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Renovation brings out the best in some ghosts

(Originally published on Oct. 27, 1984) SEVERAL MONTHS ago, I asked readers to send in accounts of any experiences they've had with ghosts.

Some people, it seems, whether or not they live in old houses, attract spirits.

One of these is Kirsten Fuller, a former Sacramento resident who now lives in West Virginia. Since childhood, Fuller has had many encounters with spirits. The first was the proverbial visit to the local haunted house:

Where I used to live, she recalls, there was an old house that everyone said was haunted. One night some friends and I went there to see. The stairway was gone, but blood was flowing along the upstairs landing and dripping onto the floor. We got out of there quick.

Since then, Fuller has encountered the spirit of her mother (who died a few years ago) in different places throughout the country. She usually appears as a white cat that comes out of nowhere to give Fuller a message, then disappears.

One of Fuller's most graphic spirit adventures was in Sacramento. I was living in an apartment - it wasn't even an old building. The lights used to go off and on for no reason, but at first we didn't think anything of that. We also heard unexplained noises in the bedroom. Then, one day while I was sitting and watching TV I felt something open the door. A horrible stench and a cold breeze came in, hit me, then hit the television. The picture on the TV went crazy, and the set started changing channels all by itself. I heard afterwards that one of the former tenants had a boyfriend who died in that apartment.

BARBARA J. CATHER of Sacramento writes of a harrowing experience she had several years ago in an apartment in San Mateo:

I have always been a little 'weird' as to feeling things and "cold spots," where people have passed on but to actually see an entity has only happened to me once, and I'll never forget it

When we occupied the apartment, I felt uncomfortable from the start. I would hear dishes and pots and pans rattle (candle) flames started shimmering and acting very strange When I was away from home he (my husband) would smell cheap 'stinky' perfume, not at all like I would wear, and when he was on gone, I would smell heavy cigar smoke (neither one of us smoked).

(One night) I awoke to see a man in blue slacks and a green and blue striped T-shirt standing at the foot of my bed. He smiled at me and walked by me and thru the wall!

Another time, as my husband and I were enjoyng a nice evening I suddenly felt a presence at my back. I gasped and turned to see a faceless man in white standing by my left shoulder and pointing at my husband. Like a fool I said "Turn out the lights, we're going to have a seance." That was the worst thing I could have done. That thing took over me so fast it wasn't funny. Some of it I remember, but I was possessed, and I feel that sometimes I still am, and this happened 10 years ago. We had a statue of Rodin's "Kiss" on the floor, and I crawled to it, crying and caressing it, saying "he doesn't understand you, Barbie, he doesn't understand you."

" husband told me that he had seen the figure just seconds before I had, but it was only a shimmery outline of a human form with no content. As I said "we are having a seance," he felt a cold draft go by him and out the window.

I've had several experiences since, but none as traumatic as this.

ALTHOUGH THE above experiences are frightening stuff for the likes of the Ghostbusters, none of the accounts I've heard of ghosts in old houses have been scary.

Perhaps the most loved old-house ghost in Sacramento is Lucy, a schoolteacher who died in the 1940s and lived in the stately Victorian near 17th and P streets. Several of the house's recent owners have heard Lucy's footsteps and smelled her old-fashioned rose-scented perfume. She's very real to me comments current owner Dorothy Kingren, who has appropriately labeled her home The House Where Lucy Dwells.

Several fellow renovators have recounted stories of spirits appearing to them during their restoration activities. Patricia Poore, editor of the Old House Journal, a monthly newsletter that provides information on restoration of old houses, reported a similar pattern when the magazine surveyed its readers: Spirits in the house acted up whenever there was any major remodeling going on, with most of the 27 people who reported ghostly encounters in their old houses telling of noises, such as slamming doors, unintelligible voices, and the sound of footsteps.

I've never believed in ghosts, remarks Sheila Stripe who is renovating an Italianate row house in San Francisco, but when I first started working on my house I tore out some ugly cheap paneling. After I took the last piece off, I heard a sigh and a voice said 'There, that's better.' Then, all by itself, a metal cupboard and some old posters just fell off the wall.

Another Bay Area renovator, John Moran, noticed that whenever he did any renovation work, a cold wind blew through the house, even on warm days or when the doors and windows were shut tight. Then I'd smell cigar smoke right next to me, as if someone were watching over my shoulder to make sure I did the work right. After the house was finished, though, the ghost went away, and I haven't had any further experiences.

One woman told Poore that she walked into the kitchen and saw a barefoot boy dressed in ragged clothes and holding a lantern. Just as she was about to speak, the boy melted away. Then her husband came up the stairs from the cellar carrying a lantern he said he had just found.

A Sacramento resident, recently arrived from Virginia, brought his ghost with him. When he was a youngster, one of Ed's closest friends was a cousin. The cousin died of leukemia at age 14 - and since then Ed has experienced several incidents, including a radio continuing to play after being unplugged. He recounts his most vivid occurrence on a New Year's eve when a clock - which had not worked for years - sounded 12 gongs at the stroke of midnight. The clock was not worked since.

MY OWN GHOST experience happened a number of years back. While doing research on my house, I became interested in the life of the man who had built it. I first read about him as a young romantic who built a mansion for the woman he loved. I read some of his love letters, saw pictures of the young couple, and read of his plans for the house. For months afterward, I could feel his presence - his exuberant love, his happiness, his romantic vision of this house - in every room.

A year or so later, I met his granddaughter, who only remembered her grandfather as an old widower and gruff judge whose words were harsh and who rarely ventured from his chair before the fireplace. Thereafter, everytime I sat in my den, I could sense his stern countenance there - so different from the youthful, loving person I'd previously experienced.

Well, I blamed all these experiences on an overactive imagination until I met Ben Symington, a psychic researcher from Oregon, who informed me that I probably had met a ghost. When you were doing the research and became interested in his life, you opened yourself up to him. His spirit sensed this and felt safe showing itself to you.

Parapsychologist Jerry Solfvin who, with colleague Loyd Auerbach, was recently interviewed on KCRA-TV's Look Who's Talking, agrees that people can increase the probability of contacting spirits. Undertake some type of meditation, he advises, to quiet the body and the mind start to observe more increase your intake.

It doesn't always happen, Symington cautions, But this can be a great way to get to know the ghosts in your house. And usually, if your interest is positive - it will be if you care about renovating the house - the encounter with the spirit will be positive, too.

And so this Hallows Eve, fabled as the night to contact spirits long departed, you might just take the time to meet the ghost in your old house.