Very Own Haunted House
By Brad Steiger
On the outside, the farmhouse was a solid two-story
dwelling with an inviting front porch. It sat
atop a grassy hill and was flanked by majestic
pines and backed by a dwindling number of oak
and walnut trees. At the foot of the hill was
a picturesque creek with a small but sturdy
bridge. Across the lane from the barn was a
cabin said to be one of the very oldest pioneer
homes in the county. The sturdy Iowa farmhouse
seemed an ideal home in which our family might
attempt an experiment in country living.
Inside, however, it seemed another matter entirely.
I first entered the home with a friend, who
is very psychically sensitive. "Someone
died here," he stated bluntly as soon as
we crossed the threshold into the dining room.
The woman whose home we were in the process
of purchasing appeared startled by my friend's
immediate announcement. When he quickly added,
"A man died in the room across from the
kitchen," she became visibly upset.
Within a few days we had the whole story. Her
father, who she called Papa, had in his day
been a well-respected church and community
leader. His "day" had been in the
1920s and 1930s, and he had steadily grown more
reclusive and more strongly opposed to modern
technology. Papa's distrust of modern times
extended to storm windows, electric lights,
and running water. Life with Papa had been a
He had yielded to electric lights sometime in
the 1940s, and he loved to sit in his room and
listen to the radio--one of his few concessions
to the contemporary world around him. He had
not permitted running water in his house
during his lifetime, and the plumbing we now
saw had been only recently installed. There
still was no drinking water in the home,
however, and if we did not wish to carry buckets
from the spring near the barn, we would have
to dig a well.
I strongly felt a presence in the house, and
I was concerned about the children, since the
energy I detected did not seem to be a hospitable
Shortly before we were to move in, a cousin
of the vacating faily approached me with
an amused smile. "Well, Brad, you should
really be happy now,” he said. “What
more could a writer of all those spooky books
want than a haunted house of his own?"
When I pressed him for details, he only shrugged.
"Grandpa was a stubborn Norwegian when
he was alive, and I guess he's just as stubborn
now that he's passed on. You should have some
interesting evenings ahead of you."
As I evaluated the situation, we had a problem.
If we truly were dealing with the earthbound
spirit essence of a man who had been a pious
church leader and a fervent opponent of progress,
just how would he take to a family moving into
his home that was headed by a psychical investigator
with four lively kids who would immediately
begin playing stereos and television sets? And
how would the impressionable psyches of the
kids, aged eight to sixteen, respond if
the spirit became antagonized?
I was the first to undergo an initiation at
the hands of an invisible welcoming committee.
I was alone in the house on a Sunday morning
having some tea and toast while I read the newspaper.
My wife, Marilyn (who died in 1982), had gone
to the village to open the small retail store
that she managed. One moment things were as
idyllic as they could be--the next, my tranquility
was shattered by a violent explosion that seemed
to come from the basement.
Fearing that the oil-burning furnace had somehow
exploded, I opened the basement door, expecting
the worst. I could hear what seemed to be the
walls of stone and brick caving in on the washer,
the dryer, and the other appliances. I expected
to be met by billowing clouds of thick
But the instant I stepped onto the basement
landing all sounds of disturbance ceased. The
furnace was undamaged. The walls stood firm
and solid. There was no smoke or fire.
Before I could puzzle the enigma through, I
was startled by the sound of yet another explosion
coming from somewhere upstairs.
I had a terrible image of the old brick chimney
collapsing, and then I was running up the stairs
The attic was as serene as the basement had
been. I shook my head in confusion as I studied
the sturdy beams and the excellent workmanship
that held the roof and the brick chimney firmly
erect and braced. The house had been built by
master carpenters and bricklayers. It could
probably withstand a tornado, I thought to myself
as I attempted to understand what was happening
A massive eruption sounded from the basement
again. I slammed the attic door behind me, fearing
the awesome damage that surely must have
really occurred this time.
But before I could run back down the stairs
to inspect the extent of the destruction, I
heard what sounded like someone tap-dancing
behind the door to my son Steven's room. I knew
that Steven did not tap-dance and that I was
Then I thought of Reb, our beagle. I laughed
out loud in relief.
The sound of "tap dancing" had to
be the clicking of the dog's paws on the wooden
floor. He must have been shut in the room by
But why wasn't Reb barking to be released?
He was never shy about expressing his wishes,
frustrations, or irritations.
I hesitated with my hand on the doorknob. I
felt an even greater hesitation when I heard
Reb barking outside.
The dog was out back, by the kitchen door.
I was so engrossed in the mystery of the strange
disturbances that I had forgotten I had let
him out. It was cold out that morning, and Reb
was barking to come back into the warm house.
Who--or what--was still merrily dancing behind
the door to Steven's room?
I shamed myself for permitting fear to make
me lose control of my hand. I twisted the knob
and pushed open the door.
The room was empty. And the dancing stopped
as suddenly as the explosions had when I had
swung wide the basement and attic doors.
I suddenly felt as though I were being scrutinized
by a dozen or more pairs of eyes.
Another detonation roared up at me from beyond
It was then that I sensed the game plan behind
all of this. I was now supposed to dash down
the stairs in puzzled panic, desperately seeking
the cause the violent "explosions."
I could almost hear the giggles of unseen pranksters.
I resolved not to play the silly game any more.
I walked purposefully back to the kitchen
table, where I had left my tea, toast, and Sunday
Then it sounded as if the attic roof were being
torn from its anchoring beams. The basement
walls shuddered and collapsed in what seemed
to be another wrenching explosion.
During my career as a psychical researcher
I had become well versed in the games that certain
entities like to play with people. I decided
to do my best to ignore the phenomena.
The tap dancing was nearer now. It was coming
from the music room, the room that the previous
owners had kept locked and unused--Papa's room.
When we had moved into the home, I had placed
the piano, television, and stereo in the room
and had repainted the walls and ceiling with
two coats of paint. I had blessed the room and
announced that it would henceforth be a place
of love and laughter.
I was determined not to glance up from my newspaper,
even if Papa, a headless horseman, or a snarling
troll came walking out of the music room. I
was not going to play the game.
Within about twenty minutes the disturbances
stopped. I was relieved that I had guessed the
secret. It appeared that the invisible
pranksters did not enjoy playing tricks on someone
who remained indifferent to such a grand repertoire
Since I did not wish to alarm the rest of the
family and was totally immersed in working on
a new book at my office in the village, I did
not mention the incident to anyone.
About three nights later, when I was working
late at my office, I received an urgent telephone
call from my older son, Bryan. The panic in
the sixteen-year-old's voice told me that I
must drive out to the farmhouse at once.
When I arrived, I found Bryan barricaded in
his room, together with Reb and a .12-gauge
shotgun. After I had calmed the boy I learned
that Bryan too had fallen victim to the tricksters.
Bryan had been alone at home watching television
in the music room. He heard what he assumed
was the sound of other family members returning
home. He listened to the familiar noises of
an automobile approaching, car doors slamming,
voices and laughter, and the stomping of feet
on the front porch.
Then he was surprised to hear loud knocking
at the front door. Everyone in the family had
their own keys, so why would anyone knock? And
why would they be pounding at the front door
when they usually entered through the back door,
in the kitchen?
Bryan begrudgingly stirred himself from his
television program and went to admit whoever
it was on the front porch. He was astonished
to find it empty.
Just as he was about to step outside in an
attempt to solve the mystery, he heard knocking
at the back door. Uttering a sigh of frustration,
Bryan slammed the front door and began to head
for the kitchen. He had taken no more than a
few steps when the knocks were once again at
the front door.
By now Bryan knew that someone was playing a
joke on him.
He turned on the yard light so that he could
identify the jokesters' automobile. He
gasped when he saw that his car was the only
Fists were now thudding on both doors, and
Reb was going crazy, growling and baring his
Bryan next became aware of an eerie babble of
voices and short bursts of laughter. Someone
very large was definitely leaning against the
kitchen door, attempting to force it open.
That was when he called me. A few seconds of
hearing my son's strained, frightened voice
and the angry snarls of the dog in the background
convinced me that something was very wrong.
"Dad," Bryan told me, "Reb and
I are in my room. Someone is coming up the stairs.
I can hear him move up one step at a time!"
An intuitive flash informed me what was occurring.
The invisible pranksters were playing games
"Bry, your fear is feeding it," I
advised my son. "It has already tried the
game with me. Try to stay calm. Put on some
music. Distract your mind. I'm on my way
home right now!"
It had snowed earlier that day, and I prayed
for no ice and no highway patrolman. I was fortunate
in both respects and managed to shave four
minutes from the normal twelve-minute drive
to the farmhouse.
The doors were locked from the inside, and
Bryan was still barricaded in his room
with Reb. I offered silent thanks that the boy
hadn't blown any holes in himself or the walls
with the shotgun.
I showed Bryan that there were no footprints
in the freshly fallen snow. There was no evidence
of tire tracks in the lane. No human had visited
him, I explained, but rather some nonphysical
intelligences that would initiate a spooky
game with anyone who would play along with them.
Early the next evening I gave all of my children
instructions on how best to deal with any ghostly
mechanisms of sound or sight that might frighten
Basically the strategy was to remain as indifferent
and as aloof to the disturbances as possible.
In a good-natured way one should indicate that
he or she simply did not wish to play such silly
The entity that was quite likely causing the
spooky activity in the home, Papa, had been
a strong-willed man who didn't care much for
progress and new fangled inventions He never
would have approved of his daughter and son-in-law
selling the place. He had died in the room
that we had named the music room. His family
had kept the room locked and had never used
it again while they lived there, since things
just hadn't felt right in there.
I told the children that under no circumstances
should any of us become defiant or angry or
threatening. The laws of polarity would only
force the tricksters into coming back with bigger
and spookier tricks in response to the negative
energy that had been directed toward them.
Whether we were dealing with poltergeists,
Papa’s restless spirit in limbo, a repository
of unknown energy that somehow mimicked human
intelligence, I felt that I had given the kids
some advice that was sound.
Bryan had experienced the phenomenon firsthand,
so he was now better prepared to confront it
should the situation arise. Steven reported
that he had been reluctant to go his room at
night, because just as soon as he made himself
comfortable in bed, the rocking chair in his
room began moving back and forth. Kari, who
had strong mediumistic abilities, seemed very
aware of the disturbances and had often heard
her name being called from the shadow of the
attic. She had declined their invitation to
come upstairs to play with them. Julie had also
heard her name being called, but had always
run downstairs to escape them.
Marilyn, who had listened quietly to my discussion
with the kids, told me when we were alone that
she had witnessed balls of light that had moved
around the outside of the house. Once when I
was out-of-town lecturing, she had even called
one of my friends in the village to come out
Most frightening of all for Marilyn, another
time when I was away from home, she had awakened
to find an old man on the top of the bed covers,
attempting to molest her. She had fought him
off with blows and prayers until he disappeared.
Marilyn was very conventionally religious,
and she found such confrontations with spirits
to be very troubling and difficult to fit into
her previous reality construct. She had married
me with the understanding that I was going into
the Lutheran ministry and that she would then
be the choir director and a good pastor’s
wife. She had never accepted my decision to
undertake a kind of ministry that was completely
nondenominational and totally universal in its
The varieties of paranormal experiences that
were worked upon our family became a little
too awesome for eight-year-old Julie to understand.
Whenever she was left alone in the farmhouse,
the entities would gang up on her, and I would
return to find her standing at the end of the
lane or seeking refuge in a neighbor's home.
In each instance she complained of having heard
strange voices, laughter, and weird music.
Early one evening just as I was entering my
office to do some work on my book, I heard the
telephone ringing. It was Julie. She had
been calling the office ever since I had left
home and she was in tears. A dramatic manifestation
had begun within minutes after I had left her
at the kitchen table, eating cookies and drinking
milk. She was alone home. Marilyn was at work,
and the older children were involved with school
This time it had begun with laughter from the
There was a noisy blur of voices, as if several
people were trying to speak at once. Then came
some "funny piano music" and the sound
of a drum.
Valiantly Julie had tried to practice what
I had told her do: to remain calm, act aloof,
and not to play the game with whatever it is
that likes to play such spooky tricks on people.
When the rhythmic tapping of the drum suddenly
gave way to blaring horns and trumpets, Julie's
I had not been gone for more than two or three
minutes, but Julie knew that I was headed for
the office. She just let the telephone ring
until I answered it.
Shortly after that incident, a medium friend
of mine from Chicago visited for the weekend
and a series of séances and cleansings
managed to calm the phenomenon considerably.
Within another few weeks, it had largely dissipated.
According to the medium, I had, in fact, angered
the spirit of the original owner by bringing
in running water, television and stereo sets
and adding insulation, modern window, and modern
toilets. I had simply “ruined” his
home--and he didn’t care very much for
my attitude, either.
It was years later, but Julie finally identified
the music that she had heard coming from the
music room on the several occasions when she
had been left alone to deal with the phenomenon.
"When I was a senior in high school,"
she said, "some girlfriends and I were
just driving around one night, and we had on
one of those radio stations that play nostalgic
music from the 'good old days.' We were talking
about how different some of the music used to
be, when suddenly I just about freaked out.
It was a good thing that I wasn't driving! It
was the same music that I had heard corning
from that spooky room, and all those terrible
memories came back to me."
Julie had heard Glenn Miller's "In the
Incredibly it had been music from the 1940s
that had so frightened Julie. To this day,
whenever she hears Benny Goodman, Duke Ellington,
or Glenn Miller, she gets a cold shiver, for
it was their old records that she had heard
playing from the darkened recesses of the music
Although she grew up in a home where we enjoyed
eclectic musical taste, I must confirm
that the tunes of the 1940s would have been
foreign to Julie at that time of her life. The
family had classical, folk, motion-picture themes,
rock, pop, and Broadway show tunes, but we had
no big-band records from the 1940s in our collection.
My parents had an extensive collection of big
band music on old 78 platters, but I can honestly
say that I had never owned any records of that
Papa might not have cared much for most of
the instruments of progress, but he must have
accepted radio. And he probably tolerated
the music of the 1940s, the years when he would
have been having some of the most meaningful
experiences of his life.
Although it has now been over thirty years
since we shared those encounters in our very
own haunted house, there is never a time when
the family gets together that the conversation
does not eventually turn to the subject of “that
place”-- and each time I learn about some
eerie experiences that the children had endured
and had never before shared with me.