Death has always fascinated humans. All religions have some form of afterlife, whether that is a paradise like Heaven (Christianity) and Valhalla (Norse Mythology) or reincarnation as in Buddhist and Hindu beliefs. We have no idea what comes after we leave this life and so humans have created stories to try and explain life after death. Coming off of this, ghosts and the paranormal draw the deceased back to the world of living. The idea that a loved one could be watching over us after they have passed permeates human culture, leading to thousands of stories of hauntings and visits from beyond.
The majority of people who study the paranormal agree that there are three types of hauntings: residual, intelligent, and poltergeist. While there are subcategories for each of these, the majority of hauntings fall into these categories.
The most common type of haunting. Just like they sound, residual hauntings are leftover energy from another time. Similar to a movie, in these hauntings, scenes from the past play out over and over again. While the living can see these types of hauntings, they can’t interact with them, nor can they change what’s happening. These hauntings can be both visual and auditory, sometimes just repeating sounds heard in the past.
One of the most famous examples of this type of haunting is that of Catherine Howard, King Henry VIII’s fifth wife in Hampton Court. Beheaded for having an affair, Catherine was only nineteen or twenty years old (her exact date of birth is unknown) when she was executed in February 1542. Both she and Henry were in Hampton Court on the day her execution was announced. Upon hearing the news, she ran screaming to the chapel where Henry was praying, banging on the door and begging him to reconsider. Henry, however, simply ignored her and she was eventually dragged away by the guards. Reports started coming in of people witnessing Catherine’s final flight, both seeing her running down the halls and hearing her screams. In this residual haunting, Catherine’s spirit is reliving an intense moment of emotion in her life, forever repeating her attempts to save her life.
For most people, intelligent hauntings are the scariest kind out there. Rather than place memories, these are actually spirits returning to a place (or perhaps they never left). These ghosts can interact with the living and environments around them. This can be something as simple as a singular event, such as a family member saying goodbye, to multiple repeated events over any period of time. While you might think that most of these are scary, many experiences are peaceful or somewhat normal, similar to a weird, undead roommate.
A good example of an intelligent haunting is the appearance of Dolley Madison to White House workers during Woodrow Wilson’s presidency. The wife of James Madison, the fourth president of the United States, Dolley was known to be a fiery individual who helped save the famous George Washington portrait when the British burned DC during the War of 1812. One of her favorite places was the rose garden that she helped design. During Wilson’s presidency, his wife ordered the rose garden dug up. However, before workers could even touch the garden, Dolley appeared before them and gave them the tongue lashing of their lives. To this day, no one has tried to touch the rose garden since.
The word poltergeist is German for “noisy ghost”, a rather fitting name for these kinds of hauntings. There are two schools of thought when it comes to what causes poltergeists to exist. The first is that they are actual spirits who can affect the world around them, causing objects to move and sometimes causing harm to the living inhabitants around them. The other explanation is that they are a conglomeration of energy, usually negative, that come from living people. A lot of times, the second comes from teenagers living in the home as they go through tough periods in their life.
One of the most famous poltergeist cases is that of the Great Amherst Mystery. Taking place in Nova Scotia Canada, it began in 1878 after Ester Cox was a victim of an attempted sexual assault by a family friend. The haunting originally manifested as knocking and banging on the walls and Ester started having seizures. When a doctor was called, the hauntings worsened, including the words “Ester Cox you are mine to kill” appearing above her bed. Family members attempted to contact the spirit, at which point tapped responses were heard. Over time the haunting became very famous around town and they followed Ester even when she left to spend time with family members. Things escalated to small fires being set around the house and Ester suffering physical attacks from the spirits. The hauntings went on for many years, until Ester was jailed for suspected arson after her husband’s barn burned down. While some people believe that Ester caused the entire “haunting” for attention, others believe that the negative emotions surrounding the attempted sexual assault manifested into a poltergeist.