Some Tales Of Ghosties And Ghoulies

Posted: October 15, 1986

. . . Stay illusion!

If thou hast any sound, or use a voice,

Speak to me.

- Hamlet.

Ghosts. The bump in the night. The draft in a closed room. The hair that rises on the back of the neck.

Some people love a good ghost story. Some very respectable people claim to have had supernatural experiences.

Just as Shakespeare's Elizabethan audience relished a good haunting such as the one Hamlet experienced, people today continue to be intrigued by tales of the unexplained or the macabre.

South Jersey residents don't have to look far to find such stories, according to several local experts. No farther, that is, than Gloucester City, National Park, Glassboro or Woodbury.

Indeed, former residents of 131 Delaware St. in Woodbury have reported spooky goings-on there for almost 20 years.

The building, once a house, is now used as law offices by assistant Gloucester County Prosecutor Barry Lozuke and state Sen. Raymond J. Zane (D., Woodbury).

Lozuke said he has never had any supernatural experiences in the building, but he's heard some of the stories.

"Of course, no one told us the stories about the house until after we bought it," Lozuke said, laughing. "I will say that I don't work here at night anymore."

But an employee in the building, who asked not to be identified, said recently, "We don't see it, but we know it's around."

Mary Ruth Talley said recently that she still remembers her brush with the unexplained in the house, which was built in the 1700s.

Shortly after Talley and her husband, Bob, bought the house in 1958, they began to do some interior work, and during the work they discovered that the two telephones on the first and second floors of the house were plugged in but not connected. They decided to leave the phones that way until after moving in.

Moving day arrived, and the Talleys decided to spend the night at the house, even though the renovations they were doing were not complete.

"When darkness came, we settled into bed in the one room on the second floor that had some semblance of order - and electricity," Bob Talley wrote in the Woodbury Old-City Restoration Committee News in 1984. " . . . Just before going to bed, I had pulled the yellowed, old window shade down to block out the street light. We fell into bed utterly exhausted and quickly drifted into a deep sleep."

The Talleys were awakened with a start by a loud noise and discovered that the window shade had shot up. They pulled it back down and went back to sleep.

Then the telephone rang.

Sleepy and confused, Bob Talley got up and groped his way into the next room to answer it.

A voice at the other end of the line asked, "Is Bill there?" Bob Talley replied, "No," and stumbled back to the bedroom, where Mary Ruth Talley said she pointed out to her husband that the phones were still disconnected.

They were disturbed by the occurrence, but they eventually went back to sleep.

Then the phone rang again.

When Bob Talley answered this time, there was heavy breathing at the other end of the line. He hung up.

The next morning, the Talleys had relatives try to call them on the phones, but the calls did not come through. The phones were still dead.

A few days later, the telephone installer arrived and confirmed that that phone had been disconnected and that there was no way someone could have been playing tricks on the Talleys.

Furthermore, the telephone installer told the Talleys, the phones had been disconnected for more than a year.

Mary Ruth Talley said that was their only strange experience during the six years they lived in the house. They later moved to the Midwest and heard from relatives that the next owners had experienced some strange happenings, too.

*

Tales of ghosts and other unusual phenomena are nothing new to Blanche and Norman Biegenwald. The Woodbury Heights couple have been interested in parapsychology since the 1950s.

The Biegenwalds don't seek out ghostly figures while creeping around in graveyards at midnight. They study them with logic and science.

"Actually, this business about midnight is wrong," said Blanche Biegenwald. Hauntings and other paranormal phenomena can happen at any time of day, she said, and they do.

Parapsychology is the study of psychic phenomena and is a science recognized by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Norman Biegenwald said.

''The South Jersey area is full of unexplained phenomena," he said.

Blanche Biegenwald and a former Mullica Hill resident, Virginia Joslin, have co-authored a book, Ghosts of Gloucester County, that is expected to be published by the Gloucester County Tercentennary Committee this year.

The Biegenwalds became interested in psychic phenomena when they were living in what Blanche Biegenwald said was a haunted house in Thorofare.

The Biegenwalds work with other people interested in parapsychology at a center for psychic investigation known as Parastudy in Chester Heights, Pa.

Ghosts are only a small part of the psychic phenomena they study; they also are interested in telepathy, telekinesis, biorhythms, extrasensory perception and time warp.

"It's amazing how many people have had experiences not just in old houses but in some new houses," Blanche Biegenwald said.

There are certain patterns to hauntings, according to the Biegenwalds. These include house pets that react to things that human occupants can't see, the sound of footsteps that begin at one specific point and travel to another, unexplained events that happen at the same time of the day or of the year, temperature differences and sudden unexplainable gusts of air, unexplained odors, electrical malfunctions that cannot be traced to wiring problems, or hair standing up on the neck or arms.

Blanche Biegenwald said she and Joslin had sorted through many reported hauntings in the area to come up with those that were reported by several people independently and that could not be explained by logic.

Which is the most haunted place in Gloucester County?

It is an entire section of North Main Street in Glassboro, according to Biegenwald and Joslin. The events center on a house known as "The Dormitory"

because it was once used by students who attended Glassboro State College. But the same events have been reported by people living elsewhere in the neighborhood.

"Such a general haunting is fairly unusual," Biegenwald said.

Several stories that neighbors tell connect the haunting with the mysterious death of a child who was pushed or fell down the steps in one of the houses in the Victorian era.

Local legend has it that the child's spirit still haunts the area.

Biegenwald did not want to give away many of the specifics of the case before her book was published, but she said one of the phenomena associated with the haunting was that unsuspecting sleepers awakened to the sensation of ''something pushing down on the chest and whispering in the ear."

In Gloucester County, several buildings that served as hospitals during the Revolutionary War have ghost stories associated with them.

The Woodbury Friends Meeting House on Broad Street is one such place.

A woman reported that one day she was sitting inside the meetinghouse when she saw the ghost of a young woman dressed in the clothing of another era walk through the building.

How was she sure it was a spirit? It walked directly through a line of benches, Biegenwald said.

"It's possible that in the ghost's time, the benches were arranged in a different way," she said. Often spirits will walk the same path regardless of physical changes that have been made in a building, she added.

Another former Revolutionary War hospital, the Ann Whitall House at the Red Bank Battlefield, now part of a county park, has numerous ghost stories associated with it. Visitors to the house can still see the bloodstains left on the floors by the soldiers who died there.

In a 1936 document on file at the Gloucester County Historical Society, a writer recounts a story about the spirit of "a young lady of the days of long ago, who trips gayly up the stairs, when the midnight hour is near in dainty high heel slippers, which click upon the old worn steps of the open stairway."

"Who she is or why she stays so long in spirit, in the old house by the river, no one seems to know. She trips up the stairway . . . always to the same room, walks to a certain place by the wall where she is evidently interested in a wash bowl and pitcher, for the sound of water being poured

from the pitcher is distinctly heard. That is all."

Other manifestations mentioned in the same account include unexplained knocking on walls and a washbowl that vibrated in its stand.

As a young girl, Elaine Allen lived with her grandparents in the Whitall House in the 1930s and 1940s. Her grandfather, George Hughes, was caretaker

from 1916 until he died in the 1950s.

Allen remembers on several occasions that she and other family members saw the piano in the living room play by itself.

On some mornings, the entire family would be sitting in the kitchen eating breakfast and would clearly hear the sound of someone turning the pages of a newspaper in the living room.

"We would get up to look, but there would be no one there," she said recently.

Another occupant of the house reported hearing the sound of playing cards being shuffled in a downstairs room after everyone had gone to bed.

The old-fashioned door latches in the house were known to rise and fall by themselves as if someone were trying to open the door from the other side.

Strange happenings were so common in the house that family members began to refer to them as "Sam."

"Something would happen, and we would say, 'That's Sam again,' " Allen recalled. Sam was the first name of an unhappy sailor who jumped ship in the Delaware River one night and tried to swim to shore, but failed. His body was found on the shore near the house.

Allen said she also recently heard that some guards who have worked the night shift at the park claim to have heard an old-fashioned fire bell near the house ringing in the early morning hours. But they could find no one ringing it when they went to investigate.

"It's a big bell that I remember from my grandfather's time, before there were telephones to call the firemen. It would take a gale wind to ring that bell," she said.

Probably the best-known story related to the Whitall House is one told about two Hessians who were decapitated in a battle at nearby Fort Mercer on Oct. 22, 1777.

According to a story written for the Gloucester County Historical Society, the two Hessians were among four battalions that marched from Haddonfield to Red Bank under the command of Count Kurt von Donop.

Hundreds of the Hessians were slaughtered when they tried to attack colonial troops camped inside the fort.

"The dead at the fort were buried in trenches being laid alongside one another," the story states. "Among these Hessians were two whose heads had been blown off. When they were interred the head of the one was buried with the body of the other . . . This caused considerable consternation. None of these poor Hessians could sleep in their place of long rest."

"This caused the two to arise on moonlit nights and wander through the countryside about the old Fort . . . Each was trying to find the other; each was attempting to locate his own head. They wandered over the old battlefield for years without ever meeting one another. They frightened young and old alike."

The story concludes that in the early 20th century, the two finally met each other, exchanged heads and "immediately all fell to dust."

David Munn, director of the Cherry Hill Public Library, has collected ghost stories for years and has occasionally been involved in investigating some of the disturbances.

Munn said that in his experience, stories of ghosts were related to "some sort of disturbance, a problem or an unresolved death or something that is not natural that has happened - something out of the ordinary."

Hauntings usually involve something highly emotional, a tragic death and ''a continuation of contact with the spirit," Munn said.

He recalled a modern-day haunting that upset a Camden County family.

"One that I remember distinctly was some people who told me they had a relative who died (at home) in an iron lung and a week later they could still hear the iron lung working, even though it had been removed from the house,"

Munn said.

"They consulted a medium who told them the spirit of the dead man was hanging around. The medium persuaded him to leave by telling him that he was ruining the memory his family would have of him if he kept haunting them,"

Other types of hauntings can be explained through perfectly logical reasons, Munn said.

"The old Washington Manufacturing Company in Gloucester City was supposedly haunted. (The factory was torn down in the 1950s.) People heard voices and saw lights. The night watchman would walk through the mill at night, and he would whistle and sing and swing the lantern. From the outside of the building, people thought the place was haunted," Munn said.

He added that sometimes people just love an excuse to be scared.

Both Munn and the Biegenwalds said they have heard some pretty convincing ghost stories over the years, but they caution people who think they might have had a supernatural experience to investigate it with cold, hard logic.

"Research it and don't accept what anybody says. . . . " Blanche Biegenwald said. "Look for independent corroboration."

As for those people who don't believe in ghosts, Biegenwald said, "Let them laugh, they're entitled to their perceptions."

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