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  • Bryan Williams

New Year's Eve Post: A Carousing Haunt?

New Year's Eve is typically a time when people "party like it's 1999" (as Prince so famously put it once), ringing in the dawning of another year with a lot of lively and carefree carousing. When people "party hearty" like this, it often leaves a lasting impression in their minds. But might it also possibly leave an "impression" of sorts upon the surrounding location, as well? One brief account of a haunt-related experience in the Census of Hallucinations - reported in 1894 by the early members of the Society for Psychical Research - seemed to lend a rather intriguing thought to this possibility. The young man who experienced this ostensible haunting had described it like this:

From the time when I was about 12 years old to my present age (22), I have often, when waking in the middle of the night, found the room apparently blazing with light, heard loud music, generally of a band, and seen a number of men and women, generally dancing or in rapid motion; men and women in evening clothes, women in white. This has gradually disappeared in about 5 to 10 seconds from the time when I awoke. Sometimes the impressions were very distinct, sometimes weak. But I was always wide awake when they occurred, and often made distinct attempts to recognize faces, unsuccessfully, and to remember distinctly the impressions. Once about three years ago, after the usual impression had faded away, I saw a man in a brown dress of last century at the foot of my bed. I did not recognize his face, and there was nothing remarkable about him. These impressions never made me at all afraid. [1, p. 82]

The young man further stated that he was generally healthy in both body and mind during the period he would experience these carousing haunt impressions (lessening the likelihood that they were due to some kind of pathological hallucination), and that they began to occur less frequently as he got older (beyond age 22).

Assuming for the moment that these impressions did correspond to the psychic experience of one or more party events that had taken place in the room sometime in the past, it's notable how this kind of ostensible haunting stands in contrast to a popular assumption often made about ghosts & hauntings in folklore and popular media depictions (such as the TV ghost hunting shows) - namely, that ghosts & hauntings are necessarily tied to tragedy and violent death. But is that something which holds universally across all ghost & haunting reports?

This carousing haunt case would seem to represent one example to the contrary - there's no clear sign of death or violence in this case, and yet, haunting-type impressions still seem to persist in the room. And while a few early case surveys do seem to indicate that some hauntings may be associated with tragedy, it doesn't seem to be an overwhelming majority - it seems more close to, or a little less than, half (37 to 48%) [2-3]. And more recent surveys of sightings of apparitions of the dead seem to suggest that the deceased person died violently in only about a third (28%) of the cases [4-5]. This suggests that ghost hunters should perhaps be a little cautious when it comes to assessing popular claims about ghosts & hauntings, and not immediately assume that tragedy is necessarily involved.

This carousing haunt case also seems to offer us a tiny hint about the possible temporal course of hauntings: Although they tend to be widely spread out over long periods of time, a number of hauntings don't seem to go on indefinitely. As this carousing case hints at, the haunt impressions seemed to occur less and less over time, as the young man got older. A similar kind of decline in reported ghostly occurrences has been seen in other cases, as well: For instance, in one of the most well-known haunting cases in the psychical research literature (the "Morton Ghost" case of the 1880s), the spectral figure of a woman in black seen by the Despard family in their allegedly haunted home in Cheltenham, England, was gradually sighted less and less over the course of seven years, until the family no longer saw it anymore [6].

In a similar fashion, when psychical researchers Edmund Gurney and Frederic Myers examined a 19th century case collection of encounters with apparitions of the dead to see how frequently they were reported, they found that the reports "...decrease rapidly in the few days after death, then more slowly; and after about a year's time, they become so sporadic that we can no longer include them in a steadily descending line" [7, p. 427]. This trend they found is shown in the graph below.

Graphical display of the trend found by Gurney & Myers [7] in the frequency of sightings of apparitions of the dead over time.

Many years later, the late Icelandic researcher Erlendur Haraldsson found a similar decline over time in a collection of modern-day encounters with apparitions of the dead: As the year pass from the moment of death, reports of seeing a deceased person's ghostly figure start to get fewer and fewer in number (with a slight rebound after more than 10 years) [5]. This suggests that investigators should perhaps take heed of the number of reported sightings at a particular haunted location over time when investigating - sometimes, the ghosts may show up less and less as the years go by, until they're no longer there at all.

The PRF wishes everyone a bright and promising outlook to the new year!



[1] Sidgwick, H., Johnson, A., Myers, F. W. H., Podmore, F., & Sidgwick, E. M. (1894). Report on the Census of Hallucinations. Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research, 10, 25 - 422.

[2] Bushell, W. D., Hughes, F. S., Perceval Keep, A. P., Podmore, F., Wedgwood, W., & Pease, E. R. (1884). Second report of the Committee on Haunted Houses. Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research, 2, 137 - 151.

[3] Bozzano, E., in Alvarado, C. S. (2000). Introduction to Ernesto Bozzano's analysis of hauntings and poltergeist cases. International Journal of Parapsychology, 11, 161 - 168.

[4] Stevenson, I. (1982). The contribution of apparitions to the evidence for survival. Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research, 76, 341 - 358.

[5] Haraldsson, E. (2012). The Departed Among the Living: An Investigative Study of Afterlife Encounters. Guildsford, UK: White Crow Books.

[6] Morton, R. C. (1892). Record of a haunted house. Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research, 8, 311 - 332.

[7] Gurney, E., & Myers, F. W. H. (1888-89). On apparitions occurring soon after death. Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research, 5, 403 - 485.

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