Dictionary.com defines haunted objects as items to disturb or distress; cause to have anxiety, trouble; worry, etc. Movies like Annabelle perpetuate public fascination with haunted objects. And as someone enthralled in the paranormal, I started out on my own journey to find out as much as I could about this.
A couple months ago, I sat down with a woman who removes haunted or "troubled" objects and artifacts from homes. These are the type of objects we read about or see in scary movies (like that damn doll), and when I was introduced to "Denise" about a year ago, I had been dying to ask her every single possible question.
She calls herself a cleaner, and in the past nearly 2 decades, she's cleaned or removed around 30 objects from homes in the Midwest.
In exchange for an interview, I've agreed to keep her identity anonymous, as well as the folks she mentions. Below is part of one of our meetings. For the sake of privacy, her name during the interview is "Denise."
E.M.: So, my first question is pretty common, I'm sure. What made you venture into this?
Denise: There were a lot of factors that brought me into this. When I was in my 20s, I joined several regional paranormal research groups. Some did investigations in homes. Others just did general historical stuff--like spending the weekend in a library and finding out everything possible about previous owners of homes or land. I liked all of that, but collecting haunted artifacts...or more correctly, securing them, was a whole different thing. And it's not something that's advertised necessarily, even in paranormal groups. But I had the question, which was: what do we do when an object is terrifying someone?
E.M.: And the answer?
Denise: It varied by case, as I quickly found out.
E.M.: Can you be more specific?
Denise: Well, some items have to be destroyed. That usually means getting a clergyman or medicine man involved. Other items just need to be relocated, which can be as simple as a cemetery where the body of the person haunting the object lies, or as complicated as a secluded or confined area where no other person can get to the object.
E.M.: Wow. So, Hollywood isn't always that far off?
Denise: It's usually much less dramatic than what we see in movies, actually.
E.M.: Do you have a specific encounter you can share?
Denise: I've got lots! But one I'll share, only because I have permission from the homeowner, happened about a decade ago. I had just gotten married. My son was 10, and my stepson was 8, so we were a blended family, but it was really smooth and lovely. I mean, life was truly, truly good. And sometimes I think we're put in these super-high situations so we can help people who are in rough spots. On this occasion, I got a call about a mother who had moved into her great aunt's house. It was a giant Victorian home that hadn't been occupied in several years.
E.M.: It already sounds like a movie...
Denise: Right? Except I think it's pretty common for houses and land to be recycled within families, but movies always dramatize it.
E.M.: Old houses are a lot of work, too--especially if no one's been living in them.
Denise: Oh, God. I can't imagine. Original furniture was still inside the home, all of which was put into a storage shed on the property. The only item that was kept was an old music box.
E.M.: A music box?! I already hate this story!
Denise: (*laughs*) Well, this woman--I'll call her Irene--began to hear this music box playing in the middle of the night. At first, she thought one of her kids was pranking her. She had 3 girls--and they ranged in age from 12 to 3, and I would have been suspicious of my own kids.
E.M.: So what did she do?
Denise: Well, she's actually a pretty smart lady. The music box had been sitting out in the hallway on an end table, so she put it in her bedroom thinking that she'd catch one of her kids in the act. The plan kind of backfired on her.
E.M.: How so?
Denise: She'd leave the room and be halfway down the hall; then suddenly, she'd hear it playing.
E.M.: Oh no.
Denise: So she'd walk back to her bedroom...and nothing. Total silence. It became so frightening and frustrating that she finally took the music box out of the hall and put it into her bedroom closet. But the moment she closed the closet door and started to walk away, the darn thing started to play!
Denise: Several similar incidents later, and I get a phone call.
E.M.: So when you get summoned for these situations, what do you do? Do you just pick up the item and dump it?
Denise: Oh, no. First, I have a sit down with the family, along with the investigating team. It's vital to make sure #1, there's only one object causing the problem, and #2, it's even a paranormal situation. There are certainly occasions (with electronics) that simply have a malfunction...and they are conveniently going off in the middle of the night, scaring the pants off everyone nearby. Those cases are wonderful to be able to debunk and file away. It's the other cases--the ones we can't debunk--that have to be handled differently.
E.M.: And in this case, can you walk me through what happened once you became involved?
Denise: I entered the house, a big beautiful house, and immediately met Irene and her husband. They seemed very centered and calm. How people decorate their home says a lot about them. Irene's house was covered with pictures of her children, pictures of her wedding day, and all of the furniture was very warm, very comfy. The decor was classic Americana. I mean, certainly you can't judge every book by its cover, but some homes are dramatic the moment you enter them. Some homes are so cluttered with artwork and furniture that you're tired almost instantly. And some homes just have a naturally warm feel to them. Irene's home was the latter.
E.M.: So, probably not the type of family to overreact or imagine something that's not there.
Denise: It's always possible, but in that specific environment, I thought it unlikely. Also, Irene's husband was bouncing back and forth from embarrassment to nervousness, and even a little anger. But men often take these things harder than women (*laughs*).
E.M.: I noticed that as a ghost hunter, women typically noticed things happening first.
Denise: Especially if they are mothers. Chock it up to whatever you want, but I firmly believe that women are just grounded biologically into the earth harder than men. We bear children, we hear and know everything about our babies when they are small, and our homes should be safe havens. The instant something is off, a woman will pick up on it. It's not that men are oblivious to it, but I think it's a role situation. Men naturally want to fix anything and everything tangible, but when the problem isn't something they can hammer and nail, it's another situation. When my son was born, anything would wake me up. Half a chirp from a cricket, and my head was off the pillow. My guard was up. By proxy, men have a way of being more logical. When I hear a bump in the night now, my guard is still up, and I'm rattling in my mind everything from murderers to my kids tearing up the kitchen. My husband will roll over and say 'squirrel,' or 'wind,' but it was only after learning each other's habits that he started to tune in on things that were keeping me up. That's the great thing about men. They have the uncanny ability to tune out what they don't want to be bothered with. Someday I'll learn to do that. Or not.
E.M.: So, Irene's motherly instinct brought this to life first. When did her husband get on board?
Denise: When he had his own experience. And his was a doozy.
E.M.: Do I need to get the security blanket?
Denise: (laughs) Well, he was home alone and decided to take a shower. He started the water, walked back down the hall to grab something, and as he walked back to the bathroom, he noticed the top of the music box was open. So he closed it, stepped into the shower, and carried on. Suddenly, he heard the music box playing. He ignored it, finished his shower, and as soon as he turned the water off, the music stopped. At this point, he thinks he's hearing something, leaves the bathroom, and discovers the music box open again.
E.M.: Uh oh.
Denise: Exactly. So he closes the box, puts a book on top of it, and walks slowly to his bedroom. When his back is turned, he hears music again. He turns around, and the book to the side of the music box, and the top is open again. So now he's got a problem. Either someone is in the house (silently) playing a joke on him, or all of Irene's stories are suddenly making sense.
E.M.: Which brings you to the house...
Denise: The music box wasn't anything extravagant. It was about 5 inches tall, 4 inches across...small, forgettable. It had white paint that was really worn and faded, and the inside of the top was shaped like a tiny carousel. I mean, I've seen a dozen or more of these at garage sales. They're old pieces, but very mundane and unexciting. Yet, something was happening. I needed to know who specifically owned the music box. And Irene confirmed quickly that it had belonged to the great aunt.
E.M.: So what's your next step?
Denise: I ask questions about the great aunt. What kind of life did she have? What kind of person was she? Who else lived in the house? Did anyone die in the house? The list goes on until I have enough info to start researching.
E.M.: When do you take the object out of the house?
Denise: It depends on the case. In this instance, I removed it from the house that first day and took it to the hotel with me. I then went to the library the next day to figure out what had happened on the property, if anything, and how it could correlate to the case.
Denise: The property didn't appear to have anything violent or infamous occur, but the great aunt was another story. She spent her early 20s in a mental hospital before her mother (Irene's great-great aunt) brought her back to the family home (now Irene's home). There's not a lot of detail as to what happened to this woman, but the librarian said there was a rumor that this woman was chasing after a married man, who rebuffed her, after which she suffered some kind of mental breakdown. There was an allegation that she tried to kill the man's wife, but no charges were ever pressed. The event, allegedly, took place inside the house.
E.M.: So the question becomes...is the great aunt somehow attached to the property, or to the music box? Or is it not even the great aunt?
Denise: So often, I walk away with more questions than answers. The great aunt had been the only person inside the home for two decades before she passed away. The music box--her music box--was the only item that had been disturbing the family. After 2 days out of the house, the family reported they had not experienced anything paranormal. I had had the music box looked at to make sure it didn't have any defects or had been tampered with. After it got a clean bill of health, I took it back to the hotel, but didn't experience anything while it was in my possession. So as a final experiment, I returned the music box to the home and spent the day/night with the family.
E.M.: Your theory?
Denise: It's always wise to rule out every possibility. When I remove an object and the activity stops (both for the location and for the object), then I need to make sure this wasn't an isolated incident where maybe a family member exaggerates or misreads something. Fear can rub off on others, so I wanted to rule out that Irene's belief that the music box was haunted hadn't manufactured an experience with her husband and family.
E.M.: The result?
Denise: Twice in the middle of the night, that darn thing started playing music. The first time, I sat my recorder down. A few more seconds of music played, then it stopped. I turned the music box over again to look it over and make sure it hadn't been wound up/tampered with. Everything appeared normal. I sat it back down and walked away, closing the room off. And not 5 minutes later it started playing again. As soon as someone walked back into the room, it stopped. I did, thankfully, capture the music on my recorder that second time. After that, I took the box out of the house for good.
E.M.: And where is the music box now?
Denise: Irene's aunt was a devout Lutheran. I had a pastor perform a prayer on the music box. Even though I hadn't experienced anything, I like to do everything possible to "clean" the object before putting it into storage.
E.M.: So, you have a storage facility in your home for these items?
Denise: I share a unit with another cleaner. The items we store have to fall under a specific criteria (i.e. not malicious or dangerous), and the unit is closed to the public.
E.M.: And then the case is closed?
Denise: I keep in touch with families I meet with. In ten years, Irene's family hasn't experienced anything else, and they've remained in a good place as far as their home goes. That's everything. Your home should be your haven, not something you're afraid of.
E.M.: I hope most of your cases have happy endings.
Denise: Well, like I said, they vary from case to case. Unfortunately, they don't always end like this. There have been occasions where things have escalated in a very dark way. But that's a whole other kind of nightmare.
Coming soon: Pt 2