Unexplained phenomena: Does anyone have experience with "things that go bump in the night"?
August 18, 2011 9:00 PM   Subscribe

Unexplained phenomena: Does anyone have experience with "things that go bump in the night"?

In the middle of one recent summer night, sleeping upstairs in a big, solidly built old house (constructed in 1875) in the lake country of the midwest, I was awakened by very loud creaking, followed by what sounded like loud footsteps outside in the hallway. Frightened, I cautiously opened the door, but there was nothing/no one to be found. I went back to bed and the noises continued. I checked another time, but saw nothing. The loud noises continued for another half hour or forty-five minutes. They sounded like someone wearing heavy boots, stomping outside in the hallway.
Aside from the well known quotation from "Hamlet"-- "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy," I have no explanation whatsoever for what I heard. I know that old houses creak---but these were extremely loud, thumping noises, not the usual creaks of floor boards.
Perhaps rather complicating the mystery is the fact that my lifelong dear friend had passed away in Toronto a few days before. When we returned home from the lake country a few days ago, we learned that our cat had been run over by a car during our absence.
Has anyone experienced similar phenemona? Yes, I was grieving because of my friend's death, but I heard what I heard. Thanks in advance!
posted by ragtimepiano to Society & Culture (48 answers total) 38 users marked this as a favorite
Any chance there were any appliances running, or running water? Our washing machine makes a phenomenal racket called "water hammer". Alternatively, if there was water running, pipes could be loose and clanking around inside the walls/floor.
posted by RobotNinja at 9:08 PM on August 18, 2011

Trees? There is a large pine tree at my house that thumps under the right wind conditions ...
posted by Rube R. Nekker at 9:11 PM on August 18, 2011

My old apartment complex had a ghost. Wow. It's such a long story! But there really was a ghost, we knew who she was. Loved her. Then a friend advised I should have a chit chat with her and send her "into the light." I did it. All the phenomena stopped.

Our ghost liked to turn on electronics. Just to say hello. There were dreams, too. She never made physical noises, tho (prolly because she knew that shit would have freaked me the fuck out, and she liked having someone around who was receptive to her.)

I never really believed in ghosts until this experience. Honestly? She made it impossible to deny she was around after a while. She was very interactive.

I don't have any idea what happened to you. But yeah, weird shit happens.
posted by jbenben at 9:13 PM on August 18, 2011 [8 favorites]

You might find the stories and suggestions in this thread helpful.
posted by oneirodynia at 9:16 PM on August 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

Ah, trees for sure as well. First night in our new house, the tree outside the bedroom window was scraping against the siding. It was terrifying and sounded like someone was trying to beat down our front door. Now every year when it wakes me up in a panic, I know it's time to trim the tree again.
posted by RobotNinja at 9:16 PM on August 18, 2011 [2 favorites]

Best answer: ... and I'm sorry for the loss of both your friend and your pet.
posted by oneirodynia at 9:17 PM on August 18, 2011

It was either something totally normal, like banging ducts or a dryer with a lopsided load, OR a paranormal event the likes of which has never ever ever been documented in a satisfying way.

Your call.
posted by Patbon at 9:21 PM on August 18, 2011 [10 favorites]

Response by poster: ...No appliances running (it happened between 1 and 4 am), and no tree branches scraping. It was a windless night.
posted by ragtimepiano at 9:24 PM on August 18, 2011

My grandmother, The Broad, was the least woo-woo woman you'd ever have the pleasure to meet. When my grandfather died, she swore in a very matter-of-fact way that he was there with her, often, in the house. But she also held fast to the advice she'd given me, when we were discussing TV preachers:

Believe anything you want, but never give anyone money.

I've always thought that made pretty good sense. I'm sorry about your losses.
posted by cyndigo at 9:28 PM on August 18, 2011 [23 favorites]

I get water hammer if a toilet is running.

Could there have been an animal in the attic? A chipmunk in a wall?
posted by JohnnyGunn at 9:30 PM on August 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

The "settling" of old houses can produce all kinds of noises, as can animals in the attic, or between the upstairs floorboards and the downstairs ceilings. Changes in temperature and humidity can cause old timbers to shrink or expand and old planks to warp.

I was once, on a summer night, scared witless by what sounded like someone pacing from one end of the house I was sleeping in to the other, just outside the ground-floor bedroom windows. I later figured out that what I'd heard was water dripping slowly from the eaves in a pattern that ran from one end of the house to the other. In the still of the night, the sound of the water drops hitting damp dead leaves on the ground was weirdly magnified.
posted by Orinda at 9:31 PM on August 18, 2011 [2 favorites]

I posted this in a another related thread.
posted by ottereroticist at 9:41 PM on August 18, 2011

It seems to me that either you have to find and accept a logical physical explanation for the noise, or you have to become comfortable with the idea that it may have been a paranormal phenomenon. You can just let yourself get comfortable with the idea for awhile and see how you feel. If you don't want to deal at all, then call it creaking floorboards or water hammer or whatever.

My experience is that I had several unexplained phenomena in an old apartment. Some weird things happened and I dismissed them out of hand. Finally I asked my boyfriend if he thought something weird was happening, and he was all "Oh, yea, we have a ghost." He's not woo-woo either. His confidence that this was a satisfactory explanation, and the validation that I was not going crazy, turned out to be enough for me. I was freaked out for awhile but then I got used to it, I guess.

more detail for the curious: it was the sensation of a small animal jumping on the bed and curling up behind your knees, when our cat wasn't allowed in the bedroom at night. This animal was named Ghost Kitty. It stopped after I was getting scared and would leave the light on at night. I was later informed by the boyfriend that the animal would jump on the bed when he was alone.
posted by cabingirl at 9:45 PM on August 18, 2011 [8 favorites]

Response by poster: Further information about the history of the house: It was built in 1875 by a lumber baron---has absolutely superb oak floors, 11 1/2 foot ceilings, marvelous paneled oak doors. The friends who live there year round as caretakers tell us they often hear unexplained noises, find things have been moved from place to place, and have a sense that another person is in the house. They suspect it might be Edna, a daughter of the lumber baron, who tragically passed away at age 19 from a burst appendix; they surmise she might have died in the front upstairs bedroom. The strange occurrences have been so frequent that they have started talking to "Edna" and asking her to behave! Also, Edna's mother, Mary Elizabeth, died in the house, at 49, of a what seemed to be a "bleeding stroke"---brain hemorrhage, the same affliction that took my friend's life. Of the other families that have occupied the house, we don't have as much knowledge.
posted by ragtimepiano at 9:52 PM on August 18, 2011

My father is an incredibly sober observer. We lived a house which my aunt casually stated was haunted the moment she entered the place.

One day my dad was all alone in the house in the dead of winter. All windows and doors were shut. While downstairs, an upstairs door swung loudly and slammed.

That is all.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:54 PM on August 18, 2011

I used to live in a century house.

My first assumption of any thumping thing like this would be "bat got in".

Did it continue thumping while you were looking? Because if it didn't, bats in my experience either would *totally* freak out upon being interrupted, or else they freeze up.

A solidly built house from 1875 was solidly built in 1875. At this point, every small animal in the neighborhood can probably get inside. They are incredibly, incredibly stupid at finding out how to get back out once they're in.

My apartment may be cruddy in so many days, but I'm so glad to be done with the bats and the mice and the ants and everything else.
posted by gracedissolved at 10:06 PM on August 18, 2011 [2 favorites]

In a way, it's sort of comforting that even a community as smart as this is willing to consider the possibility that ghosts are causing this noise. Sure, it could be pipes, the water heater, a settling old house, or critters, but maybe, possibly, why not?
This is not a sarcastic remark, btw.
FWIW, I'm putting my money on a failing foundation. Pier and beam, I'm assuming?
posted by Gilbert at 10:06 PM on August 18, 2011 [3 favorites]

My ex had a couple of very frightening experiences for which there was no obvious physical explanation: living in a cabin in the depths of the woods, hearing a car come up the drive, headlights raking across the wall, steps up to the front door, then silence, and no one there. This was a place with a very long driveway, no other roads nearby, no possibility of the car headlights simply shining through the woods from another direction. He thought the haunting was associated with a fireplace mantel he'd rescued from an old and decrepit house in Victoria just before it was torn down. Later on, while he was away, somebody broke into his place and ransacked it, and one of the things they took was the mantel. After that there were no more incidents (at least involving him or his cabin). I can't say I've ever seen or heard a ghost, but I keep an open mind.
posted by jokeefe at 10:16 PM on August 18, 2011

My apartment makes horrible noises in wind - turns out there's some sort of vent attached to the hood over our oven... Anyway, I basically think it's a similar vent or a shutter.
posted by maryr at 10:23 PM on August 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: The house is structurally very sound. It has been continually lived in and maintained well since it was built.
posted by ragtimepiano at 10:44 PM on August 18, 2011

A long time ago, an ex-girlfriend and I went to sleep in her older (1920's) rent house early-ish one evening. It was cold out that night - I believe it was in January or February. We both woke up suddenly at some point post midnight, to find all the doors and every single wood sash window in the house thrown wide open, freezing wind howling through the house. There were four such windows in the room we were sleeping in, and I have no idea how we would have both slept through the noise of them all being opened. Most of them were pretty stiff, and I recall having a hard time getting some shut again. There were probably 12 or 14 windows in the house, at least. We were both reasonably sure that we had locked all the doors before going to sleep, and no one we knew of had a key. It remains unexplained - I don't think I could have gotten some of those windows open wide, myself, due to the amount of paint, and neither of us had any history of sleepwalking. I believe the house had roll-up blinds and that all those had been raised, too.

A month or two later, in the process of painting the kitchen, we disassembled the vent hood over the stove, and discovered a very old revolver (probably a .35 or .38) that had been hidden inside that hood for what appeared to be a great number of years.
posted by Devils Rancher at 10:51 PM on August 18, 2011 [7 favorites]

I have a problem tree at the moment (tree surgeons are expensive) and a "big, solidly built old house" and between the 'creaking' and 'stomping' -- it really does sound like a tree. Mine has been noisy on what seemed to be pretty low-wind nights, too. I get other noises and bumps in the night; not so much since replacing the furnace. Sometimes it is the sump pump kicking in. Sometimes it is a cat knocking something over. Three times it has been a raccoon coming in to the kitchen to eat garbage and cat food because I left the cats' entrance open. I sleep near a hand-crank flashlight, and get up and take a look if it is weird enough or needs chasing out the door. There's always an explanation.

People do die in relatively new housing, and one never hears ghost stories about 1990s condos... My house is old enough that I would be surprised if nobody had ever died in it. And yet it's usually the tree, and when it's not the tree, it's not been anything exciting.

I'm going to throw out that if I heard something that sounded just like stomping around in boots, I would've dialled 911 without peeking at the boots, and I bet you would have, too, if it was unmistakably a person tramping around the house when you knew there shouldn't have been one. But it was insufficiently real-booted-person-like to inspire "BURGLAR! 911" in your mind. So: likely not boots.
posted by kmennie at 10:52 PM on August 18, 2011 [8 favorites]

There are all manner of perfectly normal things that will cause a scenario like you describe, from trapped animals to banging trees. Better still, those things are all things that we all know to be verifiably real, whereas ghosts are pretty much just make-believe at this point, and no sane and rational person would believe in them.

But also, I work a few hours a week in a haunted office building. It's just odd noises and occasionally something gets moved. It's not like in the movies. Totally harmless. You get used to it.
posted by ErikaB at 11:16 PM on August 18, 2011 [2 favorites]

My parents are the most, anti ghost people ever but they have a story to tell. They rented a servants quarters of a famous civil war general in Athens, Ga in the very early 70's, while Dad was finishing school. It had been updated with those windows that open when you turn the crank. The owner had had custom, wooden, blinds made in one huge piece. Each set would cover an entire wall of the windows. Mom said they took some serious work to pull up and down, but about once a week, they would all

open overnight, or during the day
while they were out. Not just one window, the blinds were encircling the sunroom, on three walls. She said they were pretty freaked the first few times but were young and needed the cheap rent. It just became part of their routine.
posted by pearlybob at 11:47 PM on August 18, 2011

Quite a few years back, when I first moved to Melbourne, I was sharing a house with a group of people. It was an old house which had been extended. We all really liked it, but from the first night we were there something was odd about it.

Nothing that I can pin point exactly, just noises and stuff. In fact the very first night that we stayed there (only 4 of us at that stage: 2 in one room together and the others in separate rooms) we all heard the sound of someone in the kitchen - each of us put it down to being one of the others, but when it came up in conversation the next day we discovered that wasn't the case. Not taking it too seriously that conversation ended with "wwwwooooohhhh, ghooooosts!!!" - which became a running joke whenever any of us heard a weird happening in the house.

Shortly after that two other people moved into the house and for various reasons commented on hearing weird stuff, which was when they were told the 'first night kitchen ghost' story.

One thing that I wasn't really happy about with the house, was its location. I'd made the commitment to share with this group of people before really knowing where the place would be and it ended up meaning that I had to drive a hour to work in the mornings and sometimes an hour and a half home at night (depending on traffic).

One night I'd been asked to stay back at work and do some overtime and didn't end up knocking off until about 9 o'clock. I was knackered, and smelly, and grubby and just wanted to get home, shower and go to bed. But that wasn't going to be the case.

I was stopped at a set of traffic lights about half way home when I heard an odd noise coming from my clutch peddle. Sure enough my clutch cable snapped and I was left sitting there at the lights... majorly pissed. I got out of the car, slammed the door and threw a right hissy fit. Right there in the middle of the road I let fly with every profanity I could come up with... even managed to throw in a few cliché kicks at the car. When all of a sudden I hear "excuse me?" from the side of the road. A woman and her son (13ish?) who were out walking their dog were standing there looking at me. I was completely embarrassed and began to apologise for my little tanty when the woman interrupted me and asked what I planned to do with the car.

She and her son ended up helping me push the car into the carpark of a doctors clinic where I planned to leave it and return in the morning... now I just needed to use a phone (this is before everyone had one on them!). But when I tell the lady that she asks if I want to come back to her house and use her phone. Now, understand -- those of you who've met me know that I'm one ugly bastard -- I'm covered in grease, long haired (at the time) and have demonstrated a pretty advanced potty mouth... and this woman still opens her home to me. So I accept her offer, because I just want this night to end as soon as possible.

By the time we get to their house it's probably around 10:30 or so. She introduces me to her husband, who is confined to a wheel chair, points me to the phone and offers me a coffee.

I first ring the house to see if any of my house mates can swing by and pick me up - but while I've been hard at work, they've all had pasta and wine and are all (at least those with licenses) over the limit and can't drive... so I ring the RACV and tell them that my car has a broken clutch cable and that they need to send a tow truck. The RACV lady agrees and tells me that the truck will be there in an hour... great.

So for the next hour I sit and chat with this extremely generous random stranger who has really been an angel. And as it gets closer to the time that the truck is due to arrive I thank her and her husband for the generosity and tell them I'm that I'm going to head back to the car so that I'm there when the truck arrives. I could hardly believe it when she tells the kid to go back to the car with me, to make sure I'm ok - WTF? She sends her 13 year old kid with a scruffy, grotty stranger at 11:30 at night???

Well, good thing she did, because just as we get back to the car the RACV van shows up... that's right, I said van!

I explain to the driver that I was expecting a tow truck, because the clutch cable is F#*$ed and he immediately agrees and calls for one... which will take... oh... AN HOUR to get there.

So, I teach the kid a few more words. After which he says that we should go back to his house and because I'm not in the mood to be sitting in the car by myself, I agree.

Once again, I sit down and have a coffee with the woman and her son - the husband had gone to bed while we were back at the car - and eventually, when it's almost time for me to go back to the car, the conversation gets around to where it is that I actually live. So I tell her the address and gives me a funny look ... then starts to describe the house. She's spot on... right down to the paint colour in the bedrooms.

She explained that the house had been built by her Aunt and that she had been virtually raised there. She also mentions that her Aunt was no longer alive... at which point I make a complete ass of myself by blurting out "She didn't die in the house did she??". As soon as I realised what an inconsiderate thing that was to say, I tried to back peddle my way out by explaining that ever since the first night that we moved in, we had this running 'gag' about the house being haunted. Again, she looks at me with an odd expression on her face and says, "You know what, my Aunt said exactly the same thing from the day she moved in too!"

It was around midnight when I eventually got home, thanks to the RACV tow truck finally arriving - but it always struck me that, in a city with a population of 3,850,000, the set of events that had me sitting at the table of the niece of the woman who'd built the house that I was now renting were extraordinary. If I were the kind of person who believed in such things I'd say that the fact that she didn't even ask where I lived until after I got back to her house, for the second time (when I should have been half way home in the RACV truck), was fate, or karma, or some other mumbo jumbo making sure that I found out that a previous occupant of the house had similar experiences to what we were having. Luckily I don't believe in such things or I'd probably have never gotten another night's sleep in that house.

Still.. it did give me the creeps!
posted by elroyel1327 at 11:53 PM on August 18, 2011 [14 favorites]

Oh dear! I wrote that account many years ago. I'm so sorry for not correcting a lot of that before posting it.
posted by elroyel1327 at 12:26 AM on August 19, 2011

It could have been water pipes - they make a weird intermittent banging sound in my house every so often even without any appliance running, and you'd swear blind it was someone climbing the stairs. (Fortunately for my peace of mind, the number of bangs never quite corresponds to the number of stairs!)

Or maybe it wasn't water pipes. I've experienced some creepy enough things, both in the house where I grew up and in a building where I worked, that even though I don't believe in ghosts per se I can truly believe there are some downright weird phenomena out there. But when it comes to getting to sleep at night, I've found it very useful to have a perfectly natural explanation at hand, even though it doesn't really explain what happened if you think about it too hard.

(I had a ghost cat too, although you'd only see it for a second or two at a time and it never did more than purr and occasionally freak out the dog. Kept quiet about it and had a whole explanation built up about freak hallucinations, until it sprinted past the sofa downstairs and my totally non-woowoo-believing father said "oh, the ghost cat's back." Thanks, Dad.)
posted by Catseye at 1:05 AM on August 19, 2011 [4 favorites]

Interesting that so many people are focussing on the age of the house, both about its construction, but also that a hundred plus years of living gives weight and context to the suggestion of paranormal involvement.

Thing is, here in the not-remotely-romantic Victorian terraced streets in England I live in, I'm (literally) surrounded by several hundred houses built between 1860 and 1880. Surely enough bad things must have happened to residents of our neighbourhood over that time to make haunting a function of population density? Most houses in our street must have had a child die from some easily-curable disease or safety at work violation... So for me, unless ghosts are actually attracted to spooky surroundings, or their generative events only occur in the 100 years after settlement by white people, I'm going for receiver error.
posted by cromagnon at 1:15 AM on August 19, 2011 [11 favorites]

Has anyone experienced similar phenemona?

When my uncle died, I went back to New Orleans for the funeral and slept in his room. Hey, it's just a room, right, he's dead, it doesn't matter. I wasn't particularly close to him, thought he was bit of ass actually.

My dreams, for two nights, were filled with me waking (while in the dream) on the bed in the jungles of Vietnam, where he was a soldier and having him appear out of the jungle, in full combat gear. He would up to the bed, pull off his helmet, put down his gun and pull out his smokes and start talking.

Gradually the dream would fad and I would wake up in the middle of the night, feeling as though something was in the room with me. Not a menacing presence, no noises were made, nothing moved, but it felt like someone was there.

The dreams lasted for two days, then went away, as did the presence.

My wife swears she used to live in a haunted house. She's not "spirits are everywhere" type, but says the ghost didn't like anyone, would cause pictures to fly off the wall, small objects were constantly missing and doors to slam.

So I'd say it could have been a ghost or could be something else. Have the noises occurred again?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 3:36 AM on August 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

Years ago, I was visiting my sister who lived in a big old, yes, Victorian house in another state. One night she and the rest of the family were out and I was watching tv alone in an upstairs room. Suddenly I heard someone running up the cellar steps, fling open the cellar door--so hard that it bounced off the wall making the doorknob rattle-- and take three quick steps across the kitchen. The flooring was the kind that if you walked on it with sneakers, your footsteps made a squeaky sound.

That was it. I jumped off the sofa and hid behind the door, I was that scared, and stayed there until they came home from the movies. I waited upstairs still and my sister came up and yelled at me for not doing the dishes like she'd asked. I never told her. I figured she would have said something if she'd found the cellar door wide open.

At the time I thought it was someone who'd somehow gotten into the house and had hidden out waiting for the family to leave. The cessation of steps coincided with me jumping off the sofa. This was in a small town. I never heard of any similar stories of break-ins in the neighborhood nor any ghost stories about the house although that is something my sister would have delighted in.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 3:36 AM on August 19, 2011

If you decide that it's a ghost, you've effectively decided that (a) you don't know what's going on and (b) you can't be bothered finding out. Nobody has ever observed an actual ghost; rather, they're always invoked as the cause for some other observation for which no more prosaic explanation is apparent. Ghosts are 80% bullshit and 20% laziness.

If this was a once-off experience, don't discount the idea that you may have dreamed the whole thing. I have had several dreams that felt absolutely like being awake except that I subsequently woke up from them. It's perfectly possible to dream that you woke up and then went back to sleep again.

If it happens regularly, you might find that it's weather-influenced. Changes in temperature and humidity make wooden structures shrink and swell, and different parts of them do so at different rates; if those parts are touching, they will quite often slip in a series of jerks rather than smoothly and cause thumps and bangs.

But the single most likely cause is animals in the roof cavity. My mother's house has had possums in the ceiling, and their standard way to get from one end of the house to the other must have involved leaping from joist to joist - they made a hell of a row. From the hallway you could clearly hear that the noise was coming from above, but from the kitchen they did indeed sound just like somebody stomping up the hallway in heavy boots. We used to call them the wombats, because they made way more noise than you'd expect from something possum-sized.
posted by flabdablet at 4:25 AM on August 19, 2011 [6 favorites]

I'm a movie projectionist; I used to work (for almost 12 years) in a 1914 theater that was apparently the first built in this area AS a theater, not converted from other uses. I also have a tendancy to get to work way early, so the boss just gave me a key so I could go in whenever I wanted.

Okay, so there I am, up in my projection booth: alone in a locked room, nobody else in the entire locked building. I was bending over in the equipment when I heard this odd little ?giggle?, then somebody pinched my butt. Now look, I may not be Miss America, but trust me, I KNOW what a butt-pinch feels like..... um, but nobody else is here? (and what about that giggling?) So being the hardheaded skeptic I am, my reaction is to find out what I must have bumped into, but nada: there was NOTHING within reach, even stretching backwards as far as I could, with just my bare fingertips touching the equipment; even the flat wall --- which wouldn't feel like a pinch anyway! --- was still a couple feet away. Weird.....

About a year later, it happened again: the odd giggle (for lack of a better word), the pinch. And again, another year later. The next time, right after the giggle, I stood up, turned around and told the empty air "if you try anything, I'm gonna smack you silly!" That time, a sad? giggle..... followed a day or so later by EVERY SINGLE GEAR in my normally-extremely-reliable projector stripping, resulting in a massive rebuilding session (think disassembling and reassembling a car's engine: it was that fun). So when the giggling came around the following year, I just sighed and waited for the butt-pinch, figuring that if one pinch a year kept things happy, I could put up with it. It ended up happening once every autumn, anywhere between August and November, as long as I was there. And we're certainly not talking any sort of "Amityville Horror" scenario here: Casper, as we came to call him, was definately a HAPPY ghost!

Do I believe in ghosts? No......I think. But as someone above said referencing Hamlet, 'there are more things in Heaven and Earth.....' And I certainly have no explanation for Casper & his once-a-year visits.
posted by easily confused at 4:25 AM on August 19, 2011 [7 favorites]

Best answer: I live in a farmhouse built in 1907. We hear lots of weird stuff, all pretty much attributable to ordinary things like settling and birds and mice in the attic. But it can be a little startling if you let your imagination run with it.

When I first moved in (my wife bought the place before we got together), we would sometimes hear something that sounded like a piano playing, even though there's no piano here now. We chalked it up to the ghost of her Great-Aunt Carrie, who built the place. But that was just to have a story to tell. Never have figured out where the music noise came from, and haven't heard it for quite a while now.

Condolences on the deaths of your friend and your cat.
posted by bryon at 5:33 AM on August 19, 2011

I don't know that I've heard unexplained footsteps—though I also don't know that I haven't, as I live in a very old building with creaky floors—but I have heard and seen something strange in my bedroom. I was sitting in here alone one day, no one else around, doing something on the computer. And then I heard a loud, plastic-sounding fwap! I looked around—and an old plastic conference ID badge I'd hung up was swinging back and forth.

I'd hung it up by putting its clip through a hole in the underhanging metal lattice of a shelf, so it wasn't clipped to anything or in any way under tension. It was just passively hanging there—and then, basically exactly as if someone had walked up and just flicked it, I heard the sound and saw it swinging. Could it have been, oh, I don't know, a giant roach or mouse jumping into the badge or something? Or a temperature change causing the plastic or metal of the badge to expand? Or something on the shelf settling and hitting it? Sure, I guess. But that rapidly and loudly? I don't know...

At work, apparently the previous tenant died on the couch in his office. A coworker has been there by herself at night and on the weekend in an office down the hall and heard the door to the previous tenant's office close (with no other footsteps or sounds to suggest a coworker had stopped by)—and when she checked, no one was there behind the closed door, nor leaving via the stairs or elevator (visible from the previous tenant's office).
posted by limeonaire at 5:38 AM on August 19, 2011

I am as skeptical a bastard as you will find about anything paranormal with the smallest amount of wriggle room for consciousness surviving bodily death (I figure either it does or it doesn't, and I am gonna find out eventually anyway).

That being said, I was catsitting for my vacationing mother once, She was then living in a massive Victorian house where all manner of bumps and creaks were par for the course. One day I was taking a shower and heard a massive THUMP come from nearby. I was startled, but as there was no one else in the house, I assumed that maybe one of the cats had knocked over a lamp or something.

I finished my shower, got out and dried up. A quick scan of the house showed nothing out of order or broken, so I shrugged and thought maybe it had been some noise from the street that was somehow distorted by the acoustics of the shower into seeming closer.

An hour later, I was getting ready to go out for the day, and noticed that one of my shoes was missing from its spot by the front door. A lengthy search revealed it behind the bathroom door, several rooms away, exactly where it would have landed if it had been hurled at the door while I was in the shower.

Those more skeptical than I insist that I must have heard some unrelated thump and that the cats, who have never shown any interest in anyone's shoes before or since must have teamed up and dragged my size 15 sneaker through the house and hidden it behind a door. Okay, then.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 6:48 AM on August 19, 2011 [2 favorites]

. . . if I heard something that sounded just like stomping around in boots, I would've dialled 911 without peeking at the boots, and I bet you would have, too . . .

Very, very good point.

Either ragtimepiano is much less concerned than the average person about HOME INVASION, or it did not, in fact, seem like someone was in the hallway. Not really.

I'm guessing squirrels in the walls.
posted by General Tonic at 7:03 AM on August 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

Old houses creak, settle, and let in drafts all over. The only thing about ghosts that has been proven 100% is that many people believe they exist. Don't let that deter you from finding a rational explanation.

I'll never forget the night I spent in my not-as-old 1920's house...right after getting home from watching Paranormal Activity on the big screen. I knew it was all an act (some of it pretty bad acting). But that was the night one of my circulating pumps decided to die. You see, I have one of those oil fueled boilers that warms water used for baseboard heating. This water is carried through a large single loop throughout the house via copper piping to various baseboards. When that motor started going bad, it started to shake every 10 minutes or so..and along with it the entire loop of piping which amplified it to become the most horrifically eerie sound to have in one's house I could imagine.

Long story short, not realizing what it was at the time, and too stricken with anxiety to check, I got absolutely no sleep that night...

So in your case, definitely do some investigative work to see what could create those sounds exactly as you heard them. Perhaps check as far down as your foundation to see if excess water is causing additional settling?

To me, when I was a child I totally believed in ghosts. But now as an adult I've realized we live in a world where heightened awareness has brought us to see the far reaches of the universe, the bottom of our oceans, the tiniest of known particles, and to the point of finally decoding our own strands of DNA. It's a physical world, all provable with scientific analysis...I say it's time to give up the superstitious belief in ghosts that plagued our ancestors, scooby doo style.
posted by samsara at 7:29 AM on August 19, 2011 [4 favorites]

I experienced very similar noises in my girlfriend's apartment a few months ago. Definitely not the house settling, definitely not the pipes knocking because we've heard those sounds.

My girlfriend and I were once awakened by distinctly footstep-like creaks coming from the hallway. They became louder - they were coming our way. Then I head a sound from the bedroom door - they must have stepped in the room and paused. We were frozen in terror for a few seconds, then I finally summoned the courage to turn towards the door and mentally prepared myself to lunge from the bed and fight for my life. I have never been so scared and wired as at that moment.

Nothing. I unfroze myself and checked out the hallway and all the rooms, heart pounding and fists cocked because there was a chance that someone was in the house.

Nothing. When I got back to the bedroom and bumped the door, it creaked - just like the creaky "footsteps" we heard. It turns out that shifts in air pressure were moving the door a tiny bit and causing all the creaking, and the volume changed as the air currents rose and fell. Now we shut that door every night and have had no more problems.

There was no ghost/intruder. It was just the door moving and creaking. And in your case, I'm sure that it was just something knocking - maybe a door knocking against a wall in response to air currents, which could result in varied tempos and volumes. Or maybe something was bumping the side of the house (tree limb? poorly-secured gutter?). Or maybe you stepped on a floorboard earlier and it got trapped down relative to the floor's level, and as it moved back into place it was rubbing against the other boards. Or maybe there was a critter in the walls.

There are many, many explanations for this one-off occurrence, and most of them are more plausible than ghosts.
posted by Tehhund at 8:49 AM on August 19, 2011 [2 favorites]

Natural causes (including people just naturally fucking around with you) are your only option. If you want to consider ghosties as natural, that's up to you, but I would consider just about everything else in the world before I would resort to any sort of "I don't get it so it must be supernatural" explanations.

But suppose you just have to go the ghost route. If it was your recently deceased pal's ghost, why the fuck would he stomp around in the middle of the night in that house instead of doing something a bit more obviously him like coming in and chatting with you or at least appearing to you? Or if it was your dead cat's ghost, he's suddenly a giant, heavy, boot-wearing version of your dead cat? Even in you believed in ghosts, that sort of shit would make absolutely no sense.
posted by pracowity at 8:56 AM on August 19, 2011

Response by poster: Regarding the two posts about "calling 911": The house is located in a part of the lake-country midwest where people can leave their doors unlocked, although the house doors were locked...Believe it or not, such areas still exist, where the burglary rate is nearly non-existent.

Also, my Jack Russell terrier was sleeping in the room with me. He was awakened but not alarmed, as he would have been at a human intruder. Animals in the attic or the walls? That might not have alarmed him, as he probably wouldn't be able to smell them.
posted by ragtimepiano at 11:23 AM on August 19, 2011

Disclaimer: I don't believe in ghosts, but I also don't rule out the possibility that they exist. Therefore, I'm going to respond as if folklore about ghosts were true.

It is absolutely normal for old buildings to make these kinds of noises, however solidly built they are. I live in the UK in a very house that's well over 100 years old, most certainly many of the previous inhabitants have died (maybe actually in the house, maybe not) and you bet I hear noises. I don't conclude from this that it's haunted. For one thing, there is probably not a single square inch of this island that hasn't had somebody die or be killed on it. By some of the reasoning going on in this thread, I shouldn't be able to move for ghosts.

The first thing that ought to reassure you is that your dog was not scared. Pets can recognize ghosts and are very scared of them. In the unlikely event that you were being visited by something supernatural, it can't have been anything evil.

Another thing I suggest you try is this: get somebody to put heavy boots on and stomp around outside in the hallway while you sit in the same place you were when you heard this. My guess is that it won't sound the same.

Finally, if you're still scared: try to find a mainstream church in the area - one like an Anglican church, not a holy-rolly one - and ask for someone who has a "deliverance ministry". The kind of people who do on rare occasions perform exorcisms, but not the kind who have exorcisms for breakfast, dinner and tea. The kind who are going to look for the natural explanation first, and educate you about hypnopompic hallucinations, building noises, suggestibility, the psychology of grief and loss, and so forth. The kind of people who will say "Footsteps at night? We see that all the time. That's your cold water tank, we got a plumber in the congregation if you want his number."

Having said all that, the phenomenon you describe would definitely scare the crap out of me too. When I get scared at night I clutch my Bible like it was a teddy bear, turn on the TV, and sometimes hang a cross around my neck (to remind me of where my strength is, not as a magic charm, I hasten to add).
posted by tel3path at 12:38 PM on August 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

Those more skeptical than I insist that I must have heard some unrelated thump and that the cats, who have never shown any interest in anyone's shoes before or since must have teamed up and dragged my size 15 sneaker through the house and hidden it behind a door. Okay, then.

See, this is exactly how ghost stories continue to get traction.

Yes, the sneaker-dragging scenario you describe is highly unlikely; that's exactly what makes it such an emotionally unsatisfactory explanation, even though it actually does have some chance of being correct.

People are funny creatures. Once we've eliminated the improbable, whatever remains, however impossible, must be the Truth.
posted by flabdablet at 4:56 PM on August 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

Here's one with some weird synchronicity. I pretty much closed up my reading last night on this thread, thinking "old house, animals, water storage tank or pipes in roof space, temperature changes, water hammer, reverberation."

Then I turned of the lights and went to bed. When I got up this morning, there were muddy footprints down the hall. They were not there when I turned the lights off last night.

"John you fucker, what's with the not wiping your feet?"
"Not me dude, look at where they go.."

So I do. They start in the kitchen, travel down the hallway, and head into Toby's room. Toby's out, so John and I decide that we'll wait till he comes home, wrestle him to the ground, and pummel him until he agrees to vacuum the hall. Toby comes home, we fail to do any wrestling or pummelling, but the conversation goes something like

"Toby you fucker, what's with the not wiping your feet?"
"Yeah dude, gotta wipe your feet and shit"
"What do you mean? I always wipe my feet."
"So why are there muddy footprints heading down the hall into your room?"
"I don't know, it's not like I've been out the back in the past week."
"Well if it wasn't you, and it wasn't John, and it wasn't me, who the hell was it?"

Tobes thinks for a minute, then squats down on the floor, sights down the line of footprints, checks that they do lead into his room, and says

"They're not from outside, and they're way too big to be my feet"

John and I look at each other, hunker down on the floorboards, and have a look. We demand to see the bottom of Toby's shoes. No mud, and Tobes' feet are size ten at most. But sure enough, the muddy prints are size fourteen or bigger. And they really don't go all the way out to the muddy back yard.

But we deny the evidence of the prints starting in the kitchen and think/yell "Burglar!" We check for missing stuff, but there's nothing gone. The only thing we find out of place is a tray of scotch fillet steak that's been carefully unwrapped, laid down next to the fridge, and left for Jess the dog to eat.

And the back door was locked anyway.

So at that point we all say "that's weird" and give up, because we're basically lazy sods.

But my take is that we had a poltergeist sasquatch (with shoes) appear in our kitchen, feed the dog, and then go check that Toby was sleeping soundly.

Either that or Jess the dog is a shape-changing cryptid who got really hungry and then forgot to change back to dog form before heading back to sleep at the front of the house.
posted by Ahab at 1:03 AM on August 20, 2011 [7 favorites]

I have never had housemates that would do something like that just to fuck with my head. Such housemates seem quite unlikely to exist. And for a neighbor to walk into the house in their socks, feed the dog, then put their gumboots on for a print-making walk down to John's room, then step out of them an leave the house in socks again - that would just be weird. Therefore, Jess the dog is a shape-changing cryptid. Yeah, that'll be it.
posted by flabdablet at 4:15 AM on August 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

At night, the house and it's surroundings are much quieter, and any noises are much more noticeable. Your brain is wired to interpret sounds and make meaning of them, so things may sound like footsteps, esp. when you're sleepy, and when the sad death of a friend has stirred your emotions and thoughts of death and the afterlife.

If it is an other-worldly event, it's unlikely to affect you. Ghosts have not been shown to actually cause harm, other than creeping you out.

I don't think it's other-worldly; I think it's critters, the house/plumbing/settling or an intruder. Critters in the wall or attic can cause a lot of damage, so check thoroughly. House settle, and plumbing or other systems make noises sometimes. In case it might have been an intruder, be extra cautious about security.

Get a good flashlight and keep it by the bed, next to the phone, and sleep well.
posted by theora55 at 11:02 AM on August 20, 2011

I just remembered the other weird phenomenon I've experienced (apart from one strange night at camp that was probably just intruders). I have a stereo that on occasion has been known to howl when left on too long. It could just be an electrical component getting too hot or something—the stereo is a refurb—but it could also be, you know, haunted.
posted by limeonaire at 10:04 AM on August 21, 2011

My only interesting 'ghost' story was the last time I had an episode of sleep paralysis, something which only happens rarely to me in any case.

Anyhow, I 'woke' up to notice a Chinese military officer standing at the foot of my bed, who upon realising that I'd noticed promptly ducked and hid. It was actually pretty amusing.

I'd been playing a lot of Fallout 3 around that time.
posted by Hello, I'm David McGahan at 9:59 PM on August 24, 2011

It's not ghosts, never was and never will be. If you think it's ghosts, you desperately need to read this book by Carl Sagan.
posted by Lobster Garden at 3:50 PM on September 13, 2011

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