Recently I found myself in the middle of a Thursday afternoon pussyfooting about the indoor perimeter of my house, smudging tangerine-scented oil across every window frame, door hinge, and crevice while chanting in unison with a CD of the om chant. I was trying to rid the place of any accumulated negativity or "residual energy" that might be left over from an angry deceased alcoholic recluse I'll call Lucille, from whom we'd purchased our home four years earlier.
A few weeks before that, I'd been sitting in a lumpy, velvety armchair belonging to Dr. Barbara and Steve Williams, a husband-and-wife paranormal investigation duo that I was interviewing for my next book: a history of Spiritualism — a modern, American, and woman-made religion based heavily on clairvoyance, intuition, and communication with the dead. The book is set in a tiny town in Maine not far from Bangor at a Spiritualists camp, which is where I found Barbara and Steve.
Camp Etna was established in 1876, and back then, it was home to some of the greatest summer gatherings of mediums and Spiritualists across the country, many traveling hundreds of miles to spend the summer with other like-minded women. As many as 5,000 lived in tents and cottages, holding séances and communicating with deceased loved ones. Incredibly, Camp Etna still exists (but with far fewer inhabitants). When I was making my research rounds about the camp, I came across Barbara and Steve's existence by way of a magnetic advertisement on the side of their minivan's sliding door that listed their phone number and read HAUNTED. Are you living with a ghost?
I immediately thought of Lucille, our home, and the way it felt. Ever since we moved in, I'd felt something heavy, something thick and contagious, almost like a tangible bad mood. The house felt gray, no matter how hard we tried to hype it up with positive energy and new life.
Four years and two kids later, I still felt the "vibe" of what I imagined was Lucille, or what might have been her last mood — angry, sorrowful, unhinged, still around our house, enduring. So not only did I think spending time with the ghost hunters at our home would be a fun bit of research for the book — to see them in action, to learn what they do — I thought we needed it. I thought they could do something I hadn't been able to do, even if it sounded goofy or hokey. I was willing to give it a try.
On the day I first visited Dr. Barbara and Steve at their grape-colored, dream-catcher-covered home, "Peaceful Sollitude" (yes, two L's) in the middle of the camp, their Brussels griffon, Spirit, jumped up and settled into my lap. "So," Barbara said, taking the reins of my interview. "Tell me about your house."
It was my first house, and we bought it cheap, with all of Lucille's furniture still in it. I live on an island off the coast of Portland, Maine, with a population of about 800 people (though it feels closer to 50). The island is only about three and a half miles around, and we have at least five cemeteries; many are inhabited with bodies of sailors who died at sea or in World War II. But most of the alive demographic is in their golden years. Neighborhood legend had it that Lucille's son and husband died long before her; she took up drinking and morphed into a grouch, eventually passing away in a nursing home. When we moved in, the house was set up just like she'd left it — popcorn plaster ceilings; rusty brown linoleum floors; vinyl soffit; and sad, musty couches with a faint, meandering odor of cat pee.