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Wednesday
Oct312012

Part 3: Who ARE you going to call?

By Michelle Ann Kratts

You hear something.  A voice.  Footsteps.  At first you reassure yourself that it is only the cat. 

You see something.  Someone?  Moving in the darkness.  Perhaps it was only your imagination.

You feel someone.  The room is icy cold.  You are not alone.

You ARE not alone.  Many other residents of Niagara County have experienced the same sort of things.  Some are embarrassed to admit anything is out of the ordinary.  Some have had things happen around them since they were children.  There are people in Niagara who live in terror.  They are afraid of night and its possibilities.

A few years ago I talked with Amy K., a local medium (and owner of Amy K’s Mystick Corner), about the fact that Niagara County seems overrun with paranormal occurrences.   Why…of all places?  It was then that she told me about the falling water.   Falling water is a natural root cause for paranormal activity.  Strange and supernatural things do happen around falling water.  And we certainly have our share of falling water! 

I meet a great deal of people who believe their houses are haunted.   I have even had teenagers come in anxious to learn if anything gruesome ever happened in their homes.  Often the teenagers are the ones who admit to seeing shadow women in long dresses, men in uniforms, little girl ghosts.  I have learned to make sure I jot down their contact information in order to help them pursue any research, as in the past I have lost some people.  Once anything gets to their parents it is always questionable if we can proceed with any sort of investigation.  A lot of adults just aren’t into this sort of thing.  Especially after we have finished the historical research part of our investigation and we are on to the next phase.

I don’t really know much about the spirit world.  Personally, I have never had any encounters that make me a “true believer.”  Maybe a few dreams, a few what-ifs, but never that solid evidence to prove to me once and for all that there is no death.  When those people who come to me want to take things further, I know just where to send them—right into the expert care of NF Paranormal. 

I met Jimmy Silvaroli a few years ago.  We were having some strange things happen at the Lewiston Public Library and our director had no problem inviting our local ghost hunters in to check out the situation.  It was only the beginning of a great partnership.  It was inevitable that we would need each other.  He needs historical background information in order to gain some understanding of the strange situations he encounters and I need someone to send my people to for their paranormal needs. 

So what can you do if you think your house is haunted?  If you come to me, I can take you back in time.  Sometimes it is quite comforting just knowing the people who also called your house their home.  There are a lot of old houses in Niagara County and you might be surprised what sort of things actually happened in your house!  Many houses with paranormal activity are actually not very old, though.  NF Paranormal believes that these types of hauntings may possibly come from contact with items.  Perhaps you have brought some “haunted” items into your home.  And there is always that possibility that long, long ago there were dwellings on your property--long before your search was printed out.  Of course, there were Native American settlements throughout Niagara County, as well.  We are not so sure of their exact locations but most likely people have always made their homes close to fresh water sources.

When you come to meet me at the Lewiston Public Library I am always grateful if you bring along your house’s search.  This lists all the previous owners of your property and even goes back to the time hundreds of years ago when the Holland Land Company was carving out this section of New York.  I am most interested in those people listed in your search.  Once we know the people we can check through files, look them up in books, censuses, directories, vital records.  Ancestry.com (which is available free of charge at the library) is a treasure for researching your house history.  We can also check out maps and look for property lines.  My favorite source of all, however, is old newspapers.  This is where you will find the “juicy” information.  This is where you will find the murders and suicides.  This is where you find weddings and funerals.  This is where you will find pictures.  You can look through old Niagara Gazette newspapers (all the way to 1854 and up until the early 1970’s) on a free website:  www.fultonhistory.com.  You can type names or addresses into the search box and you will be surprised at what you will find.  There really is a great deal of information out there for you to access and so much of it is free.  All you need is a little time and a great deal of passion to fire up your searches.

And if you feel you are ready to take the next step…NF Paranormal is waiting for your call.  Check out their website: http://www.nfparanormal.com/wordpress/ for contact information. 

What advice do they give in the meantime?  “First and foremost, remain calm,” Jimmy says.  “Don’t make nothing into something.”   Learn the history of your home—so you know what you may be dealing with (regarding possible tragic events, etc.).  Call NF Paranormal.  They work free of charge and are happy to help people make sense of what is happening.  Depending on your faith, you may feel it necessary to have your clergy bless your home.  We know for a fact that this does quiet things down.  If things are completely out of control, you may choose to have a sage cleansing done of your home.  This is a classic method of dispelling unwanted spirits.  Many people do sage cleansings when first moving into a home.  I bought some white sage smudge sticks while I was in Lily Dale this summer.  I’m sure they are available online, as well. 

When NF Paranormal does an investigation they first interview the residents to find which areas seem to be hot spots and concentrate on those areas.  Their focus is on gathering evidence.  And usually their biggest piece of evidence is EVPs, or Electronic Voice Phenomena.  They set up voice recorders (just regular tape recorders or digital recorders) in various places and try and prod any spirits into making a response.  Actually, we have had numerous EVPs discovered on recordings in the library.  My daughter, Caitlyn, and her friends have spent many hours investigating the library.  They founded their own paranormal research group, InSpirit Paranormal.  Their EVPs have startled me.  There is nothing like hearing a disembodied voice tell you in that ghostly, breathy whisper…”I hate you…!”  And by the way,  yes, that is exactly what I heard from a recording made in the Lewiston Public Library.  I have also heard:  “I am so tired…”

No one is really sure what an EVP actually is.  Are there sounds and voices in the air, do they somehow adhere to the recording devices?  Or are they actually intelligent beings finding a way to communicate with us?  The verdict is not out yet. 

A few nights ago, I had a few friends from NF Paranormal in the library to discuss an investigation.  Before they left I asked these fearless ghost hunters one last question.  What scares YOU the most?  Lisa Silvaroli (Jimmy’s wife) said that she is most afraid of things that can’t be explained.  There have been so many occasions when outrageous things have happened to her yet there is no logical explanation.  Jimmy said that he is most afraid of “things” following him home.  He said it has happened…where an unsettled spirit has attached itself to him.  Being fatigued on an investigation will make this happen, he warned.  Amy Wall, another investigator, said that she is most afraid of the things “you’re not expecting” and the voices that tell her to “get out.”     

And Jimmy has one more little fear that he never fails to mention when we are together:  Ouija boards.   Under no circumstances should anyone play with Ouija boards, he says.  They are a gateway into other worlds in which we are not prepared to enter.  I always smile, when he talks about Ouija boards because I’m not so sure if I agree with him.  Maybe some of us are not so unprepared for confrontations from the other side.  

Saturday
Oct132012

Part Two: The Haunted House on the Old Country Road

by Michelle Ann Kratts

There are those among us who live in absolute terror.  During the day they go about things as usual but they are always mindful of shadows.  They watch the clock for they know with each passing moment they are closer.  They tell themselves it must be the wind, their imagination, some strange coincidence.  And then the sun sinks into the horizon and the moon rises.  Darkness spreads like a stain across the sky and instantly they are back within a forest of fears.  Once again, like children, they are frightfully aware of the slightest movement of bedroom curtains, they have measured the openings of closet doors.    They wait and they wonder.   What will the night bring?  They never know for sure.

I meet with them sometimes in the library. I am the genealogy librarian for the Jon F. Popkey Genealogy Room at the Lewiston Public Library.   They approach the situation as business-like as possible.  For what is more grown up than finding out the facts?  They tell me they want to know the history of their house.  We usually talk first on the phone or message back and forth through emails.  At once, I can sense the urgency in their voice, in the hurried words.  I always know when there is something more.  I tell them to bring their house search—that great goody-bag of information.   We sit together and I jot down the names that pop out at me.  We look through maps and directories, through the hundreds of files I keep in my cabinet, through family trees and census records, old newspaper clippings.  As names and faces present themselves they become more and more wrapped up in the work of putting the puzzle pieces together.  This is usually when I decide whether or not it’s the right time to ask:  is your house haunted?  This is usually when they look back at me, with a bittersweet sense of relief, and answer:  yes, my house is haunted.

The following is the story of one woman’s experience as a resident of a haunted house and the strange ghostly encounters that may ultimately have originated from the library, itself.  Every part of this story is true.  The names and address have been omitted to protect the homeowner’s privacy.

Enter.  An old farmhouse on an old country road in Lewiston.  It’s just south of the Tuscarora Nation.  There are dark forests along the property lines.  Some say that there may be those who practice black magic in those woods.  Moonlight is spilling over hardwood floors.  There is a woman.  She is troubled.  She is unable to sleep. 

It’s inevitable that the whole house will come to life after she goes to bed.  She knows this.  She paces the floor.  She waits.

It was just a few months ago when everything started in earnest.  She had lived in the old house for over 20 years and never really noticed anything out of the ordinary.  Until this summer. 

Our lady of the old country road house is an attractive woman.  She seems too young to be retired.  Perhaps caring for the farm has kept her youthful.  In fact it was a blacksmith that had first mentioned the house.  He had been acquainted with the previous owner and thought the house would be a perfect fit.  And it was…for over two decades.  Of course, there were the times she could swear she was being watched.  Or the times she would be looking at herself in the bathroom mirror (through which she could see clear to the dining room) and, out of the corner of her eye, see glimpses of movement—of other entities passing through in a flash.  Certainly, we have all experienced such things.  And it was only this… until the summer rolled around and it all became too much to bear. 

She blames herself for much of what goes on.  She has survived several near death experiences.  She has recently joined the Catholic Church.  Could there be evil spirits tempting her?  There are blue lights that often lurk toward the top of the stairwell.  She wondered about the significance of the blue lights and found that they could be attached to the presence of an angel.  Perhaps even Michael, the archangel.  Perhaps he is protecting her from the evil spirits that may have taken over her house. 

She feels she is teetering on the edge of two worlds.  At times, she says she is putting the house up for sale.  At times, she wants to fight for her home. 

“I was sent to this house,” she said to me, “and it wants me to stay.”

Perhaps the night that sent her running to her priest was the night she heard him for the first time.  She had gone to the kitchen for a drink and there was that uncanny feeling that she was not alone.  She went into the kitchen and there he was, an unseen but definitively masculine entity, shouting crudely from behind her in the area towards the window in the dining room, in a guttural German accent :  JA!  She ran to her room hoping it had been her husband playing a trick on her.  But it was not her husband.  He was sound asleep.   So she left the German lad in the kitchen—telling herself over and over that it was not a dream at all.  She was wide awake.  What remained of the night was a hopeless attempt at sleep.  Her feet were tugged at and when she awakened from a momentary nap she had the distinct feeling that her nose was being touched and poked. 

Our lady first came to me in the midst of this wild possession of her home.  After admitting that she did indeed live in a house that may contain ghosts, she told me everything that ever happened.  Her priest thought it was possible that this entity may want her attention.  He told her to speak to it and to say:  in the name of Jesus Christ, you have my attention…  He also mentioned that he did not believe what was happening was attached to any sort of evil spirits.  It was after her visit to her priest, that she decided it was time to find the history of her home. 

Following our first encounter, just as she was about to leave, she happened to mention a little incident that bothered her and left her with this undeniable feeling that this whole haunting was somehow rooted in the terrible tragedy of a car wreck.  For one day last year (before any of this had begun) her husband rang her on his cell phone—just after pulling out of the driveway.  He told her not to open the door…that the strangest looking man was walking up their driveway.  He was all in red and odd looking—as if he didn’t fit in our time and place.  Something about the man made him extremely uncomfortable.  Her husband was so worried he actually decided to do a U-turn and head right back home.  She saw no one outside her window.  Upon her husband’s return they both checked every possible site for signs of the young man in red, but to no avail.  Their most unusual visitor had literally vanished into thin air leaving no footprints.  It was as if he never existed.  Could he have been a ghost?  She could swear that the German voice she had heard in her kitchen was that of a young man and her husband felt that this apparition was that of a young man, as well.  He described him as grubby looking with a dark beard.   For some reason, she wondered…could it be possible that this young man had been the spirit of someone killed nearby in a car wreck?

So I began my investigation.  Although the search (which first mentioned a premises in the early 1830’s) contained Christian names such as “John” and “Frederick” and “William” these were old Germans whose names were actually “Johann,” “Friedrich,” and “Wilhelm.”   Ironically one of the first things I found in the old papers, was a reference to the death of a family member by car wreck on that very street.  The forty six year old had been crushed to death under the wheels of an oncoming motor truck.  It was 1922.  He died of internal injuries.  When I told her about him she was immediately moved to find his burial location.  In fact, she found it on her own and even visited it.  She thought maybe things would calm down at the house.  But they didn’t.  In fact, they only got worse.  And one night, while going over the records of the early Niagara Germans who had lived in her house one little name mentioned in an obituary almost made me fall out of my chair.  Dated 1914, it was the notice of the death of an old Civil War veteran.  At one time, he had lived in this house.  He died in North Tonawanda.  He was survived by his daughter, Mrs. Fred Plumsteel.  I knew that Plumsteel name quite well for it was Jon F. Popkey’s mother’s maiden name.  Incredibly, this same house, this farm house on the old country road, was the first home in this country for Jon F. Popkey’s family.  The Jon F. Popkey Genealogy Room is our genealogy department at the Lewiston Public Library.  It was founded in 2007, following the tragic death of Lewiston native, Jon F. Popkey, who happened to perish in a terrible and violent car wreck on Upper Mountain Road. 

Still there was one other thing…there was a little Martha, a young child, who had lost her battle with diphtheria back in 1869.  Our lady’s own research revealed that little Martha just may be buried on her property for oddly, she is the only family member without a tombstone at the local cemetery.  Could little Martha be tugging at her feet while she sleeps? 

Could this haunting have its roots in the early German ancestors of the founder of our genealogy room?  Regardless of the root of the hauntings, activities seemed to grow to new levels.    One morning she woke up to find that pictures were hanging on the walls on their side.  Not to mention her bed had begun this routine of dancing about and rousing our lady out of sleep especially after her husband would come to bed—as if awaiting his entrance into the bedroom.  Incredibly, she recently took her bed apart and noticed that the violent movements have actually caused the screws to come undone.   There were pokes in her back and this strange new event (which had actually occurred first on and off back in 2010):  unexplained puddles of water.  She began to notice the puddles of water by the dining room table.  There was no leak and no explanation.  She also mentioned that back in 2010, the walls had leaked, or “cried,” leaving interesting trails and stains, some of which remain.  Again…no explanation.  One night after finding her bedroom oddly smelling of “church,” she found her jewelry box overturned onto the floor.  It had fallen from a shelf—again, there was no explanation and no reason a jewelry box should jump off the ledge of a shelf.   And there were varying odors that concerned her.  The smell of pine and that smell of church, or incense.  There was also a photograph that revealed what she believed to be the hind side of a horned creature—that she snapped from her bed-- along with many other photographs containing bright large orbs of light—fantastically showing up inside and outside the house at adjacent locations. 

We felt it was time to call in the professionals, as my work as researcher was pretty much done. I called upon Niagara Falls Paranormal’s founder and lead investigator, Jimmy Silvaroli.  He has investigated many haunted houses and I inevitably turn my people over to him.  She was hesitant at first, but she had so many questions that I was unable to answer.  An investigation was planned and then called off.  Our lady was most afraid that an investigation might stir up more trouble.  We all met together at the library one evening a few weeks ago in an attempt to formulate a plan of attack.  Investigators  Jimmy Silvaroli, Lisa Civisca, Amy Wall and our lady, sat in the local history room and discussed the situation.   It seems that previous to the paranormal events our lady and her husband had been to some auctions and were in the habit of bringing old items back into their home.    This was when the hauntings began.  The investigators came to the conclusion that it is possible that her haunting is a residual haunting.  In other words, it is not a dangerous haunting.  It is merely a recording of past energy and events.  It can come about from contact with objects—probably the objects that had come from other houses. 

Since our last meeting she has had her house blessed and she is “feeling braver.”  The priest also blessed various objects in order to release any sort of attachment that spirits may have made toward them.  She is still taking pictures and noting the orbs, but she has come to an understanding and has learned how to control what is going on.  I have not seen her lately, but the last email message she left me was simply one line:  the bed did not shake last night. 

It seems that this story may have a happy ending.  Once upon a time there was a woman who was terrified of her house and she learned about its history, fought those creatures of the night bravely with all the knowledge she could muster up, and in the end she lived happily ever after. The end.  Perhaps….

Wednesday
Oct102012

Part One: The Haunted House on Upper Mountain Road

by Michelle Kratts

Don’t let anyone tell you the library is a dull place.  Even a little library, like the Lewiston Public Library, has its stories.  Lots of stories.  Especially about things that go bump in the night.  As the genealogist at the Lewiston Public Library, people come to me for more than just help with finding grandma’s birth certificate.  A great deal of my work involves researching the local houses and establishments in Niagara.  And most of the requests, probably 90%, are for one reason only:  the inhabitants really and truly believe that they are sharing their living space with honest-to-goodness ghosts.  Some are terrified and live in constant fear of nightfall.  Some are amused. 

Over the next few weeks, I will introduce you to some of the “real” haunted houses in the Niagara area.  I have left out the exact addresses and the names of the owners to protect their privacy.  No matter if you are a believer or not, the undeniable truth remains that some people really and truly believe that they have encountered spirits.  Here are their stories…not one of them is make-believe. 

One of the first house histories I worked on was for a man who lived on Upper Mountain Road, in the Town of Lewiston, just west of the Tuscarora Nation.  A construction worker by trade, he was so anxious to make some sense of what was going on that he came directly to the library still in his work clothes and covered in dirt.  Clutching his search (containing that critical documentation needed to find any answers) he took a seat beside me in the local history room and we began the task of unearthing one of the most unusual Lewiston stories I had ever heard.

First of all, he reassured me, he was not a person who normally “believed,” but he just did not know what to make of what was happening around him. He lived in an old farmhouse that had been built around 1824.   His haunting began in the typical fashion with lights and electrical appliances going on and off at whim, strange disembodied voices, and finally actual apparitions.  However, what made him finally take things seriously was something his little grandson said.  He had come to his grandfather and described in great detail a strange event that he insisted had occurred in front of the house.  He pointed and said…”grandpa…don’t you see the lady’s car?…it’s in the ditch…and the man…he is running through the snow to help her…but there’s another car… and the man is hit hard and he’s dead…”

Our house history researcher, of course, didn’t see anything at all and just thought maybe the boy had a wild imagination until….one day he happened to talk with a neighbor.  The neighbor told him the story of a particular car accident, many years before, on a cold winter’s day.  A woman’s car had slid off the road and had gone into a ditch (which had since been filled…however, the grandson described the ditch in detail).  The man who lived in the house (at the time) and his son came running outside to assist the woman.  They attempted to use a trailer to tow the car out of the snow bank.  But the event turned tragic that December night in 1959, as yet another car came careening out of control and plowed into the kindly man and his son.  The man died on the operating table at MemorialHospital that same night.  The son survived.

So it became quite apparent that the story that the little boy revealed was actually a real event that occurred many years before. We have the newspaper accounts to prove every last detail. How could he have known?  The entire event had literally played itself out about fifty years later.  He told me that he was sure there was no other explanation except that these were indeed ghosts reliving a tragic moment.

He seemed content to know that the scene his grandson saw revealed the benevolent last deed of a former home owner.  How could there be anything sinister about a ghost like that?  But there was something more unsettling that he could feel inside the house.  Something that made the hairs on his neck stand out at times.  He was certain there was something else.

And there was something else…It all occurred about 130 years ago.  A little news article happened to find its way to me that told an especially gruesome tale of a man who kept the dead bodies of his wife and son packed away in a room in his house for years and years.  Upon breaking down the lists of property owners, checking censuses, directories and old newspapers, it was apparent that this horrific ordeal actually occurred in a family owned dwelling upon the same lot.  When the bodies were found (in a very bad state of decomposition) they were taken out and quickly buried.  It was said that Mr. X. “had no reason for such conduct” and strangely judgment wasn’t passed.   It was not even implied that he had murdered them.  Actually no one knew for sure how they had died and the Niagara Gazette didn’t really seem too concerned about it back in January of 1880.  Could the spirits of the mother, the son and the estranged husband still wander around the property?  Who knows?

There is still one more peculiarity that I really should mention about the house on Upper Mountain Road.  The same Niagara Gazette article that told of the decomposed bodies also mentioned that the former homeowner built his house around a large elm tree which grew directly through the center of the dwelling.  It must have been quite a sight for the article went on to say that “….it is seldom that a queerer looking thing is seen than a big tree apparently having its roots in a large brick building.”

As far as I know, there is no remnant of the house with the old elm tree growing through the center.  I wish there was a picture of it.  We do know that it was somewhere on the same lot as the house on Upper   Mountain Road.  I haven’t heard back from the gentleman with the most interesting house history.  We enjoyed sharing ghost stories.  I think about him once in awhile and hope that things have settled down…or, at least, that he has found a way to live with the others.