Haunted Houses

Corinne Botz is a Brooklyn-based artist who investigates the perception of space and our emotional connections to architecture and objects. Among other things, she has explored miniature models displaying crime scenes, agoraphobia, and objects used in murders. Her photographs have been internationally exhibited, including in solo exhibitions at Bellwether Gallery in New York City; Hemphill Fine Arts in Washington DC, and RedLine Gallery in Denver, Colorado. She is the author of Haunted Houses (Monacelli Press, 2010) and The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death(Monacelli Press, 2004).
Old Bermuda Inn
Staten Island, New York

“Martha and her husband lived in this mansion in 1863. Martha’s husband was off in the Civil War for two years, and he did not come back. She was very upset; she had no friends or family. They found her in the bedroom closet. They said she died of a broken heart — very pretty girl, they said, very sad story.

Staff members have seen her floating around her house that we use as a restaurant now. Sometimes Martha gets mad. Staff members say that she burned a painting of herself that hangs in the restaurant area. When we shut the lights off the chandelier, one light flickers and never goes off. Mike, my manager, happened to be upstairs in the bedroom looking for something and he jerked because she went right through him.”

Private Residence,
Cumberland, Kentucky

“When my in-laws were still alive and living in this house, my father-in-law said that when his wife was at work, the ghost of his mother-in-law would start messing with him. My husband and his brother had a toy robot. My father-in-law said that the robot went off by itself. He didn’t get along with his mother-in-law at all, so he told the robot if she stayed upstairs, he would stay downstairs. She did, but he was always worried she would come down.

One evening, I was asleep on the couch and I felt somebody sit next to me. My husband was very ill and could not even walk at the time. I didn’t open my eyes. I lay there like a stiff board, afraid, hoping they would go away.

My husband and I were asleep in bed again, and we were awoken by the sound of music playing upstairs. We were the only people in the house. It was calm, soothing, meditation music. I heard a glass break, and when I came out of my bedroom door I saw the broken sconce on the wall. The candle had lit on its own in the middle of the night, and it had burned so long that it broke the glass.

We have a Christmas carousel that belonged to my mother-in-law. It was arranged on the table by our front door, and it wasn’t plugged in. We were sitting in the living room watching TV, and it started playing. It played three times and then it stopped, and then it started playing again three times and then stopped. My mother-in-law bought a Barbie car for my daughter about ve years ago. It was a remote-control car, but she never had the remote control, and she didn’t have batteries in it. One day her car just started driving all over the place, the headlights lit up and everything. It’s done that two or three times.

When my husband was sick in the hospital, he was lying in bed and the ghost of his mom was sitting at the foot of the bed. She was talking to him and he was talking back to her, and they were laughing. But when she was talking, he couldn’t hear anything she said, he could just read her lips. I asked him what she looked like, and he said that she was young and was wearing a white gown. I later found a graduation picture of his mother and he said that the dress was identical to the one she wore in the hospital.

I had a similar experience. I don’t know if it was a dream or reality. I know I was asleep. My mother-in-law was standing by the foot of the steps, and she was talking to me but I couldn’t hear her, I could only read her lips. There was a baby asleep on the sofa, a little boy, lying in his diaper. I can’t have any more kids, and my mother-in-law always wanted my husband and me to have a baby of our own. She didn’t have any grandsons so she wanted us to have the rst boy. In that dream, or whatever it was, she was talking to me and telling me about this baby, and I couldn’t understand where the baby came from because I knew it wasn’t mine. And to this day, I don’t understand what it meant, or why she came to me.

Mia (Six years old):
One time I was playing with my Barbie convertible and the lights just popped on and it drove everywhere. Somehow the door opened and it went outside, and I had to chase it. I was playing upstairs in my room and it did the same thing.

One time I was sleeping on my bunk bed and my granny came. I felt her and saw her. She looked prettier. She had short hair that was dyed brown, and there were curls. She was wearing a white shirt with long sleeves, a white skirt, high heels, and pretty sparkly earrings.

One time when I was sitting on the top bunk, and I was praying to the Lord, I saw my granny walk in the door. She scared me. I had to go down to Mommy and I cried. I couldn’t go to sleep.

Girard, Pennsylvania

A horrible murder took place when the Biggerts lived here in the 1930s. The brother was attacked in the barn. The sister was attacked in the kitchen. They were found the next day by a man that came to tag the ears of their cows. The brother had been pitch-forked many times, and he was unconscious, but still alive. So the man went to Girard and brought down the sheriff, and they found his sister on the kitchen floor, dead. The ambulance took Mr. Biggert to the hospital in Erie, but he either died on the way, or he died there. That was the end of the family that had grown up here.

The house was deserted for many years. We moved in here in 1963, and we’ve raised six children here. When we moved in, we knew about the murder, but we didn’t share that with our very little children. I have had absolutely no fear since day one of living here. There’s none of that “Oh my god” feeling. Nothing happened that I’m aware of until my son who was about eight or nine years old came down the stairs and said, “Mom I don’t think that’s very funny.” My son never sassed me, and to this day he has never sassed me. I was trying to get all these kids ready for school, and I didn’t know what he was talking about. He said, “I just don’t think that was a nice way to wake me up.” “Will you tell me what you’re talking about?” I asked. So he took me upstairs and showed me deer horns on the bed. Over his bed was a beautiful rack of deer horns, and what was unusual was that the deer horns were now on his bed, and he had rolled onto them. He thought that I had put the deer horns there so he would wake up. Of course I hadn’t. That was the first thing that we couldn’t explain.

Then, the night before Halloween, we were lying in bed, and all of a sudden this roar starts, and we were awoken. The noise from a hurricane sounds like the engine of a train coming toward you. Then I thought, it must be a tornado. I grabbed the sheets because I expected my bed to start twisting. It went on and on and the noise just wouldn’t stop. I thought, how long does it take for a tornado to finally get inside your house and destroy it? And then, after what seemed like forever, it was over. We lay there for a minute just to see if we were still alive, and my husband’s voice really quietly said, “Is it Halloween yet?” Which made us laugh.

We sat up and looked around, and there wasn’t one thing on our bed. Books had flown everywhere — they even went out the bedroom door, made a right-hand turn and went up eight steps. All the little statues were gone. The hurricane lamp and music were missing. We thought, why isn’t there anything on our bed? It was like, we don’t really want to hurt you but we’re kind of ticked, we’re not happy and we want to get your attention. The next thing I thought of was why aren’t the kids terrified? There was no noise upstairs, and the dog didn’t come down. The kids came down the next morning and I said, “Did you hear anything last night?” They said, “No.” They had never heard that tremendous noise. It took me three days to get our bedroom back in order, to coordinate things back onto the shelves, and vacuum the broken glass.

When I would get exceptionally tired, I’d go upstairs to nap in my daughter’s room. Nobody would be able to find me there. I noticed something when I was in her room, but I never told anybody until my daughter moved into her first apartment. I said, “Do you want your lamps?” And she said, “Oh no.” I started to smile and said, “Why don’t you take your lamps?” She said, “You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.” I said, “Yes I would because I know what they do.” “What do they do Mom?” “They vibrate. They move.” When they vibrated I would think, I’m just waking up, that’s what it is, or the train’s coming, but I’d put my hand on the wall and there was no train coming. I’d watch those lamps move. We never understood why they’d move.

My daughter to this day swears that she saw her go back into the smaller room upstairs. She said it was very comforting, like another sister. Just this movement of going past, everyone’s content, and she said she was never frightened. My daughter says that when she moved out of the house the ghost went with her. She said she just knows she’s there. She said, I know what I feel, and the presence went with me because I liked her the best.

A townsperson shared with us pictures of the murder that took place in the house. I noticed that nothing new happened after we saw the photographs and understood the horror of what happened to them. A brother and sister grew up here and to have this happen to them is horrible, there’s no excuse for it. But it almost seemed to me that once we knew how hard she fought, she put up a battle, rightfully so, it was like finally somebody understands, finally somebody knows how hard I fought and how unfair this was, and now I’m at peace.

Private Residence
Clinton, Maine

You can call it what you want. I don’t know what to call it, but there’s something there. Creaking floors, noise. There was an old man, Mr. Brackett, who fell in the well and drowned about 65 years ago, so the noise that we hear can probably be attributed to him. The Bracketts were the original owners.

Somewhere around 50 years ago, I was lying on the divan in the living room, and with the moonlight shining on the floor I saw the rug depress. It headed right across the room to where I was. I could see the rug move as if someone was walking on it. I turned the light on, and there was nothing in that room whatsoever. I still don’t know what it was. Doris hears things in the house. I can’t hear now because I’m hard of hearing. I used to hear a lot of different noises and there would be nothing there. You hear all these things but you don’t get hurt or anything. The good Lord only wants you to know so much and that’s it.

We call the ghost Mr. Brackett. Most everybody in the family has had some experience in the house. I think my mom saw some apparitions that would come and go. Mr. Brackett also had a daughter who was wheelchair bound. In the house today you can see certain places with the old boards on the doors where she would hit the wheelchair edges. My understanding is that she fell down the cellar stairs and died. Years ago when my parents first moved in, my dad got ready for bed one night and his pocket watch dropped onto the floor. He leaned down to pick it up but he couldn’t find the watch. He looked all over the floor that night, under the bed, he hunted everywhere but he couldn’t find it. Months went by, one night he was sitting on the bed, and the pocket watch dropped out of nowhere onto his lap. It was the same watch, it was running and it was the correct time. How it happened, who knows? He got his pocket watch back. This has been passed down to us kids for years, he always told us the same story.

One night, I heard something and woke up. I looked down to the foot of the bed and saw a really ghoulish face. When I finally got courage enough to turn the light on, the face was still there. It was bleeding and I was so scared that I shut the light. I waited a few minutes, turned the light back on, and the face was gone but there was blood on the floor. I was young at the time. It took me a while to get over that.

I’ve also seen my neighbors across the street a few times. Especially Stanley, Stanley hung himself in the barn when I was about 11 or 12 years old. I remember seeing him hung in the barn. Many years after that I saw him walk out onto the driveway several times. He’s quite the formidable man, believe me. I think that our spirits have to go somewhere, and if they’re not happy they’re gonna stay around until they find peace. I think there’s a reason why they stay here. I think if a spirit visits you, there’s a reason why you’ve been chosen. I think you have to look at it as if you’re tied to that spirit or person, or they want to make a connection and go to a different level of being.

Abandoned House
Frankfort, Maine

My sister and I always heard our names called. My father always said it was the wind, but the wind don’t say your name. I didn’t like going up on the third floor, that’s where I saw a man sittin’ in an easy chair. Sometimes it sounded like people were walking around the house and running down the halls. When we first moved there on the top floor in the back room, the floor was all cluttered with love letters. Maybe that guy died there or somethin’. That place made me feel so weird. My mother died in the house the day we were moving out; I feel like a part of her is still there. It was always cold in the house, so my mother was so happy we were moving to a warm place. The moving vans had just left, she was finally gettin’ out of the house and she never got out. As bad as I wanted to leave ’cause it’s creepy, I miss it. I’m not sure if it’s true, but I heard that the man who bought it won’t stay there ’cause it’s haunted. The place has been empty for a long time.

Haunted Houses is a long-term project in which Botz photographed and recorded oral ghosts stories in over 80 haunted sites throughout the United States. She was originally inspired by turn-of-the-century spirit photographs and Victorian ghost stories written by women as a means of articulating domestic discontents. She photographed in some legendary haunted houses, but she was most interested in photographing private residences and meeting the individuals who “live” with ghosts. She was curious as to the ways in which invisible presences are sensed and how ghosts affect people’s sense of security in their homes. She rarely secured permission beforehand, and usually arrived unexpectedly at a homeowner’s doorstep requesting permission to photograph inside. A flâneur of the domestic interior, Botz used a large-format camera to explore the houses, and tried to open herself up to the invisible nuances of the space. The stories above are collected from residents of haunted houses in New York, Maine, Kentucky, and Pennsylvania.

All images © Corinne Botz. Oral histories reprinted with permission of the Monacelli Press. Some transcription details and sections have been omitted for this publication in the interest of readability.

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