The apartment was perfect.
Its quaint kitchen cabinets looked original to the North Buffalo house, built in 1905. There was a roomy front porch where we could play “Trivial Pursuit.” My roommates and I, all in our early 20s, loved it.
Only one thing gave us pause. We saw the writing on the wall. In the kitchen, in a corner, a child had written in tiny letters: “This house is haunted. Whooooooooo.”
“It’s nothing,” said the landlord. What the heck, we said. We rented the place.
And then things started to happen.
One night, all the doors in the house flew open at once. One morning, a roommate said she awoke to find a necklace on her dresser had been broken into three pieces. And there was the matter of the creepy oval mirror that came with the house. We hung it over the couch. It gave every visitor the shivers.
“What’s with that mirror?” people would say. Finally we put the mirror up in the attic and left it there, facing the wall.
What to make of all this?
“Your ghost has a name,” my mother said. “And its name is Schlitz.” Meaning, we were partying, and thought we saw things. As years passed, and that phase of my life grew distant, I more or less decided she was right.
But then, just a few weeks ago, I got a message that changed things.
It was a text from the house’s current owner. He had seen online that I used to live there. And he wanted to get my take on strange things he said he was experiencing:
I moved in and thought, “No, it’s your imagination.” But things kept happening. My sister believes in lots of occult things and when I purchased the house she brought a medium over to have a look. (Whatever.) The women said “Bambino lives here.” I had a roll of packing tape literally fly off the couch onto the floor. It scared the hell out of me. It could not have rolled off as the angle of the cushion wouldn’t allow it.
Another time I left the house and came back to find the front door wide open. I thought I had been robbed but nothing was missing and no one was inside. I have restored all the old wood floors and of course they creak and make noise but I swear at night, always around 3 a.m., you can hear walking.
What had pushed him over the edge was that his TV had turned itself on in the middle of the night. When he walked into the living room, it turned itself off.
For the first time in years, I began thinking our old ghost was not named Schlitz after all.
Dramatically put, we are nearing the ancient Feast of All Hallows, when our minds traditionally turn to the people who have gone before us. Forget “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” – Hallows means holy ones, or saints. Halloween is a time to dwell on the world after this one. And to ask an unsettling question:
What do you do if you find your dream home, and then discover there’s, ahem, something there?
A woman we’ll call Margaret faced this dilemma last year, when she moved into a stunning apartment in a grand old Buffalo house. Built on the site of the old Black Rock Cemetery, the house was famously rumored to be haunted.
It didn’t take her long to suspect the rumors were true.
Her things were still in boxes when she awoke one day to find a pair of underwear in the middle of the hall, along with one black sock.
“I said, ‘What’s that on the floor?’ The dog can’t open dresser drawers,” she said.
Next, she said, an unseen hand pushed her down the stairs. She ended up on the floor. Luckily, she was unhurt. But she was shaken.
She conferred with a psychic, who sensed a presence.
“She said it was a woman, and the woman was jealous,” Margaret said.
The spirit was not malicious, she felt. But it was off-putting. A bracelet was suddenly missing its colored stones. The next day, the stones reappeared, sitting on a table with the bracelet encircling them. The ghost, or whatever it was, liked to lock bathroom and bedroom doors from the inside. The landlord grew so frustrated that he had the door locks removed.
The last straw came when Margaret went to do laundry in the basement.
“Lights began flashing and things were zooming through the air,” she said.
Though not a churchgoer, she decided it was time to call a priest. The Rev. Martin X. Moleski, a Canisius College professor and Jesuit priest, agreed to visit, and to bless the house.
He welcomes these requests, he said. The Catholic Church forbids mediums, Ouija boards, séances, or any attempt to conjure up the dead. These things are believed to be gravely dangerous.
“Our impression is ghosts could be work of demons,” Moleski explained. “There’s every reason for demons to pretend to be members of our family, or some notorious person who lived in a place. Supernatural demons are smarter than we are. They never have to eat or rest or sleep. They just know the nature of things automatically. They are knowers. If we have enemies like that, why can’t they fool us? Why wouldn’t they want to fool us about life after life?
“So if someone says to me, ‘I think my house is haunted,’ my response is, ‘Sure, that’s possible. And let’s pray that God will deliver us from evil.’ I’m always, always ready to pray, to ask that, if there is any spiritual force of any kind, to ask God to drive it out, to let people have peace.”
It was a beautiful bright morning when the priest, in traditional black, arrived for the blessing. Joined by Margaret, her sister, and Margaret’s big dog, he went from attic to basement, from room to room, with holy water and blessed salt. He blessed each doorway, staircase and corridor.
The ghost might not be gone. Margaret was in bed one night when, she said, she saw a little girl, with a dark dress, and long hair. “I rolled over and pulled the blankets over my head,” she said.
A landscaper working outside freaked out when he saw, at a window, a little girl looking out at him. “He was terrified,” Margaret said. “He didn’t come back.”
But that was eight months ago, and nothing has happened since. When I visited, Margaret was even relaxed enough to walk me down to the basement. “I hate to tell you, but there are 13 steps,” she said.
I wished it had occurred to me years ago to call a priest to the apartment my roommates and I thought was haunted. I thought of that a few days later, when I walked again into my old apartment.
The place had been updated. Even on an overcast morning, ghosts seemed far away. The house’s present owner, an athletic guy in a baseball cap, wasn’t what the nervous texts had led me to expect.
And yet …
I asked him what happened to the mirror. They found it in the attic, he said. But when they were in the process of moving it, it broke.
Brrrr! I remembered the child’s writing, now long painted over: “This house is haunted.”
It makes me feel for folks who may face that problem, or think they do. So for them, here’s a Halloween blessing. May you be delivered from evil. May you be in that number, when the Hallows go marching in.
And may all your ghosts be named Schlitz.