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History and the Paranormal: A Working Relationship

January 18, 2012

Articles, Research & Lifestyle

by Mike Ricksecker:

History and the paranormal go hand-in-hand. After all, the lives ghosts had lived on Earth are in the past. Their stories permeate the walls of the locations in which they haunt and appear, at times, in the evidence paranormal investigators pick up in their ghost hunts. So much is forgotten and overlooked over the course of time that what truly happened can become utterly distorted. Historic research can be used as a valuable tool while investigating the paranormal, and can also help us to understand the lives of those who many be haunting a location.

When researching the Mount Airy Mansion for the book Ghosts of Maryland I stumbled across a single line account of the ghost of a young woman who would appear in the home mourning the loss of her love. I was curious to know more about this young woman’s tale and continued to search through modern resources, however, I only continued to find the one line. This was troublesome. Surely, there was more to the tale as the account had to have originated from some greater family history. Finally, when I dug further into older texts I discovered a book from 1914 titled Colonial Mansions of Maryland and Delaware, and I picked up the trail of a Miss Ariana Calvert.

In the late 1700s, young Ariana had a suitor of whom her father, Benedict, did not approve. Benedict banned Ariana from seeing the young man, but the girl patiently waited for her father’s heart to soften on the matter. When it became clear that his daughter could not stop thinking of the young man, Benedict sent Ariana to Annapolis to live with her sisters and find a new suitor there. However, when new suitors came to call in Annapolis Ariana refused every single one, and the girl’s health began to fade and break down from depression. When her father died, her mother took pity and finally gave consent for Ariana’s engagement to her true love. Unfortunately, it was too late and Ariana Calvert died before she could be wed.

Tragic though this tale is, it is much more engaging than a simple statement that the mansion contains the spirit of a “forlorn girl in white who pines for her forbidden lover.” Real history is about the people who lived through it, and their stories have depth.

Historic research can also aid in verifying or disproving the legends of a haunted location. The historic Skirvin Hotel in downtown Oklahoma City is most known for the spirit of “Effie,” presumably a chambermaid who had a love child with owner W.B. Skirvin, fell victim to depression, and jumped from a top story window with the baby to their deaths. The hotel is certainly haunted with phantom maids carts rattling down the hallways, bathroom doors slamming shut on their own, and the apparitions of early Twentieth Century hotel personnel seen on many occasions. Even professional basketball players from the New York Knicks were scared out of their rooms in 2010. However, there is no record of an Effie having ever worked at the hotel, nor is there a record of any woman jumping from the building with a baby. On the surface one may ask if Effie’s story is really true, but the better question is, how did her legend come to be?

Part of understanding the Skirvin legend is understanding that the hotel once only stood at ten floors and not the current fourteen. Effie’s story takes place in the early 1900s from the top floor window, which would have been the tenth floor at the time. It was in 1930 when the hotel went through a number of renovations, including raising the height. Utilizing the archives of The Oklahoman newspaper, interesting articles about the Skirvin were brought to light. In 1932, in the only record of someone jumping from the hotel, a salesman from Dallas committed suicide by plunging to his death from a tenth floor window. In 1939, a drunk 20 year-old woman from Nashville, Tennessee, almost dove out of her eighth story window, but she was caught by the house officer just in time. Over time, it’s easy to mesh some of these details between the top floor and tenth floor, exchanging the salesman for the 20 year-old woman, and then mix in the reports of phantom maid cart sounds, disembodied female voices, the occasional cry of a baby upon the night air, and even a couple guests who claimed the form of a female body joined them in the shower.

At this point, the likelihood that Effie truly existed is remote, but it is through her legend that the Skirvin Hotel’s real history has been researched, revealing a plethora of dark events. The suicidal salesman and drunk 20 year-old do not stand alone. Likewise, while researching Ariana Calvert’s story other tales that included George Washington, an oil lamp accident on the stairs, and a spectral horseman were discovered. More is sure to be revealed as deeper historic research continues.

From a paranormal perspective, this is all valuable information. Investigators can better devise their questioning during EVP sessions, and information that is discovered during investigations may better complement the true story rather than a false one. This relationship between history and the paranormal is quite important when uncovering the hidden truths of those that came before us, whether it be a legend in Oklahoma or a colonial tragedy in Maryland.

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DarkMedia contributor Mike Ricksecker is currently featured on DarkMediaCity, a free social network for those who like it Dark.  Whether it be literature or film, music or art, horror or sci-fi, paranormal romance or paranormal investigation, we’ve got something for you.  www.DarkMediaCity.com

Mike is also the author of Ghosts and Legends of OklahomaGhosts of Maryland, and Deadly Heirs, a Chase Michael DeBarlo mystery novel.

He has appeared on Animal Planet’s The Haunted television show, is currently a paranormal investigator and “ghostorian” with Society of the Haunted, and regularly speaks about the paranormal and writing. He can be followed on his website at http://www.mikericksecker.com or on Twitter at @MikeRicksecker.

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