Monday, May 01, 2000

ghost story

Lovella Paradiso believes in ghosts.

In the six years she has lived in her Manville residence, Ms. Paradiso believes she has witnessed several manifestations of supernatural presence. Three ghosts in particular dominated our talk about the appearances: a Civil War soldier, a voyeur and a ghost cat.

"I don't like saying the house is haunted," she said. "It has things we haven't been able to explain with a rational answer. A lot of things."

I've always been a sucker for ghost stories, so when a search for Web sites related to Manville turned up a paranormal-themed site with a 2-year-old post about Ms. Paradiso's house, my curiosity was piqued.

Ms. Paradiso works as a Web graphics designer for a Bridgewater firm. During our meeting, she kept stressing that she sought a naturalist explanation before falling back on the supernatural, and more than once expressed concern about how she would appear for talking about ghosts. To corroborate her story was Sal DiBernado of East Brunswick, who lived in the house from 1996-1999.

The first ghost Ms. Paradiso encountered at the house was Charlie, whom she pictures as blond, broad-shouldered, clean-shaven and more than 6 feet tall. She believes Charlie was a soldier in the Civil War.

"I had a dream of him walking through the hallway and just walking down the flight of stairs," said Ms. Paradiso.

Her landlady, who used to live in the house, had a similar dream, said Ms. Paradiso. They discovered the coincidence by accident.

Charlie left in 1996, after Ms. Paradiso and her roommates performed a cleansing ritual that tried to direct him to the afterlife. The ritual involves burning white sage and visualizing the ghost entering the next world.

"After you go and bless the rooms, you're supposed to go and sit and relax," said Ms. Paradiso. "I said something to the effect of, 'May you be free and go to the Light, and be with your loved ones."

During this time, she said, a housemate named Eric — not available for the interview — entered a trance and told Charlie to go be with his "wife and child," she said. Eric has no recollection of the experience, said Ms. Paradiso.

"It sounds like something flaky, but I was there, and he was white-faced," she said.

The second ghost, called The Watcher, is less benign than Charlie, although its activities have been limited to the basement, which had been converted into an apartment until Hurricane Floyd.

"When this closet door was open, you would always feel that you were being watched," she said.
Ms. Paradiso and Mr. DiBenardo said that no one they knew who rented the basement apartment was able to sleep down there because of The Watcher's oppressiveness. Nor was anyone able to stay there longer than six months.

A videotape Ms. Paradiso and her friends tried to take of the Watcher revealed nothing unusual except an odd light they later duplicated by driving past the house with headlights on. A second attempt captured a scream none of them had heard while the tape was recording.

"All of a sudden it was a loud but faint high-pitched scream," said Ms. Paradiso. "We all heard it and have never watched it since."

Ms. Paradiso was unable to locate the tape for me.

A third appeared in the basement in 1998 as a shadowy catlike specter. By April 1999 it had become a solid-looking black cat close to twice the size of Ms. Paradiso's black cat, Toby.

The similarity in appearance is enough that in the summer of 1998, the housemate Eric mistook the cat for Toby. When he called it, the ghost cat swatted at him, spat and jumped away.

"Toby doesn't do that," said Ms. Paradiso. "All my cats and dogs are friendly, people-friendly."

Toby, in fact, was inside the house in a room with a closed door all the time, Ms. Paradiso said.
Another time Ms. Paradiso followed the ghost cat down the hallway and watched it enter the bathroom. When she followed it in, the ghost cat disappeared.

"It's occurred to me The Watcher and the cat could be one and the same because The Watcher has not been seen since the cat appeared," said Ms. Paradiso.

Looking at the ghost cat also creates the same feeling of disquiet as being studied by The Watcher, said Ms. Paradiso.

Ms. Paradiso is reluctant to try the same cleansing ritual with the ghost cat that she performed with Charlie.

"If it's that powerful that it's manifested itself as a large feline creature, I'd rather have an expert," she said.

The house has had several other incidents Ms. Paradiso has been unable to explain: whistling in an empty shower when the only person in the house is in another room, music and lights that come on spontaneously, parts of the house that always are cold, unusual animal behavior — the pets frequently act disturbed by the supernatural presences — and heightened personal conflicts.

"To be honest, it's the house," said Mr. DiBenardo. "I hate being here. It's just something about the house, I could never just relax here."

Ms. Paradiso posted a brief description of the events in her house to the Web site I found. In addition to my interest, the post has attracted former residents of the house.

"The last response to me was, 'Thank God, because I know I'm not nuts,'" she said. "She only lived here six months. She saw and heard things here, and she thought she was going nuts."

So where did the ghosts come from? In most ghost stories, the haunting resulted from a violent death or unsolved crime. Ms. Para diso's house is about 50 years old, and she is unaware of any such history to it.

"I have three theories. The first and probably most logical is that someone died on the land the house is built on," she said. "There might also be a portal into the world here, for whatever reason."

The last possibility Ms. Paradiso mentions is that she herself is a magnet for the spirit world. Spirits might sense that she is sensitive to the spiritual world, and seek her out.

"Spirits — ones that are trapped, are looking for a way out, a way in, a loved one — will gather around someone they think can help them," she said.

While I was there, I saw nothing suggestive of the occult or the supernatural, even around the Ouija board in the basement. If there are ghosts in Ms. Paradiso's house, I didn't see any.

But while I'm able to maintain my journalistic skepticism, Mr. DiBenardo doesn't need more evidence. After living in the house for three years, he's convinced.

"I've always believed in spirits and ghosts, but I was very skeptical," he said. "I moved into this house and let me tell you, I believe 100 percent."