Friday, September 10, 2010

A Haunted House in North Dakota

A co-worker of mine told me about a woman who he used to work with had the following experience during her childhood in North Dakota:

Every night, as she was in bed, she would hear whispers, as if they were trying to talk with her. The voices seemed to be trying to get her attention as she was trying to go to sleep. She was never able to quite make out what they were saying, but they were unmistakably human voices.

In this house, objects would also turn up missing only to appear again later. For example, her mother had bought her a pair of shoes for a dance recital, and one of the shoes went missing before the recital. She grabbed an old pair of shoes and left the new shoe in her room. On returning home from the recital, both of the shoes were sitting next to each other in the living room. On another occasion, a sweater went missing, and she went to the laundry room to look for it. On returning upstairs, she found the sweater folded in her drawer.

She was constantly afraid, but never got the impression that the force was evil or malicious. It just seemed to want her attention.

Commentary: Okay, I love these sorts of accounts. After he told me about his friend's experience, my co-worker asked what I thought. I explained that her experiences were very much classic "haunted house" experiences - they were eerie, but there was no clear "story" to them, they were just things that happened. Importantly, none of the events seem designed to creep out or frighten the story's audience, which makes them even scarier.

In his book Supersense, psychologist Bruce Hood describes elements that make religious stories memorable. Drawing from the Bible, he points to stories such as Jesus turning water into wine or feeding the hungry with a small amount of fish and bread. In each case, he points to the fact that the setting of the stories is mundane, and the miracle, while important, is small and easily understood by the reader, and importantly falls close-enough to "the possible" that it doesn't strain the credulity of someone hearing the story. In this way, he argues, these religious stories make their point, and are easily remembered and pondered by the audience, leading them to be particularly moving and important.

I think something similar may be at work in ghost stories such as this one. The story takes place in the most mundane of places - someone's home - and the symptoms of the haunting are not the high-pyrotechnics of many a Hollywood ghost tale, but rather are events that all of us can relate to and understand. Importantly, the symptoms of the haunting, while alleged to be un-natural, fall close enough to the mundane that we don't call the credibility of the person telling us of the events into question. This makes them more believable, and therefore more effective, and scarier.

Sources: Personal Account

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