THIS IS AN OTHERWORLDLY TALE that starts with a purchase that’s very much of this one: life insurance. When my husband and I bought a home in Loudon, New Hampshire, in May, I decided to increase my life insurance coverage. The medical technician sent by the insurer took an interest in our four-bedroom Shaker-style house, built in 1750. I happily showed him around because he didn’t give off a creepy vibe. He didn’t give off a creepy vibe, that is, until he told me he had seen a ghost in the upstairs hall. He said that many people in his family could see ghosts and that he had spotted a woman from the 1820s. He could tell she loved children and would be a happy presence in our family’s lives. Then he packed up various containers of my bodily fluids and drove away.
I’m officially agnostic on the existence of ghosts, but the fact that someone had seen one in my own house intrigued me enough to decide to invite another medium or two to visit. I’ve been researching the house’s history through the New Hampshire state archives, and I figured a few unconventional sources would round out my project. The Northeast has the oldest houses in the country, and at 263 years my house is among the oldest of the old — surely there have been a lot of opportunities for supernatural mischief, right?
I found a medium from Maine who on her website looked just like you’d expect a medium to look — long gray hair and a knowing smile. She had experience investigating old buildings, including a haunted roller rink. As a consumer, haunted roller rink experience is something I look for when choosing a medium. Once she arrived, along with her partner, she explained that she used her body to feel spiritual vibrations. Her partner employed dowsing rods. She started in the keeping room, just off the kitchen, telling me that, as she stood in front of our large fireplace and brick oven, she could see the original owners cooking there.
She moved over to the kitchen sink and reported that she felt a very heavy, depressing, stuffy presence, right where my dog had been sick earlier that morning. “Could it be a cooking or some other smell you’re sensing?” I asked. “Like, I don’t know, our dogs spend a lot of time in here. Could it just be a doggy smell?”
“No, this is a heavy, earthbound spirit,” she said. “I see a large woman. I think her name began with an M — Muriel? She often pickled things — like pickled eggs.”
I was not impressed: I had pickled some eggs that weekend, and they were sitting right there on the counter.
As we went through the house, the medium told me that the original builders were brothers, one of whom was exceedingly proud of this stonework. According to her, he spends much of his time in our cellar, where you can still see the original foundation he’s so enamored with. When I mentioned we intended to pour concrete over the cellar’s dirt floor, she very seriously told me that we would need to ask his permission. In the dining room, she saw a spirit named Abigail and her daughter Hannah, as well as the spirit of a black man who was somehow connected to Crispus Attucks.
As the medium moved on to the living room, her partner approached me. “Do you vacuum under or behind your refrigerator?” he asked.
“No,” I said.
“You should. It really will run more efficiently if you do.”
That was the most useful piece of information the spirit world sent me during this medium’s visit.
By the time she was done going through the house, barn, and land (which she said has a lot of “sheep energy”), she had discovered six named spirits in the house, plus the spirit of one collie that enjoys sleeping in front of the fireplace in my daughter’s room. The fireplace was added in the last two years and has never been used, but, hey, maybe the collie spirit likes relaxing in front of the idea of a fire.
Also, I swear I am not making this up: She said one spirit was named Dora and that she was “an explorer.”
I FOUND ANOTHER MEDIUM, in Manchester, New Hampshire, who signed all her e-mails with “Brightest Blessings” and smiled beatifically from the photo on her website. In addition to possessing the ability to communicate with spirits, I would learn she possessed a vocabulary that would make a sailor blush. Upon entering the house she immediately asked for the bathroom; I thought that was an interesting place to look for ghosts, but she really just needed to go. Once she was more comfortable, she told me we should proceed to the upstairs hall.
There, she spoke with the man she said was the original owner, named William or Willem or Willfred, and his wife. They told her that they liked my family because we have good taste and were renovating the house to their standards. You’d think that they would have noticed that all the renovations were done by the previous owners and that we hadn’t done anything but paint the living room and add some shelves to a few bedroom closets.
This medium said a pair of sisters inhabited the house as well. One owned the house with her husband, and when he passed away her sister came to help. A little girl who she thought was named Esther or Elizabeth and was from 1905 or 1910 is also in the house. In the barn, she felt the spirit of a hired hand who told her he appreciated my husband’s efforts to keep the barn clean but that they would have never kept chickens in the barn like we do. Now every time I go to the barn to care for the chickens, I feel judged.
On a more disturbing note, she said that the original owner’s wife told her that I was in the house for the long term. When I asked her what that meant, she told me that the spirit was saying the house would be the last place I would live. She couldn’t give me a timetable on how long I’ll be living here though, so carpe diem, I guess.
In the end, very little of what the mediums said matched. All three talked about a woman or women who liked children, but each described spirits from different times. The two mediums I hired described different farm animals using the barn, different builders, and different owners.
The one thing that all three agreed on, however, was that with the exception of Muriel the Egg Pickler in the kitchen (whom that medium cleansed from the house at no extra charge), all of the spirits were happy and felt positively about my family. That’s a good thing, I suppose — no one likes surly housemates. On the other hand, if each of the mediums was right and we have upward of 12 ghosts living in the house, I’m going to be awfully peeved about being the only one making a mortgage payment. That is, until I join the spirits crowded under my roof.