By: Annie Larson, certified psychic medium
Contact to book a reading: www.MediumAnnieLarson.com
From a very young age I began having many firsthand experiences with spirits. Enjoy this continued series of short stories of my ghostly encounters.
My grandmother, who looked like the embodied Granny of Looney Tunes' cartoon Tweety Bird, lived alone in a three-bedroom home in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. The two-story house, with surrounding wrought iron fence, was nestled by a hillside in the shadows of the trestle that brought trains, filled with smelter lag and copper ingots from the Calumet and Hecla copper mine to the smelters in Hubbell, Michigan. My grandfather worked as a machinist for the mines and retired a decade before the mines closed in 1967. They purchased the house in the 1940s and raised a daughter and two sons. Grandma survived alone in the house as a widower until the late 1970s when she moved into an assisted living home in Calumet, Michigan.
Our large family of nine could not visit my grandparents often, because it felt like it was more of a home invasion than a visit when we did. The last time all nine of us had visited was after we returned from living in Europe in the early 1960s, where my dad directed the closing of all unnecessary World War II Air Force bases in England and France. I was too young to remember much about the trip, only that Michigan was much colder, even in the summer, than Europe.
In the early 1970s my sister, two brothers, a married couple that were friends of my sister, and I embarked on a road trip to visit Grandma. Grandpa was already living in an assisted living home because of his senility as they called Alzheimer’s disease back then.
My sister, Marian, 10 years my senior, and I stayed upstairs in my aunt’s old bedroom. The married couple, Stan, and Diane, stayed next to us in my uncle and dad’s formerly shared bedroom. My brothers stayed in a sunroom off the foyer of the house on pull-out sofas. It was exciting to be visiting without my parents because we had more of my grandma’s attention. Perhaps we were less of a home invasion too.
A large, shared bathroom, with white tiles, outlined by sage and black tile trim, was at the top of the staircase. In the back of the bathroom, by a high window, the commode had a pull-chain to flush the toilet that made a loud woosh sound as it flushed. Next to the commode was a large porcelain sink with old fashioned hot and cold faucet handles that had been rubbed to a satin finish from years of use. By the entrance to the bathroom was a large white cast-iron clawfoot bathtub. From the tub’s spout hung a rubber stopper on a rusted chain. Across from the tub was a paneled wooden door identical to the bathroom entrance door. The door’s handle included a skeleton key locking mechanism, unlike the more modern one on the knob of the entrance door.
The first time I walked into the bathroom, I turned the brass skeleton key to unlock the second wooden door. The latch release echoed in the large bathroom. I opened the unlocked door and the smell of old wood and musty cold air rushed down a long wooden staircase that led to an attic. The cool breeze made the hair on my arms and back of my neck stand up. I had no desire to go up to the attic, and most certainly not alone. Nope! Not exploring, I thought. I closed the door and turned to use the commode when I was startled by the sound of the door bumping back and forth in its frame. Thump. Thump. Thump. I realized that I had not re-locked the door and quickly lunged back to lock it. I heard the lock bolt click and the door stabilized within the frame so that it no longer moved. Relieved, I walked to the commode and lifted the top to sit down. I heard the faint sound of footsteps from the attic floor. The sounds began to descend the attic steps that I had just discovered. My eyes widened as I watched the attic door and listened. The footsteps were soft sounding like that made from a child who weighed less than my 70-pound build.
I was frozen with fear, yet curious, and still in great need to relieve myself but I was not going to wait around to see who or what was descending the attic stairs. I pulled up my shorts and ran from the bathroom down the stairs to find everyone in Grandma’s traditional Scandinavian pale-yellow with blue accents kitchen. I made no mention to anyone about my bathroom encounter.
Grandma and my sister were busy in the kitchen creating a traditional Finnish celebration fish dinner with white fish caught in nearby Lake Superior. Fresh vegetables were picked from grandma’s extensive backyard garden, and I got potatoes (which both grandparents called “bodadoes” with their heavy Finnish accents) from the unfinished earthen root cellar dug into the ground connected to the house and covered by two wooden storm doors. Grandma topped the meal off with Taatelikakku a delicious Finnish date cake.
Our first night meal was spectacular, and we stayed up drinking our traditional Swedish egg kaffee (the egg keeps coffee from tasting bitter) in the living room with our Taatelikakku. Around 9:00pm Grandma grew tired and encouraged us to go to bed. She warned us that staying up too late wasn’t good for anyone. Through her sparkling blue eyes that were enhanced by the round wire-rimmed spectacles she wore; she gently placed her bent pointer finger to her mouth as she spoke as if to keep herself from saying too much. Grandma, with her grey hair coiffed into a bun, simple house frock sinched at her midriff, and thick nude nylon stockings, bid us good night and ascended the stairs in her sturdy black, mid-heeled Oxford tie shoes.
We refocused our attention on telling stories, eating cake, and drinking coffee. Within a couple hours we heard footsteps upstairs and quieted so as not to disturb Grandma who, we assumed, must have gotten up. My sister checked on Grandma and she was asleep. We all headed off to bed. As I prepared for bed, I entered the upstairs bathroom to brush my teeth and sat on the commode once again, staring at the attic door. Waiting. Listening. Nothing happened.
Back in my room, I put my empty suitcase into the small closet and crawled into the double bed with my sister. As we settled into our sleep routines, we heard soft footsteps coming from inside the closet.
“What’s that,” I asked Marian.
“I don’t know,” she replied.
We listened and waited. As the room quieted, we dosed off. I dreamed that I was being slowly crushed, unable to breathe, and awoke suddenly to a bright brisk summer morning in the Upper Peninsula. I heard everyone downstairs and relieved myself in the bathroom with the door open hoping that by doing so would prevent any further ordeals.
I dressed and made my way back to the kitchen for korppu or Finnish toast, a crunchy, twice toasted cinnamon bread brought to the US by Finnish immigrants in the 1800s. Marian, Stan, and Diane sat around the pale-yellow ceramic kitchen table chatting, as Grandma finished making breakfast.
“Are you okay,” Diane asked me.
“Yeah, fine,” I replied.
Then she told us that she and Stan were concerned because they heard me crying last night. Marian and I looked at each other, puzzled by the inquiry.
“I wasn’t crying,” I said defensively at the thought of being 12 years old and crying like a child.
“No, I didn’t hear it,” my sister confirmed.
“Oh, well we heard a young girl crying on and off and almost knocked on your door to see if everything was okay.” Diane explained.
Before dinner that night, I slipped away to take a bath in the clawfoot bathtub. I was feeling better that I had successfully used the bathroom a couple times without incident. Perhaps the footsteps and crying were all in our imaginations. I put the rubber stopper, attached by the chain, into the drainage hole and turned both worn bath handles till the water ran warm. I took off my clothes and stepped one foot into the warm water. The bathtub was so tall that I had to hold onto the edge to manage my way in. The tub was very slick and the tile floor even slicker when wet. I held fast to the edges until I was safely seated, mid-drift in water. I turned both handles off and began to bathe.
I heard muffled footsteps over me and tracked the sound to the attic. My eyes widened and my heart began to race. I was frozen in place and tried to quiet my breathing. My worst fears were realized when the footsteps began their slow descent down the attic stairs—again. Step by step. I looked at the doorknob to see that it was indeed still locked as I had left it. The footsteps picked up their pace as I panicked and began to make my way out of the slippery tub. I firmly grasped the chain with both hands and pulled the plug from the drain. Water splashed forward and back and spilled over the edges as I got up on my feet to exit the tub.
Sliding out from under me, my feet could find no firm ground with which to flee. I held firmly to the sides of the tub with one hand and with the other reached for my towel that hung on a hook near the bathroom door. I had to curl my toes to grip the slippery wet tiles as I baby stepped until I reached the upstairs hallway carpet. I wrapped the towel around me and looked back at the attic door in terror as the brass doorknob began to turn back and forth and the door bumped against the frame. I forcefully blinked my eyes open and shut several times, to try to erase what I was seeing. My heart fluttered from a sudden and profound understanding that radiated deep within the core of my being.
She wanted out.
The next day we visited other relatives and my grandpa in his care facility. I took a shower in my cousin’s house explaining that washing my long blonde hair in a bathtub was difficult. How could I tell anyone what I had been experiencing? The nightly footsteps continued, as did the crying. Nights were restless and I had dreams that I was a young fair-haired girl trapped and unable to catch my breath.
The Upper Peninsula has a long history of deadly mining incidents, since copper was discovered in the early-1840s, with many deaths caused by cave-ins, floods, mudslides, explosions, asphyxiation, and fires. Unexpected deaths can explain why there would be a lot of ghostly activity in the area.
Strangely, up the street from my grandma’s house, where thickets and brush covered man-made structures, was an abandoned house fully furnished with the dining room table set with turn of the century dishware and enamel cookware with (what was once) food abandoned on the stove. It was as if the family got up and left mid-meal, leaving everything in the house! Grandma never concerned herself with the house or why a family would leave everything behind. Perhaps it was abandoned during one of the many mining accidents? Such unpleasant things were not discussed.
In Calumet, five miles from Hubbell, near Grandpa’s care facility, we took Grandma to the bank that was in an old decaying red building, with arched stone windows and a doorway made from Lake Superior sandstone. Atop the building was its name, “Societa Mutua Beneficenza Italiana” or the Italian Hall. Like most old buildings, it held many secrets and history. I stared at the building gauging the energy it emitted as I waited outside for Grandma. I tried to walk around the building, but it was stifling to do so. I felt uneasy, nauseous, dizzy, and very emotional as though I might cry at any moment. These mirrored the emotions that I was experiencing in my nightly dreams, where I was being crushed to death. I could not take a full breath. I felt surrounded by others, though no one was around me.
I would later learn about the history of corruption of the various mining companies as the workers fought unsuccessfully for better working conditions through forming unions. The Copper Country strike culminated On Christmas Eve, 1913, during a holiday celebration of striking miners and their families in the Italian Hall. Seventy-three people, fifty-nine of which were children, were crushed to death when anti-union employees yelled “fire” and 400 people rushed to the entrance to escape, down a steep flight of stairs to doors that only opened inward. All seventy-three souls were crushed by the weight of the other 327 fleeing people. Some considered it a massacre by the anti-trade unions, as witnesses testified that they saw several of them yelling “fire,” when there was none. Other witnesses testified that the doors were held shut. Woody Guthrie memorialized the tragedy in his song “1913 Massacre.”
The last night of our visit, Grandma did her nightly insistence that we bed down early, and she retired to her room. We stayed up in the living room playing charades and talking. My brothers asked me what I was doing on the upstairs landing the night before. They had heard footsteps and peeked out the sunroom to see a young girl walking on the darkened upstairs landing that they assumed, because she had long blonde hair, was me.
The night before I too had been awakened and had to pee, a thought that terrified me. I was hesitant to get out of bed and peered into the hallway from my bed as I was on the side closest to the door. Someone was walking in the hallway, and I saw a faint white mist image of a young girl. I pulled the covers over my head and snuggled closer to my sister praying to go back to sleep.
We all saw the young girl who seemed to freely move about upstairs in the middle of the night that everyone assumed was me in the darkness. Everyone heard the crying and footsteps, but nobody shared an experience with her in the bathroom, so I kept that to myself. Perhaps that was why Grandma wanted us to retire in the early evening because she knew about the ghost. We never asked. Grandma was highly educated and a former math teacher who spoke five languages fluently. She was pragmatic and unassuming. It seemed impossible to ask her about the ghostly girl no matter how many of us heard and saw her.
We left Grandma’s house that summer unsure what to think. With so much tragedy in the Copper Country, the little girl could have been one of the children crushed in the Italian Hall tragedy or a family member of the old, abandoned home. Perhaps she was drawn to me because of my age, appearance, and ability to communicate with spirits.