house: Glenn Weiser’s haunted piece of surburbia.
Special Section: Halloween
Own Ghost Story
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
ain’t afraid of no ghost: Zaffis on the job among haunted
Special Section: Halloween
By David King
Ya Gonna Call?
Zaffis is an author, lecturer and researcher—who happens to
perform exorcisms and hunt ghosts
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
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
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
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
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
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.
husband passed away, and he talks to me in my dreams. Is he
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!”