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INTRODUCTION: GHOSTS, ANYONE?
As a professional ghost hunter, I am forever on the lookout for likely prospects. There is no dearth of haunted houses in Manhattan. There is, however, a king-sized amount of shyness among witnesses to ghostly phenomena which keeps me from getting what I am after. Occasionally, this shyness prevents me from investigating a promising case.
There was a man, on Long Island, who was appalled at the idea of my bringing a medium to his house. Even though he did not question my integrity as a psychic investigator, he decided to discuss the matter with his bishop. Mediums and such are the work of the Devil, the cleric sternly advised the owner of the haunted house, and permission for my visit was withdrawn.
Although the “poltergeist” case of Seaford, Long Island, had been in all the papers, and even on national television, the idea of a volunteer medium trying to help solve the mystery proved too much for the prejudiced owner of the house.
Then, there was the minister who carefully assured me that there couldn’t be anything to the rumors I’d heard about footsteps and noises when there wasn’t anyone there. What he meant, of course, was that he preferred it that way. Still, that was one more potential case I lost before even getting to first base. Don’t get me wrong—these people understand who I am; they have respect for my scientific credentials; and they know their anonymity will be carefully guarded. They know I’m not a crackpot or an amateur—amusing himself with something he does not understand. In fact, they’re very much interested to hear all about these things, provided it happened in someone else’s house.
I am a professional investigator of ghosts, haunted houses, and other “spontaneous” phenomena, to use the scientific term—that is, anything of a supernormal nature, not fully explained by orthodox happenings, and thus falling into the realm of parapsychology or psychic research.
I wasn’t born a ghost hunter. I grew up to be one, from very early beginnings, though. At the age of three, in my native Vienna, my Kindergarten teacher threatened me with expulsion from the class for telling ghost stories to my wide-eyed classmates. These, however, were the non-evidential kind of stories I had made out of whole cloth. Still, it showed I was hot on the subject, even then!
Even in Freudian Vienna, ghost-story telling is not considered a gainful profession, so my schooling prepared me for the more orthodox profession of being a writer. I managed to major in history and archeology, knowledge I found extremely helpful in my later research work, for it taught me the methods of painstaking corroboration and gave me a kind of bloodhound approach in the search for facts. The fact that I was born under the truth-seeking sign of Aquarius made all this into a way of life for me.
I am the Austrian-born son of a “returnee” from New York; thus I grew up with an early expectation of returning to New York as soon as I was old enough to do so. Meanwhile, I lived like any other child of good family background, alternately sheltered and encouraged to express myself.
I had barely escaped from Kindergarten when my thoughtful parents enrolled me in a public school one year ahead of my time. It took hundreds of dollars and a special ukase by the Minister of Education to get me in at that early age of five, but it was well worth it to my suffering parents.
I had hardly warmed the benches of my first-grade class when I started to build radio sets, which in those days were crystal powered. For the moment, at least, ghosts were not in evidence. But the gentle security into which I had lulled my elders was of brief duration. I had hardly turned nine when I started to write poems, dramas (all of four pages)—and, you’re right—ghost stories. Only now they had more terror in them, since I had absorbed a certain amount of mayhem, thanks to the educational motion pictures we were treated to in those days and certain literary sources known as Zane Grey and Karl May.
My quaint writings earned me the reputation of being “special,” without giving me any compensation of fame or fortune.
Gradually, girls began to enter my world. This fact did not shatter my imaginative faculties. It simply helped populate my ghost stories with more alluring female ghosts.
I was now about thirteen or fourteen, and frequently visited my late Uncle Henry in his native city of Bruenn. My Uncle Henry was as “special” as was I, except that his career as a businessman had restricted his unusual interests to occasional long talks and experiments. In his antique-filled room in my grandparents’ house, we held weird rites which we called the “raising of the spirits,” and which, for all we knew, might have raised a spirit or two. We never waited around long enough to find out, but turned the lights back on when it got too murky. Needless to say, we also indulged in candle rites and readings from my uncle’s substantial collection of occult books.
I didn’t think my uncle ever believed in the occult, but many years later, just before his passing, he did confess to me that he had no doubts about the reality of “the other world” and spirit communication. If I am to believe several professional and nonprofessional mediums who have since brought me messages from him, he is now in a position of proving this reality to himself, and to me.
In 1935 I was fifteen and I had become a collector of antiques and coins and was an ardent bibliophile. One day, while digging through the stacks at a bookseller’s, I came across an early, but then rather up-to-date account of the scientific approach to the occult, called Occultism in This Modern Age. It was the work of Dr. T. K. Oesterreich, a professor at the University of Tübingen in Germany. This 1928 book started me off on a serious approach to ghosts.
At first, it was idle curiosity mixed with a show-me kind of skepticism. I read other books, journals, and learned bulletins. But I didn’t attend any seances or have any actual contact with the subject while a teen-ager. My training at this point veered toward the newspaper-writing profession.
I took a course in practical journalism, and started to sell articles to local papers. The reportorial training added the “interview in depth” approach to my later investigations. All this time, we had dreamed of coming back to New York, of which my father had fond memories. But it wasn’t until 1938, when I had just turned eighteen, that I set foot on American soil. My first job had nothing to do with occultism, and it paid only fifteen dollars weekly in a day when that was just enough to live on uncomfortably.
Falling back (or forward, if you wish) on my knowledge of antiquities and coins, I became an expert cataloguer and writer for one of the big importers of such things.
In 1945 I quit my position—I was then associate editor of a scientific magazine dealing with coins and antiquities—and I became a free-lance writer. My old interest in the occult revived; the flame had never died but had been dormant, and now it burst forth again. More books, more lectures, more seeking out the unorthodox, the tantalizingly unsolved.
In 1949 I went to Europe as an accredited foreign correspondent, with the intent to write articles on cultural activities, the theater, and human-interest stories. I had begun to write plays and compose music myself, a skill which I have since used professionally in the New York theater. On this trip, which led me from the heel of the boot of Italy to the northern part of Sweden, I realized that much psychic research activity was going on in the countries I visited. However, the brevity of my stay in each place precluded any close contact with these bodies.
The following year I returned to Europe, again as a foreign correspondent. In this capacity, I covered the theater in London and other major cities of Europe. One evening, I was invited backstage at the Hippodrome Theatre in London, where comedian Michael Bentine was then appearing as one of the stars. Mr. Bentine offered me a home-grown tomato instead of a drink: he immediately ingratiated himself to me since I am a vegetarian. It also developed that Michael and I had birthdays on the same day, though a few years apart. A friendship grew quickly between us, especially when we discovered our common interest in the occult.
I remember we had a luncheon date in one of London’s Spanish restaurants. Luncheon was served at twelve noon, conversation started at one, and at five o’clock the owner gently tiptoed over to us and whispered, “Dinner is being prepared!”
When I returned home that night, I started to work on a television series based on actual hauntings. Through mutual friends, I was led to a study group composed of earnest young people from various walks of life, who meet regularly in the rooms belonging to the Edgar Cayce Foundation in New York. Their purpose was simply the quest for truth in the vast realm of extrasensory perception. From then on, I devoted more and more time and energies to this field.
One of the greatest of all living mediums and, at the same time, psychic researchers is Eileen Garrett, who is today president of the Parapsychology Foundation of New York, a world-wide organization that encourages and supports truly scientific investigations and studies in the realm of extrasensory perception. The Foundation also publishes magazines, and has helped the publication of important books on psychic subjects.
I had met Mrs. Garrett briefly in 1946 without realizing that she was the same person whose psychic reputation had long awed me. The contact with her became stronger after my return from Europe in 1951, when I discussed my work and ideas on psychic research with her from time to time.
Eileen Garrett had no patience with guesswork or make-believe. She taught me to be cautious and painstaking, so that the results of my research would not be open to question. My friendship with Eileen Garrett helped a great deal. Since she was both a great medium and researcher, I adopted her severe approach. I neither believed nor disbelieved; I looked only for facts, no matter what the implications.
At the Edgar Cayce Foundation on 16th Street and elsewhere, I also met the handful of nonprofessional mediums who helped me so much in my investigations. My method frequently calls for the presence of a sensitive person to pick up clairvoyantly, or through trance, tangible material about a haunted house, that could then later be examined for veracity. I don’t hold with the ghost hunter who spends a night alone in a haunted house, and then has nothing more to show for his bravery than a stiff back.
To me, the purpose of investigation is twofold; one, to establish the observed facts of the phenomena, and two, to make contact with the alleged ghost. The chances of seeing an apparition, if you’re not sensitive yourself, are nil, and I don’t like to waste time.
“Ghosts” are people, or part of people, anyway, and thus governed by emotional stimuli; they do not perform like trained circus animals, just to please a group of skeptics or sensation seekers. Then too, one should remember that an apparition is really a re-enactment of an earlier emotional experience, and rather a personal matter. A sympathetic visitor would encourage it; a hostile onlooker inhibit it.
Sometimes an “ordinary” person does manage to see or hear a ghost in an allegedly haunted location, be it a building or open space. Such a person is of course sensitive or mediumistic, without knowing it, and this is less unusual than one might think.
Even though I am an artistic, and therefore sensitive, person, I do not profess to mediumship, and certainly would not be satisfied with the meager impressions I might gather myself, psychically. A more advanced psychic talent is very necessary to get results. So, I take my “sensitive” with me. If I also see or hear some unearthly things, well and good. That’s a bonus. But I don’t like unfinished cases. And rarely indeed have I come home empty-handed when I set out in the company of a good medium.
Are good mediums hard to find? They are! That is why I spend a considerable portion of my efforts in this field in search for good new mediums. These are people with the extrasensory gift, whose interest is scientific, not financial. Natural talents in this field, just as in any other, can be trained. There are strict methods and conditions, and when you work in a field that is still on the fringes of recognized science, the more stringent your conditions are, the better.
Today, my methods are well thought out. When I hear of a likely case or prospect, I call the owners or tenants of the building, or if an open area, the nearest neighbor or potential witness, and introduce myself. I get as much information as I can on witnesses and type of phenomena observed, then call the witnesses and interview them. Only after this preliminary work has been done do I call in one of my sensitive-collaborators. I tell them only that a case has come up, and when I will need them.
I discuss everything but the case with them on our way to the location, and when we get there, the hosts have been informed not to volunteer any information, either.
A good medium like Mrs. Ethel Meyers will immediately get “impressions” upon arriving, and sometimes even on the way toward our goal. A little later, she will lapse into a trance, and in this condition, the alleged ghost can operate her vocal cords, and speak to me directly.
Sometimes there is another sitter present, and sometimes not. I take notes or use a tape recorder, or both. And sometimes, too, there is an infrared camera present, just in case.
After the trance is over, the medium awakens without remembering anything that has just come through her mouth or vocal cords while under the control of an alleged ghost. Sometimes, though not often, the medium recalls all or part of the information thus received because the trance had been light. This does not mean the medium is faking, or that the material obtained is less reliable; it only means that the medium’s trance faculties are not in full operating condition, and perhaps hypnosis is in order to get her “down deeper” into the unconscious condition. Generally speaking, the medium remembers nothing of what went on during her trance state.
Now I allow the hosts and other sitters to discuss the case freely and comment upon what they have just heard or witnessed. Often enough, corroboration takes place right then and there, but more often I have to dig it up in the public library, special libraries, or other sources to which I have access. The research always takes place after the investigation is closed. The Sensitive is never kept abreast of the progress of the corroboration until the case is ready for publication or filing.
There is always drama, and sometimes comedy, involved. Ghosts are people, haunted by unhappy memories, and incapable of escaping by themselves from the vicious net of emotional entanglements. It’s not a good idea for a ghost hunter to be afraid of anything, because fear attracts undesirables even among the Unseen.
An authoritative and positive position is quite essential with both medium and ghost. Sometimes, these “entities” or visitors in temporary control of the medium’s speech mechanism like their newly found voice so much, they don’t want to leave. That’s when the firm orders of the Investigator alone send them out of the medium’s body.
There are dangers involved in this work, but only for the amateur. For a good psychic researcher does know how to rid the medium of unwanted entities. If all this sounds like a medieval text to you, hold your judgment. You may not have seen a “visitor” take over a Sensitive’s body, and “operate” it the way you might operate a car! But I have, and other researchers have, and when the memories are those of the alleged ghost, and certainly not those of the medium, then you can’t dismiss such things as fantastic!
Too much disbelieving is just as unscientific as too much believing. Even though the lady in T. S. Eliot’s Confidential Clerk says blandly, “I don’t believe in facts,” I do. Facts—come to think of it—are the only things I really do believe in.
THE BANK STREET GHOST
On June 26, 1957, I picked up a copy of The New York Times, that most unghostly of all newspapers, and soon was reading Meyer Berger’s column, “About New York.” That column wasn’t about houses or people this particular day. It was about ghosts.
Specifically, Mr. Berger gave a vivid description of a house at 11 Bank Street, in Greenwich Village, where a “rather friendly” ghost had apparently settled to share the appointments with the flesh-and-blood occupants. The latter were Dr. Harvey Slatin, an engineer, and his wife, Yeffe Kimball, who is of Osage Indian descent and well known as a painter.
The house in which they lived was then 125 years old, made of red brick, and still in excellent condition.
Digging into the past of their home, the Slatins established that a Mrs. Maccario had run the house as a nineteen-room boarding establishment for years before selling it to them. However, Mrs. Maccario wasn’t of much help when questioned. She knew nothing of her predecessors.
After the Slatins had acquired the house, and the other tenants had finally left, they did the house over. The downstairs became one long living room, extending from front to back, and adorned by a fireplace and a number of good paintings and ceramics. In the back part of this room, the Slatins placed a heavy wooden table. The rear door led to a small garden, and a narrow staircase led to the second floor.
The Slatins were essentially “uptown” people, far removed from any Bohemian notions or connotations. What attracted them about Greenwich Village was essentially its quiet charm and artistic environment. They gathered around them friends of similar inclinations, and many an evening was—and is—spent “just sitting around,” enjoying the tranquil mood of the house.
During these quiet moments, they often thought they heard a woman’s footsteps on the staircase, sometimes crossing the upper floors, sometimes a sound like a light hammering. Strangely enough, the sounds were heard more often in the daytime than at night, a habit most unbecoming a traditional haunt. The Slatins were never frightened by this. They simply went to investigate what might have caused the noises, but never found any visible evidence. There was no “rational” explanation for them, either. One Sunday in January of 1957, they decided to clock the noises, and found that the ghostly goings-on lasted all day; during these hours, they would run upstairs to trap the trespasser—only to find empty rooms and corridors. Calling out to the Unseen brought no reply, either. An English carpenter by the name of Arthur Brodie was as well adjusted to reality as are the Slatins, but he also heard the footsteps. His explanation that “one hears all sorts of noises in old houses” did not help matters any. Sadie, the maid, heard the noises too, and after an initial period of panic, got accustomed to them as if they were part of the house’s routine—which indeed they were!
One morning in February, Arthur Brodie was working in a room on the top floor, hammering away at the ceiling. He was standing on a stepladder that allowed him to just about touch the ceiling. Suddenly, plaster and dust showered down on his head, and something heavy fell and hit the floor below. Mrs. Slatin in her first-floor bedroom heard the thump. Before she could investigate the source of the loud noise, there was Brodie at her door, saying: “It’s me, Ma’am, Brodie. I’m leaving the job! I’ve found the body!” But he was being facetious. What he actually found was a black-painted metal container about twice the size of a coffee can. On it there was a partially faded label, reading: “The last remains of Elizabeth Bullock, deceased. Cremated January 21, 1931.” The label also bore the imprint of the United States Crematory Company, Ltd., Middle Village, Borough of Queens, New York, and stamped on the top of the can was the number—37251. This can is in the Slatins’ house to this very day.
Mrs. Slatin, whose Indian forebears made her accept the supernatural without undue alarm or even amazement, quietly took the find, and called her husband at his office. Together with Brodie, Dr. Slatin searched the hole in the ceiling, but found only dusty rafters.
Curiously, the ceiling that had hidden the container dated back at least to 1880, which was long before Elizabeth Bullock had died. One day, the frail woman crossed Hudson Street, a few blocks from the Slatin residence. A motorist going at full speed saw her too late, and she was run over. Helpful hands carried her to a nearby drugstore, while other by-standers called for an ambulance. But help arrived too late for Mrs. Bullock. She died at the drugstore before any medical help arrived. But strangely enough, when Dr. Slatin looked through the records, he found that Mrs. Bullock had never lived at 11 Bank Street at all!
Still, Mrs. Bullock’s ashes were found in that house. How to explain that? In the crematory’s books, her home address was listed at 113 Perry Street. Dr. Slatin called on Charles Dominick, the undertaker in the case. His place of business had been on West 11th Street, not far from Bank Street. Unfortunately, Mr. Dominick had since died.
The Slatins then tried to locate the woman’s relatives, if any. The trail led nowhere. It was as if the ghost of the deceased wanted to protect her secret. When the search seemed hopeless, the Slatins put the container with Mrs. Bullock’s ashes on the piano in the large living room, feeling somehow that Mrs. Bullock’s ghost might prefer that place of honor to being cooped up in the attic. They got so used to it that even Sadie, the maid, saw nothing extraordinary in dusting it right along with the rest of the furniture and bric-a-brac.
Still, the Slatins hoped that someone would claim the ashes sooner or later. Meanwhile, they considered themselves the custodians of Mrs. Bullock’s last remains. And apparently they had done right by Elizabeth, for the footsteps and disturbing noises stopped abruptly when the can was found and placed on the piano in the living room.
One more strange touch was told by Yeffe Kimball to the late Meyer Berger. It seems that several weeks before the ashes of Mrs. Bullock were discovered, someone rang the doorbell and inquired about rooms. Mrs. Slatin recalls that it was a well-dressed young man, and that she told him they would not be ready for some time, but that she would take his name in order to notify him when they were. The young man left a card, and Mrs. Slatin still recalls vividly the name on it. It was E. C. Bullock. Incidentally, the young man never did return.
It seems odd that Mrs. Slatin was not more nonplussed by the strange coincidence of the Bullock name on the container and card, but, as I have already stated, Mrs. Slatin is quite familiar with the incursions from the Nether World that are far more common than most of us would like to think. To her, it seemed something odd, yes, but also something that no doubt would “work itself out.” She was neither disturbed nor elated over the continued presence in her living room of Mrs. Bullock’s ashes. Mrs. Slatin is gifted with psychic talents, and therefore not afraid of the Invisible. She takes the Unseen visitors as casually as the flesh-and-blood ones, and that is perhaps the natural way to look at it, after all.
Greenwich Village has so many haunted or allegedly haunted houses that a case like the Slatins’ does not necessarily attract too much attention from the local people. Until Meyer Berger’s interview appeared in the Times, not many people outside of the Slatins’ immediate circle of friends knew about the situation.
Mr. Berger, who was an expert on Manhattan folklore, knew the Slatins, and also knew about ghosts. He approached the subject sympathetically, and the Slatins were pleased. They had settled down to living comfortably in their ghost house, and since the noises had stopped, they gave the matter no further thought.
I came across the story in the Times in June of 1957, and immediately decided to follow up on it. I don’t know whether my friend and medium, Mrs. Ethel Meyers, also read the article; it is possible that she did. At any rate, I told her nothing more than that a haunted house existed in the Village and she agreed to come with me to investigate it. I then called the Slatins and, after some delay, managed to arrange for a seance to take place on July 17th, 1957, at 9:30 P.M. Present were two friends of the Slatins, Mr. and Mrs. Anderson, Meyer Berger, the Slatins, Mrs. Meyers, and myself.
Immediately upon entering the house and sitting down at the table, around which we had grouped ourselves, Mrs. Meyers went into trance. Just as she “went under” and was still in that borderline condition where clairvoyance touches true trance, she described the presence of a little woman who walked slowly, being paralyzed on one side, and had a heart condition. “She’s Betty,” Mrs. Meyers murmured, as she “went under.” Now the personality of “Betty” started to use the vocal apparatus of the medium.
Our medium continued in her trance state: “He didn’t want me in the family plot—my brother—I wasn’t even married in their eyes. . . . But I was married before God . . . Edward Bullock. . . . I want a Christian burial in the shades of the Cross—any place where the cross is—but not with them!” This was said with so much hatred and emotion that I tried to persuade the departed Betty to desist, or at least to explain her reasons for not wishing to join her family in the cemetery.
“I didn’t marry in the faith,” she said, and mentioned that her brother was Eddie, that they came from Pleasantville, New York, and that her mother’s maiden name was Elizabeth McCuller. “I’m at rest now,” she added in a quieter mood.
How did her ashes come to be found in the attic of a house that she never even lived in?
“I went with Eddie,” Betty replied. “There was a family fight . . . my husband went with Eddie . . . steal the ashes . . . pay for no burial . . . he came back and took them from Eddie . . . hide ashes . . . Charles knew it . . . made a roof over the house . . . ashes came through the roof . . . so Eddie can’t find them . . .”
I asked, were there any children?
“Eddie and Gracie. Gracie died as a baby, and Eddie now lives in California. Charlie protects me!” she added, referring to her husband.