By Anna Harris (Photo/Derrick Perkins)
Haunted houses are the mainstay of Hollywood blockbusters and ghost stories, but just the hint of a spectral infestation can send shivers down the spine of a real estate agent.
Given Alexandria’s rich history — from its once-bustling docks to makeshift Civil War hospitals overflowing with the dead and dying — it’s not uncommon for local real estate agents to sell dwellings with lingering tenants.
John Randolph, associate broker for Long & Foster in Alexandria, remembers handling the sale of a house that two generations of homeowners swore was haunted. They saw the man in the basement. Occasionally, the apparition — clad in a flannel or sackcloth shirt (they weren’t sure which) — appeared upstairs.
He was benevolent, Randolph recalled them telling him, and never caused problems. The ghost didn’t hurt the sale, and it wasn’t the cause of the original homeowners’ departure either.
“The prior tenant told [the current owners at the time], and they’d all seen the same thing,” Randolph said. “I was further told that the area there had been developed much later than the area around it and had formerly been the graveyard.”
Real estate agents used to have more trouble selling buildings with ill-gotten reputations. Laws once required them to disclose ghosts and other notorious details.
Nowadays, even if a house has a well-known reputation for creepy events, Virginia real estate agents aren’t required to report it.
It’s considered a psychological influence, but not a material defect. A material defect is a problem that devalues the house or could cause potential financial difficulty for future owners.
While the haunting did not affect Randolph’s sale, others in his line of work have not been so lucky. In the 1930s, an agent shopping around a home on the 200 block of Prince St. allegedly lost his sale because of supernatural shenanigans.
The property’s reputation is well known and documented in author Michael Lee Pope’s “Ghosts of Alexandria.” Neighbors reportedly can hear piano music playing from within even when no one is there, while others claim to have seen a man in Revolutionary War-era clothing prowl around the property. A hostile-feeling cold spot is said to pop up on the stairs.
The unlucky agent was showing the home when his potential buyer was stopped in her tracks. The unseen force prevented her from getting to the third floor. Frustrated, she gave up, telling the agent she was no longer interested.
But why do ghosts — if they exist, of course — linger in homes? Steve Doss, a local paranormal investigator, has a theory.
“The simplest explanation is speculative science at this time,” Doss said. “[A ghost] is vibration in light. That’s what it all comes down to. That’s what we think consciousness is from.
“Nothing has been proven. We haven’t figured it out. Most scientists won’t touch it because it’s not a physical thing you can touch.”
Doss’ explanation is that when the biological part of a person dies, his or her consciousness is cast adrift. Rather than hang out in a graveyard, we find the last thing or place we can remember.
Even after our bodies pass away, we still emit energy, he said.
“Everyone puts out an energy field,” Doss said. “They can photograph your aura. Your body is a walking bag of water that produces electricity.”
This “aura” is why haunted houses get a reputation for creeping out visitors and residents, according to Doss. When you get too close to someone with an aura that doesn’t line up with yours, you feel uncomfortable.
The same goes for haunted houses, he said.
“There’s no real reason for it to creep you out other than that it’s creeping you out because there’s a different vibration than yours,” Doss said.
This relationship also explains why houses known for specters still end up as homes for the living. Occasionally, the energy fields line up, he said.
“They’re in sync with the house,” Doss said. “[You’d think] nobody likes to live next to a cemetery whether they believe [in ghosts] or not. It’s just creepy. But some people aren’t bothered by it. ... What one person doesn’t like, another other person will.”