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The ghost is clear

(Originally published on Oct. 31, 1990) GRANDPA LEFT THEM his house when he died. But apparently Grandpa didn't leave the house.

"I heard a noise. I thought it was a prowler and I picked up a bat. A chair was moving by itself in the living room. I said to my wife, "Did you see that?' She said, "Yes.' And we backed out of the room."

The young man telling the story still sounds unnerved by the whole affair. He doesn't want curious people flocking to his hundred-year-old house in Placerville, so he agrees to tell his ghost story for a promise of anonymity. He doesn't want a face-to-face meeting either. He will speak of it only on the telephone.

"The house was creaking and making noises," he says. "Things sitting on the table, knicknacks, were moving, shaking. Cupboard doors were shutting. We'd hear somebody walking in the house but nobody'd be there. My wife said, "I'm moving,' but I stayed."

Eventually the couple realized these occurrences were vaguely familiar.

"It all fit together like a puzzle," the young man says. "He loved to be in the garden. He'd come in the house and wash his hands and hang up his hat. It's like that was all happening again. There was dirt in the sink and the faucet was left dripping. Tools were scattered in yard where he used to work. It's like her Grandpa's spirit was back."

Grandpa was 83 when he died last summer. He and his wife had spent many happy years in the big house, and the old fellow no doubt wanted his granddaughter and her husband to cherish the place as much as he did.

The young couple loved the old house all right. They just weren't sure they wanted to live there anymore.

They eventually heard about the Office of Paranormal Investigation, an organization based in Orinda that looks into psychic phenomena. A crew came to the house with video cameras and various scientific equipment. But nothing happened. No chairs moved. No dirt appeared in the sink. The garden tools stayed in the shed where the young husband had put them once again.

"I felt like a fool," the young man says. "He (Grandpa) won't do it with someone else there."

The old man's granddaughter has moved back home with her husband. Strange things still happen. Not long ago, a cold gust rushed past them as they were about to go out. The doors and windows were closed. No one else was there.

"Grandpa had been in the house for so long," the husband says. "It's real sad. And she (the wife) doesn't want to leave the house. It's part of the family. We haven't touched anything in his room. There's stuff that moves around. We see stuff out of place."

The young man takes a breath.

"The chairs are moving. The cupboards are closing. It's not good to see. It's really scary. I put everything away, and it comes back out. It's like your basic horror movie. It gives me goosebumps."

The OPI staff classifies this case as both a haunting and a poltergeist of the third kind, which occurs when an entity enters an environment on its own and makes things happen.

"The poltergeist phenomena is like a little child," says Christopher Chacon, 26, an illusionist and co-director of OPI. "Sometimes if you ignore it, it will go away. Sometimes it gets worse, and then you have to change your strategy until it does go away."

At this point, Chacon doesn't know what to make of Grandpa. "His wife passed away and the only thing that tied him to that life was the house. He really loved that house. He did live there for a long time. He wants to be there."

And, the old man's spirit may be there for a long time to come - gardening, puttering in his bedroom, rearranging his earthly belongings, doing all sorts of Halloweenish things year-round.

OBVIOUSLY, A belief in ghosts, poltergeists and other paranormal phenomena is not universal. Even the people at the Office of Paranormal Investigation acknowledge that.

"To draw the line philosophically as to what is real and what isn't, is difficult when dealing with something that certain people can see and certain people can't," says Chacon.

"Basically, if people don't want to believe in it, that's fine," says Loyd Auerbach, 34, a parapsychologist, magician, author of the 1986 book "ESP, Hauntings and Poltergeists" and the other director of OPI. (Parapsychologists study psychic phenomena that can't be explained by accepted scientific laws or theories.)

"We don't know for sure if ghosts exist," Auerbach says, "and we can't prove it. We're still waiting for the physics to catch up. All we're going on is the subjective experience of the people who are seeing the ghosts.

"I take them at their word. Most of these people are sincere. They may or may not be seeing something that is objective, but at the same time they are seeing something that is in their mind. It's really there," he says.

A woman who moved here a year ago from the East Coast with her husband and two young children says they saw ghosts in their house, a Victorian on the edge of Sacramento. She, too, agreed to tell her haunting story, given anonymity.

"We'd walk into a room," she remembers, "and get the feeling that someone had just left, vanished into thin air. Over time, I was able to see faces and figures - a group of adults, usually one couple stood out, and children of varying ages."

They weren't wispy and white as most people think of ghosts, she says, but looked very real, although appearing "fuzzy" to her eyes.

"They watched us. It was sort of a creepy feeling," she says. "We sensed that they were just observing us. We didn't feel threatened."

BOTH THE WOMAN and her husband are self-proclaimed practical people, with careers in finance and accounting. They don't ordinarily see ghosts where they live. It wasn't long before they had enough of the family of apparitions wandering about their house.

"I felt I had a right to this house," the woman says. "It was then I really started wanting these spirits to go away."

The couple told close friends about the unwanted guests. Someone suggested they light beeswax candles in the rooms. Another said they should carry a burning bundle of sage through the house. They also had a Catholic priest bless the house.

"We're not Catholic," the woman says, "but we thought it couldn't do any harm. It was a nice ceremony, but it didn't make the spirits go away."

Then someone suggested they contact the Office of Paranormal Investigation.

They found a "Mission Impossible" team of experts: clinical psychologists, psychics, magicians, parapsychologists, computer experts and a private investigator. The consultation fees range from $50 to $75 for the first two hours and $25 for each additional hour. OPI makes no guarantees of ridding the spirits.

The OPI people advised the couple to try talking with the apparitions and ask what they wanted and why they were there. One child with blonde hair and wearing an old-fashioned smock would step forward when she was spoken to, the woman says.

"It's not like she spoke back, but I could sometimes tell what she was feeling. She was scared and alone," the woman says.

Ghosts come in two varieties, says Auerbach. One is the apparition, the idea of a spirit. The second is a haunted house where people are seeing not so much a spirit as an image - a memory - that was recorded by the house.

"Some of us appear to be psychic enough, in fact we all are psychic to an extent, to pick up something from a house," Auerbach says. "In hauntings, you have an apparition, a ghost, that does the same thing over and over again. It's like having a video playing in the background. It's not only non-threatening, it can't possibly do anything because there's nothing really there. It's like freeway noise. In those cases, you have to get used to it unfortunately. We don't have a magic wand we can toss around and say let's get rid of the haunting.

"In apparition cases," he continues, "we usually have people who are seeing the ghosts, talk to the ghosts and ask him or her either to leave or come to some sort of agreement when he or she can be there. And that seems to work out pretty well."

Ghosts supposedly have told people that they don't know if there's a hereafter because they haven't gone anywhere yet.

"I had a case in Livermore a few years ago," Auerbach says, "where the ghost told the family she wasn't sure whether she'd end up in heaven or hell, and she didn't want to take any chances so she stayed in her own home."

Auerbach and his staff suggested to the Sacramento woman that she attempt find out who once lived in her house. She found that descendants of the family who had inhabited it for 80 years still lived nearby. The relatives opened the family albums to the woman.

"As soon as I saw the photos," she says, "I knew who I was seeing in my house. It was the couple who built the house, their children and family members. The little girl I saw is the last child in that family still alive. She's well into her 90s and an invalid."

The woman pauses for a minute, contemplating. "That really confused me. In a sense I was glad to know the spirits I was seeing had been real people, and I wasn't imagining them. On the other hand, I didn't understand what was going on with this little girl."

A PSYCHIC WHO works with OPI said the ailing old woman, whose name was Clara, was having an out-of-body experience and had returned to a time of her life when she felt protected and comfortable.

"The psychic said I should tell the little girl she didn't have to come down and visit any longer," the woman says, "that she was safe where she was and that she couldn't go back and be a little girl. I should tell her it's my house, and it was time for her to go back to her real place."

Soon, the woman says, the girl and her ghostly family disappeared. They've been gone several months now, but they're not forgotten.

"That experience made me contemplate my religious beliefs more than I have before," the woman says. "It's one thing to talk of the immortal soul in the abstract and be confronted by floating spirits in your living room."