Haunted House Hunters

Some people like living in the past. Others, like to live with it.

She couldn't quite explain what it was, but Diane Turton sensed something odd about the house she was going to buy. For starters, she hadn't planned on buying the home at all. As a Realtor, she wanted to sell it and earn a commission. But in 2005, as she stared out at a river from the dining room, she had "a weird feeling." It was a sensation that was validated when she consulted a psychic, who not only seemed to know she was buying a house, but who added, "There are ghosts in the house, and the ghosts want you there."
That's the sort of statement that might make some homeowners turn pale, offer a nervous laugh and tell their real estate agent that they've reconsidered. Or maybe just laugh and brush it off. But not Turton. Intrigued and perfectly content with the idea of having a ghost in the house, she and her husband moved in.

If you don't believe in ghosts, you're probably rolling your eyes. But many people do believe, and some even relish the thought of purchasing a home known to have ghosts – or at least some homeowners, perhaps because the price has been lowered or they're simply confident that the world is a black and white place, can get past the idea that a house has a creepy past.

How else to explain why the infamous Amityville Horror home where six family members were murdered hasn't met its fate with a wrecking ball? While one family claimed the home was haunted, three other families have lived there since, reportedly without incident. The Long Island, N.Y. home is currently on the market for $1.15 million.

And then there's the house where O.J. Simpson's ex-wife Nicole Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman were murdered. One might think that, too, would have been destroyed, with nobody wanting to be associated with the site of two of the nation's most infamous, brutal murders, but that sold as well – granted, after being on the market for two long years. Still, even if those buyers had second thoughts about signing on the dotted line, some homeowners are enthusiastic to learn that their house is haunted and even seek that characteristic out.

Some homeowners love the idea of living with a supernatural presence. 

Introducing Gretchen

Leslie Hart-Davidson, 38, an interior designer in Lansing, Michigan, was house hunting with her husband in 2000, and as she puts it, "I was hoping to find a house with 'character,' and the search paid off – we found a Queen Anne Victorian with a lengthy past and a continually present occupant."

That's right. She found not just character but a character – a ghost that, after some laborious research on the house, she concluded was probably the home's nanny in the late 19th century. They named their ghost Gretchen.

Gretchen never came down to the breakfast table to pull up a chair and chat, but Hart-Davidson and her husband every few months, out of the corner of their eye, would catch a glimpse of a twenty-something woman dressed in a high-collar neckline and large skirt. Sometimes they would see her outline flitter down the hallway, and near one room that they believe was the nursery, their cats would stop and roll on their backs, as if someone was scratching their bellies.

So the obvious question comes: Weren't you creeped out? "No," says Hart-Davidson, emphatic. "From the moment I walked into that house, it felt like we were home. And my husband would often travel, leaving me in a very large home all by myself. So that in itself, knowing Gretchen was around, was very comforting."

So comforting, in fact, that when Hart-Davidson and her husband moved again in 2004, they looked for another house that might have a ghost. They haven't spotted any yet – although the house lights flicker at odd moments – but they just may one of these days, due to where they decided to move: Leslie, her husband and their five-year-old daughter, Lillian, live 500 yards from a cemetery.

Meet Fred

Sue Marquette Porembo, a 47-year-old freelance writer, remembers the first time she met Fred, her name for the ghost who lives with her and her family in State College, Pa. Porembo first met Fred when she was sleeping and felt the bed shift. Glancing up, she saw the figure of a man sitting on her bed, who she naturally assumed was her husband Jack.

"I reached up to touch his back, and my hand went right through to the bed," says Porembo. The figure disappeared, and of course, skeptics will point out that it was dark and Porembo was half asleep, but she insists she wasn't dreaming. Nor was she during the repeated times she has sat in her bed and watched her bedroom door open and then shut.

When it's suggested that many people might, upon seeing a door open and shut, with nobody else in the house, soil their pants and run screaming out into the night, Porembo says matter-of-factly: "I've seen ghosts before."

In fact, she remembers years ago crying in a dark room the night her grandmother died. She then looked up to see her grandmother sitting in a rocking chair – who assured her that everything would be okay.

"I turned on the light, and she was gone, but the rocking chair was still going, rocking back and forth," says Porembo, "and I felt the chair, and it was warm. It was really freaky. I had seen other ghosts, growing up, and I figured at that point that ghosts must trust me, because they show up all the time. I think that's why I wasn't spooked when I saw Fred."

After 17 years of living with Fred, Porembo says that her children and husband have seen and heard him. He has moved furniture, opened and closed doors and will occasionally be briefly seen walking through the house and staring out the window. He wears "old man clothes," says Porembo, describing them as a button-up shirt, suspenders, trousers (of course) and no hat.

Porembo discusses all of this with the same intensity one might in talking about the weather. "Just deal with it," she says, when asked about advice for interacting with a spirit. "There's a reason the ghost is there, and I don't know what the reason is, but there's a reason the ghost is there. And I've never encountered any harmful or mean ghosts."

Living with ghosts could become the norm

If Frances Fox, a psychic investigator in Miami, Florida, is correct, many more families across America are going to have experiences similar to Porembo's.

Fox is concerned because the nation is becoming overrun with foreclosed homes, and buildings, she says, have their own energy. "The problem with the foreclosed home is that it contains all the elements of a potential haunting," says Fox.

There is the trauma the house experiences when a stressed, agonized family is worried about being kicked out of their home, explains Fox, and when the residents do leave, "the structure of the home breaks, and it's no longer protected against invading forces... Garbage from other dimensions is allowed to come in, and the place is now empty, and during that time, that brings in another set of characteristics ripe for a haunting – dark spaces, lack of movement, lack of light, lack of good smells, emptiness."

Fox feels the trend isn't a good one. "Spirits are supposed to leave, they're supposed to move on, and the fact that something is dead, that can co-exist in your space, and you're okay with it – that's a little bit of a problem," says Fox. "What a spirit needs is not what a human being needs."

Perhaps not, but the people interviewed for this story are perfectly content with their undead roommates. Not that there haven't been some disagreements. "They get very loud," says Bruce Turton, Diane's husband, referring to the three ghosts that live in their family room. "It's distracting. You can't watch the TV."

But Diane Turton says that if they shout, "Come on, knock it off," or something like that, they'll calm down.

"People will come in," says Turton, "and hear the banging on the wall, and their mouths will literally drop right open. They will drop right open. We've had people suggest we rip the wall out, but I've been told not to do that, that it might aggravate them, and you know, they don't move things, they don't cause a lot of trouble. They're just there, making noise."

How does she explain it? Turton likens the ghosts' presence to "what makes a light bulb – it's energy."

Selling a house with ghosts

Not everyone wants to live with ghosts. So if you're a haunted house hunter, what do you do when it's time to sell and move on? Do you tell potential buyers about the mysterious opening and closing of doors, the banging on the walls or the cats that appear to be scratched by an unseen hand? Do you risk losing a sale, possibly because your potential buyer now thinks you're the one, not the ghost, who isn't quite all there?

Hart-Davidson said that they did mention Gretchen to buyers, but in a fun, rather whimsical way, in a history that she wrote up of the house. It read in part that "if you're lucky, perhaps you might just catch a glimpse of Gretchen." Potential buyers could take it seriously, or just in fun.

Porembo, on the other hand, admits that if and when she sells her house, she will probably say nothing about Fred. "I would think not, because people laugh at you," says Porembo. "They just don't believe that you have a ghost in the house. And who knows, Fred might not show up for someone else. He might show up because we're ghost friendly."

And while some people might be creeped out by the idea of living with a ghost, Hart-Davidson ironically finds newer homes to be the places that are unsettling and spooky. "They feel empty to me," she says. "Living in a house that has some connection to the past, that was here long before you were and will be around long after your death, that's much more meaningful to me."

Geoff Williams is a frequent contributor to FrontDoor.com.

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