Monday, January 1, 2018

Growing Up With Ghosts: Part 1 of 3

I have written about my years growing up in a Civil War hospital estate in Northern Virginia many times on here and in my book, "Growing Up With Ghosts" where I shared my entire family's experiences in this 5-star award-winning book. But, sometimes for new readers on here, it's good to review a bit about how I got my take on cohabitation with ghosts and the benefits.

the estate in 1860s following the war

The building was originally built in the 1750s as a fort to protect against Indian attacks (see the tilted windows upstairs to detract arrow hits?). 

It was named "The Springfield" after the amazing freshwater spring and the tributary of the Potomac that ran through the property ("Pohick Creek"). The well fed the house and outbuildings the best tasting water imaginable. Friends used to visit with jugs to take some home to drink. 

In the 1800s it was renamed for the trees on the estate, "Aspen Grove." (See the ones in this photo carved with the soldiers' names and years?) 

The quaker family that lived there before the war were driven out. They had a hiding room in the center of the house behind a fireplace that we found when I was a kid. It still had a stool, newspaper, cloth and other things in the space. When the war ended they came back to renovate it from the North and South both using it at various times as a field hospital. See picture above.

This photo above from 1897, shows some of the remaining family members still living there. 

My family bought the estate in the early 60s. 
I was a baby and my older siblings were old enough to know there was something "odd" about the house that they readily referred to as "ghosts." 

I, however, having grown up in it since I was a baby, assumed that was the normal way of things. I didn't question the physics of it. I felt strangely uncomfortable at friends' houses where nothing was afoot.

My parents had a wonderful attitude. They said, "soldiers died here away from their families. We have moved in with five kids! We are their family now. If you see or hear them, just know that they are walking our halls guarding us and who better to guard us than soldiers?" 

We had a wide variety of haunting features from odorless smoke, to objects moving, footfalls, being touched, hearing voices and conversations, seeing shadow figures and full-body apparitions. And, it wasn't just in the house; the outdoors were just as haunted.

My earliest memories involved a general sense of never being alone. I had a tendency to look up in the middle of playing and call on whoever was in the room (unseen) if they wanted to join me in a tea party. 

The most impressive memory was around the age of 4. I was playing with some of my brother's Hot Wheel cars on the Oriental carpet at mother's feet while she read the newspaper in her favorite chair. I was driving the car around and around on the red patterned areas of the rug, pretending the flowery patterns were gardens. 

I kept glancing up to see if she noticed me as I hummed, but she was well and truly into the newspaper articles of the Washington Post. 

When I glanced up one time, her cigarette, sitting in one of those grooved ashtrays of the 60s, suddenly did a cartwheel through the air as if someone had flicked it under the filter. It landed about six feet away on the hardwood floor, a tuft of smoke spiralling from its burning end. 

Mom must have noticed I stopped moving and humming and she moved the paper aside. She saw my eyes focused on the cigarette and gave a little laugh and said, "it did it again, huh?" She went over and picked it up and puffed on it as if it were the usual course of events to have a self-launching cigarette. 

I would come to find out later that this happened regularly for her. Someone or something didn't like her smoking. 

It never scared me as a kid, but I found it like a game. Where would the dark shadow pop up next? When would I hear the voices in mom and dad's room having a conference when my parents were out for the night? If we did flashlight in the back boxwood maze at night, would I run into one of the figures? 

The only thing that challenged me were questions like "why today?" "why here?" "why now?" and forever I wanted to understand the patterns. I was a young investigator and didn't even know it.

The wood floors inside were stained with the blood of the soldiers. And on the acreage, including two cottages, a barn, stables, orchard, steam, pasture, and boxwood mazes, I spent my childhood using a metal detector and adding to a showcase collection inside the home of all kinds of relics. 

At various times, the newspaper came to do stories on the ghosts and NBC did a ghost special about it. Mediums came wanting to do seances. And, during that childhood, I had a talent I wasn't aware was a talent until I was in my 20s. 

The talent I possessed was psychometry, the ability to touch an object and know about the others who were in contact with it. I used to dig up relics and tell my mother about the people associated with them. She thought was very creative, but I would stare at her with a puzzled look. Why didn't she know these things when she held it? 

I was an adult before I realized that others do not know more about an object than shape, color, weight, texture....

Visitors to our home experienced the haunting features, as well. Many apparitions wandered the yard, more than inside the house. And, disembodied voices, a woman screaming, and other sounds came from the gardens. When we first moved in for a few years, the sound of a cannonball hitting the house in the middle of the night had us all awakening, rushing to the hallway and awaiting father's inspections, which revealed no reason for the sound. (More on his discovery of a cannonball in the wall in my book Growing Up With Ghosts).

The home was quirky, the grounds were lovely, and generally everyone that ever visited the estate, came back regularly, feeling drawn to it. For all the tragedy that occurred there, the overall energy of the place was compassionate. 

Tomorrow I will tell you all more about what it's like to live in a haunted home and the pact my family made to haunt it....

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