As I walked in to the toilet, I was slightly bemused. Here I was, in a young ladies house, being told all about recent events that had upset her badly, and led her to the conclusion her home was haunted. Unfortunately, from the creaking bedsprings in the room above, and rhythmic slamming of the headboard against the wall, it sounded more like inconsiderate housemates were more the problem. The lass who’d asked us over was just describing how her boyfriend had walked out, leaving her with the baby – and then the loud noises above had embarrassed us all.
Just then Pat, one of our team, called to say we were needed in the toilet. Given he had just asked if he could use the loo, it was all a bit embarrassing, especially as he called for a video camera!
I sauntered in, expecting he had found some impressive spider in the bath, or a funny shaped mould patch or something. Instead, he stood staring at the toilet, mouth open. I was a bit confused, as the toilet did not actually seem to be doing anything – it was very modern, but then again the house had been built only two years before, and no one else had ever lived there. It was hardly going to be an antique!
I often feel a bit daft on cases, but this moment felt ridiculous. Then Jenny – that wasn’t her name but it will do – started to get angry about her ex again, and WHAM! WHAM! WHAM! – the toilet lid and seat shot up, and slammed itself down, three times. I was so startled I just laughed – and grabbed the video camera.
Was there a hidden wire? Some kind of air block? Some normal explanation? I’m no plumber. I had never seen a toilet act like this before, but that does not mean there wasn’t a perfectly normal explanation. There were three or four of us in the room now, and one person still talking to the lady of the house. And just as she got worked up and angry again – BANG! Three more times the lid went, and yes, we got it on video.
Somewhere there is a very short clip on an old VHS tape of a toilet lid banging up and down. At first we thought “this is it! Proof of the paranormal!” A few seconds reflection led me to conclude that what we possessed was no such thing – it was a tape of a toilet seat banging up and down, nothing more, nothing less.
To this day I don’t know what caused the toilet seat (or the bed upstairs – it turned out there was no one there) to move. I can’t think of a normal explanation, but it does not mean there might not be one. There may well be a sensible answer, and do feel free to comment and suggest solutions.
However, let us for the moment assume it was ‘paranormal’, whatever that means. Something odd, spooky, was going down. Even if this was the case – and I still think it might have been – well we are left with more questions than answers. What was causing the toilet seat to move? It appeared the toilet seat moved as the lady of the house who was upset (very understandably) about her boyfriend walking out on her and the baby reached a point of extreme anger and frustration.
So what was causing this ‘haunting’? Was it a spirit, associated with the house, or was it the psychic powers of the lady, expressing her frustration in a poltergeist outbreak?
How you answer this seemingly simple question tells you quite a bit about how you see things. For some spiritualists the answer is simple – a dead person, or perhaps an ‘elemental’, was causing the disruption. To a parapsychologist, well most would probably say something like “There is no need to say spirits exist! The women was using a form of ESP called PK (psychokinesis) to make the objects move. Of course nothing is ever quite that simple; some parapsychologists believe in spirits, and I think most spiritualists I know believe firmly in psychic powers.
So if we have psychic powers, we can mislead ourselves, by creating a haunting – a haunting whose source may be ourselves. I noticed over the years that certain venues like Derby Gaol could seemingly produce strong phenomena for certain groups, but that phenomena was unique to that group of visitors. It was like they were bringing their own hauntings with them – and of course sceptics would say they were, through imagination or fraud. I wondered if it was something more than that – if they used their own psychic powers unconsciously to manifest certain phenomena, in essence haunting themselves?
I’m not saying Derby Gaol is not ‘haunted’ – there were some phenomena that puzzled me, as while different groups were present, they clearly manifested. A strong smell of flowery perfume in one particular room springs to mind. However, even Richard did agree it was as if some folk “brought their own ghosts”.
Imagine every child actually has psychic powers. As you grow older, you learn you can’t do these things – “Johnny stop floating your toys across the room, you know that impossible!” By the time you are an adult, you can’t use your clairvoyance, PK, precognition or whatever any more. You have been trained out of them. However, give someone a magic wand, a crystal ball, some Tarot cards or something, and maybe they can do it again. You see they think the power is in the cards, ball or wand – and by putting their faith in an external object, their powers can work, because they are not THEIR OWN IMPOSSIBLE POWERS! Likewise, you put someone in a haunted house, and maybe their psychic powers become much stronger immediately – because when they manifest, you can put the blame on the ghost?!?
So according to one school of thought, there are no ghosts in the traditional sense, only our own psychic powers. And even Spiritualists often accept that ESP can be a problem in a reading, taking information from the clients mind, not from a spirit…
I used to think like this, until the summer of 1993, when I was contacted by a gentleman who owned a small hotel, and who stated his family who lived there had been troubled by a series of ghostly happenings – could we do something about it? Immediately we have a problem – I want to investigate ghosts, but people who call me usually wanted to get rid of them! I am a researcher, not an exorcist, no not even a ghostbuster! Fortunately a few months earlier we had also met a psychic claimant, Morven, who asked to be tested to see if her mediumship was genuine, or self delusion, or something else…
Morven was a lovely middle aged woman from Ireland who had been in the area for about two or three years. We agreed to the test, and with our “haunt” some thirty plus miles away in another town, felt it unlikely she could have foreknowledge of the case. As by profession I am a researcher, I conducted newspaper archive and book searches for material on the locations “haunting”, and established that no stories had been published for almost twenty years, but that there was a legend of a maidservant who hanged herself in one room after she found herself pregnant and her lover went off to the English Civil War, never to return. This necessitated that we go to elaborate lengths to prevent the medium gaining knowledge of her location.
We therefore placed cotton wool over Morven’s eyes, and taped it in location. We then placed a sleeping mask on top, before employing a full head bag of total opacity, secured at the neck to prevent peeping. We placed a walkman with loud music on, and drover her out of town by a circuitous route, doubling the 30 mile trip. I did not reveal the location to my team until minutes before we set off, when one sceptic went ahead to make sure any obvious items in the five hotel rooms we planned to use for the experiment were removed, and the curtains secured to prevent any glimpse of the sky line or other external identifying features.
The haunted Old Bell
On arrival the medium, now thoroughly car sick and gagging was taken as quickly as possible in to one room, and the hood removed. Our research ethics were awful! She however soon perked up, and identified one room as the haunt location. Now this was correct, though if she had gone by the published accounts she would have been wrong – the rooms had been renumbered ten years before as I had previously established. Still she had a 20% chance of that!
She then reported a strangling sensation, and said a woman about 5’10” tall had hanged herself in the room. Fine, but rather tall we thought, and hardly unlikely given the age of the building! Furthermore she described turn of the century dress – 300 years out from the accounts we had! A radio team present taped (and broadcast next day) her “reading” – and the highpoint was the suggestion of unhappiness (do happy people hang themselves?!!),too much booze and a name. She gives the name as follows – “Amy – no, Emmy. The surname is almost the same. Yes, it’s something like Emmy Emily”. She offered NO other names, and a few minutes later we had to open the window to giver her air, calling the experiment off..
I (rather gleefully I am afraid) told her she was completely wrong.
A week passed, and an interested local historian, Lionel Ayliffe, checked out the local coroners records – to find the only suicide recorded in the building happened in 1904, a lady named Amy Amery who was a servant who hanged herself after being dismissed for being a drunk. This material had not been published as far as I can ascertain since the tragedy in 1904 when it had appeared in a local newspaper.
Reputedly haunted corridor at the Old Bell
I am still disinclined to the mediumistic hypothesis by nature, but following this apparent success I decided to experiment further. The medium made a number of correct statements, and one possibly incorrect – that the body was buried in the church opposite, something we could not ascertain. It was no more than a spark, but it got me interested. I claim no real evidence here – coincidence perhaps? – but it led me to at least investigate the survival hypothesis.
So two cases I have done – one seemed to suggest possibly the brain of a living agent provided the psychic show; the other seems to suggest the survival of a spirit beyond death. Or are their really good sensible normal explanations for all this? I still don’t know – but one thing is certain, it’s all a lot more complicated than most of us will admit to ourselves!
© Christian Jensen Romer 2014