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Ghost house: Glenn Weiser’s haunted piece of surburbia.

photo:Alicia Solsman

Metroland Special Section: Halloween
By Glenn Weiser

My Own Ghost Story

You might think that recently constructed houses in suburbia would be free of hauntings— but I say you’d be wrong

Bang! Late one night several years ago, I heard the unmistakable sound of a cabinet door being slammed shut in my unlit kitchen. My teenage stepson was sleeping in his room, and my wife Patti was with me in the master bedroom, so I assumed an intruder must be in the house. A hunting knife in hand, I ran to the kitchen and turned on the light, ready for a confrontation.

Inexplicably, no one was there. The windows were shut, so the cabinet door couldn’t have been blown by the wind.

Patti emerged from the bedroom when I called to her that there was no danger, and calmly told me to have a seat. Strange things like this had been happening lately, she explained, particularly in the early evening before I got home from work when she was alone in the living room. Not wanting me to think her crazy, she had been waiting for such an incident to occur when I was home before telling me she believed the place, which happened to border on a graveyard, was haunted. During the following years that we lived there, we experienced more phenomena I would describe as paranormal. What I learned is that of all the household pests you could be plagued with, ghosts—and yes, that seems the most likely explanation here—are by far the worst.

About two years before this, I had moved out of a historic brick townhouse in Albany into a light-blue rented duplex on Elsmere Avenue in Delmar with Patti, then my fiancée, and her son from a previous marriage, Andrew. We had promised him a puppy, and it was the only place we found where pets were allowed. Although we knew the previous tenants had stayed only one year, that seemed insignificant at the time.

The following spring, Patti and I bought Andrew a female yellow Labrador retriever we named Lucy. When she had grown, we started taking a shortcut through the Bethlehem Cemetery on weekends to bring her to the grounds of the neighboring Bethlehem Middle School, where an informal group of local residents gathered to unleash their dogs and let them run together. It was only after this that the paranormal phenomena began in and around our house.

Sitting with me that night, Patti continued her story. At least once a week when she had been alone in the living room, the dog had acted strangely, standing at the top of the stairs going down to the front door and barking and growling. Invariably, no one would be at the door. Lucy also had exhibited this behavior while looking down the hall leading to the bedrooms. Most disquieting, though, was when Patti was been sitting in her Barca lounger and one of my guitars—which had been in its case, leaning against a nearby wall at an approximately 60 degree angle—suddenly defied the Newtonian laws of motion and lurched forward, hitting her hard in the arm.

I didn’t doubt Patti’s sanity—in fact, I had experienced the paranormal before. Late one summer night in 1968, I was in Cambridge, Mass., in bed with a flower child I had met that afternoon, when we heard the sound of tables and chairs being moved around in the darkened and unoccupied ground floor. She told me that the house had poltergeists. Creeped out, I took her word for it and stayed put.

A few months after the cabinet-door incident, Patti and I were again in the master bedroom at night, when we heard the oven door being violently slammed shut. This time, I walked into the kitchen unarmed, turned on the light, and noted the fact that Lucy was curled up on her bed in the living room and couldn’t have caused the noise. Seeing no one there, I laughed loudly and contemptuously. The ghosts could kiss my ass. They would have to do better than that.

But then they did. As I sat at night working on the computer in the downstairs den, which was immediately below the kitchen, I would hear footsteps above. When I would run upstairs to investigate, Lucy would be curled up on her bed, and the sounds would stop. When I was back downstairs, they would resume. Had the dog been the source of the noise, I would have caught her retreating to her bed, but that never happened. The spectral footsteps went on nightly for years.

Similarly, I was downstairs one night after Patti and Andrew had retired when I heard the empty Barcalounger rocking wildly back and forth at a speed I would estimate at once or twice per second. Again, I ran upstairs, only to find the chair motionless and the dog on her bed.

Lucy continued to display unusual behavior. One night, Patti and Andrew both heard her yelping loudly in her cage one night as if being tortured. When they ran out their rooms in alarm to her, she calmed down.

In addition, both Andrew and I saw lights with no discernable source in the backyard on separate occasions. Andrew noticed three triangular patches of light on the ground there one night while taking the dog out, and on another night I saw a similar light. Thinking a floodlight from a helicopter overhead was producing it, I looked straight up, only to see the night sky. When I looked back down at the ground, the light had vanished.

Most disconcerting of all was the experience both Patti and I had of being partially suffocated while asleep. Patti had been napping one afternoon when she felt an intense pressure like a bear hug on her diaphragm that prevented her from being able to breathe. She woke up immediately, after which the sensation stopped. This also happened to me while sleeping on the living-room couch, again in the afternoon. I started awake, unable to breathe, and rolled to my side to escape the unseen menace, which then ceased. Later I learned that this, like the unexplainable lights and sounds, objects being moved, and the sensitivity of some animals to ghosts, is a well-documented paranormal phenomenon.

Patti grew to hate living there, and wanted us to leave. But by then we in the market for a house, and I was determined to remain until we had closed on a property. The spirits were a nuisance, but I wasn’t afraid of them. To me, they were just astral-plane punks who were probably mad that we had gone through the graveyard and gotten on their turf. Believe me, psychopaths, religious fanatics, and absolute rulers can be scarier than ghosts can ever be.

No one else, as far as I have been able to discover, has experienced any supernatural occurrences in or around the Elsmere Avenue house. When I called my former landlord to ask him if any previous tenants had mentioned any hauntings there, he just laughed. On further questioning, though, he did say that the house was around 15 years old (a later check determined it was built in 1983), and that no one had ever died there. I also delivered letters to the other homes on Elsmere Avenue bordering the graveyard asking if any of the residents had any paranormal events in the neighborhood to report, but nobody responded.

We finally bought a lovely colonial a few miles away and left the duplex. Thankfully, nothing spooky has ever happened in our new home. Patti is much happier, Andrew is away at college, and Lucy, now getting on in years, spends most of her time sleeping undisturbed.


He ain’t afraid of no ghost: Zaffis on the job among haunted items.

Metroland Special Section: Halloween
By David King

Who Ya Gonna Call?

John Zaffis is an author, lecturer and researcher—who happens to perform exorcisms and hunt ghosts

 

‘There is a spirit here!” declared the slight man in a knit sweatshirt, with a white beard and wide, thick-framed glasses. “Does anyone else feel anything?” he asked the group that had followed him up a staircase deep into the hulking building that was once the Van Curler Hotel, and is now Schenectady County Community College. Two hands shot into the air. Cameras flashed. Sporadic fits of whispering erupted around the room. “I feel there is definitely activity in this room,” said the tour guide. “If you check, I’m sure you’ll find something happened here in the past.”

Five hours before the witching hour (7 o’clock to all of you not hip to Halloween) on Oct. 18, a mix of young SCCC students, professors and elderly community members packed a lecture hall to see paranormal investigator John Zaffis. Two hours later, 30 of them accepted his invitation to go on a ghost hunt.

The members of the tour and their guide quickly found their quarry, but they were hungry for more. “Did you know that the cafeteria is haunted?” asked a young girl from the crowd. “Ah . . . yeah . . . that’s right!” stuttered the guide. “I felt something in an area back there last year,” he said. “I told the staff there was a spirit last year and they freaked out.”

As the group exited the room and made their way to the next spirit, members of the audience were full of excitement. “I knew I felt someone holding my hand in there!” exclaimed a teen. A member of the crowd looked back incredulously. “Well, I mean it felt like something was right next to me,” the teen qualified, and then looked expectantly forward to the next room, ready for Zaffis to identify the next ghost.

John Zaffis has hunted ghosts and investigated paranormal events for more than 30 years. Being a ghost hunter, Zaffis has gathered the knowledge that any reasonable man in his profession would need. He is fully versed in psychic photography, spirits, demonology, possession, casting, and exorcism. In fact, Zaffis has been a part of more than 85 exorcisms and has investigated numerous hauntings. He has appeared on Discovery Channel and TLC documentaries. He is also a lecturer and the co-author of the book Shadows of the Dark, the story of his career as a paranormal investigator.

Zaffis’ Web site (www.johnzaff is.com) is also home to the Paranormal Research Society of New England. The PRSNE site features everything you need to know about dealing with ghosts, hauntings and possessions; it even has the handy guide to demonic activity.

According to Zaffis, there are three levels of demonic activity. The first level is infestation: “At this point has someone or something done something to you? Do you feel like someone or something just went by or is watching you?” The second step is oppression. During this phase things are not right and “voices are telling you to do things that you’re not used to doing.” The final phase of demonic activity is possession. Although Zaffis notes pure possession is rare, this is the time that a demon can take control of a human host. It’s likely this type of specific, seemingly scientific approach is what gets so many people to attend Zaffis’ lectures.

On Tuesday, Room 101 in SCCC’s Stockade Building overflowed with people who had come to hear Zaffis speak. But first, the sound of strings swelled from deep inside a portable stereo. Then a voice that could have been in a preview of the latest Michael Bay flick introduced Zaffis, listing his credentials and accomplishments.

When the voice in the boom-box ceased to speak, Zaffis asked, “Who ya gonna call?” The large crowd shouted back, “GHOST BUSTERS!” But Zaffis waved his hands and exclaimed nasally, “No! No! John Zaffiiiiiiis!”

Slides of graveyards, houses and people obscured by smudges and light flashes illustrated Zaffis’ attempt to explain the difference between camera error and true psychic photography. He pointed out that a black mass on one slide was a camera strap, and that a white ghostly figure on another was a thumb that had strayed in front of the camera lens. Then he moved on to photos with glowing white orbs. “Could these be dust particles? Absolutely? Could they be spirit energy? Absolutely! Are these ghosts? No. But I definitely believe they are spirit energy,” Zaffis exclaimed.

Zaffis went on to explain how he has balanced his Catholic upbringing against his interest in the paranormal; how he convinced his uncle, an exorcist, to teach him the family business; and how he eventually learned that he had to separate himself from the hauntings and possessions he was investigating.

While investigating the haunting of the Parker house in Connecticut (about which a documentary is airing on the Discovery Channel), Zaffis says, “I spent nine weeks in that house. I’ll never do that again, because I was going through what the people in the house were going through. I got too close.” Zaffis describes one night being confronted by “a swarm of darkness” that demanded of him, “Do you know what they did to us?” Zaffis fled the house that night, driving back to his family, worried they were in danger. It wasn’t until he received a pep talk from the family’s bishop that he decided it was his duty to continue on with his work.

At SCCC, Zaffis concluded his lecture by talking about haunted items. He told of a woman who collected African art and had purchased a mask for thousands of dollars. The next day, she became ill. Doctors had no explanation. Zaffis says that when he was called, he was immediately suspicious of the new item the women had brought into her home. He says he always suspects items that have recently entered the home. “Don’t break them. That can unleash negative spirits that can attach to you,” he insisted. A better course of action if you are confronted with a haunted item, Zaffis suggests, is to call him. He will gladly take the item and add it to the collection in his paranormal museum.

As his lecture wrapped up, a final slide was shown with his contact information. Elderly women dug in their purses for paper and pen. “Does he check these things out for free?” asked one woman to another. “No, I think this is how he makes a living,” the friend replied. Then Zaffis asked again, “Who you gonna call?” The crowd shouted back again “Ghostbusters!” “No, No!” he exclaimed, and then they tried again, successfully shouting his name.

Hands shot up from the crowd; they had more questions than Zaffis felt he had time to answer.

“My husband passed away, and he talks to me in my dreams. Is he haunting me?”

“Can hauntings appear as electricity?”

Others tried to relay their personal hauntings to Zaffis. Zaffis told them it was likely they were sensitive to the spirit world and could pick up on things others couldn’t.

A large line formed to purchase Zaffis’ book. Quickly he sold out, and ran to his car to get another box. Outside a group of teens who had left the lecture waited for the ghost hunt to start. One teen peered in through the door, turned back to his friends amazed, and in a hushed voice told the others, “It’s creepy. He was there one minute selling books—and then, just like that, he was gone!”


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