Have You Met Any Spirits Lately?

Halloween is past. That’s the day when spirits of the dead are said to walk the earth, if briefly. But if you ask me, I think they’re around far more than one day.

I’ve been a genealogist for decades (for myself and for hire), and have worked for two of the country’s best family history libraries. But that does not make me a ghost hunter, at least not for other people. Still, since I’ve “known” some of my ancestors for a long time, they’ve become more and more real to me (and incidentally, they provide a lot of story ideas). No, I don’t carry on conversations with them, and I don’t see them sitting in a chair across the room (although I know people who have laid claim to experiences like that, and I don’t question them).

I will say that I stumble over a surprising number of them purely by chance. One of my favorite stories is when I attended a fundraising conference in Boston, and started talking to a woman I’d never met before. Somehow the talk turned to ancestors, and I mentioned that several of mine had lived in Wellesley and Newton, and I knew which houses had been theirs. And when we got down to details, she said she knew the woman who lived in one of them and would I like to see it? Of course I said yes.

Newhall plot view 1

Once when I was wandering around a cemetery I’d never visited, searching for one particular person, I looked up and realized that I was standing in front of a burial plot that contained at least a dozen of my ancestors, from two sides of one family. I had no idea they were there, much less all together, but somehow they called to me.

I attended Wellesley College, but it never occurred to me to visit the local cemeteries. It wasn’t until my tenth reunion that I walked through the nearest one–and found a whole row of my ancestral Pratts waiting there for me. Think that had anything to do with my choice of college?

I could go on, but there are a few episodes that are perhaps the most “supernatural” that I have experienced. Toward the end of his life my father lived south of Lancaster, Pennsylvania. I lived maybe an hour away, in Swarthmore, and I’d take the back roads every few weeks to visit.

One weekend in winter I was headed to his house on a rural road and suddenly I was hit by a heavy (and heady) aroma of flowers. It was mid-winter, and all my car windows were shut. All I could think was that they smelled like funeral flowers. I looked around, and the nearest building was a church, set far back from the road, with a cemetery in front of it. I had to believe that I was smelling a funeral that wasn’t there. I slowed down (there were no other cars around) and inhaled deeply, once, twice. Yes, the scent was still smelling there. But there were no flowers in sight. I can’t begin to explain it, but it was real.

I’ve had only one other similar experience, and that one was more personal. A few years ago I was driving from Massachusetts to visit a friend in New Jersey. An hour short of her house I stopped in Westfield, where my mother was born and she and her family are buried. I’d been driving for four hours, so I stopped at a McDonald’s near the highway to get something to eat. I picked up my bag of fast food inside and went back to the car to eat it. And I was suddenly surrounded by my grandmother’s very distinctive perfume. I’d been in the car for hours and there was nothing in the car that had been hers, but there it was. I smiled, because I had planned to go to visit the family plot where she was buried when I finished my lunch, and I felt like she was welcoming me.

nipped-in-the-bud-3 rotatedReaders: What about you? Have you ever had an encounter you couldn’t explain?

Leave a comment for a chance to win a copy of Nipped in the Bud, the latest Orchard Mystery, released a week ago. It’s set in a house built by an ancestor of mine, and the current owner says several people have seen a ghost (not me, alas–but I did find something in the attic there that I included in a short story before I ever knew about it.)

(Sheila has generously made this giveaway open to commenters from anywhere.)

35 Thoughts

  1. Those smell encounters are amazing, Sheila. I’ve always admired your open attitude to being visited by the unexplainable (what some would call being haunted). A friend was staying overnight in our guest room last year, and she woke up to see a woman in an old-fashioned white gown at the end of her bed. I’m getting goosebumps just typing this! The woman stayed there and didn’t speak. Now I can’t remember if Bonnie went back to sleep or if the woman disappeared. I have never seen the woman in white, but this is an antique house, and I can believe it. Congratulations on the new Orchard book!

  2. My encounters are of the personal nature. After my Father passed, I had several incidents that I could not explain, one of which was going out, on an icy day to get the newspaper from the driveway. I started to fall and I felt someone catch me and put me back upright. Several years later, my Mother passed and twice I have been overcome with the smell of roses which I associate with her.

  3. I’ve had a few little things happen. The most memorable was when my grandfather died, maybe because I was twelve years old at the time. The family had gathered in the living room after the adults had come home from the hospital and were discussing the funeral, etc. Whenever Grandpap came home from anywhere he would always tap his keys on the front window. As everyone talked, all of a sudden there was a distinct tap of keys on the window. Conversation only stopped for a few seconds. We all knew that Grandpap was just telling us he had gone home.

    Every once in awhile I’ll get a whiff of cigarette smoke when I’m thinking about my mother. When she died, one of my aunts (my dad’s sister) said she knew she had passed because Mom she turned around in her kitchen and Mom was standing there. I have another aunt (Mom’s sister) who smells roses before anyone in the family dies.

    Yeah, we’re a weird bunch, lol.

  4. I’ve experienced feeling that there are others around me when I’m by myself. Sometimes it is eerie & other times it is comforting.

  5. About two weeks after my dad died, I was home and driving down a very open and lonely stretch of road, one that had very few drivers on it ever. I happened to look in the rear view mirror and saw a car approaching in the distance. As the car got closer, I thought how it looked so much like the one my dad had. The car finally was next to mine, and when I glanced over at it, my dad was looking at me, smiling, and did a small wave at me and then headed on down the road. I slowed down, pulled over to the side and watched as this car drove on and slowly disappeared.

  6. One that happened just last year dealt with finding some old paperwork. We had always loved the Ozark Mountains and traveled here as often as we could for short visits. When all reason and obligations to remain where we were didn’t exist any longer, we decided to sell out and move lock stock and barrel to the place we loved. Not only were we moving but we were greatly downsizing. That meant going through and deciding what went and had to go.

    Having inherited both parents and grandparent’s “things”, it because a pretty large task in sorting through things including a lot of paperwork. While sitting at my desk, sorting through some of that mound of paperwork, I found some papers and a very old newspaper clipping. Imagine my shock when I read that my grand, grand lived and was buried in Izard County, Arkansas – all new information to me. We moved to Stone County and Izard County is just a few miles from where we lived. BUT back at that time Izard County contained Stone County which only split into two counties years later.

    The property we bought came with a lot of historical paperwork. Which told of the original homesteader who got the property at about the same time as my relative lived in this area. In fact, he is buried less than a mile from our new home. It was fun to imagine that this homesteader and my relatives knew each other or that they met up in town on the farmer’s run to town on Saturday.

    Finding all this information made me wonder – were we taking a new adventure or had we been drawn to return to my families roots! It’s just another reason to make this place we love, the place we now call home, extra special to me.
    2clowns at arkansas dot net

  7. Your family’s from Westfield! My great-grandfather Harris owned a cigar factory there, and raised a family of eight children. Only three of them had offspring, so we’re probably not intermarried, but you and I are ancestral neighbors!
    None of my Harris forebears have ever appeared to me, but my mother’s stories of great-grandmother Harris are my earliest anchor in time. No doubt our genealogy is a major factor in our sense of our place in the world.

  8. I’ve never had any kind of experience that couldn’t be explained happen to me, but I don’t mind reading a story that has an unexplained event happening in it. Renee

  9. Often when I am feeling a little sad I will walk into my bedroom and smell my mothers perfume. Neither my husband or I wear perfume so it is always a blessing and it reminds me that she is still watching over me.

  10. Visits from my late father in my dreams are beautiful reminders of what I believe, which is that our spirits live (and love) on! I am studying mediumship, and I am amazed by/grateful for the experiences I’ve had. For me it’s really about the enduring power of love.
    How fascinating that you’re a genealogist! And the cover of Nipped in the Bud is beautiful, by the way!

  11. I haven’t had any of those experiences but my younger cousin Jeff and I have been working on our family genealogy for a few years. I’m planning a visit to one local cemetery where my maternal Grandfather, Grandmother and an Uncle are buried (funny thing, it’s only about 200 yards away from where the Lubavitcher Rabbi is interred). I want to photograph all the stones so that our descendants will not only know who they are but the Hebrew date of death so they can honor their Yahrtzeit and say Kaddish for them.

  12. When I traveled to Peru regularly, I frequently had spiritual experiences that I can’t explain. Way too many things happened to be coincidental. And when I go to San Xavier Mission in Tucson, I can always feel my daddy walking next to me even though he died 45 years ago. He lived there MANY years before I born, but it was a special place for him, and is now for me.

  13. The house we live in Colorado is supposedly haunted by one of the deceased tenants. I didn’t give it much thought until last summer, which was very hot. I was sitting in our den typing on my laptop (no A/C), and I was suddenly surrounded by freezing air — it gave me goosebumps. My husband was across the room and didn’t feel it at all. Then, every once in a while, I’ll find open cabinets that I know I did not open. Poltergeist or old house? The old house can explain the cabinets, but the cold air thing was a bit eerie ~

  14. Great question! I am a non-believer in just about everything. If I can’t touch it, smell it, see it, hear it, it’s not real. And yet, one night when I was alone in a house in rural Virginia, I woke up to see a woman across the room, going through my possessions on the dresser. A moment later, she was at the bedside and ran her hand on my arm. It was not at all scary–was comforting actually–and 100% real in my mind. Strange but true.

  15. I have had “visits” from family members who have passed – ceiling fans turning on and off, TV’s turning on and off and mysteriously changing channels and I have also had instances where I swear I could smell my mom or grandma’s perfume. Oddly – I find all of these events comforting.

  16. I lived in a old house that really did have ghosts, thankfully friendly. I am not the only one that was at least one that was a cat who interacted with both my Dad and me, and yes we Did see it, also heard it many times and it even climbed in bed with my Dad. True Story

  17. It’s not supernatural but since I live in my childhood home, I sometimes have flashbacks to the way the rooms were or see old furniture that has been gone for 30, 40, or 50 years. Just kind of a “whoa” moment.

  18. I’ve had a few encounters. One of the most profound was when I was sitting on a bed and the bed dipped down into a distinctly human shape next to me like someone laid down. It lasted a few moments, then the bed went back to normal.

  19. I’ve never had an experience, however, I was with a friend who experienced something. We were at the ruin of a historical church in Ireland. Everything was fine & then suddenly she said “We have to leave now.” After we left she just said that she got this weird feeling/urging that we shouldn’t be there.

  20. I’m driving the car my Dad had when he passed away and once in awhile the interior lights will flicker . I feel like my Dad is with me and telling me everything is ok.

  21. I’ve not really had any that I can recall – except that in recent months, since mourning the loss of one of our cats who always slept around my head, sometimes I can feel faint impressions of a cat jumping on the bed and padding across it. No comfort of him wrapping around my head, but simply jumping on the bed. His weight was low for the last several months, definitely not the weight of my other cats. Yes, I really do miss him!

  22. Yes! I had a sound, smell AND touch encounter with a spirit at a motel in Wyoming, a few years ago.

    I asked the ghost to please go away so I could sleep, and he did. (No woman would smell that way!)

  23. I’ve never had an experience that I can remember, though when I had kids I’d always hope my mother (who died before they were born) would stop laughing long enough to give me a hint or two.

  24. After my husband died, I felt that he was there helping me though the situation many times. It was also the first time that I felt very calm and secure on the golf course and didn’t panic at any hard shots. I had one of the best rounds ever and felt that the hubby had been guiding me with his superior golfing ability.

  25. I’ve felt my grandmother near particularly once as I was teaching nursery children at church some songs. A special song she sang to me once about God came to my mind as I was singing to these children. She was the only person I’ve heard sing it besides my mom who I begged to teach it to me as a child. I know our loved ones are close and God wants us to feel that comfort as we’re open to it.

    My parents are also genealogists for our own ancestral names. It was fun growing up listening to stories about our great, great grandparents and further back.

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