In the early 1980’s I took a Ghost Tour of Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, conducted by Shirley Ann Dougherty. In researching for this blog post, I learned that this particular tour was one of the first of such tours, in America. I further learned that Shirley made quite a name for herself within the ghost hunting community. I can personally say: She was certainly a character!
[I want to say a bit about my impressions of Shirley before I continue: Shirley Dougherty seemed to me to be a woman of integrity who did what she did because she was an entertainer but more importantly, because she believed in what she was doing. Shirley was careful to tell our group what she felt was legitimate and what she felt could possibly have been a figment of someone’s active imagination. With that said, however, some of her stories were told to her by people who had actually witnessed events but most were passed down by word of mouth. How distorted these stories had become (or not), by the time they reached Shirley’s ears, is impossible to tell and even she acknowledged this. Another factor that must be considered is this: When something out of the ordinary occurs, it takes the human mind several seconds—sometimes even days—to wrap around what its own eyes have actually seen. During that time, the mind can inadvertently bend the facts as well as forget details. It’s the nature of the mind. What I believe is that Shirley took the stories that she was given and accepted them as truth and presented them as such. I do not believe that she lied or even exaggerate intentionally, regardless of the theatrical nature of her presentation.]
We arrived for the evening ghost tour, from our home in Loudoun County, Virginia, about 45 minutes away, ready to be entertained; we were not disappointed.
Shirley—dressed in mid 19th century clothing and carrying a gas lantern—met a small group of us at Lori’s Cafe on Potomac St. just as dusk was creeping up the quaint streets and alleyways of Harpers Ferry. I was in my early 30’s and saw her as a jolly old woman. She was in her early to mid 50’s; nearly a decade younger than I am today. Time is a funny factor of life.
Shirley regaled us with stories of unexplainable sights, sounds and events—said to have happened in Harpers Ferry—as we followed her through the streets, up hills and then back down, leading us ultimately into the darkness of night. Surprisingly most of her stories were quite well documented—in a paranormal experience kind of way—in that most were experienced by more than one person and in some cases were even caught on film—or not caught on film as it were—as in the following account: Reports of an actor—apparently dressed for a reenactment of the civil war era and appearing to resemble John Brown—have made their way to the park management over the years. These reports generally reflect appreciation for the authenticity and quiet manner (no one has ever heard him speak) of the gentleman; never as complaints. Numerous park employees have even seen the costumed gentleman in question, who shows up every so often and then disappears as suddenly as he appears. Several tourists—after returning home and developing their film discover that the “actor dressed up as John Brown” who had kindly agreed to be in their photo-shoot was completely missing from their film. Confused by this strange event, people have sent these bizarre photos to The US State Department and National Park Service, over the years; some demanding to know how this trick was accomplished. The State Department, along with The Parks Service, are at a complete loss of any explanation concerning the pictures since no actor has ever been hired by them nor any trick knowingly played.
But the following story, told on that warm summer night in the early 1980’s, which I later realized was my introduction to Disappearing Object Phenomenon, or DOP, baffled me at the time and continues to do so. Shirley associated DOP’s with ghosts that night because … well… it was a ghost tour. But I’m not sure they are related at all.
This following story, which Shirley received from carpenters who had been present at the occurrence, is an excellent example of a DOP, in that it was witnessed by several ordinary people—none of them expecting a paranormal experience—who just happened to be in the right place at the right time or the wrong place … depending on how you view it.
I’ve googled this story in the hope of relating it verbatim but cannot find it anywhere, so I will tell you how I remember it; admittedly I do not recall every detail.
Story Number One
My Introduction To DOP’s
Considered an important historical town, Harpers Ferry, is forever experiencing renovations and reconstruction. One such project was (I believe) a pub and hotel built pre-civil war that had not been renovated for a very long time. I apologize here for not having all of my dates and facts precise—pertaining to this particular project—but they are not really essential to the story. The renovation project was fraught with problems and the foreman was struggling to meet his deadlines. The problems all stemmed from a singular root: Tools were mysteriously going missing on a regular basis.
[When we heard the beginning of this story, my husband and I chuckled. We’d been involved in building and we both knew how tools went missing even when we were the only ones on site.]
The loss of tools continued in spite of the men’s increased vigilance, which included wearing tool belts, constantly. This loss of tools impaired the men’s ability to stay on schedule because frequently the job came to a screeching halt as they searched for a tool that then ended with someone leaving the jobsite to replace the missing tool. In time they began suspecting one another of theft, which led to accusations and bickering, dragging morale into the gutter. The situation went from bad to worse.
Near the end of the renovation a windowsill needed to be removed. I can’t recall precisely why that was, but it was probably related to the installation of a new window. Because maintaining the authenticity of the old building was a high priority, the foreman needed to remove the windowsill with as little damage as possible, so it could be reinstalled at the end. The problem was, the sill had been painted so many times that it seemed impossible to find the best place to begin prying it up in such a way that would cause the least damage to the sill and wall. During this process of attempting to find the best place to begin the process of removal, several men inspected the old windowsill and wall and reported that it appeared to have been untouched for possibly up to a century.
After great deliberation and head scratching they began prying the old wood up and quickly realized, to their surprise, that beneath the windowsill was a hidden chamber. This was amazing enough but the next discovery nearly brought the men to their knees: inside of the chamber, all lined up neatly, were their missing tools—hammers, chisels, screw drivers … carefully organized in this chamber that appeared to have been sealed up for many decades if not a century or more.
Shirley ended her story with a question like: “So were the spirits playing games with the workmen? Did they object to having their space inundated with noise while being torn apart?” We all laughed and clapped in amusement.
That was another lifetime for me. In that life I was married to a hot-blooded Italian-American man—an engineer by day and musician by night. My time was spent birthing, breast-feeding and raising a brood of four children in rural Virginia—baking bread, signing local petitions and writing children’s books. My life was good but often more fluid than I liked. Primarily because Fluid amounted to chaotic, at that time in my life, and that didn’t always suit me …
Anyone who has raised or lived within a large family knows that disappearing objects are part of life—combs, hairbrushes, pens, and car keys… Quite honestly, it’s more phenomenal when nothing goes missing for any extended period of time. If we experienced any DOP’s during those wonderful years where life was dominated by rambunctious children, misbehaving pets and various other forms of pandemonium, there would be no way of knowing. So while this story perplexed me, I pretty much chalked it off to … well, I’m not sure exactly. But I decided that there could have been a few flaws in the men’s observations that could have changed this story dramatically.
Flash forward 20 years: I am now in my next life. I was widowed many years ago and am now living with a chill, levelheaded Baltic man called Egil—a graphic designer, a traveler, and a committed long-distance bicycler. We live a quiet life with my two youngest daughters, Jessica and Erin—who are now both in their teens—in the capital city of Riga, Latvia, in Northeastern Europe. I spend my time doing photography, bicycling, home-schooling my daughters, and writing a book of the adult variety. Life is good but still fluid. I’ve come to realize that I thrive on change and create lives that feed me—lives that constantly swirl, morph and change. I’ve also learned, however, that fluid doesn’t necessarily equate to chaos and I now create less drama in my life. I accept the waves of change; I even enjoy them for the most part.
Story Number Two
In 2002, Egil and I have some vacation time coming up and decide to take a road-trip. We do this frequently since our home in Riga is central to a variety of wonderful places. A few hours of driving and a ferry crossing can have us in Stockholm, Sweden, Rostock, Germany or Helsinki, Finland in less than a day. Warsaw, Poland is a mere 8-½ hour drive away… Oh yeah, a sweet little B&B—with kiełbasa and sauerkraut for supper!
Several days prior to our planned mini holiday, we begin packing and preparing for our journey. Oddly, our atlas of Europe is missing when we go to the bookshelf where it always resides. When asked if they’ve seen it, both girls, ages 14 and 18, reply with answers like, “Yeah, like you guys’ atlas is my all-time favorite reading material. Duh, no I haven’t seen it.”
Here is the atlas. Obviously this large, brightly colored book was easy to see.
We search our entire flat, then the car and finally the garage—but no atlas. We’ve had this particular book for several years and it contains notes about our travels: cool places to see and stay, fuel consumption during various trips; it’s our personal journal, detailing chunks of our life together. So it’s a personal loss, as well as an expensive purchase, that’s also frequently difficult to find. By that evening, however, after thoroughly searching our home, car and garage with no sign of our precious atlas, we resign ourselves to buying a new one and hope that one of the bookstores in Riga will carry it.
The following morning, I wake before Egil and look down over the railing in our bedroom loft at our living room. Sitting front and center on the coffee table—with absolutely nothing else on the table (that might have obscured it)—is the atlas. I can’t believe my eyes. I run down the stairs to confirm that I’m not seeing things. It is indeed the atlas in question. I yell back up to Egil to get out of bed and look down at me. He looks over the railing and his expression turns slightly confused; then calmly he says, “Great! Where did you find it?”
Looking down at the coffee table from our loft I almost fell over the railing when seeing the atlas.
“I’ve not touched it,” I reply. “It was precisely where you see it when I woke up a few minutes ago.”
Egil doesn’t do well with the unexplainable. In fact he needs to find an explanation for everything. After several seconds he yawns and says, “One of the girls must have lent it out and didn’t want to admit it and they got it back during the night and…”
I cut him off, “That’s insane,” I say, “but we’ll ask them, even though you know that didn’t happen.”
I almost hate shooting down his absurd solution because I despise seeing his dazed and confused look. It’s heartbreaking since Egil is a Mr. Everything’s-under-control-at-all-times, kind of guy. He thrives on methodical scientific reasoning; all things rational; a place for everything and everything in its place. He wilts in the absence of logical explanations.
“Perhaps someone broke into our flat and left this here as a token of their esteem for us?” I offer, my tongue firmly planted in my cheek. And for a split second I honestly think he’s going to choose that explanation over the obvious one—which is: There is no logical explanation.
At this point, I was certain that something very strange and unexplainable had just happened. But what it was, I had no clue. So I was quite willing to file this experience away in a WTF? file and move forward in life.
I didn’t share this story with too many people because I fully realized how insane it sounded. I did, however, recall the Harpers Ferry story and felt there was a common thread.
It would be seven years later that Egil would finally say, “Okay, this has absolutely no logical explanation.” We’ll get there in a minute …
In April of 2009, the crumbling Latvian economy, appeared to be gasping its final breaths. Neither Egil nor I had received a full paycheck for months and the promise of a lump sum to be paid as soon as things turn around was sounding less promising with every passing payday.
We formulated a plan that we called Plan A: We would head west. Egil took a week off work (which was essentially a volunteer job at this point) and flew to London with the extremely naïve expectation of finding a position. After several days of doors slamming in his face, he turned tail and ran up to Scotland to continue his search. Since we had limited funds, I sat at my desk in Riga, Latvia, Skyping advertising agencies in Glasgow, Edinburgh and everywhere in between, attempting to set up appointments for Egil to interview, thus saving him the high cost of using his mobile phone in Scotland. After several days of this routine, and no job in sight, he returned to Riga.
Exhausted and discouraged upon his arrival home, we had dinner and went to bed, leaving the unpacking, organizing and discussions of a plan B, for the following morning.
I want to acknowledge, right here, that this was a very stressful time for us and I’m certain that a cynic would argue that our absent-mindedness and preoccupation with our dilemma was behind our perception of what happened next.
I can tell you: They were not!
Here is where the story about Egil becoming a believer in DOP, and my discovery that we were not alone in experiencing this phenomenon truly begins.
Story Number Three:
Becoming a Believer And Learning The Name
The morning following Egil’s return from UK, he gets up and goes off to work and I begin unpacking his suitcase, throwing laundry in the washer and generally organizing. When we travel, Egil—possibly one of the most pedantically organized people I know—wraps up our many chargers and their cables, tapes them, and packs them in a burlap bag with long handles that he slings over his shoulder. He also counts them to be certain that he’s not left one plugged in somewhere in a hotel or hostel. He has phone, camera, computer and various other cables and chargers so the bag is quite packed.
Around noon, I decide to use the laptop and seeing that it’s low on charge, I suddenly realize that I’ve not seen the charger bag in my organizing. I call Egil; he says he knows it’s there and he’ll find it when he comes home. I go to my desk and use the desktop computer, instead.
Later that evening, Egil and I search together for the missing charger and cable bag, well into the night. Nada. The following day I search again but to now avail. It seems to have disappeared. I call, on Skype, the hostel where Egil stayed in Scotland since he knows that he had it in Scotland… I begin doubting that he actually brought it home, in spite of his insistence that he recalls carrying it up the stairs to our flat.
After calling the hostel and getting the response that I dreaded—“No we’ve not seen anything like that here”—I go back to work, once again using the desktop computer. Later that evening, Egil needs to finish a side job so I relinquish the desktop computer to him.
Our bedroom is a loft area that also houses our office area. On the third morning, I awaken and, still in bed, look towards our desk. I see something draped over the computer chair as it sits in front of the desk and computer. I decide that wishful thinking has gotten the better of me. I get out of bed and gasp loud enough to awaken Egil. There, dangling off of the chair that we’ve both been sitting in and working from for many hours over the past two days is the missing charger and cable bag. The truth is no one could have sat in that chair without feeling the coarse burlap handles of that bag in their back, even if we were both somehow blinded to the sight of it.
And that was the morning that Egil said, “This is completely impossible and defies any logical explanation.”
I was shocked when I googled Things disappearing and reappearing and found a name for what we’d experienced, at least twice that I could swear to. And we were not—by a long shot—the only people to have had this experience.
The End (Sort Of)
What I’m telling you is exactly the way this happened. I smile when people say “How can anyone believe in the paranormal when there is absolutely no evidence?”
My dictionary defines evidence as: A. an outward sign: indication B: something that furnishes proof.
I saw and experienced this phenomenon with my eyes and mind on two separate occasions that I feel truly qualify as examples of DOP. Many other people have had this experience, as well. I consider this evidence. It may not, as of yet, be something that can be replicated in a lab, but if we as humans had stopped searching for answers to that which presented itself to us, but we didn’t understand—500, 100, 50 or even 5 years ago—science would have stopped progressing in its tracks. I believe, to question that which we do not understand and is not yet scientifically provable, is far more indicative of a curious mind, then it is to blindly deny the existence of that which many experience and document but have yet to prove.
I am writing these 4 blogs, knowing full well that I will be criticized and judged by some people. But I think it’s time to come out of the closet with our experiences and declare that we are investigators; we are open to experiencing life to its fullest!
Please feel free to share your stories!