AN OCCURRENCE ON GARRS LANE
R. Michael Blunk, Th.D.
Image is everything—that is, according to the wisdom of Hollywood and, perhaps, Washington, but conventional wisdom in Shively, a working class neighborhood in southwest Louisville, says differently. As an example, consider the modest stone house on Garrs Lane. Single story, three bedrooms, gargoyle statues, attached garage—gargoyle statues? Okay, other than the pair of poured concrete gargoyles standing watch on the front lawn, the stone house on Garrs Lane looks much like any other house in the neighborhood, though it is said by many to be haunted.
Haunted as in the sound of mysterious footsteps trudging down the hallway. Haunted as in spooky shadows cast by unseen figures. Haunted as in ghostly apparitions and floating orbs of glowing light.
But back to image. Somehow, the single story ranch in this blue collar neighborhood does not live up to one’s expectations of a proper haunted house. Here we have an ordinary tract house common to those built during the post World War II housing boom. No hanging shutters. No creaky wrought iron gate. No weeping willows. Furthermore, my family had occupied this house during the 1960s and no one among us had ever met a ghost, ghoul, or goblin of any sort. All of this talk of spooks and disembodied spirits may sound a bit too incredulous for serious consideration, yet Suzy Johnson, the home’s current owner, and a legion of wide-eyed paranormal researches say it is true.
Before dismissing Ms. Johnson and her ghost buster friends as members of society’s fringe element, consider this: One in four Americans believes they have encountered ghosts. One in four is a lot of people! Do we write them off as lunatics? Liars? Losers? In examining the realm of the paranormal, surely a measure of hard-boiled skepticism is expected, but labeling one in four as society’s fringe seems hardly justifiable.
Over the years, Suzy Johnson has grown accustomed to the sneers and skepticism. The haunted house on Garrs Lane has been in her family for well over thirty years and, in that time, she has witnessed dozens of strange, unsettling occurrences. Her first apparitional encounter took place during the mid-1970s when she was a teenager. “On this particular night, I was jolted awake. I could see there was someone standing in my bedroom doorway staring at me, so I closed my eyes to make it think I was asleep.” Peering through squinted eyes, Suzy realized her strange visitor had not gone away. “I was afraid of looking in its face, so I looked down at its legs and feet, but there weren’t any legs or feet. I looked for its arms, but there weren’t any arms. I then looked at the face, but I didn’t see a face, either, just shoulder length, dark curly hair and the floating house dress hanging there. The dress had short sleeves, big deep pockets, and snaps up and down the front. I could see all this but not the flesh and bone body that should have gone with it.” Frightened? Suzy said the sight of the faceless apparition left her speechless and paralyzed by fear. “I have never been so scared, and with that, I believe I passed out.” Her next memory is waking to a bright, sunny morning.
Since then, Suzy, her children, and her houseguests have been eye-witnesses to a wide range of bizarre, paranormal activity. The floating dress was followed by a gravitating arm. Hovering near her bedroom door one late evening was the unnerving sight of a disembodied hand and forearm. During her adolescent years, Suzy often returned from school to the whimsical sight of tiny, baby-like fingerprints scattered across the dresser mirror in spite of her mother’s repeated assurances that no small children had been in her bedroom. Among the more eerie accounts was when her son Logan claimed to have seen his grandfather’s ghost. As it happened, the boy was seemingly able to describe his deceased grandfather, including his favorite guitar, though the gentleman had died three years before Logan’s birth. Incidentally, Suzy’s father had suffered a fatal heart attack at their home shortly after mowing the front lawn. In all, it is believed three people have died in her home. Suzie’s other son Brandon is said to have conversed with the ghost of a young blonde-haired girl; according to Brandon, the little girl had been the tragic victim of a gunshot wound. Suzy believes the child’s ghost has taken permanent residence in her house.
The term paranormal suggests occurrences that take place outside of the normal or the natural; as a result, establishing scientific credibility or obtaining verifiable evidence from paranormal occurrences is problematic. If ghosts, in fact, really exist, rational proof that can withstand scientific scrutiny is in short supply. Most of the evidence favoring the existence of ghosts is of a highly subjective nature that defies verification. For this reason, the scientific community views paranormal research as a mere pseudo-science. Modern day ghost busters come armed with electromagnetic field meters, infrared video cameras, and digital recording equipment, but traditional scientists snub these roving ghost busters as overly imaginative quacks who happen to own some pretty fancy gadgetry.
The anecdotal approach to paranormal research is based upon the eye-witness accounts of those claiming ghostly encounters. Anecdotal researchers gather and examine data gathered from those reporting paranormal experiences. Anecdotal researchers give more credence to reports of ghost sightings involving multiple witnesses. The credibility of witnesses is likewise considered; a respected history professor who claims to have seen an apparition is given more consideration than, say, an inebriated wino who cries, “Ghost!” while snoozing on a park bench. Still, the anecdotal approach is flawed in that eye-witness accounts are highly subjective and not easily confirmed.
As a theologian, my paranormal research is based upon the analyzing of eye-witness accounts from a biblical perspective. I weigh each paranormal episode against the precepts of Scripture. Admittedly, such a unique approach keeps me at odds with the overwhelming majority of paranormal researchers, but as the great Kentucky statesman Henry Clay once said, “I would rather be right than president.” Besides, I am a poor hand with electronic gadgetry.
So what have I learned? I have learned that a lot of ordinary people have witnessed some very extraordinary occurrences. It is no longer the fringe only who claims to see ghosts; normal people have paranormal encounters.
Suzy Johnson’s house is widely regarded as a hotbed of paranormal activity and its reputation has made it a favorite among ghost hunters. Over the years, a dozen or so paranormal research teams have flocked to the Garrs Lane address in hopes of visually or electronically capturing the presence of a ghost. Mysterious voices, moving objects, floating orbs, ghostly apparitions—as haunted houses go, this one has it all! According to Ms. Johnson, the majority of these visiting ghost hunters did not leave disappointed. One started ghost hunter left the house vowing never again to return!
As a paranormal researcher and a former occupant of the Garrs Lane house, my curiosity was surely piqued, so when Suzy Johnson invited my childhood friend Kevin Johnson (no relation) and me for an old-fashioned ghostly get-together, it was an invitation neither of us could refuse! I wasted no time getting to Louisville.
Overwhelmed by nostalgia, I was greeted by a strange though welcoming familiarity as we crossed the front door threshold. The last time I had set foot in the upper level of the home was in 1969. Back then, Richard Nixon was president, gasoline was less than thirty cents a gallon, a brand new Plymouth Road Runner could be had for under $3000, and Neil Armstrong had just stepped foot on the moon. A lot of years had passed.
The house seemed a bit smaller than I had remembered. This was to be expected, I supposed. I slowly ran my hand across the fireplace mantle while memories of my boyhood past flooded my mind. I could very nearly visualize my brother and me lying on the carpeted floor watching The Munsters on our old black and white TV set. It was as though I had stepped back in time.
I assumed Kevin was experiencing a rush of nostalgia, too, for we had been constant companions during our adolescent years. He had spent a lot of time in our home just as I had been a regular guest in his home. I reminded him how many years had passed since we had last walked through the house. It was like old times again!
Admittedly, I experienced a bit nervous excitement upon arriving at the old familiar house; while I do not believe in the existence of ghosts, I certainly believe in the reality of demons. If Kevin and I were to witness a floating skull or hear the hollow cry of a disembodied spirit, I would see this as the handiwork of devils and, believe me, passing an evening in the company of demons was an unsettling prospect! Satan is real. Demons are real. Years earlier, I had encountered a woman possessed by demons. I had never been so frightened in my life. This, too, was no child’s game and yet here was an opportunity for some onsite field research. I was determined that my investigation into the paranormal would not rely solely upon the research of others; furthermore, I am not afraid of getting my hands dirty.
Arriving with my laptop, Kevin came armed with an electromagnetic field meter, a digital recorder, an analog tape recorder, and a digital camera. If something out of the ordinary were to take place, he would attempt capturing the evidence electronically. Electromagnetic field meters are favored by some investigators who believe ghosts can be detected by measuring low frequency electromagnetic waves. This is mere speculation, of course, but a good many paranormal researchers cite a “spike” in their meters’ gauges during times of strange, unusual activities. Voice recorders are used by investigators for gathering EVPs. An electronic voice phenomenon is thought to be the voice of a disembodied spirit that has been captured digitally or on analog tape. While I have heard some very convincing EVPs online, I have yet to hear one from a first-hand source that sounded entirely credible.
We set up shop in the basement. As mentioned in a previous chapter, there is no direct entry to the lower level; we passed through the garage before filing down the steep concrete steps. Little had changed since my father and his friends had remodeled the basement some forty years earlier. My old bedroom and the TV room had become storage areas while the washing machine and clothes dryer were situated in the unfinished portion of the basement—just as it was when my mom had kept our family in clean clothes. Suzy mentioned that she often feels uneasy when in the basement alone.
While setting up my laptop, Kevin went about with his EMF meter; he assured us there were no electrical “leaks.” The wiring was in good order. If the EMF needle spiked during our visit, he said, it would be a remarkable occurrence. The lights were dimmed, the voice recorders set, and I began a marathon interview with Suzy. As we spoke, Kevin roamed about the dark basement in search of any out of the ordinary activities.
Earlier, I had warned Kevin against attempting to speak with the dead. While I am open to paranormal field investigating, I am not so foolish as to think ministry exempts me from God’s prohibition against necromancy, but as Kevin did not share my Christian beliefs, he determined to verbally challenge the spirits to either speak or reveal themselves in some manner.
Suzy and her children have long insisted that strange, seemingly unexplainable activities have taken place before their very eyes—activities further verified by a host of local paranormal investigators. Besides the faceless, limbless entity garbed a woman’s dress and the disembodied hand hovering about her bedroom door, other incidents include floating orbs, mysterious voices, manipulated household contents, audible voices, audible footsteps, and frequent apparitional appearances. Indeed, the house on Garrs Lane appears worthy of its reputation.
This caused me to wonder if, by chance, she were to place her house on the market, would its reputation hinder its salability? Might prospective buyers shy away from a haunted house? While assuring me no real estate agent would be placing a For Sale sign in the front lawn anytime soon, she agreed the home’s marketability would likely suffer because of its eerie reputation. Shall we assume the market for haunted houses is a bit soft these days?
I then asked if she minded living in a haunted house. What did she think of her invisible guests? Were they annoyances? Bothersome? Unwelcomed? Not at all, she answered. As we spoke, I gathered Suzy harbors a special fondness for many of her ghostly friends. She had even named some of the ghosts in the manner that one might name a favorite pet. I marveled at her “live and let live” philosophy even though it is presumed her guests are not, in the purest sense, living. But this is mere hair-splitting that Suzy readily overlooks. Houseguests need not have a pulse in order to feel welcomed. All in all, Suzy enjoys living in a haunted house.
During this first visit, our trio passed a quiet, uneventful evening in the dank atmosphere of the basement. A lot of bizarre, seemingly unexplainable activities had taken place right where we sat, but on this particular evening, not a creature was stirring—not even a mouse. Or a ghost. The dead were, well, dead! Other than a few low grade EVPs which I dismissed as inconclusive, there was nothing out of the ordinary to report. No floating skulls. No mysterious voices. Suzy and Kevin were visibly disappointed by the inactivity, but not me! Between the nostalgia and the ghost talk, I was having a grand time!
In the course of the evening, did I sense the presence of evil? No. Again, I believe the house is worthy of its reputation, but I sensed nothing cunning or sinister that night. Can a Christian sense the presence of evil? In some cases, I believe so. The indwelling of God’s Holy Spirit may allow a follower of Christ Jesus to discern the presence of evil.
As the resident spooks were refusing to come out and play, it was time to pack up and head for home. A bust? Hardly. Though we had seen nothing out of the ordinary, I had recorded hours of invaluable, eye-witness testimony that would further aid my paranormal research efforts—plus I had been given the opportunity of revisiting my old childhood home. Suzy Johnson proved to be a gracious hostess.
A GHOSTLY MULLIGAN
If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.
A few months after our first visit, Suzy extended a second invitation. No arm twisting was necessary. Kevin and I grabbed the laptop and the rest our gear. Our ghost busting trio was ready to give it another go.
The initial visit had been quiet, but things got a bit livelier during our second stay.
While setting up shop in the familiar basement, we noted an almost immediate temperature change. Paranormal investigators frequently cite a drop in ambient air temperature when disembodied spirits are presumed to be present and, as it happened, Kevin and I felt a plunge in the mercury that was easily verified with the aid of his digital thermometer. Perhaps my imagination had gotten the better of me, but it was as though I could feel an icy presence.
As the night passed, Suzy took shot after shot with her digital camera. Many of the photographs seemingly revealed clusters of small, glowing orbs hovering near Kevin. While fueling plenty of interest and speculation, these so-called orbs were likely mere reflections created by the camera’s flash. Kevin and Suzy reported some garbled, low grade EVPs which I considered inconclusive.
Later in the evening, I left Suzy and Kevin’s company to explore another area of the basement. I wanted to visit my old bedroom where the disembodied hand and forearm was reportedly seen. I had just stepped away from the group when, without warning, something unseen grabbed the medallion hanging from Kevin’s neck. Quite remarkably, the medallion was forcefully drawn upward to the base of his throat before being released. I immediately set forth in finding a plausible explanation for the disturbance. Could the medallion have been snagged by the back of Kevin’s chair? Had his pendant become entangled by something hanging from the ceiling? The wooden chair’s low back was immediately ruled out; furthermore, we could find nothing—no loose wires or cords—hanging from the ceiling that could have possibly snagged the medallion. Understandably, Kevin was visibly shaken by the strange occurrence, but as for Suzy, this was strictly routine and all in a night’s work.
In the end, we could find no “normal” reason for the disturbance. Something invisible had prankishly tugged at Kevin’s medallion. But what? Did a ghost make physical contact with a living person? Was this the sinister handiwork of a demonic entity? Or is this what happens when three middle-aged adults sit in a darkened basement swapping ghost stories?