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The Angry Ghost on the Stairs

Massachusetts, USA
October 2000

I live in Salem, Massachusetts, where haunted houses are so common that many people assume the phrase "creepy house" means "haunted".

Creepy houses usually don't feel creepy to me, so hearing the warning that I'm about to enter a creepy house usually doesn't register on me. This story concerns one of the more famous haunted houses, though I didn't know it until a few minutes after I experienced it first-hand.

The Joshua Ward House was built, I believe, around 1750, on the site of the home of the High Sheriff who had imprisoned and hanged the accused witches in the 1690's. At the time of his death, he was so reviled that his family buried him in the cellar to prevent public desecration of the corpse. He remained buried there right up until the late 1700's, when he was finally given a proper burial.

As if having the High Sheriff in the cellar wasn't bad enough for the Joshua Ward House, the ghost of Giles Corey, the one who was pressed to death with stones, was also rumoured to have remained near the Sheriff and his family. Its a stately old building, pinched into a tiny parcel in the middle of the business district, but perched up on its own hill, which makes it seem far removed from the traffic and city sounds.

It was not unpleasant when my fiance, a real estate agent, found that her company had bought the famous house to use as its HQ. She was very unhappy, though, to discover that she was going to have to be the last person in the building one night working the front desk for two hours all by herself, and would have to shut out the lights and lock it up. To make matters worse, it was Halloween week, meaning that night fell early, as the clocks had just moved back to standard time, and every Salem street corner was crowded with witches, vampires, and werewolves ... some of them a little to serious about it all. For that reason, she asked me to keep her company. Without thinking, I agreed, and even brought my 5 year old son along.

Night was falling as I climbed the stone stairs to the front door, and I knew something was wrong before the massive door even opened. As I stepped into the bright light foyer with its massive staircase, my hands were clammy, my stomach knotted -- the same feeling you get on entering a funeral home.

Inside, the disoriented feeling didn't go away. As the door closed behind me, I had the impression of a glaring light on the front steps, and found myself squinting in response. The light seemed to resolve into a bee- swarm of tiny pinpoints of light. But it was moving too.

The mass seemed to come down the stairs to approach me, but then it backed away and went up, lingering. I had the distinct and crazy impression that there was an old woman on the stairs. An angry old woman. Angry at me.

She did not want me to come near. She was menacing me, ordering me to keep away. I'm stating this as fact because that is how it felt. What made this even scarier was that it was just an empty staircase, and here I was seeing things that were not there!

My five year old son sensed something in the hall too, saying "I feel like there's a ghost in here." (I always pretended not to believe in ghosts to my son, to spare him bad dreams and irrational fears. And yet here I was in a state of fear, telling him to go into the next room (the old conservatory, I suppose), and play with a puzzle.

I was so rattled and alarmed by the strange combination of feelings and events, and I had no intention of turning my back on "the thing on the stairs." So I sat there for almost two hours, in a chair a few feet from the stair case. "She" continued to look at me, sometimes going upstairs a bit, then coming back. It was as if she were afraid to turn her back on me. At times, it felt she would try to turn and go, but then would whip around and lash out some inaudible words at me.

There was one brief moment of shock -- like having a bucket of water thrown in my face -- when "she" was looking at me. For just a second, I felt that she was actually looking at me, and I at her. She knew that I was there, and knew that I knew she was there. The sudden realization that I was making eye contact with a ghost made me stop breathing, as if waiting for an explosion.

It was fortunate for me that the real estate agency had installed motion detectors on the staircases. They were already turned on when we arrived, so there was no question of my going up the stairs. Good thing -- because my initial fear was turning into a weird fascination. I find it hard to believe that I would have approached the thing on the stairs, but the mixture of fear and fascination had some unpredictable effects. I was the last one out the door that night, and I backed out, unable to turn my back on the stairs until the door clicked behind me.

To this day, I want to avoid ghosts. For me at least, the sensation is just a little bit like going crazy.

There's a brief postscript about the house -- which I intend never to enter again. When we drove home shortly after these events, we found a local newspaper called North Shore Sunday on our porch. Its cover story was a Halloween feature piece written by a famous ghostbuster, in which he visited the most haunted places in Salem. The first site in the article was the Joshua Ward House. The ghost buster noted the presence of a ghost on the front stairs. He attempted and failed to photograph the stairs. All the pictures came out with a nest of pinpoints of light.

Happy Halloween!

Massachusetts, USA
00:00 / 01:04
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