Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Beyond the Grave

Around 2008 some friends and I walked a moonlight mile through Philadelphia’s Laurel Hill Cemetery. We started out around 10 p.m. with flashlights. Usually when I do such things, its with photography in mind. However, two of my friends, brothers, were interested more in the spiritual side of things. Neither had ever been in a graveyard at night, though both were believers in the paranormal − which is essentially why we were there – we figured they were ghost magnets.  They weren’t frightened − after all, as children, the brothers would play over a friend’s house, which was a funeral home. They would sneak down the steps on one side of the house, run past the body being embalmed on the table, and up the front stairs back to the land of the living.

'Robert' doll (ref.)
One of the brothers, Phil, has seen and heard things throughout his life, things that convinced him of the existence of the supernatural. So we had high hopes of something untoward happening. About five years before, he had a terrifying experience with a doll he bought over the Internet. No, not that kind of doll, get your mind out of the gutter. This was an evil curse doll like the famed 'Robert' doll from Key West, Florida. (Part of the Robert story where he’s supposedly running through the house reminds me of the Karen Black Trilogy of Terror TV movie, which is not something you want to watch if you have insomnia – you may never sleep again.)

Phil’s doll was actually a stuffed rabbit, which came with a curse. Phil has experienced inexplicable phenomena – voices, footsteps, pictures out of place on the wall – so why he would buy a cursed doll is beyond me. However, when you know people personally who have had such experiences (and you know they’re reasonably sane), you tend to believe them – more so than you would strangers. As we walked through the graveyard, I think we all fully expected something creepy to happen, if only because Phil was open to such things.

Let me mention a couple things about Phil’s rabbit. He bought it knowing full well that prior owners had either had crippling relationship issues or debilitating spinal problems. Within a few months of purchasing the doll, his brother Don’s decade-long relationship with his girlfriend ended and Phil was hospitalized with back problems. After the cancerous tumor was removed some months later, he threw the rabbit down the basement of the old mom-and-pop store where he worked. I asked why he disposed of it there, of all places – why not burn it? Or sell it on eBay? He seemed to think it would cause no trouble down there. And apparently, it hasn’t. Its still there, five years later.

Okay, let’s lighten this up a bit – all true, but a bit too Stephen Kingy. Even I’m getting the heebie-jeebies. Consider the time I was on a plane trip somewhere, and couldn’t help noticing the huge diamond ring the old woman next to me was wearing. After an hour of wondering, I finally had to ask her, “Is that diamond real?” She replied, “Yes, it’s the famous Plotnick diamond.” I apologized that I had never heard of it and she added, “Oh, yes, and it comes with a curse.” I said, “Really? What’s the curse?” She replied, “Mr. Plotnick.

Ed's ghost behind Receiving Vault
Walking through Laurel Hill that night, we used our flashlights to visit certain statues where ghosthunters had recorded voices. I think if we had come upon a doll or stuffed animal as people sometimes leave at graves, we would have been totally creeped out, but we found none. We also heard no voices. My photographer friend Paul and I did make some photographs that evening, and even did a little experimenting with “light painting,” i.e. making photographs in the dark while selectively illuminating the subject (in our case, cemetery monuments) with a flashlight. No orbs appeared on the photos, however, and all our gear operated just fine.

After several hours of nervous exploration around the cemetery, we (maybe to our relief) experienced nothing ghostly. I did, however, lose my freaking cell phone! We spent the last hour retracing our steps, but couldn’t find it. How it found its way out of the locked holster is beyond me. Almost as if something reached up and grabbed it off my belt. Don kept dialing the number, hoping we’d hear it ring, but without success. We even went and asked the talking statues if they could direct us to it, but they were silent on the subject. So other than losing my cell phone, the escapade was uneventful – at least up to that point.

A few days later someone found my phone. Don had a message on his phone from a woman who had found my phone. When he told me, I joked with him about receiving a 'message from beyond the grave.' Then I started to muse about that possibility. I called the number she left, reached her, and introduced myself. She said she would drop it off at the Laurel Hill office for me. I thanked her profusely and without thinking, asked her how she had found my phone. I asked, “Were you just walking through the cemetery?” She said, “No, it was on my son’s grave.” Sometimes I forget that not everyone visits a cemetery for fun. Quite resourcefully, the woman had examined the last few calls to my phone (from Don, as he had called it repeatedly that night in the graveyard).

The other strange occurrence happened a few nights later, when my photographer friend Paul called me about 11 pm. I was asleep and didn’t hear the call. Next morning I noticed there was a message and played it back. Paul sounded terrified. He was making photographs in the same area of the cemetery we explored earlier in the week. He had set up his camera on a tripod to make long, time-exposure photos and when he looked through the viewfinder, he saw a shadow move past the front of the camera. When he looked up, there was nothing there. Thinking he imagined it, he got ready to take the photograph, looked through the viewfinder, and saw it again! As if a person walked in front of his camera! This is when he got really rattled and phoned me.

I imagine he felt a bit vulnerable as he knew he had a quarter mile to walk through the cemetery to get out! The only other exit was down the embankment to the river. We never heard from Paul after that. His camera was found the next day by the groundskeepers, still locked to the tripod. I’m making this up, of course − Paul was perfectly fine, albeit a bit spooked as he had no explanation for the moving shadows in his viewfinder. I think that secretly, all of us wondered if the rabbit had something to do with it. More power to Paul for being in a graveyard alone near midnight. I wouldn’t be caught dead doing that.

After I showed Phil's brother Don the draft of this story, he offered to take me down the basement of the old store to see the rabbit. Actually he told me I had to take the rabbit if I wanted to use his and Phil’s real names. So I changed them. The rest of the story is true.

Further Reading and Viewing:

Read about 'Robert'
Karen Black Trilogy of Terror TV movie clip