Rosicrucian Writings Online

My Personal Experiences

By H. Spencer Lewis, F.R.C.
[From The Rosicrucian Digest March 1933]
(NOTE--This series of articles will present the strange and mystical experiences which may come to one who has gradually attuned himself to the higher or more subtle forces existing around us. Perhaps some of our members have had identical experiences and the explanation given by our Imperator in connection with the ones he has had will help our members to understand some of the laws that are possibly involved. These experiences will be presented in the form of one complete story in each issue from time to time. Many points connected with each of these experiences are difficult to explain and still remain in the realm of the unknown. You may take the Imperator's partial explanation and accept it or you may reject it. He is merely offering his personal opinion while he still holds an open mind and is seeking through tests and experiments to determine the exact nature of whatever principles or laws were actually involved in these experiences. Incidentally, these experiences show what may come into the life of a person who is Cosmically or psychically attuned and who is in constant contact with conditions, persons, and places throughout the country, and while holding the position he holds in relation to the work of this organization.--Editor.)
No. 4--The Haunted House
AT THE TIME that this experience occurred I was living in New York and was president of the New York Institution for Psychical Research. Soon after the New York World published some of the reports of our investigations, mediums and claimants for recognition as great psychics wrote to the newspaper, and to us, demanding that they be given an opportunity to prove the genuineness of their work. There was not a single fraud in the psychic realm of New York, including the Moores, who did not think that they were clever enough to deceive such an organization as ours, and that if they were successful in making ghosts walk for us or sing or play tambourines without becoming caught in the trickery they would be able to secure some sort of indorsement from our organization and flaunt this to the public.
But there were also many other requests that came to us from interesting sources and from persons who were truly anxious to solve some of the common mysteries of life. There were requests to come and visit so-called haunted houses, or participate in some tests relating to strange noises and sounds or occurrences in various parts of the eastern States, or explain strange writings that would be occasionally found on mirrors in some homes or written with charcoal on the stone pavement before a private house.
One of the most interesting of these requests came from a city in the northern part of New York State where, it was claimed, a house had been known as a haunted place for over one hundred years and that every attempt to sell the house or adjoining property resulted in failure, because the prospective owner would quickly learn of its reputation and would take no chances in even burning down the house or wrecking it and building a new one in its place.
The letter that came to us contained a report signed by a committee of prominent citizens of the near-by town, stating the many definite things that had been witnessed in connection with the mysterious occurrences of this haunted house. Among these strange things was the statement that at each full moon, the old and dilapidated shutters at each window of the second story of the house would become closed and that through the broken slats of these shutters, especially at the bottom of the window a light could be seen moving around in the upper rooms. On such occasions at midnight smoke would be seen emanating from the old chimney, indicating that a real fire was burning in either the fireplace of the first floor or the stove in the kitchen. These persons also stated that at various times throughout the month, and usually between ten and eleven o'clock, a white figure was seen to come out of the front door of the home and to walk up and down the old wooden porch that covered the entire front of the house. Various sounds and cat-calls, blood curdling shrieks and moans were also mentioned and there were the testimonies of four or five to the effect that they had seen a similar white figure walking from the house to an old well and disappearing in the well.
They stated also that investigations made in the daylight revealed that the front door was barricaded and nailed and that it could not be opened without injuring the door considerably and that it had never been found open. They said, however, that there were many footprints in the dust and dirt on the front porch and that having gained entrance into the inside of the house through the cellar door they saw footprints within the building and the evidence of burnt paper in the fireplace and that a number of pieces of charred paper seemed to contain a few words similar to those that might be found in a will or testament.
They all had different theories as to what was going on but the most imaginative and emotional of the group of investigators said that he believed that some ghost was returning to the house and was selecting various important legal documents and papers from some secret hiding place within the building and burning these one at a time, each full moon of the month.
Would you like to go and spend a night sitting in that lonely house, especially when you knew it was the night of a full moon? That is precisely what I decided to do and I don't think that any trip that I have taken to Europe or any other place, except possibly the one to Egypt, gave me more thrills in anticipation than did this trip by train to the village in New York State one summer month.
Referring to my notations, which I have kept of each of these incidents, I find that I reached the town about twenty minutes after five and that I went to the little hotel known as Doyle's Place and registered in an old-fashioned manner and secured a room. I had more than one suitcase with me because I had a very large camera and a number of scientific instruments for measuring and registering impressions, footprints, thumb prints, and other marks. My baggage, however, made me look like a travelling salesman and the first question Mr. Doyle asked me was, "What are you selling?" I told him that I was not there to sell anything but to buy something, and then I explained I wanted to buy real information regarding the haunted house and that I would pay him to take me to it and I would pay him to stay overnight as a witness. He quickly told me I was mistaken in expecting that he would even go inside the old, rugged, wooden fence that surrounded the six acres of property upon which the house stood.
After having an evening meal he was kind enough, and, incidentally, enthusiastic enough to invite in all who had written to our organization, and a few more, and we had a round table of discussion for several hours until I finally admitted at ten minutes after nine that I thought it was time for me to go to the mysterious home. Not one in that crowd offered to go with me and even Mr. Doyle's dog, who had taken a fancy to me and to whom I looked for some companionship on my trip, scowled and crawled away from my presence when I asked him if he would go along with me.
I imagined right then that if this old house was another one of the examples of a place being occupied with hoboes or thieves and that their ghostly actions were intended to keep investigators away, they had been a wonderful success. I don't believe that the Police Department or Fire Department of that village would have gone within half a mile of the house under any pretense or for any money that might be offered.
I was finally driven to the place, however, in an old-fashioned carriage accompanied by three or four of the village folk, each of whom refused to continue with me. They left me at the beginning of the arbored road that led to the house and told me how to get into the cellar and go up-stairs with my big suitcase of equipment, wished me well, hoped I would show up for breakfast, and assured me if I did not that they would send proper word to the authorities in New York City. I would have liked to have had the members of our organization with me but I realized that very often genuine psychic manifestations do not occur when there is more than one person present, or if there are manifestations they are inconsequential and often noisy ones, merely to let others know that someone is present but refraining from any definite revelation that would clear up the mystery. If I failed to get any satisfactory explanation during my one-night's visit I could return again with a group of persons and let all of them witness whatever might occur. Therefore, I proceeded on this night's investigation entirely alone, and what a night it turned out to be!
The cellar entrance was typical of the old-fashioned, double door, slanting passage way and I went down the damp stone steps into a musty smelling cellar guided by one of those old-time flashlights that was big enough to operate an automobile, but giving just as much light as a pocket cigar lighter. After making sure that I was standing in the center of solid ground of some kind I lighted a number of matches which gave me more light and enabled me to look around the cellar. There were a few barrels, one old broken trunk painted red and covered with iron bands but half rotted and entirely empty. There was also one old rocking chair that was very dilapidated, the head and foot board of an old bedstead and a number of pans, pots, and other utensils of farm usage with many cobwebs and some scattered pieces of a yellowed newspaper.
Since nothing had been said about any unusual occurrences in the cellar I did not linger there but went up-stairs. The cellar stairway was of the usual kind but safe and strong despite its age. The door at the head of the stairway creaked and stuck as I pushed it open. I found myself in a small hallway just off the kitchen. I knew it was the kitchen by a sink and hand pump in one corner. I turned in the opposite direction and going through an open door found myself in what was probably the dining room, and adjoining this was another hallway leading to the front door and on the opposite side of that doorway the living room in which there was a large fireplace, and I took notice that there was some charred paper lying on the stones amid a lot of burnt charcoal and dirt or dust.
I turned around and went back to examine the front door and found that the natives were right in saying that the door could not be opened without being broken into pieces. I looked closely at the old-fashioned polished stone handle or nob and found it so covered with finger marks that none of them would be of any value. At the end of this little hall that led to the front door was a wide stairway that went to the second floor. As I walked up each step and lighted it to see that it was safe to step upon I noticed that the tacks were still in the wood with a white pulpy paper attached to each tack showing where the padding under the carpet had been pulled loose or pulled off without removing the tacks. The steps creaked badly and I stood still on one and lightly pressed my foot on the one above and determined that if only a child of sixty pounds walked on the step it would make a loud noise and I imagined that a ghost of four or five pounds would make some noise providing a ghost has any weight and providing a number of other things.
The second floor was divided into a number of bedrooms and there was no bathroom although there was one room smaller than the rest with a slanting ceiling in which there was a very large round vessel which might have been used for a foot bath before retiring. I found that this was a common custom of the people of this country in the years when the house had been occupied. The larger room on the second floor was probably the principal bedroom. I went to the windows of this room and found that some were up and some down and in one or two other rooms the glass was cracked or broken out entirely. I forced one of these windows up and reached out to pull the shutter closed in the manner in which the report said they had been closed on certain occasions and found the shutter so fast or rusted against the house that it could not be pulled around to close against the window. In trying to pull the other one on the other side, I pulled so hard that I pulled it off the hinges and it fell with a loud noise on the cellar door below. I could not but smile and wonder if any of the neighbors were nearby and what they would think of that crash. I realized if any were passing the house and did not know of my presence there and saw the light and heard the crash they would be more convinced than ever that on this night of the full moon a ghost was walking around the interior of the house. But what a ghost! One hundred and eighty-three pounds is a little more weight than the usual ghost admits and much more than any ghost I have ever seen.
A test of the other windows showed that the shutters could not have been closed a number of times within recent years and that probably the only way to close them would be to tear them from their old rusted hinges and catches and re-fasten them across the front of the windows. I knew then that somebody had falsified in the report or had been mistaken in some way. Seating myself on one end of the large suitcase containing my camera, I thought that I would make my plans for staying up until midnight. I found it was a little after ten o'clock and I did not contemplate much pleasure in waiting so long in such a quiet place for it seemed like a very considerable waste of time.
Hearing no sounds or seeing nothing in the bedrooms I went down-stairs and placed my suitcase in the center of the hallway and sat upon it so that I could see the front door. Through the two glass panels in that door partly covered with wooden braces I could see the sky faintly enough to enable me to notice if any figure passed by the door on the outside. I listened intently for any sound that might come from any part of the house and was thus occupied in listening and reasoning when I began to notice a warm color lighting up some of the woodwork and very suddenly increasing in brilliancy to such an extent that it caused my body to cast a shadow on the wall of the hall. Realizing that this unexpected light came from the large living room at the right I turned around suddenly and looked into this big room and was surprised to find paper burning in the fireplace and some of the charred pieces being drawn up the chimney by the suction of the draft. I analyzed it for a moment and realized that the fire was too small to permit of being photographed and in another moment there was nothing but the slightly red and charred pieces of paper lying on the stone of the fireplace. Remembering what had been said about these fires containing documents I went over with my flashlight and knelt down in front of the fireplace and extracted two or three pieces and laid them on a clean piece of white note paper and unfolded them smoothly. As I reached for another piece of paper I found that the burned paper was covering a small piece of wood which I felt sure I had not seen in the center of the fireplace before. Lifting this piece of wood up and bringing it close to the flashlight it did not seem to be as old as some of the other little pieces that were back in the corner of the fireplace and there seemed to be a piece of thread around one end of it or, heavy thread I should say, as though another piece had been tied to it. The thread had burned up close to where it was knotted around the stick and for this reason I could tell little about its purpose. I cast it aside, however, thinking it must have been there when I made the first examination and gave my attention to the charred pieces of paper. I found there was only one word or part of a word that I could decipher and that was what seemed to be the word "warning" written in an upright style or writing as though disguised. I unfolded this piece of paper in the white sheet and placed it in a note book to preserve and then waited for something more to happen.
I finally heard some noise in the upper story that sounded very much like a large box containing marbles or buttons or pebbles being rolled or rocked from side to side. The sound changed finally until it seemed more like a wooden box with just three or four marbles in it that would be occasionally rolled from one side to the other by tipping the box. Counting the length of time of the rolling, however, or measuring it in a mental way, I judged the box to be five or six feet long for the marbles or pebbles to roll for such a length of time. What could such a thing be? I tried to compare it with things that would be commonplace with an old haunted house and was surprised how quickly my imagination seized upon the idea of a skeleton walking across the room and having all of its jointed parts rattle in the manner I had heard. If I had been of the fearful, superstitious type, and a firm believer in ghosts and their expeditions to haunted houses, I would have accepted the imaginative picture and elaborated upon it and wiped out of my consciousness the previous analysis I had made that sounds were like those of rolling pebbles or marbles on a wooden surface. This is the sort of thing that so many persons actually do when they are face to face with something that they are attempting to analyze. After doing some real reasoning and actually getting near to a solution of the problem their own imagination or someone else's will give them a false picture that seems logical and it will be seized upon and all the previous reasoning cast aside. I know how the mind can take a suggestion of this kind and almost unconsciously elaborate upon it and build up a reality that is never satisfying until a component or complementary actuality is found.
I waited a full hour in the upper rooms without discovering anything more about these noises except that they came from two rear rooms and seemed to be in the ceiling or garret. I found no way of getting into the garret easily and I waited for further developments. Midnight came and passed. I saw no light, but I did hear moans that seemed at times to come from the outside of the house, or coming through windows somewhere actually seemed to be in some of the rooms at other times. Once there was a crash against one of the windowpanes and instantly I thought of the shutters. I rushed into the room where the sound of crashing glass came from and while I found some broken glass on the floor in front of three of the windows I could not tell which window had been affected by the crash but noticed that the shutters were still in the usual position.
A little after one o'clock I abandoned the place for there were no further sounds or sights. I went out the way I had come in but thought I would take with me some of the yellow newspaper and see if I could determine the date so that I might know how long ago the house had been occupied. Reaching over to get some of this crumpled paper I found that in the center was something tied into a bundle, and so I took the entire bundle. I had made arrangements that at two-thirty those who had driven me to the place should come nearby and look toward the front door of the house, and if they saw my flashlight lighted and moving around in a large circle continuously they would know that I was ready to leave, and that if they did not see such a light they should attempt to come to the house and call my name and if they got no answer they should decide that something was wrong and take whatever steps they could to see what had happened.
Accordingly at about two-thirty I made my circle of light and was happy to find the carriage coming toward me in a few moments so that I could return to the hotel and complete my investigation. The first thing that I did was to open the bundle of old newspapers. I was alone in my room for I did not want any witness to know what I might find until after I had made a complete investigation. I was surprised to find that the newspapers were not more than two years old although I had been told that the house had been unoccupied for many years. In the center of the bundle I found some pieces of twigs from trees with the bark still upon them and not over eight to twelve inches in length. My very first impression was that this was a gathering of wood and paper for the building of a fire in the kitchen stove but my attention was attracted to the fact that the paper and wood had been tied by the use of heavy thread. This thread was not charred and could be easily examined. I left that for my morning examination. Again examining the charred piece of paper by the oil lamp in my room and assuring myself that the word "warning" was still visible I put it away safely and retired for the night.
The sunshine awakened me in the morning and before I dressed I had my instruments spread out on the little table that had stood in the center of the room with the lamp on it and which I moved toward the window and was busy examining the pieces of wood, the thread, and the paper. The wood had not been broken from the trees for more than two or three months and, therefore, had been recently placed in the cellar. The paper around it, as I have said, was less than two years old. Certainly, someone had access to the cellar and was doing something in the cellar that had no reason for being done in an old and abandoned house.
Examining the thread I found that it was identical with that used by shoemakers for sewing soles and buttons and other things, and in fact, one end of the one hundred and three inches of thread was tied around the package had wax upon it like the beeswax used by shoemakers. That seemed to be a very good clue.
In examining the charred piece of paper in the bright daylight and under a large magnifying glass, it became evident that the writing was written by someone disguising his hand, or, more than likely, by a child!
I put all of the exhibits away carefully and went downstairs to breakfast, and during the course of the meal, with Mr. Doyle and his wife, son, daughter, and a neighbor, sitting at the large round table asking me questions, I casually remarked that I would like to have a patch put on my shoe and wondered if there was a shoemaker in the village. They assured me that there was one in the far side of town who had been their only shoemaker for many years. I asked if he lived there and they told me he did not, but that he had opened his shop in this place several years ago because there was a barber shop and a soft drink place and saloon adjoining and that they were all practically under one roof which afforded the shoemaker a very small rent for the corner that he occupied.
I happened to ask a little later on where the shoemaker lived and they told me that he lived with his wife and children, one of whom was married and whose husband lived with them, in a house at the end of the road upon which we had traveled in going to the haunted house. Showing some interest in this road and to where it led, I was informed that at the end of the road was the house in which the shoemaker lived and opposite them another very large home occupied and owned by a family which operated a mill near the end of the road where there was a stream. I asked them to drive me out to see the mill and that I probably would take a picture of it. They wanted to know what this had to do with my investigation and I told them that my investigation of ghosts was at night as ghosts do not walk in the daytime; and that during the day I had other things in which I was interested and one of these was mills and friendly neighbors and their children, and little boys, especially. When we got to the mill and looked around I asked to be taken to the shoemaker's home. It being summer time and the school closed, I found the younger children of the family working around the house and playing with a dog. Of these younger children there was only one who was a boy and he was about eleven years of age. He was a bright, energetic, lovable sort of a youngster, whose eyes revealed a mischievous temperament and a deep sense of humor. Asking to have a talk with the boy alone for a few moments I started to talk about the dog as we walked away from the crowd and got beyond where they could hear me speaking. I then asked the boy if he would go back to the haunted house and for a dish of ice cream reproduce for me the fire and funny noises I had heard. I assured him that the town constable would not arrest him and that I might keep to myself what I saw but I wanted to have the fun of seeing him make the noises and fire.
Later that afternoon when we were alone he explained to me that from the earliest days of his life he had heard about the house being haunted and he had spent many a night around the house watching for something to happen. He had left his home on many nights unbeknown to his folks and had waited until early in the morning for some sight or sound. He never was afraid but wanted to have one good look at the ghost that the whole town had been talking about. He confidentially told me, also, that he thought the whole hokus-pokus of the ghost business had been invented by the constable because he did not like the people who owned the property where the house was located. However, as time passed and the young people of the village complained that the ghost never walked for them and that the old folk must be mistaken, Bobby decided to help the situation by becoming the ghost.
He thought it would be a great lark to revive the stories and give some credence to them by performing for the young people a genuine demonstration. So, one afternoon in anticipation of a full moon, he told a number of the children who gathered at the Sunday school that he believed that night would be a good one for seeing the ghost. He knew from their expressions that many of them would assemble near the house at midnight and would be anticipating something unusual. Going with me to the house he showed me the little ladder in the rear of the house which enabled him to get into the room over the kitchen and from this crawl up the slanting shingle roof to the chimney. Using some of his father's thread he fastened at one end a stick of wood as a weight and tied some pieces of paper to these and lighted them with a match and dropped them down into the fireplace in order to make a light shine in the room. Then he took from his pocket a number of pebbles and let them roll down the side of the shingle roof until they would drop on pieces of metal, stone, and wood, in the yard below and cause a peculiar rattling noise as they went over the shingles. This demonstration was so successful that the next day it was widely discussed and an investigation of the house was made again and the charred paper on the fireplace was found. Bobby feared that this might reveal his secret and for two days he refrained from taking any part in the ghost discussion. He was pleased, however, to learn that the adults interpreted the fire in the fireplace as very significant and they claimed the possibility of important documents being burned. He therefore conceived the idea of writing certain things on the sheets of paper so that if any writing was found it would be significant.
The night that his father told him of my visit to the house he was sure that if no fire occurred and no sounds occurred there would be further investigations that might reveal his secret, and he was afraid of what the constable might do. He therefore conceived the idea of writing the word "warning" on a number of pieces of paper for my benefit, hoping that if I saw it I would be frightened and go away.
Talking to him while he ate a big dish of ice cream and stuffed some packages of candy in his pockets he agreed it was easy to scare people, "If they only believed something." I asked what he meant by believing in some thing, and he said, "If you believe there are ghosts you will be sure to find some and if you don't find one you will think you will see one so long as you believe there is one." His philosophy was sound but his sense of humor was even more so. I explained nothing to his parents except to say that I thought there would be no more of what had previously happened, and I suggested, also, that the chimney top be closed to prevent any draft and that the cellar doors be closed, or, better still, that the entire house be torn down!
Here we have a typical example of how ghost stories are invented, created, or supported. There are some ghost stories that are not as easily solved as this one and sometime I shall speak about them. However, there is much of human psychology in this experience and the only point left unexplained was the statement about the shutters being closed. However, if you have ever investigated ghost stories you will agree with me that out of one hundred definite statements made by witnesses you can cross off eighty of them as being either the result of imagination or absolute falsehoods. The shutters of this old building had never been closed at any night or on any occasion for many years. Probably the fact that the light in the room was low down close to the floor and was only visible by reflection upon the lower part of the window frames created the impression that the shutters were closed and the light was being seen only through some of the broken slats. I would like to give the benefit of the doubt to the one who made that statement, but I am afraid that the statement was purely fiction and invented to add color and mystery to the whole affair.

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