It’s a normal Summer afternoon. A beautiful day. We’ve already had a steady stream of visitors into the museum. I share the front admissions counter with one of our volunteers. Without notice the front door swiftly, smoothly, gently, opens all the way. Our door swings outward, and the entrance fills with the August heat from outside. For a moment, no one walks through. A couple of seconds later, a teenage girl and her mother enter the gift shop. The young girl, a smile full of braces, looks at us at the counter and proclaims,
“I guess the ghost opened it for us.”
Mom looked at the open door a second, and then reached out to pull it closed. With a very confused look on her face, Mom nervously laughed and agreed with her daughter’s explanation.
The teen describes they were just outside standing at the main gate entrance. They stopped to look at the photo in our Lookout Tower. The life size cut out picture that forever looks out the window. The daughter knew the story, had read the books, and was telling her mom about the ghost that everyone thinks lives here. As they started to walk towards the museum’s front door… it opened.
It’s a cool story. It’s a really cool story for me since I watched it open. No hands. No person. Just the door opening in that weird, slow, steady way. Weird because we do see the door open on its own pretty frequently. When the wind is just right, the pressure pulls the door out and open. Sometimes a little bit, sometimes a lot. But when the breeze pops the door, it has a look to it. And a sound. You can hear the wind. And the door opens in a herky-jerky way that offers no inference to the paranormal. And it never opens all the way. Just a little bit until the wind lessens its grip. This day wasn’t windy. Just a calm, hot, summer afternoon. I worked in the store all day that day, and the front door never opened in that way again. And it never opened in the normal grabbed by the wind way, either.
Folks often ask me what it’s like to work in a haunted place. At the risk of over simplification, working in a haunted building is just like working in a non-haunted building, except a fair amount of things happen that you can’t explain. If you find that particularly frightening, then maybe it would be different. I don’t find the museum scary to work inside. I’m not afraid to come to work. Yes, I’ve experienced some really strange things at work, and yes, these times have left me feeling pretty on edge, but I’m not afraid to stay here. It’s not like we see things flying around from wild poltergeist activity. Nor do we ever see shadows or dark figures moving around that make us think something evil or demonic is present.
Odd things, though, happen. Just last week Jessica was having a perfectly normal conversation with me in the museum store. It was a very quiet day, and at this moment, there were no visitors inside. Our conversation was interrupted by the sound of footsteps. Upstairs. In the gallery space above us. We both stopped and acknowledged that it sounded like someone walking, and it was coming from upstairs. We both heard it at the same time. As we continued to listen, we heard nothing more. My co-worker acknowledge she heard the same sound last week, while she worked the store by herself waiting for me to return with my tour group. Ironically, I was bringing back the Ghost Walk group.
Anyone that works in this 1903 building long enough is going to have a ghost story or two to share. You may even have more than two. The summer of 2018 turned one of our non-believing, thinks this stuff is ridiculous nonsense Interns into a no doubt about it believer in less than 90 days.
So we work in a haunted building. And if you happen to also work in a haunted building, or you find yourself in a haunted building, I recommend these three things:
From Nineteen Hundred and Three to Nineteen Hundred and Sixty Nine, a span of 66 years, men served their country in this structure. They worked in the United States Life-Saving Service and then the United States Coast Guard. In the early days, life was raw and rugged here. Men worked the beaches in horrifying weather conditions back in the day, in an effort to save others. Only a handful of them died while in service. A testament to the quality of their skill and training. If we look at death certificates, however, many of the Surfman die from sicknesses that were most likely brought on by years of constant exposure to the elements. I’m certainly convinced that some have returned. New staff or volunteers think I’m kidding when I say goodnight or goodbye to the ghosts at the end of our workday. When I’m opening the door by myself in the morning, I offer the same greeting with hello or good morning. It’s not a joke to me. There are souls that stay in this building and being respectful that this was, this is, their station, their place of service, is important.
Figure out if it’s a Ghost or a Spirit.
These are different phenomenon. To me, the soul in our Lookout Tower is a ghost. A ghost story repeats itself. A ghost story is the same every time. It doesn’t matter what we do or say, the ghost continues the ever repeated path. The day I had to stop and sit down on the tower stairs because the cold air I had just felt was literally taking my breath away is probably a ghost story. The ghost was walking up or down the steps that moment, and I somehow managed to feel this.
A spirit will interact with you. The music we play in the museum or the gift shop will sometimes turn itself up. It’s become a thing here. It has happened to a number of people, including myself. The day I stood with my co-worker listening the old jazz music we were playing being turned up, I called out,
“Do you like the music?”, I asked.
The music went to full volume. It’s one time in the building that a soul answered me. That’s a spirit answering. Something that’s sharing our space, and knows we are there. Being aware of the difference can help you stay connected during the encounter, and may later be helpful figuring out the history and identity of who is talking to you.
Be a skeptic first.
I’ve seen a number of paranormal groups come into the building and start talking to ghosts in the first five minutes. Folks meandering about with their rods and strings, getting yes and no answers like some perfectly shaped door to the afterlife is automatically opened to them. I don’t buy it. When you project your ghostly beliefs first, then everything has a tendency to become an encounter. In nearly seven years in this building I’ve only had a handful of truly strange experiences. I’ve perhaps had another few dozen smaller happenings that I will agree were not of this world. Be a good, healthy skeptic first.
So interesting things happen, to say the least, when you work in a haunted place. Whether you are a believer, a non-believer, or a true skeptic, haunted encounters are probably going to happen in your lifetime. I encourage all to embrace the possibilities with an open mind. I went from non-believer to believer as a working adult. All I can say, personally, is that the transition has allowed me to open all of my senses to the energy that is always around me.
As I write this blog on an Autumn afternoon, the sun has emerged, heating the thick beams and clapboards that make up the old bones of this historic place. The building creeks and groans and pops with sound as the heat brings expansion to the old timbers. I love these moments when you can be here in the quiet and just listen. You never know what you might hear.