Roundtable: Our Spookiest Real Ghost Stories

For much of the year, it’s a little weird to be the person who tries to make fun group conversation about whether anyone has any ghost stories. Not so during October! We hope! Everyone who loves reading those maybe-made-up Reddit threads of true ghost stories and Jezebel’s scary stories threads, this is our time to shine. These are our very best honest-to-goodness true spooky stories; share your own in the comments!

television with a noose flickering

KaeLyn, Staff Writer; Oswego, NY, 2005 and 2006

I need to tell you, first of all, that I’ve always had little weird things that I thought were ghosts. I grew up in an old farmhouse that backed up to our small, local cemetery. Shit was weird. My CD player would turn on and off by itself. I heard a voice whisper, “Hi,” to me on the stairs to my room. Maybe it was the power of persuasion because I lived right there next to so many dead people’s graves, but I always felt like ghosts were around me. I’m not here to talk about my hometown, though. My two most chilling ghosts experiences happened in my college town of Oswego, NY.

One night, I was sitting in my room in my dormitory suite. My roommate and I were on our respective sides of the room doing homework or something. Out of nowhere, we hear this loud noise like a huge bell or gong ringing that sounds like it’s coming from our common room. We looked at each other like, “Did you hear that?” because it was a totally unusual noise. We both got up and went into the common room and I SHIT YOU NOT WE BOTH SAW AN IMAGE OF A NOOSE ON THE TV. Like, on the TV picture is just this weird, dark, staticky, soundless image of a dangling noose. We screamed and turned the TV off and huddled up together in her twin bed and pulled the blankets around us. We must have rehashed it, like, 100 times. My roommate didn’t even believe in ghosts. She also didn’t believe in cuddling. WE WERE SO FREAKED OUT. We went through every possible scenario. Maybe we left the TV on and a horror movie came on? We looked through all the TV listings. No horror movies. We called the campus TV station to see if they had been showing a scary movie or program. Nope. We went back and turned on the TV. No creepy show. Maybe we were imagining things? BUT WE BOTH SAW IT AND HEARD THE NOISE AT THE SAME TIME?!?! Then, Erica remembered that our mutual friend has posted on Facebook about it being the one-year anniversary of her hometown friend’s death. Our friend used to live in our suite, but had recently moved. I don’t know how we came to this conclusion, but we decided it could have been her dead friend looking for her. We called and asked if we could come over. Get this, folks, it turns out she had called her friend’s old phone number earlier that day to leave a voicemail AND her friend’s death was the result of suicide. THE NOOSE. THE GONG NOISE. It’s giving me chills right now thinking about it. We decided it was her friend looking for her in her old dorm suite and we were thoroughly creeped, but it was somewhat of a relief to know it was a…known ghost? And then we, like, never talked about it again because my roommate still really didn’t believe in ghosts and this left us both, like, SHOOK.

Ghost #2 is only a year later, when I was working full time at a women’s shelter. I used to work alone a lot of shifts and that safe house was literally the creepiest place. The touch lamps would randomly turn on and off by themselves at night and all the staff complained about it, but the managers said it must be an electrical issue. There was this one door, the door to Room #1, that would never stay shut. It would shut completely and latch (unlocked). Then, a little while later, it would be ajar again. This one resident tried to put her things in front of the door so it wouldn’t swing open overnight. IT STILL OPENED. A little girl was staying with her mom in Room #1 for a while and the door kept opening even though they shut it before bed. One morning, the little girl comes up to me and says she saw a shadowy man’s face in the doorway. AHHHHH. One night, when I was all alone at the shelter on an overnight—no residents and no other staff—I was standing in front of a large cabinet (in the room across from Room #1, no less, when all of a sudden I smelled, distinctly, a waft of men’s cologne. It couldn’t have been anything else. And just as soon as I smelled it, it was gone again. I went in the office and locked the door and closed all the windows until morning and tried to convince myself it didn’t happen. I never told anyone else about it. One night, around midnight, I got a call on my cell from one of my coworkers. She was flipping out about how creepy the house was that night. She was telling me how creeped out she was and then I SHIT YOU NOT she told me that she smelled men’s cologne! Standing in the exact same room I was standing in, like literally the exact same situation. She smelled it briefly and then it wafted by and she couldn’t locate where the smell was coming from. Literally all of the staff were convinced the house was haunted, but the managers (who only worked days) never believed us.

heather's ghost cat

Heather Hogan, Senior Editor; Astoria New York, 2013-Present

I think we have a ghost cat. No, I’m serious! Independently of each other Stacy and I came to the conclusion that there was a friendly ghost cat romping around our house. Sometimes we would see what seemed like a cat doing cat stuff out of the corner of our eyes (sometimes at the same time, even, we would see it) or we’d feel a cat brush up against our legs but it wasn’t any of our cats (or, like, a corporeal cat at all). We sense it run up and down the stairs most often. What I like about the ghost cat is he’s very chill about the number of cats we have, unlike our first cat Quasar who has been ready to murder both us and the feral kittens we rescued from the moment we brought them inside. Our ghost cat is a real pal!

chair with spotlight going dark

Mey, Trans Editor; Los Angeles, 2017

I’m Mexican. I’ve believed in ghosts my whole life without needing any proof. It’s just how we are. I once did a very scientific twitter poll asking how many Mexicans and Mexican-Americans believe in ghosts and over 90% of people said yes. But still, I never had a ghostly encounter until just this fall. So, my grandpa died eight years ago, but we had never buried his ashes, they were just sitting in the house those eight years and his cemetery plot was sitting empty. As a way of acknowledging that he was still in the house, we always left this one light on over his seat at the table, even at night, even when no one was home. Then, the night before we buried him, when my grandma took his ashes downstairs and put them there on the table so that we could bury him in the morning, the light bulb at his seat went out. That was the first time in eight years I had seen my grandpa’s light go out. It felt like he was saying goodbye, he was letting us know that he was going to go rest, and it really helped me to feel okay about his death.

ghost cat

Carolyn, NSFW Editor and Literary Editor, Ottawa, ON, 2011–2013

When I lived in Ottawa I lived on the sunny top floor of a beautiful old house with no right angles in it whatsoever, and it just felt like a ghost cat lived there, too. I work from home, and I would be working and not really paying attention to anything around me and suddenly feel like I had company and also like that company wanted to play. I’d see part of a tail out of the corner of my eye, or smell a kitten smell, or notice I was thinking something like “it’s weird the cat is over there,” even though there was no physical cat around. Sometimes it would curl up on my desk, one time it curled up on my feet. When we adopted a (in Heather’s words) corporeal cat, I would be totally convinced that the kittens were playing together. And when, a little over a year after I moved out, I visited to cat-sit the corporeal cat for a few days, it felt like I was being very lovingly and actively ignored by something the way only a cat lovingly and actively ignores you. (The corporeal cat just curled up on my keyboard and refused to move.) My now-ex partner, who still lives there, was and remains skeptical of the ghost cat, but she is also skeptical of ghosts generally, and at least in this case I want to believe.

red axe

Stef Schwartz, Vapid Fluff Editor; New Falls, MA, 2011

A few years back, a friend invited me and a bunch of her other friends I barely knew to celebrate her 30th birthday by spending it at the Lizzie Borden Bed and Breakfast in New Falls, MA. For the uninitiated, this is the actual house in which Lizzie Borden (allegedly) murdered her parents, and it’s been restored to look and feel as close to the original as possible. I don’t personally believe in ghosts, but I also love spooky shit so I was 100% on board for this adventure.

Our stay began with a tour of the house and a detailed retelling of the Lizzie Borden legend. Let’s start off by saying that this place is cheesy as all heck, lots of hatchet-themed decorations and for any rooms not directly associated with the murders, our host made up some random extra ghost stories for good measure. The room I was staying in had apparently hosted a bunch of children who drowned? I don’t know. The birthday girl and her boyfriend were staying in the room Lizzie Borden’s stepmother was murdered in, which lent itself to some excellent joke photography. The innkeepers expect you to be in bed by like 10 PM because breakfast and checkout are super early, so obviously we all got wasted and started poking around the house, trying on clothes we found in the closets, messing around with a Ouija board we found somewhere in the living room.

At one point, we were all sitting in one of the bedrooms, trading spooky stories (as one does). I was wearing a top hat and tails I’d found in a closet, sitting in a wooden coffin someone had carried up from the basement, sipping bourbon and listening politely. Suddenly, we all heard a distinct heavy breathing coming from inside the room. We all traded nervous glances, and those of us who were wearing actual clothing items from the house removed them immediately. Like I said, I don’t particularly believe in ghosts, but after a couple of drinks I’m certainly open to suggestion. We heard the odd creepy noise here and there over the remainder of the night, to the point where one of the girls I was sharing my room with was terrified to even go to the bathroom by herself.

When I woke up in the morning, my roommates told me that they’d heard cackling coming from the hallway in the middle of the night. They’d gone out to investigate and found… a phone loaded with a bunch of creepy noises. The background was a photo including one of the girls in our group. When we confronted her about it, she laughed and told us we wouldn’t have had such a great time if we hadn’t been a little scared, and I have to admit she was right. I still don’t believe in ghosts, except for those rare occasions when apparently I do.

rocking chair

Reneice, Staff Writer; Norwalk, CT, 1988-90ish

Okay. Sadly I have yet to have a ghost encounter that I was old enough to remember and I am impatiently waiting for my day to come. My mother however once told me that I had a ghost nanny when I was a baby. Apparently it was a common occurrence that she would put me in my crib for naps or to sleep for the night and I would wake up crying, cause babies are the worst. Before she could drag herself out of bed and get to the room to soothe me I would suddenly stop crying but she would still come to check on me. Once she opened the door she said the rocking chair was always just slowly rocking, empty, by itself and I’d be trying to turn my head towards it and cooing/laughing, or just be falling back to sleep. I guess given being a single mother of two and cherishing her sleep more than pretty much anything else she didn’t give too much thought to my room being haunted and was just grateful that she had help with newborn me. As I got older in that room weird things would happen every once in awhile. When I was around three I jolted awake and realized I’d been sleeping with my eyes open which terrified me cause I’d been having a dream in which a sweet but creepy old lady who I assume was the ghost nanny told me that bad things happen when I sleep with my eyes open. After I blinked a few times and my vision normalized I looked to the left and the entire window/wall of my room was swarmed with a hive of bees. I ran screaming out of the room, my mom and my aunt charged in with shoes in their hands and I guess beat the bees to death? I don’t know. We moved pretty soon afterward.

bullets pattern

Erin, Staff Writer; Riese’s house, Ypsilanti, MI, 2017

I have written twice about personal run-ins with ghosts on Autostraddle, and yet I have another for you. Earlier this year I said out loud, “I’m a little offended a ghost has never haunted me.” This was a mistake. A ghost heard that was like, “Girl, let me come through!” This ghost, as I illustrated with a picture in the second link above, first made her (literal) mark when she left a handprint on my blanket while I was away. Riese and I both tried to recreate the handprint and it was no dice on the size or the shape. (I was primed to be more suspect of the handprint based on the lights that kept turning on by themselves and the unexplained noises I’d experienced in the weeks prior.)

A few weeks later, Riese away on a trip, while I was on the couch in the middle of the night after accidentally falling asleep, I heard a gunshot just outside the living room window. I sat up, my dog started barking, and then there was another gunshot on the opposite side of the house. I assumed the house was surrounded and pretty quickly accepted my impending death by just sitting very still on the couch. Then I heard another gunshot outside the same living room window. Back and forth this went for – no exaggeration – 30 minutes. It was so long that I went from experiencing fear, to acceptance, to amusement, to then being pretty chill with it. Just a fury of opposing gunfire like the house stood in the way of two armies holding their lines. Never in the 30 minutes did I see flashes from the gunfire; it was all auditory, and was loud enough that it immobilized both me and my dog.

Now, given the time (3:30am) and how loud it was (AF), you would think this would have alarmed neighbors and prompted at least one of them to call the cops, (I wasn’t going to do it and have my phone glow and give it away that someone was inside) except no one did. You would also think, given the number of shots fired (one every three to five seconds for 30 minutes), that SOMETHING would have gotten hit with a bullet, and also that there would be a million shells on the ground. The morning after proved neither.

This ghost concocted the most intense war zone ever, but just audibly, to scare me and my dog for her own personal amusement.

careens grandmothers

Carmen, Staff Writer

I don’t know if I believe in ghosts in the ways that others have described them here, but I definitely believe in spirits. I believe that the spirits of my ancestors and family members guide me, protect me, make sure that I am never alone.

My ghost story isn’t spooky or scary; it’s not even silly. Much like Mey mentioned up-thread, growing up Latina for me has also meant believing in the supernatural from a young age. I draw comfort from the fact that the people in my life who I’ve loved and have left this world, have never left me.

I was named Carmen Laura after both of my grandmothers. As life would have it, both women passed away before my 10th birthday. But, I have never wanted or missed for their love. I talk to them when I’ve had a bad day or celebrate when I’ve had an especially good one. I pump fists with my grandfather whenever the Yankees win the World Series. I dance salsa and make mixtapes with my Uncle Rei. Sometimes I skip a proper dinner and opt for an ice cream sundae instead; a silly secret I keep with my nephew who passed away far too young. These small rituals keep their spirits close to me. It reminds me of the cycle of life, but also that saying goodbye to someone physically does not mean saying goodbye to them forever.

I get very into Halloween, I revel in the darkness of nights and my teeth ache from too much candy- a habit I was probably supposed to grow out of, but never did. I watch scary movies. For a phase in college I wore all the skimpy outfits I could muster. However, my favorite part of the season is November 1st. That’s when I honor Día de los Muertos. I light candles and say prayers; lay out food and mementos on my ofrenda. The wall between this world and the world beyond always feels thinner to me that day, and I bask in time spent with those members of my family who I cannot see, but always feel.

winchester mystery house, the door to nowhere

Nora, Fashion & Beauty Editor; San Jose, California, 1884 (but probably more like 1994 for me)-Present

I’ve been super into ghosts since I was little, and continue to be terrified of coming into contact with one, even though I never have and science (which, hey, I believe when it comes to climate change) says I never will. But fuck it, it’s October, let’s do this; I’m going to let you in my favorite ghostly thing ever, which is the Winchester Mystery House and which I thought until recently that everyone else already knew about because they too routinely emptied Barnes & Noble of its “ghost stories for kids” books in their respective youths, but apparently that was an erroneous assumption.

The Winchester Mystery House combines the supernatural with two of my other big interests: architecture and design, and the trope of the hysterical woman. Construction on the house began in 1884, and (apocryphally speaking) continued 24/7 until the 1922 death of its owner/designer Sarah Winchester. Winchester was the widow of firearms magnate William Wirt Winchester, and according to legend was told by a psychic that the ghosts of those killed by the eponymous rifle were coming after her; thus, she attempted to outsmart them by commissioning a labyrinthine house with stairs to nowhere, doors that opened to multi-story drops, and other unusual features, where she could sleep in a different bedroom every night. I recently started reading a book that questions these claims, but haven’t finished because it wasn’t nearly as fun as the original story. Watch this video and you’ll see what I mean.

teresita basa

Rachel, Managing Editor

I regret to inform you that I have never experienced a ghost or haunting firsthand; trust me, no one is more disappointed about this than I am. I have had a lot of night terrors, which feel a LOT like being haunted but are actually just you freaking out everyone else in the house for no reason. I wasn’t going to contribute to this because I told everyone else that secondhand stories didn’t count but Laneia said I had to because this roundtable was my idea so here we are! I did get to interview the Queer Ghost Hunters of Ohio, honestly one of the highlights of my career with Autostraddle. In the middle of writing that story, I went to a bar with some friends and was catching them up on some of the ghost anecdotes when my friend EJ shared one from her own family.

In 1977, Teresita Basa was murdered in her apartment in Chicago. The detectives on the case ran out of leads and the case was starting to grow cold until the homicide department got a strange call. A Dr. Jose Chua contacted them to let them know that his wife Remebios — my friend’s aunt! — had begun talking in her sleep, seemingly in a trance state, saying she was speaking as Teresita Basa and giving clues to her own murder. The police were skeptical, but Remy-as-Teresita named someone that she said was her murderer, explained what he was doing in her apartment that night and that he had stolen jewelry; she also said her murderer had given the jewelry to his girlfriend and named people from Teresita’s life who could identify the jewelry as hers. All of the details checked out, the jewelry was identified exactly as she said it would be, and the person Remy named was arrested; the trial ended in a mistrial but the defendant plead guilty while awaiting a new trial. Remy did work at the same hospital as Teresita while Teresita was alive; some people think that Remy just picked up on or figured out all these details on her own without supernatural help, but my friend telling me the story was insistent that the women were barely acquainted and that Remy had no idea why Teresita had chosen to talk through her. A ghost story with a satisfying ending!

red cat eyes

Kayla, Staff Writer; Brooklyn, NY 2017

I have always believed in ghosts even though I don’t have many specific stories of ghost interactions. I can’t remember anything specific a ghost has ever said to me or done in my presence, but I have always understood there to be certain otherworldly presences in just about every home I’ve ever lived in. A big part of why I know there have been ghosts around is because I’ve always had cats, and all cats see ghosts. My childhood cat Piper who now lives with my grandparents in Virginia always seemed very invested in staring at a particular wall in my childhood home, and I know some Stranger Things shit was going down in that wall.

My girlfriend and I recently adopted a new kitten named Paulson, and this cat sees hella ghosts. She’ll become fixated on something only she can see, and I’ll look for dust or bugs only to realize that she’s most definitely looking at/following a ghost. Sometimes her cute kitten antics take on a slightly more supernatural vibe, like the time we woke up to her running upside down on the bottom of our mattress or the time she wouldn’t stop staring at something/someone directly over my shoulder. She even gets spooked sometimes, jumping and running away from some presence we cannot see. This is particularly disturbing when I’m home alone, which is often, because I work from home. But Paulson is a sweet cat, and I have a feeling that she’s interacting with sweet ghosts. Paulson loves attention and will probably even take it from otherworldly beings.

lanes victorian ghost

Laneia, Executive Editor; Lemoore, CA, 2002

I’m in the camp of I’ve Believed In/Experienced Ghosts From Like, Birth. My earliest ghost was a Victorian-era maid holding a large silver platter with tea service at the foot of my grandmother’s bed in the middle of the night when I was about 6. I slept with her when I’d stay the night because the only other room — I called it The Red Room because of the burgundy color scheme — was undoubtedly haunted and I wouldn’t step foot in there after dark. That night I woke up lying on my back and immediately saw this woman holding the tray. We looked at each other for a while. She was pale with chin length black hair that had been curled at the ends, and wearing a black dress with a small black bonnet and white gloves. I wasn’t scared at first, but the longer she didn’t move or say anything, the more creeped out I became. I whispered, “please go” and scooted down into the covers, which woke up my grandmother. She turned on the light before I could tell her to hide, and when I came out, the woman was gone. My grandmother never doubted there’d been a ghost, and told me it was polite that I didn’t scream.

This same grandmother would become my favorite ghost about 15 years later. She’d passed away a few weeks before and I was alone upstairs in my new house in California, going through boxes of old things she’d given to me before she died. And sobbing, of course. It was the first time I’d really broken down about her death and it was BRUTAL. At one point I choked out, “PLEASE COME BACK I don’t think I can do this without you!!” — this meaning raise a baby, be a mother, be a wife, make a family, etc — when a song started playing on the computer downstairs. It was “Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic” by The Police. I scrambled down and stared at the screen to see that Kazaa (a file sharing platform) was open and this song was playing, apparently from my library? But I hadn’t downloaded it, and I sure as hell hadn’t played it from all the way upstairs. So I went from confused, to stunned, to laughing, to dancing around my living room. It was her, and I knew it. I’d asked her to come back and tell me I would be OK, and she did. When the song stopped I went over to replay it, only to see that it wasn’t there. Nothing in my library, nothing even in the download queue. I searched for the file on my entire computer and found nothing. My grandmother had come back from the great beyond to play me a song and it was MAGIC.

old hotel bell

Carrie, Staff Writer; Outside San Luis Obispo, CA, Circa 1996

I wish I could remember the location more clearly, but as someone with only a passing interest in the paranormal I never let my memory really grab onto it. Here’s what I do know: we stopped at an old hotel for lunch on a family road trip and I really did not want to go to the bathroom alone. This wasn’t a typical habit — I just felt very strongly that I did not want to be alone anywhere in that place. The longer we stayed the more I wanted to leave. Nothing weird happened beyond my feeling unsettled, but we looked it up later and turns out that place was extremely, famously haunted. Surprise!

old teddy bear lying on the ground

Molly Priddy, Staff Writer; Wurtz Forest Service Cabin, Polebridge, Montana, 2010

The funny thing about living in Montana is that it all feels like a ghost town anyway, because there’s so much space up here and relatively few people. Homesteads sit and wear down under the wind and weather and become ghosts of times past. But specifically, I was staying at a Forest Service cabin near Polebridge, which is surrounded by 3 million acres of wilderness. The cabin originally belonged to the Wurtz family, who homesteaded the hardscrabble land and had many children (I want to say 8?). Apparently while the family was there, other people expressed interest in their children — they couldn’t have kids, so maybe the Wurtzes could just, like, give them a couple of theirs? This was a no-go. Then one night, when the 5-year-old daughter was supposed to be watching her two younger siblings (as you do), she wandered off to play with her doll or something (because she was FIVE) and a fire broke out. They never found the bodies of the two youngest kiddos, and there’s a theory that during the chaos of the fire, they were abducted into the dark forest. So take all that into account, then add like a century and a dozen of my friends and there I am, in the middle of the night, in this historic cabin. It’s silent as the grave — there’s no cell service, pavement, or powerlines up there, so it’s dead quiet. Then I heard the sound of someone rustling around, and I thought, OK it’s a drunk person. But no one was moving, I could see everyone sleeping upstairs. I closed my eyes again, my body super alert, and then I heard it — just the tiniest, lightest sigh near my ear, the kind a little kid makes when they don’t think anyone is listening. I smelled wood smoke, but we had banked the coals in the fireplace going downstairs, so that had to be it, right? Jolting up, I looked around for the sigher, or anything really, and it was just me. Everyone else was asleep. I don’t worry about ghosts too much, but I also know enough to know I don’t know everything, so I usually approach these situations like, “OK, hello, I want to respect your space and be peaceful here.” So I thought that, extra hard, and fell asleep again.

tarot deck

Raquel, Staff Writer

I feel like a no-fun fuddy-duddy, but I’ve never had a ghost experience, I assume in part because I don’t believe in ghosts. Do ghosts avoid people who don’t believe in them because, like, what’s the use? Or are they like cats and go straight for the person who’s allergic? Either way, I haven’t noticed.

However, when I was in senior year of high school and went on a trip to Europe, I was convinced that Switzerland was ruled by demons—in part because I’d read a terrible Christian Apocalypse-lit book that talked about how demons loved to hang out in the most beautiful places, and in part because I felt such an overwhelming sense of gloom when I sat alone in my hotel room. But in retrospect, I think that was just depression.

As for now, I don’t believe in ghosts, spirits, demons, souls, auras, or anything outside of science and I’m sorry. I believe in feeling awe for the intricate pattern of rule in nature that have created things so beautiful as trees and self-aware human minds and organs that can perceive visual information. I believe the scale of the macro and micro universes (Space! Galaxies! Skin Cells! Microorganisms!) can be spiritual in its contemplation. I think spiritualism is something deeply human, more human than spirit.

Does this mean Mey will kick me out of Witch Hunt? I hope not because I do believe that hexing someone evil does one good and and appreciating the beauty of nature, friendship, and hope is deeply healing, regardless of whether there is something truly mystical occurring. Also I believe in being a scorpio, and I believe in holding and keeping beautiful objects as talismans. I believe tarot readers have given me truths I didn’t know before. I believe magic is our own ability to create meaning and invent faith. I believe our own faith can make us bigger than we think, even if we have faith in nothing. What can I say? I contain multitudes ¯_(ツ)_/¯



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