Gordon Thomas Ward

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A Passage from Ghosts of Central Jersey

       I was puzzled more by my father’s reaction than by the phenomenon itself. When I was seven years old, my father seemed to know everything. He was, after all, a college professor, so I believed that there wasn’t much in this world that he could not explain. Having said that, you might better understand why I stood with my mouth agape when my father, for the first time I can remember, said, “I don’t know.” His unexpected words seemed to linger in our upper hallway like one’s warm breath when it meets the frigid winter air. It was lightning striking, and I knew at that moment that I was determined to find the explanation for the phenomenon we were experiencing.

       The phenomenon in question was the muffled conversation that emanated from my home’s first floor and drifted up our stairway in the dark of night. It sounded exactly like several people having a discussion, but the words were impossible to discern. It occurred several nights per week, steady, never changing in intensity or location, and it always ceased abruptly whenever anyone set foot on the top tread to descend the steps—almost as if it knew when one of us was approaching. After it stopped, the conversation would often resume several hours later. Everyone in my family heard it, even some guests, and we all came to accept this paranormal phenomenon, and the others that occurred in our house, as part of the fabric of our dwelling place—real things that existed within the walls of our home. They seemed to belong as much as we did.

       The house of my childhood in Bernardsville, New Jersey, developed a reputation for being haunted. There was an apparition of a man in a light shirt and dark pants that was seen twice in the dining room, and there was another apparition of a woman that appeared in a bedroom doorway. When you live in an older home, you get used to its “normal” sounds, so my family and I became rather adept at picking out the “unusual” sounds. We experienced the sounds of loud crashes and bangs that occurred without anything being found out of place to explain them. In the evenings, there was often the sound of someone ascending the stairs. Footsteps were heard on the second floor when no one was up there, and other footsteps were heard on the porch late at night, followed by the rattling of the front door handle, which happened to be inside a locked screen door. Upstairs doors would open and close, and no breeze or other explanation could account for their movement. A potted Christmas cactus was seen by three people to rise off of a planter, move three feet away from the planter, hover in the air for several seconds and then crash to the ground. A number of clocks, one of them a watch that lay discarded and hidden at the bottom of a drawer, reset and/or stopped themselves at 4:28 p.m. And there was also the constant feeling of something watching you on and from the second floor, whether you happened to be inside or outdoors. When people would descend the stairs from the second floor, many of them, including guests and other family members, described feeling something like a pressure behind them. It was almost as if you felt you weren’t welcome, and you couldn’t get down the stairs fast enough.

       As I mentioned, however, my family got used to these events. It wasn’t as if these events happened every day. Other than the muffled conversation and the feeling of being watched on the second floor, things would catch our attention at a rate of perhaps once every several months. Paranormal events also occurred at neighbors’ homes and in other parts of our extended neighborhood as well. I was literally surrounded by reports of the paranormal since I was a child, and so it was that I developed a keen interest in the reports, study and documentation of ghosts.

       I don’t believe that anyone can argue against the existence of ghosts. They exist. Their reports have, after all, been with us since the dawn of mankind, entwined throughout history and stretching across cultures and socioeconomic strata. They’ve been seen by the young and old, the simply schooled and the erudite, dreamers and men of science. Ghosts even exist in the Bible. No, one cannot argue against their existence, but one can argue what the phenomena are and how they can be explained. Explanations range from flights of fancy to the spirits of humans endeavoring to make contact from beyond the grave. In between these are the explanations that equate ghosts with various types of energies or psychic impressions that are imprinted on environments.

       If you find this too strange to fathom, consider this: if one were to take a digital audio recorder back to seventeenth-century Salem, Massachusetts, and record someone’s voice, one might very well end up being hanged as a witch. The collective knowledge at that time wouldn’t be able to conceptualize or explain it, and people often fear what they can’t explain. Ask any scientist, and you’ll be told that as much as we know of the workings of our universe, we have barely scratched the surface. There is so much left to discover, and I believe ghostly phenomena are part of that great unknown. The worst things we can do are ignore the things that we can not explain, sweep them under the rug or dismiss them as nonsense. There are just too many credible reports out there to do that. The best we can do is to try to substantiate the reports with a healthy skepticism, physical evidence and an open mind.


Copyright © 2008 Gordon Thomas Ward