JANUARY :: We share more of our favourite haunted locations, further frightening experiences, and some possible fascinating evidence of the paranormal.

Thursday, 29 May 2014

Cotswold Manor :: A Ghost Story

Every time I pass by, I wonder.
I notice the SOLD sticker plastered across the For Sale sign, and the new car sitting in the gravel driveway. Have they started a garden? Have they found his secret?

I wonder at the nature of such things. Are they forever bound to a place or are they free to wander? I have read that they can attach themselves to people; follow them home. And I wonder if this has anything to do with recent…

NO! They must be bound to a place! They must.
Cotswold Manor stands solemnly at the end of a deserted road in the Mountains. The property is located at the edge of a valley, and from the sitting room  there is a glimpse of the City, far off near the horizon. The Australian bush encroaches on all sides, the gum trees creating a skeletal shell around the property, casting shadowy spider webs on its walls.

The house is large. Through the front door there is a large wood-panelled cloakroom. After discarding any coats or dirty shoes, you walkthrough into a vast hallway that runs from the left to the right. On the left there is the bathroom and then the kitchen. To the right the hall branches off into two rooms: A formal lounge and a small bedroom, which then leads into the master.

Adjoining the formal lounge is a large glassed sunroom overlooking the valley. The third bedroom, which I had chosen as mine, has a beautiful little alcove with a writer’s desk, and more stunning views of the valley. It also has a curious servant’s door leading back into the kitchen. I never felt quite comfortable having that odd little door in the room... Then, upstairs there is an attic forever kept locked, inaccessible to guests.
The house gave and left a dark impression. I recall how imposing it seemed on that first visit - that even though it was the middle of summer, the sun didn’t seem to penetrate into its darkness; couldn't push it away. But I was young, and na├»ve, and so shrugged the feeling away. After all, it may have just needed some love and light, or a cool fresh breeze to air it out.

On that first visit, the night passed without incident, aside from the frustratingly insistent tick! tick! tick! of a grandfather clock that couldn't be found. (One assumed it resided in the attic). 

The following day, together with my two younger brothers, I ventured off in search of something to keep us quietly entertained. As we made our way down the side of the house, we discovered (to our absolute delight!) an old swing hanging from one of the large gum trees within the grounds of the property. The light on this particular side of the house was poor and as excited and amused as we were, there remained a constant need to look over our shoulders. We simply couldn't shake the sensation that something, or someone, was watching us from the shadows, waiting for their moment to pounce.
It was at this time that I thought I saw a disturbance in the light shining down through the trees. A flash of white, a glimpse of lace, the slender movements of a woman.  
I look again, but nothing. It must have been a trick of the eyes.

Later that evening, things became even more unusual. The darkness seemed to take on a life of its own, circling, enveloping, suffocating. Walking down the immense hallway to the bathroom was like trudging through quick sand. And did I really see a man standing there at the other end?
Impossible. I squint and look harder and am certain I can see the dark shape of a man standing at the end of the hallway, a shadow within the shadows.
I look again and no, there is no shadow. It must have been the darkness, a trick of the light. It must!
I return to my room, snuggle down into the bed, safe under the covers. I read a little of a book, my brother beside me playing his Nintendo. Suddenly, he stops his game and looks at me, startled. There is a noise coming from the windowed alcove in our room that overlooks the valley below.
We had both heard it: The unmistakable sound of scratch, scratch, scratching.
“What was that?” My brother's eyes wide as he searches mine for some kind of explanation.
“Perhaps the wind is blowing leaves against the window?” I offered, but it sounds ridiculous even to my ears, as there are no trees near the window, and there wasn't the sound of any wind outside. But my brother, young and foolish, accepts it without further question and promptly returns back to his video game.
That night I slept poorly, haunted by the image of a woman in white flitting between shadowy trees, and the faceless man who had come to scratch at my bedroom window.
When we left the next day, our weekend of family fun too quickly at an end, my father said to the property's managing agent as he handed back the keys, "That clock in the attic is a bit of a nuisance. Kept us awake most of the first night!"
The agent seemed puzzled. "What clock?" He asked. "The attic is empty."
* * *
Ten years later and I'm at dinner with friends  when the conversation turns to planning a weekend stay together, somewhere in the Mountains.
Someone suggests Cotswold Manor, and I catch my breath at the mentioning of it.

“Did you know that place is for sale?” Another friend pipes up. "I know the agent. The place has been listed for years; just can't seem to sell it. The owners even dropped the price - twice!"

He went on, “It’s rumoured to be haunted, you know".
“Oh, really?” I reply, my curiousity well and truly piqued. "Do you know the history of the place?"
“Well," says my friend, leaning in. "Back in the early 1900’s, the place was owned by a young, wealthy couple. They seemed perfectly normal and happy - that is, until the wife was found dead one day by one of the servants. Turns out she'd been murdered. Someone had slit her throat. But no murder weapon was ever found, and no one was convicted for the crime. Although, the general consensus was that the husband did it".

Another friend jabbed him in the ribs. “Oh, come on! You don’t believe it’s actually haunted do you?”
He started fidgeting with the corner of his napkin. “Well, the agent seems to think there's something strange about the place. It's the house - when you’re alone, you’re not alone. The agent has said to me that on a number of occasions, he could have sworn there was someone approaching, or standing right behind him. But then, when he's  turned to shake their hand - nothing. No one there."
He shrugged and looked down into his glass of wine, whilst the rest of us just looked at one another, silently stunned. We soon finished our wine and called it a night.
Perhaps it was the mention of the place that saw me wake later that night from the most terrifying nightmare. I had been dreaming that I was observing a man dressed in black suit pants and a white shirt, with a smart tie and waist coat. He was crouched down, bent over as he vigorously washed something in a metal bowl, his sleeves rolled up to the elbow.
The dream had left me with a disturbing feeling that something wasn't quite right, and soon after it began to repeat itself, each time with the same man, crouched down, sleeves rolled up, washing something. With each dream my view of the man became clearer as I seemed to move closer, until I was close enough that I could see that he was rinsing an old barber’s razor covered in blood, the stained water dribbling down his arms and soaking into his sleeves.
On the last occasion that the dream came to me, I watched as the man carefully folded up the razor and placed it into the smallest of gaps between the house and the garden.
Clever, I thought, as it dawned on me what a good hiding spot it was. No one would ever know about it there.
The man in my dream raised his head and turned, seeming to look directly at me. Could he see me? How was that even possible? I am dreaming!
As his gaze bore into mine I thought, I must wake up. Wake up!
It was the last temptation. Curiousity had finally got the better of me, and I immediately started researching the history of the property, the location, and the people. Old newspaper articles and the local historical society allowed me to piece together some of the history of Cotswold Manor, including the suspicious death of one Mrs Stephenson.
Mr Stephenson was an prominent engineer and local politician, and had built the cottage as a demonstration of his wealth and power. The gruesome death of his wife, who (as my friend had claimed) was found by one of their servants with her throat slit, followed a series of scandalous accusations about Mr Stephenson’s extra-marital dalliances, which had spread like wildfire through the small community. It was rumoured that Mrs Stephenson had threatened her husband with divorce prior to winding up dead.
It seemed the rumours of Cotswold Manor's dark history were true, and I wondered, had I somehow managed to see something  that had long been forgotten? Mrs Stephenson in her white lace dress as she moved through the trees? The imposing dark shadow of Mr Stephenson at the end of the hallway? A murderer cleaning and disposing of his murder weapon once the deed was done?
Since that day I’ve wondered about such things. About what keeps us here long after everyone else has gone. Is it the place that binds us? Or are we free to wander, beyond death, for all eternity?
I roll over. Again. Unable to sleep, unable to rest. A slight movement to my left.
A flash of metal...

No! It can't be...
Note: This is a work of fiction. Whilst portions  of the story are based on my own personal experiences, the location has been changed to protect the privacy of the people who own it. The "history" and the "murder" are  inventions, conjured purely for entertainment purposes.

Sunday, 11 May 2014

Beyond Stone Tape :: Re-evaluating the theories behind Residual Hauntings

© Ghost & Girl

"We have to postulate that some very emotional scene has somehow become registered on the environment, almost like a sort of psychic video has been created. Someone who comes along who is sensitive enough acts as a sort of psychic video player and will actually play that “tape” and see the figures or perhaps even hear the voices." - Archie Roy, 'Roman Centurian Pining for Princess' in Malcolm Day, Ghosts (Amazing & Extraordinary Facts) , 2011

There's a general consensus within the paranormal community that hauntings can be separated into two overarching categories.
On one hand, there are the intelligent hauntings, considered the least common of the two and which tend to involve a certain degree of interaction, recognition and communication on the part of the "ghost" with its living counterparts.

On the other there is the more common haunting: The residual. Residual hauntings are believed to be non-spirit hauntings. That is, no ghost or spirit is responsible for the haunting per se, but rather, they come about as a result of an embedded memory or event being repeated via some kind of ethereal loop.
Residual hauntings are so common, it would seem, that the reasoning for their occurrence (and re-occurrence) is fairly well undisputed - and therefore, not investigated. Residual hauntings are said to be caused by the remnants of past events and/or memories, the energy from which having somehow been absorbed by the surroundings and then, when the conditions are right, released and replayed in the present.

It's not a new hypothesis. In fact, the idea that inanimate objects can absorb psychic energy or impressions goes as far back as the 19th Century, and to the early days of the Society for Psychical Research. Its founding member, Sir William Barrett, claimed that "some kind of local imprint, on material structures or places, has been left by some past events...[A]n echo or phantom of these events becoming perceptible to those now living".
The idea of a "local imprint" of a past event is commonly used today by paranormal investigators to explain the so-called residual haunting. It is also the principle idea behind what has become known as the Stone Tape Theory, wherein a location effectively "records" an event and then replays it inside the heads of certain, sensitive individuals. The theory itself is based on Nigel Kneale's work of fiction, The Stone Tape, a play that was adapted by the BBC in 1972.

It seems to be that most paranormal researchers and investigators refer to residual hauntings and the Stone Tape Theory interchangeably, with the latter quite often used as an explanation for the existence of the former. It would appear that Stone Tape has become accepted as a plausible conclusion, even though the theory itself remains entirely untested.
So, is there a scientific basis to the Stone Tape Theory?

The Law of Conservation of Energy stipulates that energy cannot be created nor destroyed; it can only be transferred, and it can only transfer from one type of energy to another; for example, from chemical energy to kinetic energy. But the energy in use here is physical energy, whilst residual hauntings and the Stone Tape Theory revolve around a concept of psychic or emotional energy, which isn't so neatly defined by the laws of science. For the theory to work, psychic energy would need to be transferred from a person to a location or object.
The problem with the unchallenged use of the Stone Tape Theory by paranormal investigators and researchers as an explanation for residual hauntings is that it creates an acceptance around a theory that is currently untestable. In particular:
  • The existence of psychic and/or emotional energy and how they actually work is unknown. Therefore, the means by which it can be transferred from person to place is also unknown.
  • What factors need to be present in a particular location for it to be able to "record" or store an impression of an event or memory is also open to debate. As the name Stone Tape suggests, is may be the presence of certain types of stone, whilst others suggest that metals, electro-magnetic fields, or water vapour may also be necessary factors. However, there is currently no way in which to investigate how an event or memory may be captured and stored, and then later released by using these (or other) elements.
  • Exactly what is required for an event or memory to be released or "replayed" as either auditory or visual phenomena, or both, is unknown. The elusive, random nature of residual hauntings means that capturing evidence through repeated experiments is practically impossible.
  • And finally, why is it that some people experience this phenomena whilst others do not? What qualities must a person possess in order to see the stored event when it is released? As there is no understanding of how an event, location and individual interact in order to create the residual haunt phenomena, there is no way to successfully investigate, and therefore categorically prove (or disprove) the theory.
Whilst there are hints of some kind of scientific basis to certain theories behind residual hauntings, as things currently stand, the Stone Tape Theory is not one of them. It has no "testable" parameters, making its validity as an explanation for the phenomena highly questionable. There's nothing that annoys me more than a paranormal investigator claiming that paranormal phenomena is "residual" and therefore "nothing to worry about". Without undertaking the research required to prove the theory, should its use within paranormal circles continue to be acceptable?

Note: Depending on whether one identifies as a "spiritual" or "scientific" paranormal investigator tends to determine how one understands, and therefore applies, the theories behind residual hauntings. Here are some prime examples:

What is a Residual Haunting?
Four basic types of haunting or Ghost
Stone Tape Theory
The Stone Tape Theory: Principles & Possibilities
Stone Tape Theory: An Exploration
Parascience: Some Musings on things Paranormal
Possible Explanation for some Residual Hauntings