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  • Bryan Williams

A Ghostly Visit on New Year's Eve, 90 Years Ago

Often times, haunted houses are readily thought of as the setting for encounters of a ghostly nature. But apparitions are also experienced in a number of other situations, as well. One of them occurs when a person is facing a crisis brought on by an illness, an accident, or the approach of death. The experience described below, which is an example of the latter circumstance, reportedly occurred on New Year's Eve exactly 90 years ago today. It had been sent to Louisa Rhine at the Duke Parapsychology Laboratory by the woman who experienced it, and was reported in the March 1957 issue of the Journal of Parapsychology:

As a girl of nine we were living on a farm about seven or eight miles from the nearest town, which was Dover, Kansas. The date was December 31, 1926. Being my grandfather's favorite might have had some bearing on this happening. Mother and I were doing the supper dishes, Mom washing and I drying. Suddenly at the window we saw my grandfather standing there looking in, with his long black overcoat on and a lantern in his hand, smiling. I told Mother to look. "There's Grandfather." My mother quickly looked around and exclaimed, "Why it's Dad!"

We both ran to the door to get him inside, as the night was cold. But when we opened the door, there was no one there. Mom went around one side of the house and I went around the other, as we thought Grandpa was pulling a joke on us. (In his time he had been quite a prankster.) But there was no one around or to be seen. The following morning we went to Topeka, Kansas, to do our shopping for the coming week. After doing this we decided to drive out to my aunt's farm, which was 12 miles south of Topeka, to see how she was (as she had not been too well). As we were driving out there, we met my uncle on the way into Topeka and he flagged us down. We stopped and he came over to our car and the first words that were spoken were, "Did you hear about Dad yet?" Then he told us Grandpa had died the night before. The unexplained part of it was, he had died at about the same time as we saw him standing at our window. I am not superstitious, but what I saw was not imagination. Incidentally, Grandpa lived about 27 miles from our farm. [1, p. 28]

Given the context in which they occur, parapsychologists commonly refer to spectral encounters like this one as crisis apparition cases. The earliest known accounts of these cases extend back to the 19th century, with a number of them being reported by the early members of the Society for Psychical Research in the classic two-volume case anthology Phantasms of the Living. [2] And although they are much less frequent, these kinds of cases are still occasionally reported in more recent times, as well. [3-5]

Assuming that it did indeed take place exactly as recounted, there are certain details in this case which are consistent with those found for other spontaneous apparitional sightings. The fact that the sighting took place while the woman and her mother were washing dishes (and presumably not thinking about the grandfather) is consistent with findings that suggest apparitions are commonly sighted when one's mind is relaxed or casually preoccupied with some other task. In his survey of 449 apparition cases, Icelandic researcher Erlendur Haraldsson found most people were working (47%) or resting (22%) at the time they had their spectral encounter. [4, p. 100]

An apparition appearing suddenly and unexpectedly is also quite common in other cases. In their survey of apparition cases, British researchers Celia Green and Charles McCreery found that 97% of the witnesses said their sightings were totally unexpected. [6, p. 135] They also found that many witnesses " that they simply 'saw' or 'noticed' the apparition, as if it was already there, fully-formed, in their environment before they started to perceive it" [6, p. 136], something which Haraldsson also noticed in his case survey. [4, p. 115] This would appear to be the situation for the above case, as well. And as these researchers noted, it is also common for apparitions to simply vanish without a trace.

In several respects, crisis apparition cases are reminiscent of cases of spontaneous extrasensory perception (ESP) in which people seemingly perceive, or otherwise become aware, of someone's passing at a distance. This raises the question: Could crisis apparitions represent a form of ESP experience which is mentally projected outward, to be perceived in one's surrounding environment (rather than in one's own mind)? Many intriguing questions still remain about the role ESP may play in facilitating apparitional experiences, and these are the questions which motivate further research.

The PRF would like to wish a bright and promising outlook for everyone in the dawning of the new year!


[1] Rhine, L. E. (1957). Hallucinatory psi experiences. II. The initiative of the percipient in hallucinations of the living, the dying, and the dead. Journal of Parapsychology, 21, 13 - 46.

[2] Gurney, E., Myers, F. W. H., & Podmore, F. (1886). Phantasms of the Living [2 vols.]. London: Trubner & Company.

[3] Stevenson, I. (1995). Six modern apparitional experiences. Journal of Scientific Exploration, 9, 351 - 366.

[4] Haraldsson, E. (2012). The Departed Among the Living: An Investigative Study of Afterlife Encounters. Guildford, UK: White Crow Books. (see Chapter 7)

[5] Murdie, A., & Fraser, J. (2014). Case note: The spontaneous hallucination of a recognised person coincident with death. Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, 78, 39 - 43.

[6] Green, C., & McCreery, C. (1975). Apparitions. London: Hamish Hamilton Ltd.

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