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Like Casper, they're friendly ghosts

(Originally published on Oct. 31. 1984) MARYSVILLE - Several years ago Anita Laney was awakened by what sounded like a party in full swing in the upstairs hallway of her home. She distinctly heard the babble of many voices and much laughter. They were really quite noisy, she recalls. There was much hilarity. They were having a good time.

She awakened her husband and together they went to investigate. But when they flung open the door to the hallway, actually a pass-through area large enough to serve as a bedroom, there was no one there.

Such is the stuff of goosebumps, the basics of those half-believed stories told late at night when the fire burns low.

But ghosts are not just chilling stories to Anita Laney. They're a reality. In her 1885 Victorian home, things really do go bump in the night.

Laney doesn't just believe her house is haunted, she knows it is. Since she and her husband, Francis, bought the home in 1965, she says they have both seen and heard the spirits who share it with them. Anita also has physically felt unseen entities who have brushed against her and laid an other-worldly hand on her arm.

There has been a lot of activity all over the house, Laney said. "And it's not just us who have seen it, friends also have had experiences here. Once a friend and I were sitting in the living room and we heard what sounded like keys thrown over the stair railing onto the (wooden) floor. We both jumped up and ran into the hall, but there was nothing there. "

Laney's home, typical of vintage Victorian architecture, soars nearly four stories tall, including a high, above-ground basement and a full attic that could easily be another living area. But it doesn't fit the Halloween image of a haunted house. There's nothing dark or brooding about the pink and white exterior or the large, airy, comfortable rooms. The atmosphere of the house, filled with well-cared-for antiques, is one of quiet, genteel elegance.

Her ghosts aren't Halloween-type spooks either.

"My ghosts are my friends," she says. "They don't bother me. In fact, they help me. If they don't show up for a period of time I wonder what's happened, if I've done something to displease them or if they feel I don't need them anymore. Sometimes I've asked them to please come back, and they do.

When the phenomena first started, some three years after they moved into the house, I thought it was Norman Abbott Rideout, the first owner of the house," Laney said. "There also is a woman and two children here and I thought they were his family. Since then, I've seen a picture of Rideout and he isn't the man I have seen here."

The man who haunts her house, she said, is young, blond, and very handsome. He looks nothing at all like Mr. Rideout.

The Laney house is listed in a 1977 book, now out of print, Haunted Houses and Wondering Ghosts of California, by Antionette May. May brought a team of psychic investigators to the house, and they confirmed the presence of spirits. Anita's belief then that the Rideouts still occupied the house is quoted in the book.

"I wouldn't let them do a seance," Laney said. "I felt it might upset the entities and I wanted to protect them. My entities were very disturbed because they were here. There was a lot of activity in the house all night after they left. The investigator said he sensed a hostile presence at the head of the. stairs. I can see that they might have been hostile that night. They could have been hostile to him. They may have felt he was prying. I was very distressed by what happened, so I've never let (investigators) come back again. "

Although Laney no longer believes it is the Rideouts who linger on in the house, she still thinks the entities are connected, that they are a family. "The woman my husband and I have seen is young with long blond hair. She's very beautiful. She wears a long dress; the man wears a waistcoat."

There's also a pretty little girl here, Laney said. "She's about 12 and also has long, blond hair. I saw her once standing in front of an upstairs fireplace. She was wearing a long gown and she was watching me. As I looked back, she started to fade from the feet up until there was nothing left but her eyes.

There's a little boy, probably 2 or 3 years old. I haven't seen him, but I've heard him. One night I was sitting in the rocking chair beside the fireplace in the dining room and he was standing beside me, talking. It was just childhood babble, I couldn't understand what he was saying. My husband heard him, too, and went outside to see if there were any children playing around the house, but there was no one around. "

There are other spirits in the house besides the family, Laney said. "There's a different ghost in the basement. A gardener lived down there when the Rideouts owned the house and I've wondered if it could be him. Once I was down there and he was whistling a song. It sounded like he was standing right beside me. "

Laney said the entities have been heard more than they have been seen. Besides the voices, much of the activity has involved knocking, tapping, footsteps and other noises. Sometimes there is the sound of objects being dropped; other times real objects, such as bowls and vases, have been knocked over.

Although Laney enjoys her ghosts and doesn't want them to leave, there have been a couple of instances that have made her somewhat uncomfortable.

There was the night she turned off the light beside her bed after several hours of reading and found her young male ghost watching her. As she watched, the apparition rose slowly to the ceiling and disappeared.

"I felt strange, so I turned on the light and read some more. When I turned off the light again, he was standing on the other side of the bed watching me. He seemed to be trying to communicate. After that, I turned on the light and, read until 3 in the morning. That time when I turned the light off, somebody sat on my bed. I jumped up, went into my husband's room and got in bed with him. I told him I was cold. I wasn't alarmed, I just didn't want somebody sitting on my bed. "

The Laneys are the third family to own the house and the fourth to live there. As far as she knows, none of the previous tenants observed ghostly phenomena. And, although the last owner died there, she knows what he looked like and says the man she sees is not him. The house itself is on land that was previously a pasture. She doesn't know what may have been there further back.

Laney doesn't know if the entities are attached to the house or to her, but they do follow her out of the house at times. There have been knockings and the sound of falling objects in the real-estate office she and her husband own and in a building she calls her boutique, where she stores a collection of vintage clothing that she uses for shows and displays.

Laney doesn't appear to be the victim of an over-active imagination. She tells her stories matter-of-factly, without excitement or dramatization. A historical researcher who has written about the history of many early California houses and buildings, she says she has met many other people who believe there are unseen presences in their home.

"None of the people I know who have had experiences are frightened by them. No one has been frightened by the things that happen in my home. Why do people feel they have to be scared, or that entities have to be scary?"

Still, she admits, many people who firmly believe they are not alone won't talk about it. "You can understand it," she says. "People, even those who believe in ghosts themselves, will call you a kook if you talk about it publicly."

"Some people will think I'm a kook," Laney says. "When this comes out in the newspaper, some people will call me a nut. But I don't care. I know what has happened here. I'm not bothered by it at all. I accept it, my friends know that these people are here and they accept them. I don't care what others may think."