The residents of Chiloe, an island off Chile, have a tradition which involves physically moving a neighbour's house from one place to another. This practice originally emerged because it was cheaper for poor farmers looking for better pastures to move their existing house rather than build a new one. However, another common reason is that the current site is haunted – in which case the building is relocated in the hope that the unwanted spirits will be left behind on the original site.
One such move recently took a house a mere 800 metres down the meadow to escape the haunted land on which it lay, though more complex moves can involve transporting houses across rivers.
First the house is emptied of furniture, the doors and windows removed, and the structure of the house fortified before the wooden foundations are cut. It is then lifted onto specially carved tree trunks that act as sliders and harnessed to the ‘Yuntas’, teams of oxen. The moving itself is slow as the trunks and oxen have to be rearranged every few metres. While this is going on the owners of the house prepare a celebratory meal known as the ‘curanto’ from mussels, sausages and other meats cooked on hot stones on the ground. Once the move is complete, the house owners dance a waltz on the new site to traditional Chiloe music. Nowadays the practice has become a tourist attraction bringing crowds from mainland Chile.
The Winchester Mystery House
Known as ‘the house built by spirits’, one of the world’s most unusual and notorious ‘haunted’ houses is the Winchester Mystery House in southern California. Legend has it that after the sudden death of her husband and child, Sarah Winchester, the widow of wealthy gun magnate Oliver Winchester, was told by a spiritual medium that in order to save her soul she must construct a house for the spirits of all the victims killed by Winchester rifles – and the construction must never cease.
An army of carpenters were hired in 1884, and began to transform a Californian farmhouse into a sprawling 4.5 acre, seven storey mansion. Sarah often confused and perplexed workers by arriving on site each morning with non-sensical and impractical changes to plans, which often involved tearing down rooms completed the week before. No single set of plans was drawn for the house, resulting in a truly bizarre and unsettling building. Sarah’s designs were supposedly the result of nightly séances - instructions from the ghosts that plagued her, until her death in 1922. In total, construction continued around the clock for 38 years.
The house not only included rare and luxurious facilities for its time such as indoor toilets and hot showers, but also mysterious features including secret passageways, a séance room, stairways leading to nowhere, upside down columns, an observation tower, elaborate features for spying on people, windows fitted with magnifying glass, and doors that opened onto solid walls or sheer drops several floors high. The number 13 can also be seen to influence design throughout the house: candelabras hold 13 candles, sink drains have 13 holes, and stained glass windows have 13 segments.
The sheer size and unusual nature of the property makes it difficult to explore properly – but in total there are around 160 rooms, including 40 bedrooms, 47 fireplaces, two ballrooms, two basements, and miles of hallways. The house was partially destroyed by an earthquake in 1906, but is now refurbished and has become a major tourist attraction. You can see some pictures here.
Most US states (and the UK) have laws which require house sellers to disclose known problems with the house – structural problems, leaks, rising damp, boundary disputes and so on. But what about ghosts? Courts are obviously reluctant to endorse the idea that a house might actually be haunted, but the reputation that it is, or an association with a grisly murder, can constitute a stigma which has a real and measurable effect on the property’s value.
Various studies have concluded that a house can lose as much as a third of its value and take 50% longer to sell if it is badly stigmatised (although the effect apparently starts to wear off after about five years if there are no more murders or haunting in the house). According to a Gallup poll, a third of Americans believe in ghosts, and films like Poltergeist, The Amityville Horror, and The Others feed the notion.
One 1993 New York case appears to provide a precedent for the idea that a house can be classified as 'haunted' for legal purposes. A seller was sued for her failure to disclose the ghosts in her house (a revolutionary war officer, a 60-something man, and a round-faced child who had once stolen a ham sandwich from her). It was noted by the Court that the 18th-century army officer seemed particularly out of place in this 19th-century house, but as the seller had written an article about these ghosts for the Reader’s Digest she couldn’t now claim that they didn’t exist, so 'as a matter of law the house is haunted'. The buyer was allowed to tear up the contract and recover his deposit.
The advice given to American realtors is that sellers should disclose any potential paranormal stigmas that they’re aware of, even if they're not required to by state law, or they may be at risk of legal action.
In England the courts are more robustly rationalist in their attitude, and estate agents aren’t obliged to tell you whether your house is haunted. In 1999 at Derby County Court a judge threw out a claim by a couple who maintained they had been swindled because the house they bought was haunted. They claimed to have seen a pig-faced boy and a naked serving girl who walked through a neighbour and turned an exorcist's bowl of holy water into evil-smelling fog. All this led to the house apparently falling in value from £70,000 to £20,000. 'This house is not haunted and it never has been haunted,' Judge Peter Stratton told the Court, describing the plaintiffs’ case as 'hysteria and lies'. Happily, the price recovered – the house was later bought by a member of a psychic and spiritual studies fellowship, who paid £6,000 over the odds for it.
If a man harbours any sort of fear, it makes him landlord to a ghost.
In 1804, George III stepped in to acquit a man who had shot another man, dressed all in white, who he thought to be a ghost.
The village of Pluckley, Kent holds the official Guinness World record as the most haunted village in England.
Female ghosts are supposedly seen more often to the right of the viewer, while male ghosts are seen to the left.
Most people who say they have seen ghosts claim they were of the opposite sex.
An idea, like a ghost, must be spoken to a little before it will explain itself.