From shimmering specters to mysterious tricks, Varla Ventura's Paranormal Parlor includes original supernatural tales, classic ghost stories, legends, hauntings, séances, superstitions, and death customs.
This book showcases a chilling collection of startling ghost stories as told to the author as well as legendary ghosts and haunted locations and an overview of the paranormal parlor games that rose to popularity in the Victorian and Edwardian eras. It also includes hidden history such as the story of Mark Twain's ghost, and the quiet horror writings of the architect who started the Gothic Revival movement (Ralph Adams Cram).
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About the Author
Varla Ventura, author of Sheroes, Beyond Bizarre, and The Book of the Bizarre, and is a lover of all things odd and unusual and truly freaky. Her favorite holiday is Halloween, which she celebrates almost every day. She lives in the attic of an old Victorian in San Francisco.
Read an Excerpt
Under Paranormal Circumstances
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Terrifyingly True Tales of Ghostly Encounters Including Child Ghosts, Things That Moan in the Woods, Warning Ghosts, Friendly Ghosts, and the Curious Case of the Haunted Toothbrush
Creatures of mist, half credited;
— ANON, GHOST STORIES AND PRESENTIMENTS
Here There Be Ghosts
I have never met a ghost story I didn't like. Whether it ends in a ridiculous joke (the wrapping paper in the closet the source of the phantom rap, rap, rapping) or lingers long enough to make you jump at shadows, I find the genre and all of its many incantations delightful. But nothing quite gets me going like the story right from the mouths of babes: when a firsthand experience is recounted to me — preferably in the dim light of the fire on a dark and stormy night. When I began writing this book, I put out a call for stories among my people: the midnight podcaster, the horror novelist, the paranormal lovers, and those whom the paranormal seem to love. While my original intention was to create one opening chapter chock- full of as-told-to-me tales, as I gathered the tales, they found their own way into the manuscript. In later chapters, you'll find the case of the haunted tarot deck and the pot-smoking Ouija board user and even a haunting from the catacombs of Paris. In this chapter, among the many stories I wanted to tell from my own experiences was one about the child ghost I lived with for a number of years. Turns out, I wasn't the only one with a kid apparition. In addition, you will find the unnamed Lovecraftian thing that moaned in the woods and other horrifying joys. Read on, my friends, read on.
The Curious Case of the Haunted Toothbrush
Just a few short years ago, I was lucky enough to be blessed with a little changeling of my own: I brought my own wee babe home to our Victorian flat in San Francisco and he spent many happy years learning to crawl, walk, and read among the rattling windows and resident ghosts. It should not surprise my readers that the introduction of a little one into a household actually marked an increase in paranormal activity — albeit of the gentlest kind. However, having my own child around was not the first indication that the ghost was friendly toward or perhaps fascinated by children. In fact, we never were certain if the ghost was that of a child, a caretaker or nanny, or simply just a kindhearted and shy spirit who felt comfortable with kids.
The incident with the toothbrush occurred some years earlier. My mother, my sister, and her three children were visiting us over one long weekend. Both of my nieces were in the spare bedroom (what would later become the nursery), and this room was directly across from the bathroom. At the time, the elder niece was only about eight years old. After a day of exploring the park and sights of San Francisco, we settled in for the evening. When bedtime came, each of the three kiddos brushed their teeth diligently, using their favorite electric toothbrushes, and then set them up, one by one, like little soldiers along the back of the tiny sink. Eventually we all went to bed.
Sometime in the night my niece woke up to the sound of her toothbrush going on. Nonplussed, she got up and switched it off and then climbed back into bed. Before she could pull the covers back up over her, the toothbrush went on again. This time, Grandma, who was also in the room, heard it. With a little encouragement from Grandma, my niece again got up to turn the toothbrush off. Then she crept back to bed. No sooner had she returned to the room than the toothbrush went off again! Wide-eyed, she bravely retrieved it, but this time she marched it to the kitchen, where she shut it off and set it on the windowsill. At this point, I also heard the toothbrush and wondered what on earth my niece was doing with her toothbrush in the night, especially walking around the apartment with it. When I got up, she told me that she had turned it off three times, but the toothbrush kept coming back on, so she put it in the kitchen to keep it quiet. And it worked!
When we were readying the apartment a few years later for the birth of the Baby Ventura, we discovered beneath the layers of paint a child's wallpaper depicting a 1930s-era circus scene. I suppose it makes great sense that the paranormal activity continued, generally revolving around that room or relating to children in the house.
There was the time when I came home close to midnight, my sleeping baby in my arms, having just returned from a long road trip. I opened the door to the apartment and switched a dim side lamp on (don't wake a sleeping babe) when I had the feeling I was not alone — and I am not referring to my exhausted child. I looked around from my vantage point by the door and from where I stood in the hallway could see into both bedrooms. There, standing near the foot of the crib, seemed to be a small figure — lumpy, hazy, possibly childlike, and gone within seconds. I was not afraid, but certainly surprised. The lamp flickered a few times. I did not approach the crib with my tiny one, but rather snuggled him into a bassinet in the living room while I inspected the house. I discovered nothing. I should note that my cat, Midnight, was not around, as dear friends of ours were watching His Fuzziness while I traveled.
One morning, a rather dark and gloomy (in the finest way possible) morning, I was awake and preparing something very pure and pureed for the Baby Ventura. He was gleefully playing in his little activity center near me in the kitchen, when I heard the sound of one of his toys being jingled from the next room. My first thought was casual — I had grown used to hearing the baby shake toys and rattles while I was dashing into the kitchen to check the progress of the sugar skulls or pumpkin stew. But in the seconds that followed, I realized that the baby was next to me, and that nothing at his chubby little fingertips was able to make that sound. As I was looking over at him to see if he'd snuck a little rattle in with him, I heard it again. This time it was unmistakable. It was the sound of a toy being rattled, something with a little bell, and it was definitely coming from the other room. There was no one else in the apartment, no cat (Midnight had passed away and I had not yet adopted his successor), no open windows, no water dripping or laundry whirring. It was just me, the baby, and something rattling a little toy. I froze, looking at the baby (can babies detect ghosts the way dogs and cats do?), and felt some major chills rippling down my spine. I carefully looked into the living room, where nothing seemed out of place. I stared down the hall, where some toys were strewn about. Now even a freak like me gets scared if her baby is threatened, but I oh-so-bravely made my way into the other room to see if I could explain it. Was there a toy that had fallen? A jingle I could replicate? Nothing. I could not even trace the source of the sound. I crept down the hall toward the nursery and did a check there. Nothing. To be honest, I had expected to see some errant human sneaking in from the other rooftop on the lam. But there was nothing — nothing paranormal and nothing abnormal. All windows and doors were locked, and all became calm and bright as the sun finally peeked through the San Francisco fog.
On stormy nights, when the moon shines faintly through the fleeting clouds, she stalks of gigantic stature with death-like aspect, and black, hollow eyes, wrapt in grave clothes which float in the wind, and stretches her immense arm over the solitary hut, uttering lamentable cries in the tempestuous darkness.
— ELLIOTT O'DONNELL, THE BANSHEE
Baby on Board
Was it a child ghost or a ghost that likes children? I'll never know for sure. But I certainly understood when Hunter Shea generously offered to share this true story of the spirit in his house, whom he and his family affectionately call the Boy Boarder.
Hunter Shea is truly a man after my own heart, the product of a misspent childhood watching scary movies, reading forbidden books, and wishing Bigfoot would walk past his house. He doesn't just write about the paranormal — he actively seeks out the things that scare the hell out of people and experiences them for himself. Hunter's novels can even be found on display at the International Cryptozoology Museum. The Montauk Monster was named one of the best reads of the summer by Publishers Weekly. Not since Dr. Frankenstein has someone been as dedicated to making monsters, penning such titles as The Jersey Devil,Loch Ness Revenge, They Rise, Swamp Monster Massacre, and The Dover Demon. His latest book, We Are Always Watching, is terrifying readers around the globe. His video podcast Monster Men is one of the most-watched horror podcasts in the world. Living with his wonderful family and two cats, he's happy to be close enough to New York City to gobble down Gray's Papaya hot dogs when the craving hits. You can follow his madness at www.hunstershea.com.
A Comforting Ghost
We live in a two-family house in the suburbs of New York. We moved in here in 1993. At the time, we'd been married about a year and my wife had been sick a lot. She had a muscle disorder, but now she was experiencing constant stomachaches and a fever, and she couldn't eat. By the time we moved into the house, she was so sick we ended up having to rush her to the hospital. She was twenty-three years old, losing weight rapidly, and over the course of a year of doctor's visits we still had no diagnosis for what was wrong with her. Eventually a doctor did exploratory surgery and discovered that her stomach was actually full of gangrene. The anti-inflammatory medication she was on to help her muscle disorder had caused a rupture, and her body was poisoning itself. She was hospitalized with a 5 percent chance of survival. She spent 1993–95 in and out of the hospital and on 24/7 life support.
Gradually, she got stronger, and I was able to bring her home from the hospital. She still was very sick and was typically only awake about an hour a day. I had a full-time job that I had to go to each day in order to try to pay our mounting medical bills, and I hated leaving her. The stress was something I can't even describe, and I have no idea how I actually handled it at the time. I was in my early twenties and did not have the tools to cope with everything. But somehow, we did it.
One day, I was in the kitchen doing dishes when I saw something out of the corner of my eye. I turned to see a little boy in my hallway. He was about eight or nine years old. My first thought was that it was a neighborhood kid, but I didn't understand how he could have gotten into the hallway without coming in the door right off the kitchen, where I was. I was pretty freaked out (not because I thought this was a ghost, but because I was wondering how the heck this kid got in my house) and called out to him. He suddenly turned and walked down the hallway toward my wife's room. I immediately followed him, but even at this point I didn't consider that I was following a ghost. I was concerned that this kid was going into her room, where there were a ton of wires and cords that he could trip on and unplug, harming my wife. Her room wasn't far away, only like six feet or so, and I rushed inside. He wasn't there. I checked the windows. They were all closed and we were on the second floor. I knew the boy didn't just jump out. My wife was asleep, the machines were humming. I sat on the edge of her bed, completely perplexed.
I told no one about this. Everyone we knew was already very concerned about us, and I was young, so I didn't know how to ask for help. The last thing I wanted was anyone thinking that I was "losing it" and not able to care for my wife. So I kept the incident to myself. And I didn't think much more about it, as I had more pressing matters to attend to.
A few weeks later, I saw him again. He walked out of the kitchen and into the living room and headed again toward the room where my wife was sleeping. I started to wonder if this was a ghost, but I was not afraid. Keep in mind this was the 1990s, and there weren't all the ghost shows and paranormal investigations like there are today. The third time I saw him, I decided to explore more about the history of the house. I was starting to wonder if this was the spirit of someone who'd passed there, so I started asking the neighbors who had lived in the area the longest. One of our neighbors had lived there for nearly sixty years, and had never heard of any child who had died in the house or on our block. However, our house was seventy years old at the time we bought it, and for the first thirty years, it was the only one in the area. Still, I found no history of death, and no one had ever heard of any children passing away there.
Over the course of the year, I saw him about seven more times. And each time I did not feel afraid, but rather felt an emotional peace. This was at a time when there was no peace for me. Each time I would see him I would get up, follow him to the bedroom where my wife was, and of course he would never be there. I still never told anyone, most especially her.
A year later, my wife had recovered enough to be taken off life support. I told her how much I hated when I left for work, because I was worried that she was alone and scared. Now that she was feeling better I felt less terrible when I left.
And she said, "You know, when I was really sick, I have to tell you, there were times when you left and I felt comforted. I used to see this little boy. He came into the room and sat on the bed." She then went on to describe the same child I had seen. A boy of eight or nine years old, in a plain T-shirt and pants with short hair. So I finally told her that I had seen him and often felt that someone was there.
We never believed in angels, and for years we really didn't talk much about it. Her mother had told us that she had given birth to two stillborn sons and she wondered if this was one of them looking over my wife. We didn't know if this was a ghost, a guardian, what. He stopped appearing around 1995, and we didn't see him again until 2000, when my wife was diagnosed with cervical cancer shortly after finding out she was pregnant. She gave birth to our daughter and then underwent treatment. He appeared again. I would tell her I'd seen him, and she'd describe when he appeared to her. We called him the Boy Boarder. It seems like he comes around when she is sick. In 2006, she was diagnosed with a heart issue. I didn't see him so much as I was seeing flashes of light, but she was still seeing him. We've come to simply accept him.
We don't know what he is. A spirit? Her brother? An angel? Our collective unconscious conjuring him up when we need him? Our daughters have both seen him, and my wife sees him often. We've never done any EVP recordings or investigations. We all agree that he's part of our lives. It's weird to describe it that way, but it's true. It's like he's part of our family.
— HUNTER SHEA, AS TOLD TO VARLA VENTURA
"In every real man a child is hidden that wants to play."
— FRIEDRICH NIETZSCHE
We Are Family
The idea of family ghosts, or ghosts that attach themselves to people and are "inherited" from generation to generation, can perhaps be traced back to a time when families remained in one place for longer. Were these "inherited" ghosts simply ghosts of a place, a castle for example, where all of the bloodline was destined to live? The Irish banshee is sometimes equated with a family ghost, as at one time this supernatural songstress was said to belong to the original clans of Ireland from which all Irish bloodlines are descended. In Germany, we find the White Lady, a warning phantasm associated — like the banshee — with those of ancient lineage. She warns her mortal family of impending death and is not attached to place so much as person, as she will follow the descendants from town to town. In Austria, a White Woman appears howling on rooftops to warn families that someone in the house below will die within the month. And in Italy there are numerous examples of "inherited" spirits, especially among prominent families of royal lineage. In Venice, for example, the Donati possess a ghost in the form of a disembodied head that floats into the doorway of a doomed family member. But are these ghosts attached to a family, or is it that the ability to see them — the second sight, the Shining, the clairvoyance — is actually what is inherited? Either way, ghosts are no doubt in our DNA.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Varla Ventura's Paranormal Parlor"
Copyright © 2018 Varla Ventura.
Excerpted by permission of Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC.
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Table of Contents
Introduction: What Fools We Mortals Be ix
Chapter 1 Under Paranormal Circumstances 1
Terrifyingly True Tales of Ghostly Encounters Including Child Ghosts, Things That Moan in the Woods, Warning Ghosts, Friendly Ghosts, and the Curious Case of the Haunted Toothbrush
Chapter 2 Have Ghost, Will Travel 43
Haunted Places and the Ghosts That Love Them; Haunted Houses, Hotels, Hospitals, Cemeteries, and the Empire of the Dead
Chapter 3 Ouija Look at That 131
Paranormal Parlor Games, Séances, Psychic Arts, and Afterlife Novels
Chapter 4 Supernatural Superheroes 199
The Secret Lives of Upstanding Citizens Who Labored Under Cover of Night on Horror Novels and Other Psychic Pursuits
Chapter 5 Belly Up to the Bar 225
Burial Traditions and Customs, Funeral Food and Drink, and Other Fascinating Facts Associated with Death