Monday, October 29, 2012

American Ghost Stories

As Halloween approaches, it’s the one correct time of the year to tell ghost stories.  Do you have any of your own?  I have a few, and when my brother visited a few weeks ago I thought it odd that he specifically mentioned that one of the things he wanted to do during his visit was hear my ghost stories.  I didn’t ask him who told him I had anything to tell, but I figured it was probably through his son Rick, via cousin Dennis, who used to jokingly ask me to tell him ghost stories…..until one evening I did.  Dennis refuses to sleep overnight in this house, but he will come for dinner. 

I think I have a good psychic sense, though information comes through a certain amount of coffee filters; I’ll leave it at that.  I wish I had more time to devote to calming my mind and tuning in with the Universe, but at the moment I do not. At other times in my past, though, I have definitely had contact with spirits who are still on this plane, and when it happens, there is always a little moment when you say….wait…did I just see that?  Hear that?  Smell that? 

One of my first experiences was rather innocuous.  I was visiting a friend in her historic cottage in Maine for the weekend and we were sitting at the dinner table after a lovely meal.  The cottage had recently been renovated into a lovely open format on the ground floor, the kitchen in plain view from the dining table.  After the meal, I was seated on the far side of the table, facing the kitchen.  The others had their back to the kitchen.  Suddenly in one movement, the cabinet door opened and the trash can came flying out, tipping over on the floor. There was no one in the kitchen let alone at the cupboard.  It was as if someone had kicked the trash can from the inside, it was that forceful, to open the cabinet and eject the can.  The hostess’ father who was the previous occupant had passed…but I have not been back to verify….I just say..hmmmm…..

No one else was facing the kitchen and saw it, but there it was, the trash can on the floor.  I can’t explain it, but I saw it and heard it.  The cabinet in Maine was similar to ours in Laguna; funny how as soon as I focus in on an area for a photo, the dogs are right there……hehe….but you get the idea; the can came flying out~


Several years later, I returned to Laguna and to our family home, which was built in 1923.

When you have known a house your entire life, you know every nook and cranny, you know all the quirks and creaks.  My room is the original master bedroom of the house, at the top of the long staircase.  I know when someone comes up the stairs, and I can tell you who comes up the stair based on their weight.  I know when Mom comes up or down the stairs, and when Dad comes up or down the stairs.  Each step has its own creak, and the sound is different for 120 versus 185 pounds and if you are ascending or descending~


Not long after I came back from New York, a handful of years ago, I started to hear sounds in the night.  Someone was coming up the stairs!!!  My beloved terrier Napoleon, sleeping at the foot of my bed didn’t sense an intruder, but I clearly heard it; my guess was someone about 140 pounds, coming up the stairs in the middle of the night.  I can compare it to someone running their fingers along the piano keys….when you have heard the range of notes, you know each one.  This was unmistakably someone on the stair, coming up not down~


This would happen from time to time, every two or three weeks.  Each time for the first half dozen experiences, I would leap out of bed and turn on the lights and loose the dog….to find an empty stair.  My parents, each time, fast asleep in their beds in the next bedroom around the corner at the top of the stair. 

I am going to guess that this happened on and off for about 8 months.  As a little bit of an insomniac, I can say that I really really heard these sounds.  However, the last time I heard the steps on the stairs, I was awake in bed, and a few moments later I felt someone sit down on the lower left side of my bed.  I am not kidding you, I felt the weight of someone sit on my bed, and I said….”Mom?”  I rolled over and on went the light.  Personne.

Over the same period, though never at the same time, I would from time to time smell a strong perfume at the base of the stairs, and if I sniffed around, it was most strong in the corner, where Dad’s wing chair is now.  I have never smelled this perfume before; it’s not my Grandmother, it’s not my Mom’s.  Strong and floral, but nothing that I recognized.  In the early evening hours, always.  Around 6 or 7pm, right in this corner~


During this same period I was in the middle of some significant research on the house and the original owners.  It was fascinating to me that we knew so little about the original couple who built the house in 1923.  Over a period of about two years, I discovered some truly amazing information about this couple.  It seemed to me that as soon as I solidified the identity of this couple, both of whom also passed in the house, the activity seemed to slow down and then stop.  Our house is the love of Hiel Gilbert Rider, son of a prominent physician from Rochester, New York.  A Cornell-educated lawyer; he was more interested in birds and agriculture than law.  He traveled to Europe with his father when he was a teen to enjoy the classic Grand Tour that eventually influenced the multiple homes he built in Laguna, of which ours was his crown jewel.   He was also somewhat anxious, having “paced back and forth to wear down the carpet in front of a large Chesterfield.”  And maybe up and down the stairs?  I eventually confirmed via a passport application that he was 5”7” tall and of slight build….so I think it was he on the stair….. here is the single photo I have of Hiel Gilbert Rider~    


His bride was Ms. Edna Lee Luttrell Rider.  She came from humble beginnings in Tennessee, but became a classically trained ballerina, dancing with the New York Metropolitan Opera.  In Laguna, they established a large estate and had birds in every room that would sing in unison.  Eventually I made contact with a neighbor, Jane, who had taken ballet and dance lessons (for free, for the local girls) from Mrs. Rider and who provided me with dozens of interesting stories.  Here is Mrs. Rider with her beloved pet Macaw, “Mac” in “Spanish Costume” in our local paper, 1926~


According to Jane, Mrs. Rider’s favorite spot in the house was….tah dah….guess where…at the base of the stairs adjacent to the upright piano which a woman would play during lessons.  The entire room was her ballet studio, now our living room.  And that is precisely where the wing chair now sits~


I have never felt any angst or threat from these sounds or smells or “ghosts” if you will….  I think that the Riders  wanted to be known, to be discovered, to have someone understand them.  Incidentally, they both passed in the house, in my parents’ room, Within three months of each other. 

As the pieces began to fall into place, I felt the presence of the Riders ebb, and I would like to think they felt more ready to move on as they went from being anonymous figures to persons whose backgrounds and motivations were understood.  The story of the house is a much longer one, but I felt that I was finally able to give them credit for what they had built and created, and why….

My French ghost stories are much more dramatic, and I will get to those before Halloween….

p.s. my photos today are all via Instagram, Inkwell black & white for effect…..more on Instagram soon!

My thoughts are with so many friends on the East Coast with Hurricane Sandy… safe……


  1. After reading this, I don't think I would take up an offer to stay with you in Beaunne or Laguna Beach. Gros bisous.

  2. A very good story indeed. Next time we are together I will share my spirit stories. My cousin Tara, we jokingly call her the Voodoo Queen but the girl has mad skills. I will say I think your theory is correct: They just want to be known, understood.

  3. Oh are a good writer...on the edge of my seat. Was that Hiel sitting on your bed?