Editor's Note: Hear Jamie Sweeney tell his story in the three audio clips featured below. Just click the blue words featured in the story, or scroll down down and look for 'Related Multimedia' in the left-hand column.
COLUMBIA — Jamie Sweeney had been playing video games for three hours, trying to ignore the loud noises in his kitchen.
It was late summer, and Sweeney had been living at 1503 Windsor St. in Columbia for less than a week. He was still waiting for his roommates to move in.
Yet, someone — or something — was in his kitchen, banging pots and pans, opening and closing the refrigerator, flipping the light on and off, rummaging around in the pantry.
Finally, he couldn’t take the noise any longer, so he put the game controller down and stood up.
That’s when he remembered he was alone.
No, this isn’t a teaser for the latest Stephen King novel. It’s Sweeney’s recollection of the first of many abnormal experiences he had on Windsor Street between the fall of 2001 and the spring of 2003.
Once his roommates moved into the house, it took several weeks before the group openly discussed the possibility that they could be living in a haunted house.
“We used to make jokes: ‘Oh, this house is haunted,’ “ Sweeney said. “It was old and kind of spooky; it made lots of creaks and noises. In the back of my head, I’m thinking, ‘Well, it could be.’”
Stories about ghosts and haunted houses have been around for thousands of years.
“As far back as history goes, we have stories about ghosts,” said Richard Callahan, assistant professor of religious studies at MU. Callahan teaches a class called “Haunting and Healing: The Supernatural in American Culture.”
Stories about the paranormal can be found in literature as far back as the Iliad. Written by Homer in what experts believe was the 8th century B.C., the epic poem includes a ghost as a character, the soul of the warrior Patroclo.
The ghost of Hamlet’s father was created by William Shakespeare in 1599. Gothic literature includes Washington Irving’s “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” and “The Hound of the Baskervilles” by Arthur Conan Doyle.
In America, Edgar Allan Poe was a forerunner of the scary modern fiction that became a widespread horror culture under author Stephen King. King’s novels, spooky Halloween movies and haunted rides in Disney theme parks may have primed a nation to relish ghost stories.
During the year and a half Sweeney spent on Windsor Street, he and roommate Dane Pederson, 27, say they often encountered unexplained phenomena, sometimes on a daily basis.
Pederson said things were most intense during the four months just after they moved in. After that, he said, the incidents began occurring less frequently, and the group became acclimated to them.
“It didn’t take very long for us just to kind of get used to it,” Sweeney explained. “You’d hear a noise, or you’d see a light go on and off ... Or you’d see your dog barking in the corner up at the ceiling, at nothing.
“You’d just kind of say to yourself, that’s not happening right now.”
Sweeney said the matter was troublesome but never an issue big enough to cause him to find a new place, pack up and move out.
According to the Boone County Assessor’s office, the 2,095-square-foot house on Windsor Street was built around 1900. It has four bedrooms, two living rooms, a large kitchen and a section the current tenants call the ‘servants quarters’. It also has a hidden staircase, closed off by current owner Gregory Casey after he bought the house at an auction in August 1992.
He said the previous owner, Jonalee Miles, inherited it from her deceased father, John Miles. Casey said he bought the house to provide his son, then an MU student, with a place to live.
Acting as landlord until 1999, Casey then hired Hawthorne Management to maintain the property and keep the house rented.
Mike LaHue, co-owner of Hawthorne Management, has done routine repairs at the house for years, once spending a full week in the house. “I’ve been in the basement alone. I was even down in the crawl spaces working. I never noticed anything,” LaHue said.
“If you’ve got some young guys in there, they can imagine just about anything.”
LaHue said he has never received complaints from past or present residents about abnormal activity of a paranormal nature in the house.
The house is now shared by four roommates. Two of the current tenants, Matt Lutes, 24, and Drew Clements, 22, say the four are on completely different schedules, creating a great deal of commotion at all hours of the day and night.
Whenever any of them hears unexplained noises, they assume it’s a roommate or one of their five pets. None of the present inhabitants has ever seriously considered the possibility that the house is haunted.
Lutes said he doesn’t believe in ghosts, although Clements said he does.
“I definitely believe in different kinds of energies,” he said. “I’ve watched the animals because they’re more receptive to stuff like that, and they just look around and you’re like, what are you staring at?”
This idea that animals can pick up on the presence of something inhuman is a common characteristic of haunted houses, according to Callahan.
Other characteristics are unexplained noises, random pockets of hot or cold air, rearranged furniture, missing objects and the feeling of being watched.
Callahan is skeptical that the house on Windsor Street is haunted because more tenants, past and present, have not had experiences similar to those of Sweeney and Pederson. Callahan said it would be more common for a ghost to present itself to all residents of a house, instead of selecting certain people to haunt.
Sweeney continues to maintain that something strange was going on when he lived there.
One evening in the fall of 2001, he heard loud noises on the main level of the house. He climbed down from his room on the second story to find he was alone in the house and the front door was locked and dead-bolted.
He went back upstairs to bed and fell asleep only to have an unnerving dream. In the dream, he said he was told he had the devil inside of him.
Awakening suddenly, he said he found himself frozen in his bed, unable to even move his eyes. Staring at the ceiling and feeling as if something was pressing him down into his bed, he found it hard to breathe and could sense the presence of someone crouching down beside his bed.
As quickly as the sensation began, it lifted and he was able to get up, run downstairs and out the front door onto his porch, where he remained until the sun rose.
As frighteningly real as this was for Sweeney, Callahan said the experience of sleep paralysis is relatively common and often accompanied by the feeling of a paranormal presence in the room.
But Sweeney’s roommate, Pederson, had an almost identical experience the very next night.
While Callahan does not think their sleep paralysis experiences were related to ghosts, he did add: “Why two people would have it two nights in a row in the same house is beyond me.”
Pederson said he didn’t believe in ghosts before living at 1503 Windsor St., but now his position has changed.
“These tales haven’t gotten any taller. My experiences there were real. They weren’t dreams, and they weren’t the result of drinking too much.”
Sweeney said the roommates are not sure what caused their experiences.
“We’re not experts. We don’t know what it is. We just know that there’s something going on in that house.”
Living at the house did prompt him to start attending church, and he’s been going ever since he moved out four years ago.