ou can buy practically anything on the Internet, so why not ghosts? For shipping convenience, the ghosts have attached themselves to objects—often dolls, clowns, and idol figurines, or Ouija boards. But wearables like clothes and jewelry, art like paintings and photographs, as well as household objects like wooden boxes, furniture, and musical instruments seem to be popular places for lost souls to take up residence. Really, if you believe a spirit, or “energy,” can attach itself to an object, then any antique could be haunted.
“You know how you say, ‘Just because it’s old doesn’t mean it’s valuable’? Just because it’s old doesn’t mean it’s haunted.”
The Syfy Channel, known for its supernatural reality TV shows “Ghost Hunters” and “Paranormal Witness,” began to capitalize on the idea of haunted objects—as opposed to haunted places—in June 2011 with “Haunted Collector.” In this show, demonologist John Zaffis investigates items people report as haunted and if he deems them dangerous, he collects them for his Museum of the Paranormal. However, years before this show was a twinkle in Syfy’s eye, a small antique wine cabinet terrified the Internet through the stories of an angry hag spirit that tormented its owners. The current owner of the famous Dibbuk Box assures us he’s finally cracked the mystery of the box and rendered it inactive.
What does such paranormal activity look like? Most people who experience the hauntings say that their antique might make them feel cold or anxious or that the item gives them dreams or images of times past. Others claim to have heard voices from the piece, or that the object gives off a particular smell, or that the item moves on its own. Experts of all stripes agree that these hauntings are “real.” However, they disagree on where the hauntings come from. Are they simply caused by neurons firing in the haunted person’s brain? Or are they caused by supernatural, a.k.a. paranormal, forces?
Top: The paranormal investigator selling this porcelain doll says it contains the spirit of a 9-year-old girl who was hanged as a witch in England, and it has been recorded saying, “not me.” Above: The seller who handmade this Ouija from a 150-year-old walnut tree says it holds the tree’s spirit.
“Ghosts don’t exist—not at all, nothing,” says Michael Shermer, executive director of the Skeptics Society, an organization dedicated to critical thinking about controversial claims, especially those on the fringes of science, such as UFOs, astrology, psychics, and ghosts. “There’s not a shred of evidence for ghosts, haunted houses, or anything haunted. And there’s no scientific evidence that life continues beyond the physical body. Mostly, the claims of hauntings can be explained through natural phenomena, or we just can’t explain anomalous experiences that people have because we weren’t there to record it.”
Scientific researchers have found that the experiences of “sensing a ghost” in a room, like feeling a chill up your spine, can be re-created by stimulating certain parts of the brain, explains Pat Linse, co-founder of the Skeptics Society. Most people have these sensations on occasion, but it’s easy to mock those who claim to be hounded relentlessly by ghosts. Linse says we shouldn’t be so quick to laugh: Those people may have much more serious psychological disturbances going on.
This 1800s hand-tinted print of a child praying was listed as haunted simply because it “looks eerie.”
“When neuroscientists stimulate a person’s temporal lobe, they can create in that person a sensed presence in the room, as well as a feeling of oneness with the Universe, an out-of-body experience, or a near-death experience,” Shermer says. “That’s definitely where it’s happening. Experiences these people have are real, but they’re in the brain, not out in the world.”
Ghost stories vary wildly from culture to culture, Linse explains. In Russia, ghosts called “domovye” take up residence in a home, over a doorway or under the stove, and help the family keep up with their chores. The idea that the dead hang out to redress a grievance is specific to America, stemming from the old-world Jewish “grateful dead” folk tale about wandering souls seeking a proper burial.
“Of course, there are the ‘ghosts of commerce,’ as we call them. If you have an old house and need to make money, you say the house is haunted,” she says. “There are also ‘useful ghosts’ like the gift ghost that haunts a husband until he buys a gift for his wife. That’s a useful ghost if I’ve ever heard of one!
This Alfiero accordion was purchased at an estate sale of a woman who passed away. The seller says, “I swear the thing is haunted. Gives me goosebumps.”
“I’ve heard people will claim that your antique is haunted and say, ’Give it to me. I’ll take care of it,’” Linse says. “And some of these things are quite valuable. That’s what they do on TV in ‘Haunted Collector,’ and I can’t believe they get away with it. It’s an old gypsy scam, where they tell you your money is cursed and you should give it over.”
“When I touched the box, I felt as if someone ripped a knife through my gut.”
Even famous spiritual teacher and psychic, Sylvia Browne, who is currently on her 50th anniversary lecture tour, poo-poos the traditional Dickensian idea of ghosts rattling chains. “Honey, it’s not ‘haunted.’ It’s negative energy. Everything has energy. There are no ghosts attached to anything. But I don’t ever doubt there’s energy attached to something. Energy can be very strong. You can even buy new things, like a purse that you carry around a couple weeks, and people bring ‘em down to us week after week, and they say, ‘I don’t want it.’”
Karen Frazier, a paranormal investigator in Washington State and a reporter for Paranormal Underground, says she was “ridiculously skeptical” when she started her research. “But my experiences as an investigator changed my mind. Now I do believe that paranormal events happen. I don’t know for sure that you can say they’re ghosts, because we don’t know what a ghost is. I still look at everything with a skeptical eye, because too many people think that anything that goes bump in the night is a ghost—and it’s not. But some objects have some kind of an energy attached to them that manifests as what you would call a ‘haunting.’”
Most antique “spirit photos” have been debunked, but no one can explain this 1936 photograph of the “Brown Lady” of Raynham Hall in England, taken by Captain Provand. Via The Haunted Museum.
Paranormal investigators and researchers tend to distinguish between innocuous “hauntings” and what we think of as “ghosts,” Frazier explains.
“There’s no such thing as a curse. That’s just a goofy fortune-teller’s way of getting money.”
“What parapsychologists refer to as a ‘haunting’ is like what you and I would think of as a recording. Residual energy is trapped in whatever object it is, and it replays itself. There’s nothing intelligent about it. It just plays the same thing over and over. Then, sometimes, you can have objects that actually have what people would assume to be a spirit attached to them, which has some intelligence. So that would be like if you were dead and you decided you wanted to hang out with your favorite dress or your favorite chair. I still call it an ‘energy’ because I don’t know that what we experience paranormally is necessarily the ghost of a dead person.”
In addition, some people may be able to “read” objects that are not haunted at all, Frazier says. “That’s actually a form of psychic work that people do called ‘psychometry,’ where you hold an object and you read off of it,” she explains. “A lot of people mistake that for an object being haunted. For example, I used to have an antique piano, a 100 years old or older, in my house. When I would sit down and play it, I would see flashes of the people who had played this piano before me, and where they lived. It’s not necessarily that there’s anything active going on with the piano, but I’m touching that object and somehow I’m reading the energy of that.”
The family in this supposedly haunted 1880s tintype photo album is said to have burned to death in a fire.
On his FAQ at the Museum of the Paranormal, Zaffis agrees that such phenomena are all about energy, but he has a different theory about how the energy got there. “With most of the items in the museum, they have been used in rituals, usually when spells are being cast,” he writes. “Although the items are not ‘possessed,’ … items can hold energy within or around them, and it is usually the result of the energy being sent to the object by an individual.”
Browne, the psychic, says that it’s more likely that an item holds negative energy because something traumatic happened around the object, or someone was killed with the object in their possession. “There’s no such thing as a curse,” Browne says. “That’s just a goofy fortune-teller’s way of getting money.”
However, Browne does believe that you have to be careful when you’re in an antiques store. The key, she says, is to touch things and see if they’re unnaturally cold or if they give off a bad vibe. “I know this woman who bought an antique ring, and when she put it on, she got sick,” Browne says. “She was sick until she took it off. I told her, ‘Just give it away,’ because she was unusually sensitive to its energy.”
The maker of these “demon rings” claims to be a practitioner of black magic who has imbued them with spirits known as “djinns,” or genies.
But Shermer, the skeptic, says the idea of an antique holding energy, or “recording” an event, is scientifically impossible. “An object cannot record some additional curse or spirit or energy in it unless it actually has like a memory hard drive inside of it,” he says. “But other than that, ‘haunted’ whatever—hats, articles of clothing, watches, or jewelry—can’t carry any such thing.”
Paranormal investigators are well aware of these criticisms from the scientific community. To give their work legitimacy, they often use scientific tools such as electromagnetic field (EMF) meters, thermometers, thermal imaging, motion detectors, cameras, and compasses to try document physical proof of ghosts. On his Paranormal Network blog, noted parapsychologist Loyd Auerbach, however, asserts that these experiences might not be measurable because they are psychic events. His position is strangely similar to the Skeptics Society, except that Auerbach believes paranormal forces can affect your brain.
The seller of this skull-shaped bone netsuke says, “My mother is VERY sensitive to the spirit world and refused to have it in the house.”
“In many reported cases that include ‘cold spots’ or perceived temperature changes, thermometers show no physical temperature change at all,” Auerbach writes. ”The ‘cold’ is felt, but more of that cold chill we all sometimes get may be psychological or something we’re picking up psychically.”
Frazier, who cites Auerbach as one of her influences, says that hauntings and ghosts generally don’t have the physical resources needed to speak in an audible voice, like, say, vocal chords. But she and her fellow paranormal researchers are convinced hauntings and ghosts can “speak” by telepathically manipulating recording devices as well as “ghost boxes,” or portable radios modified to continually scan the bands, creating what’s known as an “electronic voice phenomenon,” or EVP.
The original owner of this Masonic sword supposedly took his own life with it in 1893, hence, it has a “haunted history.”
Working for South Sound Paranormal Research in Washington State, Frazier says most of her clients are not even aware when a haunting is attached to a thing. “When we first met with a particular client, I just had this sense that he had something old and this ghost was attached to it.” After some prodding, the client revealed he had a Masonic sword from his grandfather, who was very proud to be a Freemason. “We were using a ghost box, and this thing started saying ‘opa’ over and over and over. I said to him, ‘Did you call your grandpa opa?’ Well, he did; it’s German for ‘grandpa.’ And then the box started saying the guy’s name. The grandfather probably had these high hopes that his grandson would be a Mason, too.”
“If you were a dick in life, you’re probably going to be the same once you’re dead.”
Frazier’s team has also spent a lot of time investigating objects at the nearby Lewis County Historical Museum, and once came across a Native American basket that twice created an EVP that said, “Please help me,” in a woman’s voice. Frazier believes this is more of a “haunting” or energy recording, than an active, intelligent ghost seeking help in the present.
“Everybody thinks that when you get a recording of a ghost, it’s going to say one of two things, ‘Help me’ or ‘Get out,’” Frazier says. “That’s almost never what we get. And ghosts are a lot rarer that people think they are. People like the idea of ghosts because if it means that something happens to us after we die—and that’s a very comforting thing. So people tend to take things that happen as being a haunting or a ghost when it’s something normal and explainable. Probably five percent of what people think are ghosts may be something paranormal.”
A collector selling Ollie the clown says he appeared to have been beat-up by another clown figure named Fredo.
For example, dolls, by their nature, both inspire love and give people the heebie-jeebies. That’s because they look like miniature people, with motionless bodies and glassy, lifeless eyes. Because it’s so easy to assign personalities to dolls, puppets, and human figurines—what Shermer calls “agenticity”—there’s a whole cottage industry online of people selling old dolls, from grungy, beat-up plushies to pristine porcelain antiques, as “haunted.”
Over at Etsy, a paranormal investigator who goes by Shoshannah Lameroux at Raven’s Oddities has posted an ad titled “Haunted Doll Amelia is VERY Paranormal active” for $45. In it, she writes, “Lost spirits like to attach themselves to items. I feel that they attach themselves to dolls because it is the closest way they can feel human. Plus, people or children that own dolls treat their dolls like they are sometimes human. They will talk to their dolls OR listen to them, carry them around and adore them.“
Legend says you can’t take a photo of Robert the Doll, a toy supposedly cursed with voodoo, without asking its permission. Via Robert the Doll’s Facebook page.
Perhaps the most famous haunted plaything is Robert the Doll, which was given to Key West painter and author Robert Eugene Otto in 1906 and now lives in a glass box in the Fort East Martello Museum. According to the myth, the doll was jinxed by a Bahamian servant skilled at voodoo. The doll is said to have spoken with children, giggled, run from room to room, knocked down furniture, and even launched murderous attacks against its owners.
“Well, of course, anytime you have a human figure, people are likely to think it holds some kind of invisible force, because of our propensity to believe in the afterlife and that humans carry a soul,” Shermer says. “For example, in voodoo, human-shaped dolls can stand in for real people.”
Outside of Robert, another particularly disturbing haunted-antique story features a chair in North Yorkshire, England, that once belonged to a man named Thomas Busby, who was hanged for murder in 1702. He’s believed to have cursed the chair as he was dragged off the gallows so that anyone who sits in it dies shortly thereafter. Which begs the question of why we feel creeped out by innocent inanimate objects associated with bad people.
This 17th century chair that once belonged to a murderer has been hung up out of reach at the Thirsk Museum in England, as it is believed to put a death jinx on sitters. Photo by John R. Bacon at soapboxcorner.blogspot.com.
“In an experiment done by British cognitive psychologist Bruce M. Hood, he asked subjects if they’d like to wear Hitler’s jacket or Jeffrey Dahmer’s sweater, and they were repulsed by the idea,” Shermer says. “If you ask them why, they feel as if there’s an evilness carried by the article of clothing. But if you ask them if they’d like to wear Mr. Roger’s cardigan sweater, they would. And if you ask, ‘How would you feel?’ they say, ’More moral, upstanding, and good.’ Hood even put Brad Pitt’s shirts up for sale on eBay, one washed and one unwashed. The unwashed version got the higher bid, as if the essence of Brad Pittness were soaked into the shirt.”
That may have something to do with sweat stains and Brad’s sexy smell. In fact, whether people feel positive or negative about an antique often has to do with olfactory stimulation. An object may be doused with lovely, flowery perfumes, or have a scent that brings up a memory, or give off a foul, rotten odor.
The seller of this handmade tied-leather figure claims it is a Haitian voodoo doll meant to repel evil. Supposedly its body holds graveyard dirt, too.
“There may be evolutionary reasons for the idea that an essence may be carried by a smell,” Shermer says. “For example, repulsive smells typically are associated with disease-carrying substances that should be avoided, and that’s probably why we evolved emotions like disgust or nausea at things like that. But good smells, the smell of your lover’s shirt that you carry with you or the smell of a perfume or cologne that reminds you of your loved one, bring a flood of positive memories and good feelings. So imparting objects with a spiritual entity is just a small step beyond that.”
The Pittock Mansion in Portland, Oregon, provokes these sort of uplifting feelings in Frazier. “That place is just glorious,” she says. “You walk in, and you feel so good. It’s beautiful. It’s comfortable. You get this rush of amazing energy. People say it’s haunted, and it probably is, but in a positive way. You can tell that the people there were very, very happy.”
But when it comes to ghost stories, Frazier says, people tend to focus on the negative paranormal experiences and legends because they’re frightening.
This 1891 bronze funerary figurine of a sleeping child is said to have come from a mausoleum haunted by the apparition of a little boy who drowned.
“Even though there might be comfort in the idea that ghosts exist, encounters with the paranormal are overwhelmingly scary to people because it’s The Unknown,” Frazier says. “People tend to interpret it as being negative because they don’t understand it. If you were a dick in life, you’re probably going to be the same once you’re dead, but we probably have less to fear from the dead than we do from the living.”
Frazier says that, thanks to her work, she’s had several ghost-like energies follow her home, and most of them have turned out to be harmless. Once, the spirit of a child killed in an avalanche followed her home, and remains there still. She and her family have found a way to coexist with the kid, whom Frazier believes moves things and makes noises to get her attention, but means no harm. When he’s rolling around a desk chair upstairs, Frazier will simply yell, “Knock it off!”
This, to Frazier, is evidence that so-called ghosts can go anywhere they please. “I don’t believe a spirit of a dead human can get stuck in an object,” Frazier says. “Just like we have free will in our living bodies, I believe that when our souls leave our body, they have free will, too.”
Perhaps the scariest haunted antique documented, the Dibbuk Box has been closed up in a 24-carat gold-lined ark and buried. The wine cabinet-turned-Jewish prayer box is believed to hold a menacing spirit.
Perhaps the scariest ghost story to emerge in the past decade is the tale of the Dibbuk Box. This story first appeared on eBay in 2003, when an Oregon antiques dealer and furniture refinisher named Kevin Mannis put a small wine cabinet and its contents up for auction. It contained two U.S. wheat pennies, from 1925 and 1928; two bound locks of hair, one blond and one brunet; a dried rosebud; a granite slab engraved with gilt Hebrew letters spelling “Shalom”; a golden wine cup; and a black cast-iron candle holder with tentacle-like feet. The back of the box has a Jewish prayer carved into it in Hebrew.
“When I would sit down and play my piano, I would see people who had played it before me.”
Mannis claimed that he purchased the wooden box at an estate sale as a gift for his mother. The owner’s granddaughter called it the “dibbuk box,” which belonged to a 103-year-old Holocaust survivor. At the time, Mannis did not know that in Jewish mythology, a “dibbuk” or “dybbuk” is a malevolent “walk-in” spirit of a dead person, which is believed to possess a living person until it accomplishes its goal.
Shortly after Mannis dropped the box off at his workshop, his shopkeeper called him, terrified, saying someone was downstairs, cursing and shattering light bulbs. Mannis found the damage, but no intruder. When he gave the box to his mother, she suffered a stroke and insisted he take the cabinet back. Everyone in his family who encountered the cabinet had a similar dream, of an old hag who beat them, and each would wake up in the morning with bruises. They all reported smelling jasmine flowers or cat urine around the box. Mannis experienced perpetual bad luck, like identity theft and losing his store’s lease, and started catching a shadowy figure in his peripheral vision.
This 1800s graphite drawing was found hidden behind a painting. The sellers say they purchased the painting when they were out picking and got creeped out. “We never wanted to leave a house so fast.”
The winning bidder, at the price of $140, was Iosif Nietzke, a student in Kirksville, Missouri, who re-posted the wine box on eBay just a few months after he purchased it. On the auction, Nietzke reported that he’d suffered sleep disturbances, eye irritation, and car trouble, and in his home, light bulbs kept burning out and hoards of insects would congregate. He, too, saw a shadow figure and smelled similar odors. Worse, the 20-something’s hair started to fall out.
“Anytime you have a human figure, people are likely to think it holds some kind of invisible force.”
Jason Haxton, the director of a nearby medical museum, heard the story through Nietzke’s roommate and became intrigued by the Dibbuk Box. A scholar and lecturer, Haxton had spent decades collecting and studying religious or spiritual artifacts from cultures all over the world, including Mayan and Egyptian deities. He wasn’t particularly afraid of the Dibbuk Box, as he had never had trouble from a single idol or juju in his collection. His museum, too, is filled with creepy things, like human skulls, preserved dead babies, and dissected body parts—which also have never haunted him. He purchased the Dibbuk Box for $280 in February of 2004.
“I just wanted to see it, to fulfill my knowledge base on strange spiritual items,” Haxton tells me over the phone. “I ended up buying it for someone who then didn’t want it. And then I got sick. I thought, ‘I better figure out what this thing is.’ I thought maybe it was contaminated with a biohazard, or human remains material that molds. I’m always looking for the scientific explanation. In this case, I couldn’t find one.”
This life-size headstone statue of a girl named Inez in Chicago’s Graceland Cemetery is shrouded in mystery. Children visiting the cemetery report playing with a little girl in 1800s clothing, and night watchmen claim the statue disappears in lightning.
Thankfully, Haxton heard from experts of all sorts—from rabbis and Kabbalah students to scientists, Wiccans, and demonologists—offering to help him solve the mystery of the box. In fact, so many people were calling and emailing him to ask him about the Dibbuk Box, Haxton posted a web site to address questions about it. He also had Hollywood calling, because horror director Sam Raimi had caught wind of the Dibbuk Box, and wanted to make a film about it. The eventual film, the box-office hit “The Possession,” released in August of last year, took pieces of every owner’s experience of the cabinet and created a new story about a little girl who gets obsessed with the box and possessed by the dibbuk.
The items in the box, the pennies, the hair, the candle, the wine cup, etc., are all items that are traditionally used to open a connection to God. Haxton believes the Dibbuk Box was actually used by its original owner as a box to pray to and get an answer to her life’s question: What caused the Holocaust that killed her parents, her siblings, her first husband, and their children?
After establishing a new life in the United States postwar, the woman had instructed her own children and grandchildren to never open the box, and requested that the box be buried with her. Haxton doesn’t believe the energy attached to the box is evil, but because its owner’s wish was not honored, the box made trouble for anyone who got in the way of its goal to answer this question.
Harry H. Laughlin’s biographer described him as “among the most racist and anti-Semitic of early 20th-century eugenicists.” Via Eugenics Archive.
Haxton thinks he may have found the answer, which he published last year as the book, “The Dibbuk Box.” Haxton discovered that in 1910, an American named Harry H. Laughlin, working as a breeder at a Kirksville, Missouri, farm, was inspired by the idea of creating a pure race of people in the United States. Laughlin moved to the East Coast and began working with the U.S. government to create forced sterilization and other eugenics policies. It’s a matter of record that Laughlin and his laws directly influenced the Nazi Germany Reichstag and Adolf Hitler’s own concept of eugenics.
“I couldn’t figure out why this damn thing was in our town,” Haxton says. “Nobody knew the story until I started researching and found out why. It turns out that a person here in this town, who worked at a farm culling the livestock to get the best breeds, went into American human eugenics and became the director of immigration and naturalization. Harry Laughlin stopped the flow of Jews coming into the country in the ’20s. He set up laws where you could be sterilized if you were deaf, an orphan, a rape victim, or considered not as bright as others.
“In the ’30s, Hitler looked to America and said, ‘Oh, they’re becoming a pure nation. We’re going to incorporate these laws, too.’ When we saw what Hitler did, we withdrew these laws, but we did ‘em first. The Dibbuk Box answered her prayer, because the question in her prayer was why did the Holocaust happen. The obvious answer is Hitler. But who influenced Hitler? That would be an American from Kirksville, who mentored Hitler. He didn’t just write the laws. He went over to Germany to help to enact the laws.”
Haxton says that he believes the Dibbuk Box is quiet now because it has fulfilled its purpose. He feels that the box landed in Kirksville so the long-forgotten story of Laughlin’s role in the Holocaust would be unearthed. Thanks to Haxton’s book, that lost piece of history is getting widespread exposure.
Now that the Dibbuk Box is calm, Haxton won’t disclose its location because he doesn’t want anyone else praying their wishes into it. At the suggestion of spiritual advisors, it’s been locked in a wooden ark lined with 24-carat gold and buried.
“When I first touched the box the day it arrived, it felt as if someone took a knife and was just ripping it up through my gut,” Haxton says. “It was excruciating pain. The next day, I woke up with bloody eyes. When I finally put the box away, I did a cleansing with basil and sea salt and smudging with sage. That same feeling came back into my gut, again of being stabbed and ripped. But the difference was, all this clear mucus came out of me, handfuls of it. If you’re into the paranormal, you say, ‘Well, it’s ectoplasm.’ This stuff had never been in me before, and it’s never been since. And then the pain went away, and it’s never been back. So no it wasn’t a little entity crawling around on its hands, but it was as if there was something in me from the day I touched it, until I put it away and did the cleansing.”
The seller dreamed this jack-in-the-box said to her, “I stand around a one-foot high; Don’t fool with me or you might die; Where I come from, no one knows; But wherever I go, more fear grows; Treat me well and you will see; What old Jack can do for thee.”
Every single co-writer he signed up to help him with the book got freaked out, Haxton says, and the final author felt as though the dibbuk followed him home and wreaked havoc. Before the book, the short-version story of the Dibbuk Box has been told many times, in the L.A. Times and Forward magazine and on TV programs like Syfy’s “Paranormal Witness,” as well as an Australian podcast called Mysterious Universe. Many of those podcast listeners in particular report that even hearing the name has caused them grief.
“One guy said he crashed a $100,000 NASA computer,” Haxton says. “One guy said a turkey crashed through the window of a car and basically scratched the hell out of him. Another guy cut off his thumb.”
Frazier calls the Dibbuk Box an anomaly in the paranormal world, but having spoken with Haxton several times, she’s convinced there’s something to it. But she doesn’t buy that the box has haunted people through the Internet, through news articles, or through images.
“We might be creating events surrounding it and interpreting them in certain ways because of the legend,” she says. “The legend might actually be making some of the events as much as anything else. It’s hard to separate which came first.”
While Frazier has no desire to see the actual Dibbuk Box, she’s not afraid to speak its name. In fact, Haxton sent her his copy of the Dibbuk Box, which he built for Raimi’s crew, for a lecture she was preparing to give. “I have the replica in my house right now,” she says. “It’s all good.
“Some random things have happened like since we’ve had the fake Dibbuk Box, which we call ‘the Psibbuk Box,’ at the house,” Frazier continues. “My son’s iPhone broke. My washing machine broke. Well, our washing machine is eight years old, it’s a front-load, and those things break easily. My son had his iPhone for three or four years; it’s probably about time for it to break. But if I wanted to, I could say, ‘Hey, it’s the Psibbuk Box doing those things,’ and it would be easy for me to believe that.”
Shermer attributes such claims linking misfortunes to ghosts to something known as “confirmation bias.”
“Certain people are hugely preconditioned or ‘primed’ to believe in these things,” he says. “Any evidence that vaguely resembles their idea of a haunting then gets counted as a hit. Anything that counters it is just ignored and does not get counted as a miss. Let’s say you already believe in ghosts, and you wake up at 3 in the morning and hear some weird noises. Or you look outside, and there’s strange shadows or lights. If you’re a scientist and do not believe in ghosts, you’re likely to just write it off and roll over and go back to sleep. If you’re a believer, you’re likely to be spooked, chalk that up to some kind of supernatural, paranormal phenomenon, and then let it feed into your imagination.”
The seller of the wood-framed metal picture asserts that it is from the 1400s and associated with unspecified “paranormal activity.”
Frazier agrees saying that confirmation bias must be taken into account in all paranormal investigations.
“You have to involve a little critical thinking. All of the shows on television right now are killing critical thinking. We have clients who have us come to their house, and they’re just absolutely sure that the place is haunted. Then we investigate and find nothing. When we ask, ‘Well, how often do you watch the paranormal shows on TV?’ and the answer is almost always, ‘I watch all of them.’ You know how you say, ‘Just because it’s old doesn’t mean it’s valuable’? Just because it’s old doesn’t mean it’s haunted.”
So the question becomes, what do you do when you’re absolutely convinced—after taking all this into account—you own an old thing that is, in fact, haunted? Well, if you’re the Haunted Collector John Zaffis, you perform binding rituals. Others do cleansing and protecting rituals involving sage and sea salt. According to Zaffis’ web site, he’s calmed down the spiritual activity on most of the things in his museum, which includes some very creepy dolls, clowns, and idols, as well as a military jacket, a robe, a sword, an elk skull, a grandfather clock, and a school desk.
John Zaffis’ Paranormal Museum includes Simon the ventriloquist dummy, a ritual robe, and a sword associated with dreams of menacing black-hooded figures.
“The reason that most items are not destroyed is because this action can hold severe repercussions,” Zaffis’s website states. “It can be dangerous for an individual to destroy an item used in practicing because the spirit attached to that object will often gravitate towards the individual who destroys it. … Yes, there have been some items which carry with it such a strong spirit that a cleansing ritual will not be effective. When John comes across such an artifact, it is often disposed of by burying it in the ground or throwing it into a body of water.”
As a spiritual teacher, Browne believes this is silliness. She believes it’s perfectly safe to burn or even trash a haunted object. She says you don’t need to call Zaffis or bury it. In fact, she says, doing so gives the object (or the negative energy) more power than it warrants, more power than God, in whom she has the most faith.
“Oh, just throw it in the dumpster,” Browne says. “People who say you have to bury an object and not burn it make such a big deal out of it. But I don’t believe that. They’re giving that thing more power than themselves, and that’s not good. I’d just put a white line around it and burn it to release it to the power of God and to disperse the negative energy.”
A seller in Florida says this box, which comes with a handmade doll and a gold ring, creates dreams of a woman in white. Starting at $50, it has no bids.
Frazier, too, is also fine with burning things, but generally, she doesn’t endorse destroying haunted objects.
“If you have an object you truly believe is haunted, first of all, I would contact a paranormal team—a reputable one—and have them come do an investigation,” she says. “Then, after they’ve done investigation, you need to evaluate how you feel about having this object in your house. If you want to sell a haunted object, I strongly recommend that you don’t foist it off on some poor, unsuspecting sap, that you fully disclose and give them the option of whether they want that object or not. But I don’t think you need to destroy these things, especially if it’s a gorgeous antique. Why would you destroy that?”