Autobiography, Writing Your Story

Haunted (Family) History

A recent Harris Poll of 2,250 adults surveyed online between November 13 and 18, 2013 indicated that 42% of Americans believe in ghosts. That’s a pretty high number, if you ask me.

Then again, maybe it’s not.

I think we can all agree that the paranormal is a pretty hot topic right now. Heck, tune in to any of a number of television channels and you’ll see what I mean. Programs like Ghost Hunters, Ghost Adventures, Paranormal Home Inspectors, The Dead Files, and Celebrity Ghost Stories are just a few. Some are clearly better than others but all have one thing in common: the ghost story is secondary to the family story. The nice thing about these shows is that it makes talking about the spirit world more acceptable.

Whether you believe in the paranormal or not, I’d bet a nickel that someone in your family does. More importantly, I’m willing to wager an additional nickel that one of those family members has had a first hand experience. My question to you is this: Why not add these stories to your family history? I mean, is it any different then asking what it was like to grow up during the Great Depression or what your father felt when he met your mother?

I think not.

Ghost stories – especially real life ghost stories – add depth and character to your family members. It makes them more real because you are giving additional insight on a subject that probably impacted them in some way. Perhaps it made them a believer or maybe it strengthened their belief in the afterlife (or maybe it simply scared the crap out of them). Stories like these are true gems and should not be omitted. Besides, it doesn’t matter if the reader believes their story. The value is that their ancestor did.

On the other hand, maybe Crazy Uncle Joe really is crazy.

I’ve got two ghost stories that are part of my family history. Interestingly, both have to do with my mother, Judith Ellen (Hinton) Cole.

George Habicht (1883-1950)

George Habicht (1883-1950)

Ruth Habicht Hinton, my mother’s mother, was the daughter of George Frederick Habicht. George was born in Buffalo in 1883 and died in 1950 from a heart attack. He was only 66 years old. My mother was only 11 years old when he died but did relate an interesting story to me about him.

One night, when she and her sister Patricia were already tucked into bed and fast asleep, she suddenly woke up. She didn’t know why until she looked to the rocking chair in the corner. There was her grandfather, George Habicht. She asked, “What are you doing here, grandpa?” or something like that, but he didn’t say a word. She woke up her sister but neither could get him to speak. It didn’t take long before my mother realized that George wasn’t really there (and yet he was…). The next day they learned why: their grandfather had died at the exact time they saw his figure in the chair.

Now to be fair, my aunt Pat once said she didn’t remember any of it. My mother certainly did, that’s for sure.

My second story is more like a ghost-by-proxy story but weird just the same. It all happened when my mother and I travelled to England about 10 years ago.

The church in Borley, England - 2000

The church in Borley, England – 2000

On one of our many day trips, we decided to drive five hours to the small town of Borley. Harry Price made Borley famous in his book The Most Haunted House in England when he reported on the ghostly happenings at the Rectory near the Church. Mom and I knew that the Rectory had burned to the ground in the late 1930s, but we wanted to visit anyway.

We planned our trip by using the highly detailed and highly accurate British maps. They had helped us find nearly two weeks worth of sites – some rather remote and insignificant. We trusted our British maps and were very distraught when they appeared to be wrong. According to our most-excellent-map-book, we knew that to find the church in Borley, we had to exit the motorway, drive across a small stone bridge, and make an immediate left. The town was supposedly down that road about a half mile.


We took the motorway, drove across the small bridge, but could not find the immediate left. Thinking we just missed it, we turned around. Before crossing the stone bridge, we looked to the right: no turn. We crossing the motorway and pulled into a dirt lot. I pulled out the map. “Exit the motorway, drive across a small stone bridge, and make an immediate left.” My directions were good.

For the second time, we crossed the motorway, drove across the small stone bridge, and looked to the left. There was no road and no turn.

Fortunately there was an alternate route so we took it.

We walked around the church cemetery for a while as I challenged the ghosts to appear on film. They never did. About a half hour later, feeling satisfied with our ghost adventure, we decided to leave. Instead of returning the way we came, we opted to continue on to see where our directions were wrong.

We drove up a small hill and past a grove of trees. Within a few minutes we were at a stop sign. We were flabbergasted: to our right was the little stone bridge!

We sat there for a few minutes dumbstruck. We both agreed: there was absolutely no way we could have ended up where we were. The road we were on did not exist an hour earlier!

I still get the chills thinking about it. To this day I firmly believe the ghosts of Borley were messing with us.

Score one for them!



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