Haunted house is puzzling but not frightening

October 31, 1991|By Lan Nguyen | Lan Nguyen,Evening Sun Staff

THINGS that go bump in the night just don't scare Linda Armstrong -- never have, never will.

And neither ghosts nor slamming doors will get her to move away from her beloved 19th century Victorian farmhouse in Laurel, a haunt for a handful of female ghosts, she reports.

Not even the eerie female apparition that appeared at the foot of her bed one night will scare her away -- not even the lingering smell of perfume that pervades an upstairs bedroom, not even the stink cloud that once hung underneath the century-old chandelier in the dining room. Indeed, there'll be more tricks than treats at her house Halloween night.

"Before these things happened to me, I didn't believe in ghosts," she said. "I think they do exist."

What Armstrong describes is typical of hauntings, according to Richard Broughton, director of research at the Institute for Parapsychology in North Carolina.

"Hauntings have classic symptoms," he said. "They are sounds, the occasional but not necessary apparitions. They tend to have a repetitive nature, seen by different people at different times."

Armstrong and her family can't recall how many strange occurrences have happened at her Whiskey Bottom Road house -- there have been so many. They're unsure how many of these freaky things were caused by their own absent-mindedness and how many were caused by . . . others.

"There were lots of noises in the house that were unexplained, but you just think, 'well, the house is settling, '" said Armstrong. "Things always happen, but I could give excuses to everything."

A friend, Lynn Poland, thinks something extra-terrestrial is at work. She had a spooky experience herself five years ago when she rested in Armstrong's bedroom and heard a dinner bell ring from the front porch. "At first I wasn't going to get up and answer the door, but it kept ringing," she said. "I went out there and there was no one there. I don't have a fear of being in the house like something's going to hurt me. But I can feel an uneasiness at times."

"Often people aren't making anything up," said Broughton, whose book, "Parapsychology: The Controversial Science," has just been released by Ballantine Books. "The issue is whether they're interpreting the data correctly."

He says the institute, which mainly researches extra-sensory functions and mind-over-matter phenomena, gets about three phone calls a month from people saying their houses are haunted. He refers them to books on the topic and suggests they keep a log of what happened, when it happened and who was there when it happened.

Hauntings are hard to investigate, he said, because they're based on human testimony, making it hard to do laboratory analysis.

Armstrong and her husband bought the house in 1979, enthralled by the house's three Corinthian column-decorated fireplaces and original Franklin stoves. It came with 3.5 acres, had lots of potential and was close to town, she said.

The house first shows up in Howard County records in 1863, when James Smith bought the house from Robert Cole and his wife. The house has been sold, bought, foreclosed and mortgaged to about 10 couples since then.

Armstrong has come to accept the unexplained noises and eerie happenings at the house and she takes them all in stride. Everybody's used to them now, she said, but there are times when things just stump her.

Two years ago, for example, as she cleaned her house for her annual Xi Alpha Zeta sorority meeting, she noticed a funky smell -- the odor of old, dirty wash water -- in the dining room. The odor was concentrated in a bread box-sized invisible stink cloud that hovered just under a century-old chandelier (which doesn't work, to electricians' confusion). Neither she nor her cleaning woman could figure out where the smell came from.

"It was really driving me crazy and I just wanted to get it out of here," she said. "I sprayed Lysol and cleaned out the whole room but it just wouldn't go away."

Finally, she left to do some baking for the meeting, and eventually the bad odor was whisked away by the pleasant smells of baked apples and pumpkin pies.

Since she and her husband built an addition to their house, however, they don't use much of the reportedly haunted corners and crevices, which now serve as storage space. She's added a Victorian-decorated hair salon and beauty shop to her house and has replaced the siding, reroofed an old brick shed and redone the front porch. In the works are plans to gut and remodel the kitchen soon.

"It's not scary and it really doesn't bother me," she said. "It's my home and I love my home. It's very friendly."

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