In 1986 I had been a ghost hunter for just over a year. The challenge back then was trying to find places to investigate. The internet did not exist yet, and there were not many books on haunted places. The majority of those early investigations were discovered by word of mouth.
One such story was the ghost of “Old Joe.” Although the details varied from one person to the next, the basic elements involved a haunting of an abandoned farmhouse. The home was haunted by a ghost called “Old Joe.” Joe had acquired a great deal of wealth during his lifetime. However, Joe didn’t trust the banks with his money, so he buried it in stashes under his house and around on his property.
One day the IRS came calling, and Joe was determined that the government would not get any of his beloved cash. So he did what any crazy Texan would, grab a shotgun and start shooting. The ensuing gunfight did not go well for Joe. He was shot six times and died on the way to the hospital.
His ghost is supposed to haunt the house and surrounding land, protecting his hidden stashes of loot from the government and anyone else that is foolish enough to look for it. However, there was a simple problem with this haunting. Everyone knew the story, but no one knew where the house actually was. Most of the people telling the story had heard it second hand.
This changed one day in September when my friend and fellow ghost hunter, Ash, called me with some “good news.” He was helping a group of frontier re-enactors for a presentation on buffalo soldiers when one of the people involved started talking about “Old Joe.” According to Ash, this person claimed that he had actually been to the house and had drawn him a map which pointed out its exact location.
Excited at the possibility of a new location to ghost hunt, we decided to check out the site the following weekend. On the day of the ghost hunt, we were joined by Albert. He was a slightly stocky fellow who owned some professional audio gear. Together we set off in an attempt to find “old Joe’s” place. The map was a little vague and hard to follow. The old farmhouse was in the middle of nowhere and was reached by traversing old dirt county and farm roads. The only item that was a sure thing was the mailbox. According to Ash’s sources, it was white, heavily rusted and the name “Joe” was faintly visible on one side.
After two hours of searching multiple dirt roads and getting lost at least twice, we finally located the old mailbox. However, the house was situated past a barbed wire fence in a large field of grass that carried on into the horizon. It was a dull brown color as if it had lost the will to live and stopped growing altogether. Estimating the distance, I guessed that it was about a mile away.
We searched for a road in but had no success. Finally, it was decided that we would hike in. I was wary of that idea because a thunderstorm was slowly approaching from the west. Hopefully, we would reach the house before it arrived.
As the house drew nearer everything around me became quieter and more distant. From the outside, the house was tall, thin and in an advanced state of decay. The roof sagged severely on the south side, and the front porch was warped. The windows rattled vigorously from the howling wind, as though they were about to fall out of their rotted wood frames. A few potted plants lay next to the door, once there for neat presentation now wilted and brown.
The door had been left ajar perhaps for many years, or maybe someone was already in there. One solitary tree stood by the house swaying in the breeze. We paused underneath it to evaluate the situation.
While everyone vocalized concerns about the state of the house, we had expended too much effort to get here without at least having a look inside. So reluctantly, we moved onto the porch. I pushed the front door, and it opened with an ominous creak. Albert swallowed nervously, but Ash just chuckled and said something about the atmosphere. We entered a tall foyer absolutely festooned with dusty cobwebs. Graffiti was everywhere.
Directly ahead of us was an old wooden stairway leading upwards to the second floor. Each step looked so delicate and worn that if you were to walk up to steps, you would step right through them. To the right, I could see two more rooms, which looked to be a kitchen and a dining room. To the right of me was the living room. Cold, hesitant light streamed in through a cracked window, casting eerie shadows on the walls.
“Creepy!” Ash said enthusiastically. He bounded energetically into the center of the foyer, “Come to me, foul spirits!” he intoned loudly. I started to laugh when suddenly the whole house echoed with a sinister, unearthly sound.
Rap! Rap! Rap!
“What the fuck was that?” Ash exclaimed as he took several steps back. While Ash could be quite brave at times, he was also quite superstitious.
“Maybe something is trying to communicate with us,” Albert replied as he pulled out his tape recorder and moved towards the center of the room.
“If you would like to communicate with us, please make that sound again.”
We stood in the darkness waiting for a reply. Nothing. Except for the wind and thunder of the approaching storm outside, the house remained completely quiet.
“It sounded like it was coming from upstairs,” I said.
“You want to go up there?” Ash asked nervously.
“The whole damn house is fucked up. We could fall through the damn stairs, and I’m pretty sure that my health insurance doesn’t cover falling through some damn staircase in a condemned house.”
“Well whatever it was, it is upstairs. We’re not going to find anything looking down here.” I said nonchalantly.
Albert moved forward and looked under the ancient staircase, inspecting it with his flashlight.
“It appears to be okay. No signs of wood rot or anything. It should hold our weight.” he said as the flashlight’s beam moved up and down the framework of the staircase.
“Aww Damn,” Ash murmured under his breath. “Let’s go look upstairs then.”
So, with flashlights in hand, we started up the stairs as the sound of rain began to fill the room. The storm had arrived.
As we walked forward, I couldn’t help but feel that someone was following us. Whirling around, I saw nothing but the empty foyer and the faces of my fellow investigators staring off into the darkness that lied above. As we climbed higher the occasional bolt of lightning lit the entire area. The following thunderclap seemed to shake the very foundation of the house itself. The steps creaked horribly with each step. Suddenly I felt like I was in the middle of a B-rated horror film.
Halfway up, a shadow flickered at the corner of my vision. I froze, and as I stood there, I could smell a faint woody scent lingering in the air. Tobacco smoke?
Again we stopped and listened.
“Hello?” Albert shouted. There was no reply.
Ash looked nervous. “Oh man, there’s probably some old ass hobo up in here, waiting to rob us.”
Ash had a good point. There was a possibility that an actual person could be hiding in one of the rooms on the second floor. Self-defense had suddenly become a priority. We needed a stick. A big stick. The decaying banister offered a readily available answer. The banister rails were practically falling off, so I reached down and pulled one free. While it was not the preferred weapon of choice, it would work.
“That’s what I’m talking about,” whispered Ash as he retrieved a weapon of his own. “If there is some fool up here, I’m going to bop him in the damn head with my wallop stick.”
Lighting briefly illuminated the second floor through several broken windows as we strolled down the hallway leading to the bedrooms. Debris was everywhere. Ripped up bits of paper and fabric was cluttered across the floor. Whatever was up here, we would find it.
Ash and I ducked into the first doorway to investigate the room. It was completely bare except for the trash that was scattered around.
The sudden noise startled all of us. Ash whirled around as if he was about the parry an attack. I decided that it would be a good idea to move back and out of the range of his “wallop stick.” The noise seemed to come from the ceiling.
“Is there an opening that leads to the attic?” I asked.
There’s an opening over here” said Albert motioning towards the rear of the hallway. It was small, maybe 2′ square. A piece of plywood was placed over it from above to create a hatch. We all stood there for a moment wondering what to do.
So, who is going to go up first” Albert wondered out loud knowing that he was too hefty to fit through the small opening
“We will settle this like men!” cried Ash defiantly. “Rock, paper, scissors!. One, two, three…..DAMN!” Fortunately, my rock beat Ash’s scissors. He shook his head in defeat.
“I see how it is,” he joked, “send the negro in first.”
Albert gave Ash a boost up. He quickly pushed the hatch aside and pulled himself up into the darkness. As soon as he was entirely through, I followed.
The attic was not unusually high. We had to crawl through on a twelve-inch board that was nailed lengthwise along the studs of the ceiling. My viewpoint was not that awesome either. I could see off to either side, but my forward view was only of Ash’s ass. I was starting to wonder why we needed to send two people up here to investigate.
Ash grunted and continued moving forward. “The duct work is all ripped up. I think something is living in here,” he said as he crawled along. I stopped to take a closer look at the damaged duct when I thought I saw movement to my left in my peripheral vision. I quickly scanned the area with my flashlight but saw nothing.
Then, just as I started to move forward again, Ash screamed. I’m not talking about a startled kind of scream but a high pitched shriek of pure terror. The scream was rapidly followed by a barrage of curse words and more shrieks.
Now there was lots of movement on both sides of me. I pointed my flashlight towards the sounds of the movement to witness several squirrels darting by. Quickly the situation became apparent. We were surrounded now, not by just a couple of squirrels but a whole family of them and they were all pissed off. I felt something run across the back of my legs as Ash was frantically trying to move backward. I think that between the cursing and screaming he was trying to give me instructions. For the most part, I was not able to make out most of what he was saying, but one word I heard perfectly well. Rabies. The horrific idea of having to get multiple rabies shots flashed through my mind as we both were practically crawling over one another in a desperate attempt to reach the exit. One squirrel jumped me three or four different times. The second I got him off, he’d get right back on. I could hear the fabric of my jacket being torn as I jumped through the hatch.
Albert had bailed upon hearing Ash’s screams, so the landing was a little rough. I had barely gotten out of the way when Ash came crashing down behind me. We have both had enough of those irritated rodents and immediately fled from the house. Outside Albert was waiting for us. Fortunately, the storm had mostly passed, and the rain had stopped. Neither of us had gotten bitten, but Ash had several scratches on his hands and arms.
I looked back at the decaying farmhouse and noticed a squirrel sitting in one of the broken windows. At first, it seemed like the squirrel was eating something, then, for a brief second, it appeared that he flipped me off.
“That squirrel just flipped us off!” I laughed. Ash, who was not as amused as I was, shook his fist defiantly at the old house and yelled, “Goddamn squirrels!”
That phrase would stick with the group for quite some time as an inside joke to indicate that the paranormal events had a natural explanation. However, this misadventure taught us a lot about ghost hunting. If we had bothered to do some basic historical research, we would have discovered that “old Joe” was nothing more than an urban legend. If there had been a shootout between someone named Joe and the IRS it would have been big news and recorded in the headlines of the local newspapers. We could have avoided the squirrel attack and the wet and cold trek back to the van.