Cumberland Times-News

Columns

March 15, 2014

You’re by yourself, but not really alone

Whatever it is — or whoever — it has an affinity for doors, stairways and electronic gadgets that act up for no apparent reason.

One of the most common mysteries experienced by ghost hunters who have TV shows involves a door opening or closing by itself.

Before you ask me if I believe in ghosts, I’ll tell you what I tell everyone who asks: I believe in the phenomenon. I just have no idea what causes it, and it might be a variety of things — including some nobody has considered, like a previously unknown, but perfectly natural life-form.

Captain Gary and I were reminiscing the other day about our most recent visit to Gettysburg, when he said the sound of his bathroom door opening and closing woke him several times in the night.

I was in the toilet, minding my own business, when the door was pushed (or pulled) shut by some unseen force. The outside door and windows were closed, so that rules out the wind, and I was the only one present.

We always try to debunk these events. Is there a possible explanation? If so, regardless of how improbable, we accept that and go on. If there is none, we file it as unexplainable.

I don’t say my home is haunted. Nothing happened there while I was growing up to make me believe it was, and my parents never told me about anything spooky happening to them.

There was one exception, and it’s a “maybe.”

Both of my grandmothers lived upstairs in our house — at different times, of course.

After Grandmother Goldsworthy died, we were getting ready to go to her funeral. My parents and everyone else had left. For whatever reason, I was lagging behind and said I would catch up with them. The funeral home was a short walking distance away.

I was 31 at the time, a fully grown man who wasn’t prone to being unsettled.

As I was walking past the stairwell that leads to the upstairs apartment where Grandmother had lived, I heard what sounded like the footsteps of someone walking slowly, but deliberately, down the wooden stairs.

“I love you,” I remember saying, “but I don’t think I’m going to stick around to see what happens next,” and made haste for the door. Today, I might not be in such a hurry.

A possible explanation — and the most likely: It’s an old house. Old houses, like old people, are prone to making odd noises. (You get to the point where standing up and sitting down invariably are accompanied by some type of vocalization.) I still hear those steps creak now and then, but not like they did the day of my grandmother’s funeral.

The entrance to the second-floor stairwell is next to the steps that go down to the cellar.

The cellar entrance is guarded by a closed wooden door — a good idea, because it prevents people from falling down the steps (particularly when it’s Little Jimmy) — and one day when I was walking past it, it rattled briefly, but vigorously, at me.

A random gust of wind sneaking in from somewhere? Possibly. But it’s happened only once.

And I was sitting in what used to be my father’s easy chair watching television on a summer night with the front door wide open nearby and the screen door closed and locked — a practice Dad started the time a wayward drunk walked in on his bridge club.

As I watched, the front door swung slowly closed; gently, but with enough oomph to make the latch on the lock click into place.

That door is right in line with the window that was open in my old bedroom about 30 feet down the hall. To reach the door from that window, any wind would have blown past places where I had papers stacked up. None of them had been disturbed.

A wooden door with a big glass window is heavier than paper and therefore considerably more difficult to move. I just shrugged and said, “OK, I guess I’m supposed to keep it closed,” and thought no more about it.

I did feel the wind blowing through my living room another time, strongly enough to ruffle what’s left of my hair. No windows were open anywhere in the house. Gary and I both have felt the wind in our most definitely haunted motel rooms in Gettysburg.

Such things usually happen only once. I interpret this to mean that while my house isn’t haunted, there are times when I might not be alone.

Some of it, I have a hard time believing — even though I saw it with my own eyes, heard it with my own ears and felt it with my own ... whatever I felt it with. I even have been swatted playfully across the back of my head (I have a suspect; he’s played tricks on my computer). On occasion, because of the timing and circumstances, I had a good idea of who else was there. Here’s one instance:

Hanging on the wall behind my TV is a paint-by-numbers version of The Last Supper. I used to sit quietly and watch, fascinated as only a youngster can be by such things, while Grandfather Goldsworthy was crafting it almost six decades ago.

The History Channel aired a show about a computer graphics guru who used the Shroud of Turin to generate a 3-D image of what Jesus would have looked like if — as many believe — that is His image on the Shroud.

What this fellow produced was an amazingly lifelike representation of a bloodstained, anguished and utterly exhausted face that gave me the chills when I saw it ... chills that grew stronger and went clear through me when I looked up at my Last Supper painting.

From the distance I was viewing them, the face of Jesus on my TV screen was the same face my grandfather had painted so many years ago. The shape of the head and the eyes, hairline, nose, mouth and beard were identical.

Then at about 3 a.m. — the time of night such things usually happen — I saw in the hallway outside my old bedroom, not more than 10 feet away, a man-shaped shadow about the size of my grandfather as I remember him. It was foglike and indistinct, but definitely there.

It lingered, then vanished. Make of that whatever you like. I know what I think. Maybe it was my granddad ... or maybe someone else, someone Grandmother said came to her in my old bedroom the night Granddad died, to tell her he was all right. Someone she recognized, even though she’d never seen Him before.

My father and I talked about that night years later. She was shock when we took her in and put her on my bed, but when she came out, she was — in Dad’s words — transfigured.

To stand and look at Jesus’ face in my grandfather’s painting still gives me a feeling that’s hard to describe. It speaks to me of many things, including what St. Paul told the Corinthians: Love never ends.

******

Just as I finished writing the above, the printer that makes our page proofs quit working. Its display said the door we access to feed paper into it was open ... except that it wasn’t. It was closed as tightly as Scrooge McDuck’s purse.

It’s never done that before.

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