Debunking by a Child

When I was a kid and we heard the booted footsteps up our stairs and down our hall every night. The stories told to us by past owners was that it was a soldier from the Civil War who was staying in the field hospital (our home) and heard fighting. He got up, ran outside, and was shot and killed. He went back every night for the boots his parents had given him (understandably a precious commodity in the Civil War times). Of course, as a kid I accepted that explanation, although at one point I did ask myself how he walked the floors with the boots he was supposed to be looking for, as clearly the sounds I heard were the clicking heel and ball of a booted foot. This made me begin to question other things too. Once questions leak into an inquisitive and bright kid's mind, they won't go away until the kid finds acceptable explanations.

I listened to these sounds every night all my childhood and finally got sick of wondering. The next day I walked the stairs and hallway to find the exact boards “he” stepped on every night. I now knew his foot stride in the hall that he was not a very tall man, perhaps 5’8” or so. Not probably really important, but it had me wondering even more. Was there something about those boards that made them creak? I checked other boards which also creaked but made a different tone. I came to the conclusion that it wasn’t just all the boards that could creak that were creaking, it was certain boards.

Mind you, this was in the early 70s (I was 10) when ghost hunting debunking didn’t exist to any degree. I had to come up with my own experiments. I noted if it changed in winter, rain, summer. No changes in the boards stepped upon or the sound of booted feet with weather or times of the year. The loudness of it remained the same. It was so very much the same, in fact, that I determined it was the same event recurring every time. As if one night this soldier was taking this walk and it got recorded into the house’s bones and it replayed that typical day regularly.

The only thing that varied about the footsteps was the timing. It didn’t seem to appear until everyone was abed. If someone was unaccounted for, I didn’t hear it when I went to sleep (but that isn’t to say it didn’t occur after I fell asleep--good debunkers note these things). So, one night I stayed up all night to listen. It came some time after my teenaged sister got in and went to bed. I think she was still in the bathroom at the time.

Skeptical, still, I waited until my sister was fully asleep and crept downstairs. As a kid, I learned where to step on what boards to not be heard if I snuck downstairs to steal some Christmas fudge or watch Johnny Carson. I thought perhaps the stairs were rebounding after someone walked up them and that explained the sounds. Why else did everyone have to be abed before it occurred? I walked up the stairs on the ones I knew he stepped on which was nearly every one of them, with the exception of about three to four boards (out of perhaps 13 steps). I went down the hall in the manner his steps took nightly and into my middle bedroom where the sounds stopped. I waited. I sat. I waited more. I listened intently. I shifted restlessly. No footsteps. I did not cause the boards to release themselves or somehow flex after being stepped upon.

Even recording the sounds and replaying them for friends didn’t impress them. I realize that as a ghost hunter that’s the nature of the beast. Little did I know that even 36 years ago I was already a budding ghost hunter. I had just the right amount of skepticism and desire to prove things beyond a reasonable doubt.

I still do. It keeps me going. I don’t want others to be able to dispute things away. I want to try not to get caught up in the excitement of something strange occurring and assuming it’s supernatural. It’s really no different than our ancestors hiding from an eclipse. There’s an explanation for everything. I believe there is for hauntings, as well, even if we don’t know yet what the science behind them is.

We can at least figure out what it isn’t.