Signs of a haunting

I once had a case where the homeowners often heard an elderly lady doing the dishes late at night before thumping up the stairs, using her cane to help her old bones manage the steps. In the morning, they were disappointed to see that any dishes that were left in the sink from the night before had remained in the sink; they were looking forward to one less chore. Was she a ghost or wishful thinking?

Some of the signs that an area may have paranormal activity may include:


  • Foosteps: More common in a residual haunting, footsteps may replay the path taken by a long-dead resident. Pacing the floors at night when it’s quiet or even running up and down the stairs, these spectral wanderings should be recorded when and where they happen to see if there’s a pattern forming.

  • Doors opening or shutting: There’s nothing like the soft click of a doorknob when you know you’re alone in the house to get the blood pumping and a quick phone call to your dad. Hearing a door move is more common than seeing it open or shut. You may have wandered into a memory of a ghost coming home after a long day at work.

  • Knocking: Rapping or pounding on the walls will definitely get your attention. If this occurs, try to pinpoint where the sounds are coming from to investigate.

  • Music: Phantom music has been featured in many ghost experiences through instruments such as a piano or violin or through the radio – even in they aren’t in the house. Keep an ear out for what song is playing, if you can identify it, it may help you to place the time period the ghost is trapped in.

  • Crying: Sometimes a ghost just needs a hug.

  • Voices or whispers: Late at night, when the house is quiet, you may be able to hear someone telling you not to forget your science prooooojeeeccctttttt----

  • General noises: Sounds that you can’t identify such as grunting or clicks. Be sure to eliminate all other possible reasons for those noises first before deciding it’s paranormal. Rodents in the wall, air in the pipes or wind against the windows are common causes of strange noises, especially in older houses.

  • Screaming: Nothing like a blood curdling scream to make you whip out your logbook! Well, after you’ve stopped running in small circles, that is. A burst of energy like this isn’t common so try to discover where the scream originated from and try to connect why then – why there?


  • Cigars/pipes/cigarettes: The smell of tobacco can be so strong that it stains the air. If you are in an area that does not allow smoking or can determine that there is no one close that is smoking, write down when and where you first smelled the smoke. While visiting the Whaley House in San Diego, California, I noticed the scent of a cigar in the museum. I learned a short time later that the ghost of the former owner was often sensed by the heavy smell of cigar he’d used while alive.

  • Food: Just what did your mother put in with that toe casserole? Since the kitchen is the heart of the home, a lot of memories are associated with food and the way it’s prepared. I know I’ve been haunted by the thought of chocolate chip cookies…

  • Perfume: Known as Perfume Ghosts, some spirits have been identified by the presence of a scent they wore during life such as the ghost at the Octagon in Washington, D.C. who smells of lilacs as she passes the living.

  • Gunpowder: There have been reports of the smell of gunpowder from the battlefields of Gettysburg, PA on the days where there have been no re-enactments.

  • The Winchester Mystery House in California smells of chicken soup on occasion.


Probably the most startling, seeing something appear from nowhere or watching something scoot across the floor on its own can give you a pretty good heads up that something’s afoot.

  • Movement out of the corner of the eye: These small, fleeting glimpses of shadows are frequently noted in paranormal cases. Too quick to be seen, they disappear before the living can get a good look at them. Be sure to rule out headlights in passing cars, shadows created by clouds over the sun and toddlers who are much too fast for their own good.

  • Apparitions: Seeing a full-body apparition is incredibly rare so if it happens, try to remember what it was wearing so you can identify the time period later, if it was making any motions or facial expressions, and if there were any sounds happening at the same time. Some apparitions are merely a wisp of smoke while others have been seen as so closely resembling the living that they’ve been mistaken for someone with a pulse.

  • Electrical appliances being switched off/on: This includes televisions, lights, ovens and game systems. On lamps, check for touch-light bulbs – these lamps may be tricky and turn themselves on and off due to faulty wiring. Suggest to the homeowners to check for frayed wires before thinking it’s a ghost.

  • Items being moved: You know you left your homework by the door, so why isn’t it there when you’re running out the door for the bus? In some cases, items go missing only to pop up in another area at a later date. Sometimes a ghost may bring things to your house that you’ve never seen before such as coins or jewelry.

  • Floating heads: Just wanted to see if you were paying attention. 

Touchy-feely ghosts

  • Feelings of being watched: Downright creepy. Nuff said.

  • Nightmares: Ghosts may find it easier to communicate through the dream state as it takes less energy than writing their name on the wall – though much less dramatic. If you are having multiple nightmares, take control and note what symbols or feelings may be present that you can identify later. Happiness? It may be a loved one saying their final goodbye. Dread? What are you worried about? A ghost may be there to help you work through it and find some answers.

Unexplained cold spots: Is there an area of the house that is noticeably colder than the rest of the room? Check for open vents or drafts and see if you can find a shape to the spot. Some are tall and thin while others have a wobbly shape and ill-defined borders. If you’ve walked into a cold spot, make sure the air conditioning is turned off and poke a hand into it one more time. If the spot is still present, pull out your mercury thermometer and try to get a reading.