene from the past. But if you are the one who is doing the exploring, the ghost hunter as it were, it is for you to experience and decide for yourself. Good hunting!
GHOSTS IN FICTION
Ghosts, phantoms and spirits have always been a staple for novelists and dramatists. Mysterious and worrisome ghosts are both part of the human experience yet outside the mainstream of that world. Many of the false notions people have about ghosts come from fiction. Only in fictional ghost stories do ghosts threaten or cause harm: in the real afterlife, they are too busy trying to understand their situation to worry about those in the physical world.
From Chaucer's Canterville ghost with his rattling chain to Shakespeare's ghost of Hamlet's father, who restlessly walked the ramparts of his castle because of unresolved matters (such as his murder), in literature, ghosts seem frightening and undesirable. No Caspers there.
The masters of the macabre, from E. T. A. Hoffman to Edgar Allan Poe, have presented their ghosts as sorrowful, unfortunate creatures who are best avoided.
The Flying Dutchman is a man, punished by God for transgressions (though they are never quite explained), who cannot stop being a ghost until true love comes his way. Not likely, among the real kind.
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Edith Wharton's novels offer us far more realistic ghosts, perhaps because she is nearer to our time and was aware of psychical research in these matters.
There is a pair of ghostly dancing feet in one of Rud-yard Kipling's Indian tales that used to keep me up nights when I was a boy. Today, they would merely interest me because of my desire to see the rest of the dancer, too.
Arthur Conan Doyle presents us with a colorful but very believable ghost story in "The Law of the Ghost." Lastly, the ghosts of Dickens' A Christmas Carol are not really ghosts but messengers from beyond, symbolic at best.
Please don't rush to Elsinore Castle in Denmark in search of the unfortunate king who was murdered by his brother because, alas, both the murdered king and his brother Claudius are as much figments of Shakespeare's imagination as is the melancholy Dane, Hamlet, himself.
Television ghosts tend to be much less frightening, even pleasant. The ghosts in "The Ghost and Mrs. Muir," starring Rex Harrison, were sarcastic, almost lovable. The ghostly couple the banker Topper had to contend with was full of mischief, at worst, and helpful, at best.
And they did all sorts of things real ghosts don't do, but special effects will have their say.
The Conference House Ghost
ONLY AN HOUR OR SO by ferry boat from bustling Manhattan lies the remote charm of Staten Island, where many old houses and even farms still exist in their original form within the boundaries of New York City.
One of these old houses, and a major sight-seeing attraction, is the so-called "Conference House," where the British Commander, Lord Howe, received the American Conference delegation consisting of Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, and Edward Rutledge, on September 11, 1776. The purpose of the meeting was to convince the Americans that a peaceful solution should be found for the difficulties between England and the Colonies. The meeting proved unsuccessful, of course, and the Revolutionary War ensued.
The house itself is a sturdy white two-story building, erected along typical English manorhouse lines, in 1688, on a site known then as Bentley Manor in what is today Tot-tenville. There are two large rooms on the ground floor, and a staircase leading to an upper story, also divided into two rooms; a basement contains the kitchen and a vaultlike enclosure. The original owner of the house was Captain Billopp of the British Navy, and his descendants lived in the house until the close of the Revolutionary period.
Local legends have had the house "haunted" for many years. The story was that Billopp, a hard man, jilted his fiancee, and that she died of a broken heart in this very house. For several generations back, reports of noises, murmurs, sighs, moans, and pleas have been received and the old Staten Island Transcript, a local newspaper, has mentioned these strange goings-on over the years. When the house was being rebuilt, after having been taken over as a museum by the city, the workers are said to have heard the strange noises, too.
It was against this background that I decided to investigate the house in the company of Mrs. Meyers, who was to be our sensitive, and two friends, Rose de Simone and Pearl Winder, who were to be the "sitters," or assistants to the medium.
After we had reached Staten Island, and were about half an hour's drive from the house, Mrs. Meyers volunteered her impressions of the house which she was yet to see! She spoke of it as being white, the ground floor divided into two rooms, a brown table and eight chairs in the east room; the room on the west side of the house is the larger one, and lighter colored than the other room, and some silverware was on display in the room to the left.
Upon arriving at the house, I checked these statements; they were correct, except that the number of chairs was now only seven, not eight, and the silver display had been removed from its spot eight years before!
Mrs. Meyers' very first impression was the name "Butler"; later I found that the estate next door belonged to the Butler family, unknown, of course, to the medium.
We ascended the stairs; Mrs. Meyers sat down on the floor of the second-story room to the left. She described a woman named Jane, stout, white-haired, wearing a dark green dress and a fringed shawl, then mentioned the name Howe. It must be understood that the connection of Lord Howe with the house was totally unknown to all of us until after checking up on the history of the Conference House, later on.
Next Mrs. Meyers described a man with white hair, or a wig, wearing a dark coat with embroidery at the neck, tan breeches, dark shoes, and possessed of a wide, square face, a thick nose, and looking "Dutch." "The man died in this room," she added.
She then spoke of the presence of a small boy, about six, dressed in pantaloons and with his hair in bangs. The child born in this room was specially honored later, Mrs. Meyers felt. This might apply to Christopher Billopp, born at the house in 1737, who later became Richmond County representative in the Colonial Assembly. Also, Mrs. Meyers felt the "presence" of a big man in a fur hat, rather fat, wearing a skin coat and high boots, brass- buckle belt and black trousers; around him she felt boats, nets, sailing boats, and she heard a foreign, broad accent, also saw him in a four-masted ship of the square-rigger type. The initial T was given. Later, I learned that the Billopp family were prominent Tory leaders up to and during the Revolution.
This man, Mrs. Meyers felt, had a loud voice, broad forehead, high cheekbones, was a vigorous man, tall, with shaggy hair, and possibly Dutch. His name was Van B., she thought. She did not know that Billopp (or Van Billopp) was the builder of the house.
"I feel as if I'm being dragged somewhere by Indians," Mrs. Meyers suddenly said. "There is violence, somebody dies on a pyre of wood, two men, one white, one Indian; and on two sticks nearby are their scalps."
Later, I ascertained that Indian attacks were frequent here during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and that, in fact, a tunnel once existed as an escape route to the nearby waterfront, in case of hostile Indian sieges. Large numbers of arrowheads have been unearthed around the house.
Down in the cellar, Mrs. Meyers felt sure six people had been buried near the front wall during the Revolutionary War, all British soldiers; she thought eight more were buried elsewhere on the grounds and sensed the basement full of wounded "like a hospital." On investigation, I found that some members of Billopp's family were indeed buried on the grounds near the road; as for the British soldiers, there were frequent skirmishes around the house between Americans infiltrating from the nearby New Jersey shore and the British, who held Staten Island since July 4, 1776. At one time, Captain Billopp, a British subject, was kidnapped by armed bandits in his own house, and taken to New Jersey a prisoner of the Americans!
We returned to the upper part of the house once more. Suddenly, Mrs. Meyers felt impelled to turn her attention to the winding staircase. I followed with mounting excitement.
Descending the stairs, our medium suddenly halted her steps and pointed to a spot near the landing of the second story. "Someone was killed here with a crooked knife, a woman!" she said. There was horror on her face as if she were reliving the murder. On questioning the custodian, Mrs. Early, I discovered that Captain Billopp, in a rage, had indeed killed a female slave on that very spot!
The Stranger at the Door
I HAVE FOUND THAT there are ghosts in all sorts of places, in ancient castles, modern apartment houses, farms and ships—but it is somewhat of a jolt to find out you've lived in a house for a few years and didn't even know it was haunted. But that is exactly what happened to me.
For three years I was a resident of a beautiful twenty-nine-story apartment building on Riverside Drive. I lived on the nineteenth floor, and seldom worried about what transpired below me. But I was aware of the existence of a theater and a museum on the ground floor of the building. I was also keenly aware of numerous inspired paintings, some Tibetan, some Occidental, adorning the corridors of this building. The museum is nowadays known as the Riverside Museum, and the paintings were largely the work of the great Rohrach, a painter who sought his inspirations mainly in the mysticism of Tibet, where he spent many years. On his return from the East, his many admirers decided to chip in a few million and build him a monument worthy of his name. Thus, in 1930, was raised the Rohrach building as a center of the then flourishing cult of Eastern mysticism, of which Rohrach was the high priest. After his death, a schism appeared among his followers, and an exodus took place. A new "Rohrach Museum" was established by Seena Fosdick, and is still in existence a few blocks away from the imposing twenty-nine-story structure originally known by that name. In turn, the building where I lived changed its name to that of the Master Institute, a combination apartment building and school, and, of course, art gallery.
It was in February of 1960 when I met at a tea party—yes, there are such things in this day and age—a young actress and producer, Mrs. Roland, who had an interesting experience at "my" building some years ago. She was not sure whether it was 1952 or 1953, but she was quite sure that it happened exactly the way she told it to me that winter afternoon in the apartment of famed author Claudia de Lys.
A lecture-meeting dealing with Eastern philosophy had drawn her to the Rohrach building. Ralph Huston, the eminent philosopher, presided over the affair, and a full turnout it was. As the speaker held the attention of the crowd, Mrs. Roland's eyes wandered off to the rear of the room. Her interest was invited by a tall stranger standing near the door, listening quietly and with rapt attention. Mrs. Roland didn't know too many of the active members, and the stranger, whom she had never seen before, fascinated her. His dress, for one thing, was most peculiar. He wore a gray cotton robe with a high-necked collar, the kind one sees in Oriental paintings, and on his head he had a round black cap. He appeared to be a fairly young man, certainly in the prime of life, and his very dark eyes in particular attracted her.
For a moment she turned her attention to the speaker; when she returned to the door, the young man was gone.
"Peculiar," she thought; "why should he leave in the middle of the lecture? He seemed so interested in it all."
As the devotees of mysticism slowly filed out of the room, the actress sauntered over to Mrs. Fosdick whom she knew to be the "boss lady" of the group.
"Tell me," she inquired, "who was that handsome dark-eyed young man at the door?"
Mrs. Fosdick was puzzled. She did not recall any such person. The actress then described the stranger in every detail. When she had finished, Mrs. Fosdick seemed a bit pale.
But this was an esoteric forum, so she did not hesitate to tell Mrs. Roland that she had apparently seen an apparition. What was more, the description fitted the great Rohrach—in his earlier years—to a T. Mrs. Roland had never seen Rohrach in the flesh.
At this point, Mrs. Roland confessed that she had psychic abilities, and was often given to "hunches." There was much head shaking, followed by some hand shaking, and then the matter was forgotten.
I was of course interested, for what would be nicer than to have a house ghost, so to speak?
The next morning, I contacted Mrs. Fosdick. Unfortunately, this was one of the occasions when truth did not conquer. When I had finished telling her what I wanted her to confirm, she tightened up, especially when she found out I was living at the "enemy camp," so to speak. Emphatically, Mrs. Fosdick denied the incident, but admitted knowing Mrs. Roland.
With this, I returned to my informant, who reaffirmed the entire matter. Again I approached Mrs. Fosdick with the courage of an unwelcome suitor advancing on the castle of his beloved, fully aware of the dragons lurking in the moat.
While I explained my scientific reasons for wanting her to remember the incident, she launched into a tirade concerning her withdrawal from the "original" Rohrach group, which was fascinating, but not to me.
I have no reason to doubt Mrs. Roland's account, especially as I found her extremely well poised, balanced, and indeed, psychic.
I only wondered if Mr. Rohrach would sometime honor me with a visit, or vice versa, now that we were neighbors?
A Visit with Alexander Hamilton's Ghost
THERE STANDS AT Number 27, Jane Street, in New York's picturesque artists' quarters, Greenwich Village, a mostly wooden house dating back to pre-Revolutionary days. In this house Alexander Hamilton was treated in his final moments. Actually, he died a few houses away, at 80 Jane Street, but No. 27 was the home of John Francis, his doctor, who attended him after the fatal duel with Aaron Burr.
However, the Hamilton house no longer exists, and the wreckers are now after the one of his doctor, now occupied a writer and artist, Jean Karsavina, who has lived there since 1939.
The facts of Hamilton's untimely passing are well known; D. S. Alexander (in his Political History of the State of New York) reports that, because of political enmity, "Burr seems to have deliberately determined to kill him." A letter written by Hamilton calling Burr "despicable" and "not to be trusted with the reins of government" found its way into the press, and Burr demanded an explanation. Hamilton declined, and on June 11, 1804, at Weehawken, New Jersey, Burr took careful aim, and his first shot mortally wounded Hamilton. In the boat back to the city, Hamilton regained consciousness, but knew his end was near. He was taken to Dr. Francis' house and treated, but died within a few days at his own home, across the street.
Ever since moving into 27 Jane Street, Miss Karsavina has been aware of footsteps, creaking stairs, and the opening and closing of doors; and even the unexplained flushing of a toilet. On one occasion, she found the toilet chain still swinging, when there was no one around! "I suppose a toilet that flushes would be a novelty to someone from the eighteenth century," she is quoted in a brief newspaper account in June of 1957.
Excerpted from Famous Ghosts by Hans Holzer. Copyright © 1997 Apsera Ad Astra Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Black Dog & Leventhal.
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