PSICAN - Paranormal Studies and Inquiry Canada

Ghosts, Hauntings & Related Phenomena

Written by Penny M. Kroll

It has been difficult to prove that ghosts exist, but even more challenging is proof that haunted objects do as well.
Over many centuries there have been stories of items such as dolls, toys, furniture and jewellery being haunted. Haunted objects are said to have residual psychic energy, or energy carried over from their previous owners.  If you think about it, the ability of the spirit of a person to attach itself to something they were very close to in life does not seem totally impossible. If a woman wore a certain ring throughout her life, it’s not hard to believe that some of her spiritual energy might still be attached to that piece of jewellery.  What about the chair that was sat in by the same man every day for decades.  Or a child that had a favourite doll for many years and the doll is left behind.  Could these objects contain the spirit of their previous owners or are the people they’ve left behind just hoping there is still some part of the deceased left in our world? I believe it could be possible. However, even if it’s isn’t haunted and someone believes strongly enough, they can also cause themselves to manifest potential ghost-like activity, also known as the Philip Phenomenon.
There have been many stories of people hearing toys turning on and off with no one in the room. This happened a lot when my son was younger. Something in the bottom of the toy box would frequently turn itself on and before I could dig through and find what it was, it usually turned itself off as well.  While there are some possible reasons this could occur that are not paranormal, such as the on-off switches not completely turned all the way off or perhaps the batteries were running down, there are some inanimate objects that seem to have a life of their own.

When researching haunted objects, dolls seem to appear as one of the most popular items. I’m not surprised as some dolls can be creepy even when they are not known to be haunted. Pediophobia or fear of dolls is a very common phobia which causes anxiety, mostly in younger children. Many times children grow out of this fear, but for those who don’t, the presence of a doll can start the imagination running wild and activity may be present based on the Philip Phenomenon alone.

One of the most popular haunted doll stories is that of Robert the Doll .  A doll was given to young Robert “Eugene” Otto of Key West Florida in 1906 by an African servant who worked for his family. The servant, who was believed to have practised black magic, was not pleased with Eugene’s family and put a curse on the doll which Eugene called Robert after his first name.  

Not long after he received the doll, Eugene’s parents heard him talking to Robert and the doll would talk back in a different voice.  Robert was also responsible for furniture being knocked over, was seen moving from window to window by their neighbours and could even be heard giggling.  After Eugene’s death in 1974, a new family moved into the house and discovered Robert who had been left in the attic.  Robert was given to the family’s daughter who said the doll would actually come alive and attack her at night.  She was convinced the doll was trying to kill her. In this case the doll did not appear to be attached just to Eugene, but whoever came into its possession.

There’s also the story of a haunted Canadian doll named Mandy  who resides in a museum in Quesnel, BC. Mandy was brought to the museum by its owner who claimed that when she owned the doll, she would hear the sounds of a baby crying at night.  After she donated the doll to the Quesnel Museum, the sounds of the baby crying ceased in her home but strange activity started to happen in the museum including the sounds of footsteps when no one was around, objects being moved or things that had gone missing.  

Mexico trumps these two stories with an actual Island of Dolls.  Located just south of Mexico City in a network of canals you’ll find old, mutilated dolls hanging from the trees.  Stories say that Don Julian Santana moved to the island as a hermit and was haunted by the ghost of a girl that drowned. Santana fished the dolls out of the canal and hung them as a shrine for the ghost of the girl who appeared to be haunting him.  Don’s nephew later found him on the island where he drowned in the same canal the girl had died in. The area is now a tourist attraction, and as strange as it is, visitors claim to hear the dolls whispering when they wander through and their eyes mysteriously open and close.

Along with dolls, many hauntings have been associated with furniture, specifically antique furniture.  If a piece of furniture has been passed down for many years, it’s possible that energy from previous generations could have attached itself and would make itself known. Activity may be higher if the piece of furniture stays within the same family, but there have been many other reports of allegedly haunted furniture by people who were not related in any way.
In a 2010 article in The Examiner written by Lisa Marcelino,  Lisa says she was driving through Englishtown, NJ when she spotted an old two story dollhouse at a yard sale.  She bought the dollhouse and brought it to her home in New York, where she cleaned it up with the intent to fix and repaint it.  The next day she and her husband went to an art supply store to purchase supplies when she became violently ill and they had to leave.  The day after that, they invited friends to their house, and for no apparent reason, their guests began arguing which was not like them at all.

Other strange things happened over the next short while. A picture hanging above the dollhouse continually crashed down, their baby dwarf rabbit mysteriously died and their family dog started barking at the dollhouse for no reason at all. The couple started hearing unexplained noises at night, began having night sweats and the husband appeared to be depressed all the time. They decided that something must be causing all this strange activity, so thinking back they connected the beginning of the strange occurrences to the time they brought the dollhouse home.  They took the dollhouse and threw it out onto the curb where someone immediately picked it up and their house has returned to its peaceful state once again.

Mrs. Pam Sax purchased a bedroom set she fell in love with from an antique auction in North Carolina . Once the set was brought in to her home and she started sleeping in the bed, strange things began to happen. Just as she was transitioning into a deep sleep, it felt like something touched her feet.  She woke thinking it was just her imagination and went back to sleep. A short time later it happened again and she suddenly felt really cold so she got up and grabbed a comforter to cover herself.  After getting settled back in bed, it wasn’t long before the comforter was slowly pulled almost completely off.  Scared that someone was in the room with her, Mrs. Sax quickly turned the light on but no one was there.  

After several other incidents, including one where a neighbor was asked to replace a light bulb over the bed and was grabbed by the ankle, Mrs. Sax decided to look in to the history of the bed and its previous owner.  It turned out that it was owned by an elderly woman who had diabetes and had recently died before the bed was purchased.  Coincidentally, Mrs. Sax was also an older woman who had diabetes. Could she have been drawn mysteriously to the bed at the auction because of the similarities? And was the woman who previously owned the bed lonely and just trying to communicate with her new friend?  Mrs. Sax did not want to keep the furniture around long enough to find out.  She sold the bedroom set to a man who she told the furniture was haunted, but he laughed it off saying there was no such thing. However Mrs. Sax did not care; she was finally able to get a good night sleep and not have to worry about anything touching her in the night anymore.  

Should you stop buying antique pieces just because you fear it may be haunted – absolutely not.  Perhaps inquiring about the history of the item before you purchase it would be a good idea though.

The media has also played a role in people contemplating the possibility of haunted objects. The Haunted Collector, a television show based on the host finding haunted objects in people’s homes, is beginning its second season.  But can the media take things too far?

One story I came across where they did was about a painting called “The Crying Boy”.   While it could be considered more of a curse than a haunting, the story originated in 1985 when a British newspaper quoted a fireman who said that he had frequently found copies of the painting in the ruins of burned buildings. The paintings were in perfect condition, usually found face down on the floor.

Mass media seemed to cause mass hysteria in this case, and as the story spread, more people with copies of this painting contacted the newspaper, some that had fires and others that feared their house would burn down.

A fireman who had investigated many of these fires in Britain confirmed that human carelessness was to blame.  However, the newspaper continued to sensationalize the story and people from other parts of the world that owned this painting began growing concerned as well. The calls overwhelmed the paper to the point where they arranged an official burning ceremony. Concerned citizens were encouraged to bring their paintings in and a huge bonfire was held in the street.

Steve Punt, a writer and comedian with BBC radio investigated the “curse” of The Crying Boy.  Through testing done by the Building Research Establishment, it was discovered that the paintings had been treated with some type of varnish containing fire repellent. Most paintings had been hung by string, which burned quickly and allowed the painting to fall face down on the floor – therefore being protected and not touched by the flames. So a reason was found for the paintings being unscathed by the fire and this whole mass media frenzy was put to rest.
Coincidentally my mother and father-in-law have a copy of the same painting that was given to them by a relative in Israel.  The print hung in their former house and more recently in their condominium for years and they’ve never had a fire.

Whether or not you have a haunted object in your home, there are plenty of people out there that are willing to sell you one, including many who post “haunted” items on eBay and other websites. If you’re in the market to purchase something you believe is haunted, I strongly suggest you do a bit of digging into the history of the item first. The chances of it being haunted may likely be the same as your chances of winning the lottery.