The thin hairs on my arms bristle, as if teased by the slightest of touches, and I shudder from a chill that caresses my cheek. A translucent image catches my eye, and I gaze at the enigma that envelops me in the room. She grins timidly, and the second it takes me to fathom what I see, she fades into the air from which she came. Only a faint, ambrosial essence lingers in her ghostly wake.
Throughout time, encounters with such spirits have struck fear in people and aroused curiosity of an intangible world. Personal accounts recall luminous figures in dim hallways, a child’s muted giggles in a distant room, or footsteps pacing a wooden floor overhead. Although drafty castles and the eerie stillness of cemeteries fill pages with legendary, haunted descriptions, some of the most unsuspecting places also have a ghost story of their own.
Madrid’s Reina Sofia Museum displays a prized collection of modern art, but the famed gallery hasn’t always received visitors to admire solely the works of Picasso and Dalí. This former 18th-century hospital once housed the sick and dying, the mentally ill and those who succumbed to a torturous death during the Spanish Civil War. As such, brushes with apparitions in the museum occur all too frequently.
During the remodeling that converted this building into a fine arts institute in 1982, workers came across skeletons of the long-departed and shackles that once chained disturbed outcasts of society. They also discovered the mummified remains of three nuns in what was the hospital’s chapel. Though these sisters of charity have a new internment under the museum’s main entrance, some say their spirits continue to roam the building, with the clacking of their heavy, wooden crucifixes echoing off corridor walls.
Cleaning and security staff have reported other bizarre events, such as empty elevators moving up and down after closing hours, doors opening and shutting on their own accord, and specters in period clothing sitting on benches in gallery rooms. After one museum photo shoot, photographer Juan Rada discovered an unexpected image in a picture of Picasso’s el Guernica. While developing in his dark room, he spotted a man’s face staring at him from behind the famous artwork, which hangs mounted to the wall. Curiously, Rada and the one guard on duty were the only two in the gallery during that photo session, or so they had thought.
It’s not unusual to hear of spectral stories that revolve around historical buildings, and The White House is no exception. Though noted for occurrences of former residents of this famous mansion, the spirit of Abraham Lincoln is particularly present.
The first recorded account of his appearance was in the Yellow Oval Room, which used to be Lincoln’s personal library. Grace Coolidge entered this reportedly favorite room one day and spied the sixteenth president gazing out the window. Staff members have also witnessed the same scene throughout the decades.
Visions of Lincoln have appeared to visitors spending the night at the White House as well. While Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands was a guest in 1941, she recalled waking up in the night to a knocking at the bedroom door of the Queen’s Bedroom. When she opened it, she fainted at the sight of the slender ghost of Lincoln standing before her. Later the same year, Winston Churchill glimpsed Lincoln leaning on the fireplace mantel in the room he was staying: the Lincoln Bedroom. After the incident, the prime minister refused to stay there ever again.
Lincoln himself also admitted to a chilling moment he had one night at the presidential residence. Shortly before his death, he told a colleague about a dream he had, in which he heard distant crying downstairs. Lincoln said he left his bedroom and followed the sounds to the East Room. Upon seeing a coffin in the center, he asked one of the mourners who had died, and she replied: “The assassinated president.” Lincoln stepped forward, peered into the casket and saw himself. Reports claim that Lincoln’s spirit is also strong in this very room, for it was here that he laid in state after his assassination.
Not only do ghosts haunt the places they once called home, they sometimes never leave the buildings where they used to work. The prominent sightings of a young man in Vancouver’s Art Deco Vogue Theatre reflect such a case. Encounters with the apparition usually occur in areas frequented by staff members, such as in the projection booth and high up on the catwalks above the stage.
The narrow hallways in the basement of the building exude an ominous aura that leave workers sensing they are far from alone. Bill Allman, the former General Manager of the theater, recounted an experience in which he felt the presence of someone standing behind him. He turned to face the person, but his eyes fell upon “a three-dimensional shadow” moving past the door of the room where he was. When he stepped into the hallway to see who was there, he only stared into empty space. Yet, it wasn’t his first or last encounter with this mysterious ghost.
The spirit of the young man hasn’t always restrained himself to making an appearance when the theater was quiet or not completely staffed. During one evening’s show, Allman was surprised to see performer Shane McPherson unexpectedly fumble his well-rehearsed musical number in front of a full audience. Allman approached him later and asked what had happened on stage. McPherson replied that he had seen a man suddenly appear near the fire exit off to the side of the first row, stand for a moment and then simply fade away. Unaware of previous incidences at the theater, McPherson’s description of the figure’s dark and pronounced features matched those told by others, who had also come face-to-face with the spirit.
Due to the experiences with the ghost in particular areas of the theater, which opened as a cinema and performing arts center on the city’s Theatre Row in 1941, some suspect he must be a former employee and may have died from a work-related accident.
Paranormal events are all too common in locations where a person’s life came to a tragic and violent end. Staff and guests at the quaint Vulcan Hotel in St. Bathans, on New Zealand’s South Island, have experienced the restless spirit of one woman who seems unable to leave the place she once called home.
During St. Bathan’s gold mining days in the 1880s, a prostitute, known as ”the Rose,” rented Room One at the accommodation formerly known as the Ballarat Hotel. One night, the lady of the evening returned with a customer to her room, unaware of the intentions he had in store. The following day, someone discovered the grisly scene of the Rose raped, strangled and robbed. No one ever discovered the assailant, and he likely took his brutal atrocity to his grave.
Despite the Rose’s death over a century ago, hotel employees have seen her ghostly form walk from the dining room and then out the front door, or have shivered from the icy air that often fills Room One. Her translucent face has also appeared looking out he window, and many believe the smoky image of a photographed figure in a shower is that of the Rose herself.
Though spirits don’t usually leave the places they haunt to travel the world, some dearly departed seem to follow loved ones they’ve left behind. Once on a visit to my grandmother’s apartment in Los Angeles when I was nine years old, I woke and caught the gaze of man staring back at me from the center of the bedroom—not too close, but not too far away. I had never seen him before, and I wondered why he was standing watch over me and my younger sister, who was still sound asleep. Yet, there was something about his ethereal presence that didn’t frighten me. Perhaps it was his friendly smile or fatherly appearance.
A sudden sound outside distracted my attention, and I glanced out the window, only to see a group of pigeons cooing and fluttering about. When I looked back, the silvery image of the strange man had disappeared. I leaned forward and peered into the living room, but no one else was up at that early hour.
Later, at the breakfast table, I asked my parents who the man was and where he had gone. My mother replied that there was no one else but us, but I knew what I had seen and was sure it wasn’t a dream. The image of that man is still vivid in my mind, and many years after I brought up that story to my parents again, describing the man with a warm smile, thin, white hair and wearing dated clothing. In the end, they presumed it must have been my grandfather, who died when I was one.
Why some people are more sensitive to such phenomenon than others remains a mystery, for occurrences with the paranormal have long baffled the mind and taunted the senses. Whether these ghosts stories appear as fact to some and fiction to others, these omnipresent spirits never seem to rest.