At this time of the year, people actually pay to visit a supposedly "haunted house" and of course hope that they will walk away with their own, special, first hand encounter with "whatever" or "whoever" has given the house its creepy reputation. All of this is good and fine, because just like when you see a horror movie at the theater, where after the horror part, the lights go up and you go to live in your safe home. The point is everything changes when it comes to actually buying and then living in a house that's stigmatized either by murder, suicide or an actual haunting.
Realtor Dana Bull was doing a final inspection on a two-family property in Salem, Massachusetts, on behalf of a buyer who wanted to live in one unit and rent out other. The second unit already had tenants in it, and the buyer needed to decide whether to let them stay or try to find new ones.
As Bull and the inspector surveyed the rental unit—which she says was “filthy” and littered with “satanic decor”—Bull stumbled upon a door hidden behind a drape, a door she hadn’t noticed during her previous looks at the property. Behind it she found a curiously clean room with strange objects she didn’t recognize. The inspector did, though, and clued her in.
“It was a room where we guessed they were... sacrificing animals [as part of a religious practice],” Bull says. “Needless to say, my buyers didn’t pursue that property.”
While Bull encounters her fair share of odd situations in Salem, which attracts colorful characters because of its history as home to the infamous Salem witch trials in the late 17th century, her experience with homes that are associated with the occult highlights an issue realtors face across the country.
“Haunted” houses are considered “stigmatized,” an official designation that, though it means there’s no material defect with the house, still elicits an emotional response—usually the heebie-jeebies. Murders, suicides, drug manufacturing, general criminal activity, devil worshiping, extreme hoarding, and other unseemly practices, occurrences, and presences tend to scare off buyers who would otherwise be interested in a house, presenting realtors with the challenge of getting market value for what is otherwise a perfectly fine structure.
California realtor Cindi Hagley advocates for “over-disclosing,” though, in California, the rules around deaths are more strict. Sellers are required to disclose to buyers if there’s been a death in the house in the last three years. But the Golden State is one of a few exceptions, not the norm.
While Hagley is only licensed in California, she serves as a consultant on tricky disclosure cases all over the country and specializes on houses perceived to be haunted. But, unlike most realtors, Hagley is a true believer in the paranormal, having experienced what she describes as multiple supernatural occurrences first hand.
As a child, Hagley says she was awoken in the middle of the night by a voice that screamed “you can’t get in here right now.” She went to the bathroom to find the tub filled 4 inches high with individually lit matches. It was one of many startling occurrences in her family’s Rome, Ohio, home.
“My dad said ‘which one of you kids did this?’” Hagley recalled. “We were like ‘well none of us did it.’ It would have taken 10 people days to [light enough matches to] get 4 inches deep in that bathtub.”
In her consulting work, Hagley first visits the home in question to determine if there is a paranormal presence; sometimes there is, sometimes there isn’t, she says. If there is, she then helps the sellers make a decision about whether or not to disclose to buyers. She says she usually waits until she has a few offers before recommending the seller alert the buyer.
In a recent case in Colorado, Hagley says she visited a house where multiple deaths had occurred over several decades, and the occupants had witnessed shapes appearing on the stairs, the piano downstairs randomly playing itself, and radios turned without anyone present to do so.
“It truly sounded like there were other occupants actively living in that home,” Hagley says of the house, which ended up selling despite the concerns. “I thought there might be some sort of demonic presence around it. Demonology scares me. I had to physically step away after that.”
But for those who aren’t true believers in the occult, a “haunted” house won’t deter a home purchase at all, and, in a few rare cases, rumors of spirits can actually be a selling point, particularly if there’s a well-known story around the house.
That was the case with Victorian home that overlooks Polly Judd Park in Spokane, Washington. Polly Judd and her husband Thomas owned the home, and after World War II Polly took in former soldiers who needed shelter as they transitioned back to civilian life. In the 1960s and 70s, the house was a rental and continued to attract colorful characters.
But it also attracted troubled souls, as multiple suicides and deaths occurred in the house over the years. Bad fortune seemed to befall all the house’s subsequent owners, and there are no shortage of creepy stories about it from those in the neighborhood, says Spokane realtor Marianne Bornhoft, who has sold the house in the past.
Bornhoft says that after having a photographer shoot the house for the real estate listing, she noticed in the pictures that a chandelier was casting a shadow on the wall in the shape of three upside crosses. During an open house, Bornoft says a prospective buyer claims something or someone shoved her into a room in the basement, where she was trapped for hours. Bornhoft says that on one particularly creepy afternoon, the same chandelier from the photograph randomly began to swing.
“That house, more than any other house I’ve sold, had such weird, very odd things happen in it,” Bornhoft says. “It was very paranormal. I’m a Christian. I don’t believe in things like this, but I can’t explain what happened in that house. I’m not the only one. Repeated people had such odd experiences.”
THE STORY OF THE POLLY JUDD HOUSE
Cara Cooley can remember it like it was yesterday. But she’d rather not.
A freshman in high school, she was returning home with her friend one night near the turn of the century when she noticed the bathroom light shining from under the door on the main-story bathroom of her family’s South Hill home.
Her friend, John, said he was positive Cara’s sister Clare had just walked in.
“Then I see the light go off and say, ‘Clare what are you doing in there?’ ”
Now 32 and living in Detroit, Cooley reminisced about that night: “I open the door and there’s nobody in there.”
With four other siblings, Cara was used to her brothers and sisters playing pranks. So she marched upstairs and asked her parents where her sister was hiding. They told her she was staying at a friend’s house that night.
“John said he swears he saw a girl,” Cara recalled on Sunday. “He saw her walk into the bathroom and turn the light on. It was a girl in a white gown. He never came back to our house after that.”
Stories like this are unexceptional at the large, six-bedroom, three-story house at 1217 S. Oak St. overlooking Polly Judd Park. While some homeowners are more skeptical than others, the last three families to occupy the house since 1999 have reported some semblance of the supernatural, whether it’s ghostly figures, doors slamming shut as if someone is leaving in a hurry or bulging as if someone is desperate to get in. The house has been blamed for causing general feelings of unease, stress and unhappiness.
“I can’t even believe that it was OK with me that we lived there,” Cara said.
Tales of frightful encounters have plagued the home, which was built in 1905, throughout its long life.
Now, the neighbors there call it the “House of Broken Marriages.” Or, at least one neighbor does. And like any good haunted house story, this one is swirling with mysteries and secrets based on hearsay and rumors.
There’s the one about how it was built on top of an old, larger graveyard that was relocated to Greenwood Cemetery in 1890. A few hundred remaining graves had houses built over them
Another about its history as a speakeasy during the Prohibition era due to its proximity to a now-defunct railroad track below, making it a perfect candidate for running booze into the city.
Or how it was the scene of a violent death.
While all may be nothing more than tall tales, the house also has its truths. Some happy, some sad.
In the 1950s and ’60s, it was home to Polly Judd, Spokane’s famous gardening expert who pioneered the city’s Lilac Festival and had a hand in creating Manito Park’s beloved Japanese garden.
Stories recall that while visiting Japan after World War II, Judd became so enamored with Nagao Sakurai, the emperor’s gardener, that she flew him to Spokane to install a similar garden in Manito Park.
But while in the Lilac City, he suffered a heart attack, so Judd had him hole up in her home while he recovered. As repayment, he built her a personal Japanese garden on her property. The remnants of those ponds and fountains still litter the landscape, their cool blue water now dirty and brown.
In the 1970s, Judd’s daughter, Bobbee Judd Eddy, lived in the home. She moved out within a decade, and the living space was converted into a rental.
And that’s when, according to a neighbor, things began to unravel.
The first couple to move into the rental were also its first victims, according to the neighbor who’s lived there since 1977 and prefers to remain anonymous.
The new tenant was rumored to get drunk and high and then beat his girlfriend. He would eventually die inside its walls – the victim of a drug overdose.
Other couples moved into the house but would soon leave. It was a revolving door of new tenants, the neighbor said. One man is rumored to have hanged himself on the second floor.
Years later, in the 1980s, the neighbor said another young couple took a swing at buying the home and fixing it up after years of disrepair. They sunk more than a half-million into it. Their plans didn’t work out. The money was lost and so was their marriage.
In October 1999, Gavin Cooley, the chief financial officer for the City of Spokane, bought the home. His daughter Cara still wonders what her parents were thinking.
“I remember everything,” she said. “I didn’t ever feel comfortable in that house.”
Cara remembers doors that would open on their own and sounds coming from seemingly nowhere. An old trapdoor in their basement leading underground would suddenly slam shut.
She remembers family and friends telling them it was haunted and they were never coming back. She remembers how her uncle was standing one night, a rifle pointed squarely at a door in the basement that was bulging inward. How nothing was on the other side.
Her father remembers too. Even though he grew up in old houses his whole life and was accustomed to the creaking and settling, this was different.
“I remember the first times I would hear this crash, it sounded more like a kid opening a top drawer and shutting it and the whole thing tipping over,” he said Monday. “You’d sprint upstairs and go, ‘What was that?’ And then it would be nothing. And by the fifth time, you’d realize this house doesn’t just have these loud sounds.”
The house also put a strain on his marriage. One night, while having company over, he moved his car to the far end of their driveway, near an old concrete wall. It rained and apparently compromised the wall’s foundation as it fell onto the car.
“Literally crushed it,” Cooley said. “It had to be towed out. I thought, what are the odds of a 100-year-old wall in that structure coming down where I parked the car? Just stuff like that. It was just kind of amazing.”
Before moving out in 2005, Cooley was divorced.
The next owners who purchased the home in 2007 had a similar story. Cooley said not long after moving out, he received a message from the husband, who sounded relieved to be out of the house.
“He was kind of rambling, but then he paused and said, ‘You know, my life has gotten so much better since I got out of that house, Gavin,’ ” Cooley said. “There was something bad about that house. My marriage was bad. Everything got dark since I moved to that house.”
The couple apparently moved out sometime around 2010 and put the house on the market. It sat on the market for a couple years.
In 2012, a family from Missoula, Montana, moved in.
The owner is Greg Gordon who shares the home with his wife, two sons, two daughters, two dogs and two cats.
Greg’s son Charlie, now 15, said creepy goings-on were common when they first moved in. Especially in the basement, where he used to sleep. He described where, “Sometimes the doors will just fly open all of a sudden even if they’re closed. And one time, I was sleeping in that room and the door that’s closest to the bed right there, my head was on the door and the doorknob turned, so I just went upstairs and slept on the couch.”
The family has lasted more than five years in the house.
One wonders if there's something prophetic about the "DEAD END" sign at the end of the street.
Stranger Than Fiction Stories by M.P. Pellicer