Skeletons in the Closet


The house at 104 The Mount, York in England is proving difficult to sell. I have been keeping an eye on this property since I read about it back in May earlier this year. I even sent off for the property details. Anyway I just got off the phone with Savills, the estate agents to see if there had been any progress in its sale. Not surprisingly, it is still on the market.

It may be the credit crunch but I think it could also be the presence of a Roman burial chamber adjoining the cellar in the basement complete with its own skeleton. Tanya, the estate agent tells me that the skeleton is visible by torchlight!

This building is Grade II listed by English Heritage, which means that any prospective owner has to put up with the presence of the burial chamber. It is unlikely that they will be granted permission to remove the remains but it would be perfectly acceptable to seal off the view into the burial chamber. Still knowing the skeleton was sealed up in your cellar would be too chilling for most.

Stigmatized houses are properties that are difficult to sell because of some tragedy such as a murder or a suicide. In the worst cases, properties are demolished such as happened with Jeffrey Dahmer’s apartment in Milwaukee or the house where the two little girls were murdered in Soham, England. This is an interesting issue that I discuss at length in “SuperSense” as I think that the history of a house is a very powerful trigger for supernatural beliefs.

But how far back in the history of a home do you have to go before it is ok to bury the past? Most old houses will have probably had a death occur within. However, few still have the bodies buried inside.

Could you live in such a house knowing that there was a skeleton in the basement? It reminds me all too much of “The Evil Dead,” and if you have seen Sam Raimi’s debut horror masterpiece or any of the sequels, then you’ll understand why anyone would have reservations.

So tell me SuperSensers. Do you think you could make a cozy home sharing with the mortal remains of another down in the basement? And if not, why?

I would like to know a) your initial reaction and b) your carefully reasoned responses after a moment’s reflection.  

19 Comments

Filed under Newspaper, supernatural, Weird Story of the Week

19 responses to “Skeletons in the Closet

  1. My initial response to the idea of having a Roman burial chamber in my cellar? Great! Talk about a fascinating dinner party topic. Unfortunately for me I have no chance of this happening to me where I live as the Romans never made it to Poland – I did get to grow up in a house in which German officers were stationed during the war, though. I really do not feel any discomfort about having remains in my house. I kept my father’s ashes in my house for nearly a year before burying him, also. So it is not just the very old remains that do not bother me.

  2. Arno

    My initial response after reading the skeleton part was a simple “And that makes it any different from the average museum in what way again?” Usually, in the Netherlands, you have to pay to see remains from the Roman era, usually robbed from their original burial grounds and placed in some ugly building, where it lays surrounded by other corpses. Not to mention the tons of screaming children.
    So to me, it’s a unique opportunity. I’d buy and live there if it wasn’t for the fact that it’s in York. Now if it was in Bristol, and for hire…

    Also, when it comes to Evil Dead or its successors, I only have one reply “BOOMSTICK!” Or rather, I’d go for Poltergeist. Evil Dead required an ancient book and a cassette tape if I recall correctly😉

  3. brucehood

    Yes, many people keep family ashes (but see my forthcoming blog about a crisis in the crematoriums!). However what about the remains of a stranger?

    I note that you still refer to the mortal remains of your father as “him.” I think this is a really interesting issue. What about if for some reason, you had only buried half of the ashes? Hmmm how do we represent the deceased?

    Arno… you are such a rationalist…. but I am sure I will find your supersense weak spot.

  4. That would be so very cool!! Maybe a little creepy if the cellar was dark, and it was stormy, and my cat refused to go into it with me…shudder… but otherwise very cool.

    I think there are instinctual reactions to dead people, and a serious fear of being haunted by them. I certainly have experienced some creepy ghost-like situations, and some very positive ones, so I think it depends on your dead guy.

    On a slightly different note, there was an article in Scientific American several years ago that provided a scientific explanation for hauntings or ghosts. They argued that the human body releases a certain amount of electricity or energy at the time of death, and that the atmospheric conditions present at the time of death, along with the nature of the home in which the person died, could “seal up” this electricity or energy for release at a later time when the conditions were similar.
    Apparently brick was particularly capable of harnessing this energy and releasing it later to form an image, resulting in a haunting.
    Of course, I have no idea what the scientific basis behind the study was, or the methods they used, or anything, but it did cause quite an uproar in the metaphysical community.

  5. Arno

    Oh, I will happily give you my supersense weak spot: haunted houses. I cannot stand the idea of a haunted house.
    Werewolves; no problem. Vampires; I’ll laugh at you. Black hounds; I’ll get the dog biscuits. Demons; I’ll chuckle and fall asleep. Zombies; I’d poke em with interest. But a haunted house? I’ll stay in the car, thankyouverymuch.

    I also have certain issues with cleanness. Though, considering I live in a flat with 4 others, those issues are slowly disappearing.
    …I am still disgusted by that fake feces on the plate you have in the BCDC though.

  6. Arno

    Oh, and Scylla, a reference to that article would be greatly appreciated, as Scientific American itself does not have an article on the subject.
    And though a quick search on the internet indeed reveals that the “energy sucking bricks idea” is a common idea among ‘ghost hunters’, there is no reference where this idea originated from.

    In fact, just thinking about the theory already raises some interesting issues/questions:
    1. It does not explain the nature of the energy being released. What is this particular energy? Soul? Electricity? Leftovers of aura? If so, why does this same energy cause such different effects: some ghosts are apparitions that walk around through walls and seem stuck in a world of their own, others seem to respond to the changed conditions around them, others stay invisible and throw cutlery through the house.
    If it is a matter of energy, then why can’t we measure it (Bruce is probably thinking about the study with the weight difference between dead and living people right now).
    2. Why is there a distinctive lack of ghostly insects and mice? You’d expect that there would be more of those, considering the death ratio of men versus mice/insects. If it is because they lack this particular energy, then of course this begs the question why this energy is only found in humans. Do only humans have a soul? Then what makes us that unique? DNA? Being the creation of an all-powerfull, all-loving deity? Wait, did I just question the theory of evolution because of a lack of ghostly monkeys?
    3. Why is it that only the old houses have a ghost, whereas the nazi deathcamps (especially their brick gas chambers) seem to lack any? Considering millions of people died in these camps under dramatic circumstances, and the camps were made of brick, I’d say that they’d be a prime spot for some classic haunting.

    All in all, the theory only raises more questions than that it answers them. That is quite a shame, because a theory is supposed to be a coherent framework for the explanation of data. Then again, any scientific data on ghosts is unfortunately still lacking.

    ..anyway, I look forward to that article that might just explain all of those questions.

  7. Bruce, your question about me calling my father’s remains ‘him’ made me think, once again, of something connected to essences. People tend to think of the world in terms of things. Looking around us we instinctively divide the world into separate objects which are not or are not acting in some way. So, to use an old philosopher’s favourite – ‘the cat sits on the mat’. However, once you start looking at it more closely this ontology is, as you have pointed out numerous times, naive. My favourite response to this problem is to move to a process-based ontology, i.e. there are no things, just processes. What we like to think of as things are just processes that happen to occur over what is the contextually defined long term and which have relatively neat spatial boundaries. That’s all good and fine while thinking about the structure of the universe but it kind of breaks down when one opens one’s mouth. After all, if one were to make this view linguistically explicit, it would be necessary to give up on (most) nouns and “Catting sitses on matting” just does not sound like a very effective pick up line. I’m no linguistic determinist, though, so I think we can muddle along regardless. Still, muddling along is ultimately all that we can manage, I suspect.

  8. Arno,
    I will happily look for the article, but it was at least… a decade ago or so… maybe?

    As for ghost mice, how do you know there aren’t any? If you can have a mouse infestation where a sighting of one mouse indicates dozens are in residence, a league of ghost mice sounds reasonable to me. They would be awfully hard to see!!🙂

    As for the hauntings, the article, in my memory, claimed that the images could be released from brick or stone, and in some instances wood, if the exact same atmospheric conditions that were present at the time of death occurred again.

    I wish I remembered more, but at the time of it’s release, I was happily engaged in embracing the metaphysical, the whimsical, and the all around silly, instead of searching for scientific proof for these things. I still believe in the ghostly realm, regardless of how irrational and silly it makes me seem.

    Perhaps my mother has a copy of the article somewhere, she write novels and has been working on a series of ghost stories for a while, she generally keeps these things for research. I will check with her and get back.

  9. Yep, I am going to have to dig through my mother’s files. A diligent Lexis search has yielded about three hundred articles on residual hauntings, but none of them from a scientific source. (At least from what I can glean from a cursory glance.)

    Sadly my subscription doesn’t supply me with S.A. archives access.😦

    I could be wrong, the memory from a sleep deprived mother of an article I read over a decade ago could be unreliable. I wouldn’t be very successful getting it admitted as evidence in a court of law.

    I do remember the magazine having the word scientific in the title though, so who knows.

    As for the potential misuse of the word theory, all I can tell you is that non-lawyers constantly misuse legal terms (the most common one being the infamous Make-my-Day law that most people believe entitles them to shoot dead anyone who dares put a foot on their lawn. It doesn’t) so if I have misused a term of art, forgive me for my lack of knowledge on the finer points of your craft.🙂

  10. Arno

    I hope you can find it. I do know that the theory is rather old (propoped by a man named Thomas Charles Lethbridge) and is usually given names such as “residual haunting” or “The Stone Tape Theory”. Maybe that helps with the search.

    The Stone Tape name is after a television play of similar name which was about a haunted house where a bunch of scientsist used the idea behind residual haunting to investigate a new way of recording things, and accidently summoned some great hidden evil. Bruce must have seen it.

    Oh, and it could be possible that Scientific American did publish an article about it. It is a popular tradition among some scientific magazines to publish articles about the supernatural on April 1st.

  11. Well that is an interesting tradition.

    I did some research on residual haunting, will do a little more on stone tape theory.

    I find it amusing that scientists don’t credit the theory because it lacks the data and answers necessary to be science, and metaphysically leaning people won’t credit the theory because it denies the existence of the spirit.

    Tis an idea without a home.🙂

  12. Holly

    Initial response; wow, what an amazing chance to reach across millenia and touch the essence of our ancestors.

    More considered thoughts:
    1. Lovely looking house – bet I couldn’t afford it!
    2. Would I mind living with a skeleton? Sitting here in daylight, with people around, feeling safe and secure, I feel I could actually develop quite a friendship with my somewhat skinny companion in the cellar. I would be intrigued to know her personal history (that’s interesting! why did I instinctively refer to ‘her’ without being sure of its gender? Maybe it seems friendlier?), what her life had been like, what the town had been like when she was alive and how vastly different to how we live now.

    I don’t feel uncomfortable at all, per se, about the concept of human remains. Maybe because, in my job, I have experienced human life peri- and post-death and so have a degree of familiarity with what that entails. Maybe this counteracts a fear based on fear of the unknown.

    BUT then again, I don’t know if I’d be saying the same thing if you asked me after dark, I was home alone, and the dog started barking at the corner for no reason!

    So… in conclusion…. my responses and reactions are inconclusive.

  13. brucehood

    Ohh that is spooky, Holly… your instincts are correct. The skeleton is female and she is known as the Roman Princess.

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  15. podblack

    Wouldn’t mind in the slightest. I’ve buried pets in the yard as a child; have worked at a school next to a graveyard. Could I pop a Santa hat on the skull for seasonal celebrations?

    Might have friends who feel ooky about it though. If it brought the cost down? Would snap it up.

  16. brucehood

    Ah Podblack.. I applaud you but could you kiss a human skull? I thought I could and was going to do it at one of my public talks about death but at the last minute, I couldn’t do it! Aside from the disgusted groans of the audience, I veered off at the last moment…. My supersense got in the way.

  17. Bruce, you couldn’t bring yourself to kiss the skull? That must have brought the house down. You should make it a fixed element of your talks.

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  19. clare cousins

    104 used to be an accountants. i worked there for 5 years. the filing cabinets were in the cellar, i did the filing and got well aquainted with the skelton in the cellar (never got used to her tho’). i believe the place was haunted too. never saw anything but felt/ heard things. damn spooky place did not miss the place after i left.

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