The Haunting of Hartmann House: My True Halloween Tale
"When hinges creak in doorless chambers, and strange and frightening sounds echo through the halls; whenever candlelights flicker where the air is deathly still - that is the time when ghosts are present..."
It's Halloween, and Halloween-time means trick-or-treats and scares, ghosts and ghost stories. I wanted to share with you my scary ghost tale, a tale that has no reasonable beginning, but a definite ending, at least to where I took part in it all.
This Halloween tale wraps up nicely (you'll see), but has and addendum - well, two to be precise. It has all the usual ghost tricks and cliches: Items moving across distances, objects moving to other areas by themselves. Chilling, thrilling cold where there shouldn't be any cold in a warm room. And consider this chilling item before you read on: I assure you this is all true, every last word and event that I will share with you is real.
I completely understand you will read this and find explanations for the things I'm going to tell you. You'll think it all through and upon reading make your own conclusions as there could be explanations for nearly all of the happenings I witnessed and experienced. But, at the end, I hope you come to the same conclusion that I did, that it was all scary real.
I will try to be concise once we get to the tale; there's a bit of set-up here and there, a little bit of exposition because you weren't there to experience it (or were you?). Ghost stories don't need a lot of detail except when they do. I will tell you everything that needs to be told, how it happened to me, and how it's now going to happen to you through reading about it.
One more thought before we move to our haunting: I've not included any photos here. The first reason is because, well, I no longer have any. The photos I did have of my studio apartment are now lost to another haunted tale, that of the haunted, unusable external hard drive. I feel even if I did have photos, they'd not be adding anything to the story because I never caught something on camera, nor had I even thought about attempting such a thing (back then with my first, 2.4 megapixel camera).
I can't guarantee a well put-together story here; there may be scary grammar to go with the scary story. I put this down to my journal pretty quickly so I make no promises regarding prose. So, with that said, sit back, relax, pull up the blanket around your head if that helps, and get comfortable. Let the soothing sounds of the rap tap tapping of my fingers upon laptop keys lull you into my true Halloween tale.
In April of 2003 I packed all of my things (compacted all of them is more like it) into boxes and containers and moved from my 'deluxe apartment in the sky' to a small, 500 square foot studio. I had never lived in a studio apartment before and so to deal with the challenge of it, I had completely planned out everything - the measurements, furniture, placement of each of my wall hangings. Not only that, every inch of the space, as you can imagine - especially if you know me and my methodical nature - had been thought of and carefully used. This is an important detail for later, just so you know.
I was single, and moving to this new, smaller apartment was a result of separating from my partner of three years. The reasons that we separated aren't important here, but let me at least interject there was no animosity or anger or bad ju-ju or anything taken with me to this new apartment. If there's any truth to people and places harboring negative emotions, I throw that out here for you to consider now, you know, just in case.
"Old people everywhere."
Before we step all the way into this scary chamber, I should describe the layout of it just a bit. I'll detail more when it's needed, so imagine this all in your head: My new-to-me third (and top) floor studio was long, but not terribly wide. The carpet, although new, was a dark brown, the color I imagined they have in Hell's waiting room. The dark carpeting darkened the already small space so much. The walls were painted a matte, off-yellowish color, the color of smoker's teeth, which strangely worked well with the carpeting. The ceilings were speckled with asbestos popcorn and were dirty and shadowy and hid spiderwebs quite well. One wall of the apartment was entirely wood paneled, but had been painted over instead of removed, only compounding the decorative nightmare.
The front door opened to the right, and on the right the wall fully extended all the way to the opposite side of the apartment, to the sliding glass door. To the immediate left of the front door was a walk-in closet. To get to the bath, you walked directly through this closet.
Passing the closet, there was on the left side of the apartment a small kitchen area. A bar-height counter ran the full length of the kitchen which afforded me a place to put a microwave at one end and still have room to eat, as well as spread out my sketch pad, pencils, ink pens and other items for when I itched to be creative and draw-y. Near the microwave was a vintage ash tray I had purchased in a Long Beach second-hand store; it is where I kept my keys, wallet, maybe some change. I always placed these items here in the tray when I arrived home.
I had placed a large chair with a built-in ottoman on the kitchen side of the studio. This chair was angled toward the TV, which was on the opposite wall in a large, three-piece IKEA entertainment center. Next to the chair was my small computer desk. If you were sitting at this desk, the sliding glass door and a small balcony were to the right of you, and the foot of my queen-size bed behind.
Old people everywhere. I was able to settle in really quickly, despite the down-grade in space. Everything fit just as nicely as I had planned. Even so, I found I needed a few items and when I came home from an errand on the second or third day of residence, someone had written on the hallway wall adjacent to my door, in scratchy lead pencil, those three words: old people everywhere. It's true: there were indeed old people everywhere. When I moved into the complex, there were quite a few elderly people residing throughout. It was a little strange, actually, as if the place had at one time been a senior complex, but I never found any proof of that.
I left the penciled writing there on the wall for a long time before I finally let the office know about it. It was slightly entertaining, seeing it every day, and I had hoped someone would eventually knock on my door to tell me that they had written it there. This never happened. A few weeks later I noticed the writing had been removed, painted over. Whomever wrote on the hallway wall right by my door never confessed, and to this day I have no idea who did it.
Each time I came home from wherever I had been I would deposit my keys and wallet into my second-hand valet tray by the microwave. Sometimes during the evenings and if industrious I would break out the sketch pad which I kept on the kitchen bar counter top. When done, I would close the spiral-bound sketch book and put my pencils either inside of the wired spiral or next to it. Twice that I recall, I awoke in the morning and found one or both pencils sitting away from the sketch pad. Can those things just roll? Surely. But here's an interesting fact: One of the pencils was actually a mechanical one, the kind with a button near the tip to kick out more lead when depressed. It also had a clip for your pocket. On another occasion, the non-mechanical pencil was on the kitchen floor, hiding under the toe kick.
I once found my keys on my desk, about 20 feet away from the valet tray on the countertop where I kept them. Where I always kept them. On two other instances, they keys were outside but next to the tray that I would have dropped them into. This was disturbing, but not alarming, not yet, anyways. More so, it was not like me to not place them where I always would have placed them. Right there, in the tray, right as I walked into the apartment.
One of the non-furniture items I had in my space was an large exercise ball, you know the kind I mean, those inflatable torture balls that are used to correct your posture or for you to do impossible sit-ups on. The only thing that would make these exercise balls super fun is to have a super cute horse head attached so you could bounce around the house. Alas, mine had no horse head, and the only thing I used it for was occasionally sitting on it. To use it, I had to physically pick it up and move it from the area I kept it in - between the large chair and my desk (the only empty wall space in the apartment) - and use it in front of the TV. I say I had to pick it up not because it was heavy or inconvenient but because I couldn't just push it with one hand from its space and roll it over to somewhere else. The opening between the end of the large chair and the end of my bed where it would have to fit was just big enough for me to walk through if I slowed and slightly turned. When I was done using the torture ball, I would lift it up and stuff it back in its special area. If I had left it in front of the TV I'd then not be able to view the television and I'd also trip over it at night if I were to get up.
After a chiropractor appointment, I had come home to watch some television. I probably bounced on the exercise ball in front of the tube for thirty minutes before a shower and relaxing the rest of the evening. Whatever I did the rest of the evening is long lost to unimportance, but know that I had returned the exercise ball to its special exercise ball space and eventually went to bed. When I awoke the next morning,
the ball was in front of the television
and I gasped. I remember this clearly. It was...in front of the television. I have no history of sleep walking, no memory of having to move the ball in the middle of the night for any reason (and why would I; if I had moved it, I'd just fall over it, Dick Van Dyke style, in the dark on my way to a midnight pee). No, I hadn't moved it. Or had I?
At this point, I jokingly allowed myself to believe that yes, this apartment was haunted. But that's insane! I do believe in spooks (I say like the Cowardly Lion from The Wizard of Oz). And even though there could be many explanations for the things that were occurring, these ever-so-little things, I continued to tell myself that okay, sure, it's a ghost. Why not. I got a ghost! Lucky me.
The incident with the exercise ball only happened once. Thankfully once. But that was a big one; it was a big ball, a big deal. Why? Because if it happened as I suspected, it had been a mass of energy from beyond-the-grave (or not quite in the grave yet) to have something so large as that exercise ball to have been moved. Keys or pencils are one thing. But it's only in movies that large objects are moved, right? If anything were really happening in my apartment, I thought for sure that no way did the ball move on its own. I must have done that.
Those were funny things, weren't they? Round items rolling across a countertop; the madness! Keys not where I put them; you're just losing it! Get some sleep! Yet, it was still a somewhat of a joke until I encountered the two cold spots.
Sure, sure! Now you're making this up. That is so cliche; cold spots! What's next in this tale, rattling chains? I'd not fault you for walking away now, saying, Okay, I'm done; this has gone on long enough. But I tell you, Wait, there's much more. More cliches, more horrifying and real cliches.
Cold spots are said to be reported in many haunted locations. These cold spots are small areas that feel much colder than the surrounding area and are considered by some to be a sign of a ghost or some type of presence because whatever plain these entities inhabit, they draw the warmth and energy from a location and the people inhabiting it so they can materialize or cause objects to move. Some cold spots are always felt in the same place while others seem to appear and disappear at different locations. The first time I encountered a cold spot was before the 'big ball' incident. The first time I felt it I woke in the night and walked toward the bathroom at the opposite end of the studio; the kitchen counter would be on my right and as I passed the counter the air became noticeably cold, much colder than it should have been at that time of night on a summer evening. The apartment had no air conditioning, and I only had an oscillating fan which was placed on my desk top, near the foot of my bed, and pointing directly at me and not circulating air around the room. The front door had rubber weather stripping around it so no air flow was coming from that direction. There were no ceiling ventilation openings, and no other reasons why the air would have been particularly and suddenly cold right there in that spot of the studio. Since it were summer, I had the sliding glass door open. But at this time, there were no breezes and even if there had been, there was nothing happening that would have been remotely cold enough or strong enough to create the cold spot right there, and only there.
This first incidence, I didn't think much of it. My imagination, surely. I went back to bed and more or less had forgotten about it. The second time, however I had walked home from a club and after showering I remember staying up with SNL, which was already in progress. Still summer, I can't recall if the fan was on or not. If it were on, it would be pointing right at my head and chest level as it sat on the desk to my left.
But when that cold, creepy chill crawled up my legs, I jumped. It wasn't just the sudden unnatural cold that startled me, it was the sudden unexpected tingling that shot up from my feet to my knees, like a slight electrocution, or the tingling you feel when you move your legs or toes too quickly after they have fallen asleep. It lasted for possibly two seconds, but felt like ten. Then, like everything that was happening inside that unit, it was gone.
It would be at this point in the movie or television production that the protagonist would have told someone about the strange going-ons, or made a visit to their small town library to find out the history of the building, the possibility of neighborhood tragedies. The protagonist would discover the native burial ground the building stood on, perhaps. But I did none of this and only kept all of these events to myself. And by now what I kept inside was a little bit of fear, too. I can tell you that I recall talking to the ghost once or twice, saying aloud, "Ha ha, that's funny!" or, "Where's my pencil going to be today?" And it was also by now that I still only half-believed that there was such a thing in my apartment to begin with; I thought everything could be explained in some fashion. Even so, I was nice to whatever might be there because, well, you never know.
“Having faith in the existence of the paranormal, like faith in anything, means believing that it can stand up to honest skepticism.” - Ryan Buell
Knowing that each of these minor events could be somehow explained, I never lived in fear or dread of being home or even being home alone. Overall, it wasn't a nuisance or frightening. Weird, yes. Entertaining, perhaps. But all of the of these minor summertime events culminated with something not-so-cute and entertaining: the old man standing at the foot of my bed, staring at me, in the dead of night.
When I was nine years old, my father died. At that time in our lives, my brother and I shared a bed and a bedroom. After a tiring evening of tears and questions, our mother put us to sleep. That night, the night of the same day he died, I saw my father at the foot of our bed. He was wearing his usual white tee shirt, the same that he wore in life. I have to assume he was also wearing pants rather than just floating there with a wispy tail, Casper-like. He had on his black-rimmed glasses and his head was still shaved, his hair having never grown back much because of the years of chemo and radiation. I could tell you, like most ghosts claimed to be, that my father was see-though, but that detail I don't remember. I do remember him being a white, fully-realized shape; not white from his usual choice of casual shirt, but white as if he were made up of air, clouds and light, as if something were illuminating from another side of him, a rear-projection trick from inside his soul...
Back in the present, there in my old apartment, the old man stood (if that's what ghosts can do) there at the foot of my bed, in front of my desk, and stared. Stared at me in the middle of the night from inside my apartment, where I was, alone. This image was not comforting, not like that of my floating father. I cannot tell you what the old man ghost wore, or appeared to have worn but I knew it was an old man (old people everywhere) and not a woman or a child. I didn't hear it speak or make noise; it didn't move to come at me. I've no idea if it were something benign, benevolent, or if it meant harm to me had I not awoken when I did, catching it. There was no specific face or grin or sombre look upon it. It was just..there, and he was just there for those horrifying, long few seconds until he was no longer, disappearing just as I sat upright in bed, quite possibly to scream.
As I sat up: whoosh, gone, as quickly as it had disturbed me from my sleep, the old man ghost was gone. My memory of what it looked like and what it was has never faded, however. That old man, that spirt vision, is stapled to that place of my brain where I neither need to keep it or to discard it, but it's there, where it will always be.
I don't fully understand that middle ground where spirits have realm. Maybe in that life, they aren't really dead, and all they want to do is chat, to get our attention. Maybe that existence - their existence - is where we'll end up too, haunting ourselves or someone else in some other time-space continuum, just fractions of a second off from our own timeline and current living moments. I don't understand why I saw the old man, why he was there, staring at me, what he wanted, if anything; where he came from or why he may have been trapped there. Perhaps, just like my father, he just wanted someone to say Hey to before he finally moved on, someone to notice him and to have mattered. If that's the case, he definitely made an impression on me that night.
It's weird that I never saw him again, I never felt any cold spots again. I would have thought that with all the activity happening in my apartment, he would show himself perhaps another time, scare me from my sleep. Over the remainder of the summer, there weren't any other incidences; nothing went missing, nothing was moved. I never saw the old man ghost again, nor any other types of visions or spirits, imagined or otherwise. Perhaps a month or two went by, and it was by then November, and nothing. I was not further 'haunted'; I was not pulled into a closet and nothing attempted to speak to me through my television set. I figured that frightening vision was a good culmination of all things which transpired. Seemed like a good end to all of it. But, I was wrong; he was still there, I was sure of it...
"...that place is haunted, hadn't you heard?"
Sometime mid-November I awoke to a sharp pain in my left shoulder. Sitting upright in bed the pain slightly subsided but was still noticeable. It hurt most when I was laying down. I thought, well I obviously slept on it wrong. So, sitting up, standing up, the pain would eventually go away. Within an hour or two, if I recall correctly, I'd not feel anything. This began on a Sunday night; I was unable to sleep as the pain crept in on little monstrous feet, although I didn't know how much of a monster it was to become.
Monday and Tuesday nights: After work, gym, shower, computer and television time, I went to bed. In the middle of both these nights I awoke to a terrible, stabbing pain and only in my left arm yet again. It affected my neck, under my collarbone, the muscles and tissue around and of my left shoulder. The pain was so tremendous that I know I lay awake for a long time. I tried, of course, not rolling over onto my left arm, but no matter the position - right side, my back, and any contortionists nightmare combo positions thereof - this shoulder, this arm and the bones and tissues, I swear, would just throb. Spiders digging into the tissue and marrow.
In the morning, after very little sleep, I'd awake and once out of bed, the pain would be gone. A little sore perhaps, but tolerable.
Now a Wednesday night, and when I went to bed the pain began again, the throbbing and aching, the monstrous dull blade slicing into the socket and firing off searing nerve torture. No matter what the position, nothing would cause relief or bring sleep. I would sleep where I found it, but like the sound of a car alarm intermittently coming back on just as you are about to reach REM, there would be the intolerable agony once again, toying with me, a drill into the deepest parts of the bone and sinew.
Thursday morning I awoke, lousy with little sleep and a lot of anger. Four nights now with no sleep - no good sleep, anyway. Thursday night I went to bed; I dreaded bedtimes.
Finally, Friday morning I cursed, I swore. Are you seeing the pattern? I was. Night time meant no sleep and to lay there meant pain; the daytime meant exhaustion and no pain. I felt as if I needed an exorcist and a chiropractor. Or, ideally, a chiropractor that could perform exorcisms (I couldn't find a coupon for that). By the end of that long week of unexplained torture I had become a mental and physical mess, unable to complete full thoughts and sentences. But at least it was a Friday, and at the end of the work day I could be home and it would be better, I told myself, because I could rest and attempt sleep through the weekend.
Finally, Friday evening, after work, I was home, I could just sit, sit sit. For now, I was free and hoped that my utter exhaustion of body and mental state would finally enable me to rest, to just crash. I said, I'd even make an appointment to see my physician soon, Monday; just let me rest first, now.
But Friday night was horrible. No sleep came yet again, not at least at first. In the dark, my heart beating, my blood pressure high, my tolerance for life, at this point, very low. With utter exhaustion the flood of memories and happenings in the past months since my move-in date - items rolling or moved; the cold spots, the vision of the old man floating at the end of my bed - I'd had enough. Not even knowing if I still believed any of these things, these hauntings, to be anything other than my tired psyche and circumstantial occurrences, I rolled over onto my back and in what I believe to be a voice louder than I should have spoken at such a late, quiet hour, I called out:
"Get the fuck off me!"
Even now I smile as I tell you this because it was absurd; I was angrily lashing out at nothing, perhaps. And of course nothing at all happened. There were no screams of ghosts being exorcised by my vocal command, even if it were only meant to be half-serious. There were no sounds or movements to accompany me crying out to the night, to whatever ailed me, no murder of crows noisily escaping angrily from the trees, carrying the evil spirits away. Nothing changed, nothing happened. Nothing happened except me finally falling deeply to sleep.
I don't know when I awoke that Saturday morning, but I know I had slept in. My arm was still sore, but that was typical. At least I slept - not enough, but I had slept. That Saturday night into Sunday I went to sleep, dreading the process again, but now found sleep came much easier as there wasn't something stabbing me in my arm, only residual soreness. I was suddenly able to sleep through the nights. And the same happened through Sunday, Monday, Tuesday and the remainder of the week: The tremendous pain that had built up night by night, and only at night, was gone, literally as if it had never been there. That particular week in Hell House was behind me, and sleep was again my companion, not my enemy. As the character, Tangina Barrons, said in one of my favorite movies, "This house is clean." And it was, at least for me, in that apartment, clean and over. Goodbye, ghost.
Around 2005, nearly two years after these experiences, my department at work was expanding. We hired a graphic designer that I eventually became friends with. At the beginning of our working relationship, we went to have lunch. During our lunchtime conversation, the question came up about where we each lived. When it was my turn I told him the particular area and the apartment complex, that it was an older building by the...
"Did you know that place was haunted?"
I'm unsure of my reaction but I can tell you that had I been wearing an adult diaper, I would have let loose and gotten my dollar's worth right there in the food court. The instant gratification and authentication those eight words brought was incredible. I spent some time telling my tale and he then told me of his experiences, in a different building but in the same complex, about how he and his roommate would hear weird sounds and unexplained happenings. On two occasions, the glass shower door in their bathroom had cracked. Once it had been replaced, it cracked again. His roommate was so angry because he assumed that it was being done not by anything invisible or malicious but by the living person he shared the apartment with. The roommate eventually moved out in anger, and my friend had to leave shortly after to look for his own place.
By this time I had told my husband about my ghost, long after I had moved out of the studio and into a one bedroom with him. Special note: Our one bedroom was within the same building and same complex as my haunted studio. So we weren't really scared or worried and didn't move far; we were still ghost-adjacent.
Over time, I may have shared my experiences with a few other people here and there, but honestly, it wasn't something that came up much. "Nice to meet you. I once experienced a haunting." "Did you know that a possibly malevolent spirit used me as a punching bag for a week? Oh, and can I get some more iced tea and a napkin, please?" My very own ghost experiences were just that, my very own. Years went on, life went on; I had a great tale to tell, if I so wished.
A few years ago, my husband and I were walking into the complex lobby one afternoon. An elderly gentlemen who had lived there for 20 plus years happened to be walking out. He was always pleasant and usually had a quick little story to tell us or anyone who would stop to chat. He had been an artist and from what I gathered, he'd had quite the life. For whatever reason that day, he had asked us how long we had been living there. We told him we had been here 10 years or so now. He had lived there maybe 15 at that point in time and said that he'd lived in two different apartments: 127, on the first floor, and the unit he currently lived in. He then added, "I had to move out of 127 because of the old man."
Randy and I were both confused for a second and he could read this on our faces. "Oh, sorry...that place is haunted, hadn't you heard? The old man up there, he just wouldn't leave me alone!"
It was shocking to hear this again, proof, and unprompted just as the first time I had heard it from my coworker. I immediately shared my story, albeit a shortened version. We didn't explore whether his old man and my old man may have been the same old man ghost. Yet to have another tale of this possibly-haunted place was proof enough for me; third time was the charm. So with that last bit of information, I have no more ghost stories to add, no more to tell. It'd be cool if I did have more, like if I went around in a van with my friends, solving mysteries. Good riddance and good bye to all of those scary things that happened in that unit and to me. I'm a believer, I can tell you that, but I don't need to have it happen again.
I can tell you that my ghost experience didn't make me any different a person. I believed in them before this experience, and as I said, I most surely do believe in them now. It wasn't just my own story that made it an actuality, but that of having it confirmed by two other persons, and two other persons from the same location I was living. Crazy. The fun, funny and frightening experiences I had in my studio didn't deepen a faith or make me fear an afterlife. Seeing an old ghost at the foot of my bed didn't send me running to religion. I believe what happens before we die and how we live is the business that we should attend to. I believe in ghosts, but I don't have a concrete understanding or an answer of why there are such things. I don't know why that old man hung out on my apartment or that apartment building. Perhaps he didn't need to move on; perhaps where he was is exactly where he was supposed to be. Or maybe it's just as the experts say, that sometimes people just don't pass on from unfinished business and confusion. We can't always control our here and now, but knowing that there's an in-between later on surely makes me want to ensure everything's tidied up before I go out.
And where do we go, what happens to us when it's our time to go out? Will we be haunting our childhood home some day or the hospital room where we die? It is our natural human desire to look further for answers and for something to believe in, to understand more than we have in front of us. But I have always held true that our one religion, the faith and spirituality that should seriously be guiding us isn't a possible ghostly plain but something right in front of us, something tangible, and that is the Now. We need to embrace the now, the here, the privileges, the pain, the loss, and most of all the love. Mostly the love. We also can't be afraid of no ghosts; we may very well become one ourselves.
I told you about seeing the visage of my father that night, back when I was a nine years old. I kept that memory, forever cherished it. If you think of it this way, it truly was my first ghost sighting and experience. I am completely unsure if I've even shared this memory with my mother. But I did tell my brother around five years ago, the same brother I shared a room and bed with as a child. I'm unsure how the subject came up in some casual conversation, but there it was, the both of us speaking of the night our father died, and without any sarcasm or missing a beat, my brother said, "Oh, yes, I saw dad, too." Belief. That simple affirmation was both terrifying and wonderful. I never knew that my brother had seen him as well. It never occurred to me to ask.
Seeing my father that long ago night wasn't some scary visage of a ghost coming to take me away with him, something from Scooby-Doo with outstretched claw hands and a demonic, cackling witch laugh. As he appeared to me, there in our room at the end of our bed, he spoke to me, or at least I believe he spoke to me, saying just two simple syllables: "Goodbye." And with that word he was gone, disappeared. His ghost never frightened me, it was just dad stopping by before he was rushed off to wherever he needed to be. Yelling out to the old man ghost in my studio apartment years ago, I think, or I'd like to at least hope, that I helped that 'old man' get some finality and rush off to where he needed to be, too, since I never saw him again.