“The map is not the territory” is a relevant axiom when researching the past. That being the case, I visit the places I write about, checking out the “territory” from Bristol, England to Kyoto, Japan, as well as all across the United States and into Mexico. Sometimes that can lead to strange experiences.
A few times when visiting historically-significant places, I’ve experienced the “hackle factor.” I’ve never made visual contact with a ghost, but the goose bumps have appeared anyway. And park rangers, docents, curators, and others familiar with historical sites often claim the places are haunted.
This proved to be the case when I was writing Shadow Patriots, the story of the New York “intelligencers” who spied for George Washington during the American Revolution. They’re known collectively as the Culper Ring, named for the aliases of the two major members, Samuel Culper Sr., (Benjamin Tallmadge) and Samuel Culper, Jr. (Robert Townsend).
This is the only known likeness of Robert Townsend. His nephew, Peter Townsend, sketched it in 1813 when Robert was 60 years old. http://www.nytimes.com/1985/12/15/nyregion/rememberng-a-master-spy-at-home.html
The Townsends were one of the founding families of Oyster Bay on Long Island, N.Y. This sketch is of their saltbox house called Raynham Hall. It was home to Samuel and Sarah Stoddard Townsend, their eight children, including Robert, and their household slaves. Built in 1740, it had an apple orchard across the street. The orchard no longer exists, but when I visited the house, the tour guide said the aroma of stewing apples and cinnamon often permeates the air inside.
Photos have been taken of glowing orbs in the children’s nursery at the Townsend house. In the American colonies, families were often required to quarter British troops and the Townsends were no exception. An upstairs room where the lover of one of the British officers slept is always chilly.
Besides balls of light, temperature differences, and the redolence of apples at Raynham Hall, voices have been recorded in two of the upstairs rooms. The ghostly voices at the link posted above were recorded elsewhere, but they capture what are called Electronic Voice Phenomena or EVP’s. There are several examples EVP’s on youtube, all of them difficult to hear clearly.
The portrait above is of the British officer, Major John Andre, who would later bribe Benedict Arnold to betray the American cause. He visited Raynham Hall often. Some claim he still drops by and has been spotted outside a bedroom window. The sketch is a self portrait Major Andre drew on the eve of his execution.
Built by a British colonel in Washington Heights in 1765, the Morris-Jumel Mansion claims to be Manhattan’s oldest house, and it contains some macabre history. On a school trip, one teacher with a heart condition suffered a fatal heart attack after seeing an apparition. https://4girlsandaghost.wordpress.com/2012/09/19/american-murder-house-the-morris-jumel-mansion-new-york-city-ny/
An identified ghost in the house is Eliza Jumel, seen above. One day, a noisy group of school children waiting outside were shushed by a lady in a purple gown on the balcony above them. The children said she then disappeared through the closed doors of the room behind the balcony. Their description of her fit Eliza.
While visiting the mansion with a school class, another teacher fainted when a Revolutionary soldier stepped out of a painting. Spotted on the top floor is the figure of a young servant girl who jumped from an upstairs window after becoming romantically involved with a family member.
Visitors at the Morris-Jumel house also have felt the hostile presence of Madam Jumel’s first husband, Stephen, apparently irked with his wife for murdering him. The portrait above is of Madam Jumel’s second husband, Aaron Burr. He too is said to hang out there. I wonder how he and ghost husband #1 get along.
It’s an oddly disquieting comfort to realize that some of the spirits of the people I came to know while writing Shadow Patriots are still around approximately 240 years later. I’ve tried to treat them fairly in my novel, and I hope when I die I won’t find a bunch of pissed-off spirits, in periwigs, panaches and knee-breeches, waiting for me.
I realize that tampering with photos and recordings can give misleading credence to the afterlife, but I’ve heard too many stories from credible people to categorically deny that spirits exist.