Ghostel: A Collaboration With the Departed

I’ve had a photo book project idea on my mind for the last 12 years; since this one weekend in late November 2006 to be exact. When something like this stays top of mind for such a long time, there has to be a reason for it, and I feel I will soon have a better understanding why. It took me the past four days to find and go through all my memory sticks and external hard drives and I finally came across the journal entry that I was searching for from this aforementioned weekend (a slight indication that I need to be more organized).  

It had been an interesting experience during a solo weekend road trip with a bed and breakfast stay in Brockville, Ontario. I brought with me, my first digital SLR camera (a Canon 10D), and planned to take photos of some winterscapes in this beautiful historical Canadian town, as the weather channel had predicted a heavy snowfall in the coming days. I was feeling down at the time, between jobs and lonely in my relationship. I often did road trips with my camera; which I found to be quite therapeutic. Working on my art actually allowed me to appreciate the alone time I would ordinarily despise. Little did I know, the weekend turned out to be not so lonely at all. And the abnormal events which took place would eventually fuel my idea for a very unique photo book project.

A quick iPhone selfie before shooting with the ghost of a little boy in the Congress Plaza Hotel.

A quick iPhone selfie before shooting with the ghost of a little boy in the Congress Plaza Hotel.

The following are excerpts from my personal journal:

25th of November 2006

“Passing Kingston, then Gananoque, I finally found myself in Brockville. I drove down to the water to find a quaint little town along the St. Lawrence. The buildings were so old; the bricks dark and weathered. There were quite a few churches; more than what seemed needed…”

“After driving around and realizing that I was a little lost in the small cobweb of a downtown area, I decided to give the B&B a call to redirect me. It turned out I was just around the corner, a stone’s throw away. Ironically, the house was made of stone; stone and brick dating back to the mid-nineteenth century…”

“I walked into the old house to meet the owner. His name was Jun. He moved here from China and had just recently bought the house as well as a restaurant on King St., the main strip in town. He was a chef and was so noticeably happy to have me as a guest. Almost as if I was his first since he bought the place. As he was talking with me, I had a sudden strange feeling came over me. I felt like someone else was watching me, I really felt there was someone else there besides the two of us, but at the time, I chose to shrug it off. Jun gave me keys to the front door and to my bedroom and asked what time I wanted breakfast in the morning. I told him that 9 o’clock would be great. He then showed me to my room and said he needed to go. I asked him where exactly he lives in the house and he said that he actually didn’t live in the house at all. I asked about the other guests and he replied that nobody else would be there during my stay; that I could come and go as I wished and to make myself right at home. And then he left.

I unloaded my van and subsequently carried my things up the creaky staircase to my room. The house was beyond beautiful; very romantic and Georgian in style.  Wide baseboards and crown moldings, archways in the hall typical to the earliest of pre-century homes. My room was wallpapered in a vintage floral design. There was a beautiful antique chair, also with a floral handcrafted tapestry which rested beside the queen-sized bed. I love one-of-a-kind chairs, if I had room to collect them I would; unfortunately they are not stamps.  The ensuite bathroom was obviously an add-on; the house most likely had an outdoor latrine at the time it was built, there wouldn’t have been electricity either. This house was like a museum and I was attracted to the energy it was emitting; I could feel it. I promptly took out my camera while the light shone through the bedroom window and decided to take some photographs while using the camera’s self-timer function. I had left my ramshackle of a tripod at home so it was a bit difficult to position the camera, but I ended up capturing some great photographs nonetheless.

After my self-portrait shoot in the vintage bedroom in this romantic yet somewhat eerie house, I put on my coat, grabbed my camera and headed towards the town. It was sunny while I was in the house but it seemed that as soon as I stepped out into the fresh air, the clouds rolled in. Dark, grey, heavy looking snow clouds, I waited for the white virtuous snow but it never came; detained up in the dark clouds as if it were being held hostage. The town had a sense of sadness; the stone buildings in lament. I felt as if they were stuck in time and wanted to break free…” 

“…After dinner, I walked back to the house where I am now; sitting in my bed, alone, with this miniature bottle of red wine and many thoughts in my mind waiting to be written into this journal. I say that I am alone, but I feel like there is someone here. Is it the wine? Does wine make you hear things? I’m going to say yes. Wine and footsteps… a common occurrence. Happens all the time, I actually think I read about that in the news.  I know that alcohol distorts your vision as well and that is why the mirror keeps angling itself toward me so that I can see my own reflection. I’ve fixed it once already. I am not going to play games and let my craziness get the best of me. I’d like to blame it on the wine but I haven’t had more than three ounces…….”

26th of November 2006

“When I left off last night, I experienced a very chilling yet exhilarating experience I’ve had in a long time. I was apparently the only person in that old stone house, though footsteps made their way up and down the stairs to my bedroom door as I sat in my bed. The television fuzzed out and when I tried to change the channel, it didn’t make a difference. I went to turn it off by using the remote and, nothing happened, so I yanked the plug out of the wall! I was so frightened that other electronics would start having a life of their own that I promptly turned off my laptop and lamps in the room and lay there under the covers. Well… not minutes later, I continued to hear noises coming from other areas in the house; footsteps and doors closing. I also heard the wind pick up outside and the whistling sound that it usually makes in those scary movies. 

There I was in the middle of my own scary movie. I’ve had experiences in the past with ghosts and unexplained occurrences but it had been quite some time since my last; and this time I was completely alone; no one to run to. I thought of sleeping outside in my car but for some reason I felt that I would still be safer in the house. Though these spirits didn’t seem malevolent; I truly felt that they simply wanted to make themselves known. I wasn’t about to try and communicate with them, I knew better than that; but I decided to stay in the room. I got up, walked across the creaky floor and angled an upright mirror away from me as I didn’t like to see my reflection and whatever else I might see. As I got back into the bed and looked at the mirror, it was angled back at me. My heart skipped this time and I immediately shut my eyes so that I could not see anything, not a faint light around me nor a dark shadow; I did not want to see a thing. I pulled the covers over my head and tried to fall asleep; I soon was awakened by voices whispering little incomprehensible words directly in my ear; my heart beat so fast that I thought it was going to explode inside of me. I felt the need to pee and contemplated getting up to go to the bathroom. (I now fully understand the term “pissing one’s pants” when scared). As soon as I made a little move in that direction, it sounded as if the bathroom door had been locked from the inside. Needless to say, I held my pee, all night long, and slept periodically until about 6am when the liveliness in the home seemed to have passed.  At that point, I was able to get a couple hours of decent sleep.

I woke in the morning and made my way to the bathroom, unsurprisingly, I could not open the door. I guess someone didn’t want me in there which was fine by me. I threw on a pair of jeans, my sweater, and my sneakers, and promptly packed my bags. I heard the owner come into the house and start clanking dishes in the kitchen. He was there only 5 minutes before my breakfast was to be prepared. I made my way downstairs and he greeted me with a nervous like smile. “How was your night?” he asked. I wanted to tell him about it but I also felt that I didn’t want any type of confirmation that the place was haunted. I almost felt better just being able to pass it off as my paranoid self. This way, I would be able to leave it all behind; no ghost will be following me home.

After Jun served breakfast, he decided to split once again. He told me to leave the keys in the mailbox upon my exit. That I did. I finished my breakfast and got the hell out. After I loaded up my van and attempted to put the keys into the mailbox, something made me stop. I felt drawn to go back into the house one last time. I walked in and was immediately hit with a sense of sadness, almost as if the spirits didn’t want me to go. I walked up the stairs and stepped into each bedroom, one by one. The whole house just seemed so lonely. I shut each bedroom door as if I had just said goodnight to a child that slept in each of those rooms and I made my way back down the stairs. I leaned in to close the front door of the house and felt that I would be back someday…”

This trip and the supernatural experience I had has never left me. I’ve known for years that I had to build upon it. Along with my well established fascination with the supernatural, was an idea to develop a project based on the connection that ghosts try to make with our realm. It was obvious to me that these spirits wanted to be heard, or at least “felt”. 

Ghosts want us to know they exist. That weekend, they chose me to be a witness and possibly a messenger. I started planning this project but ended up shelving it for a long time; however, I resumed this past year while in California, with a visit to the Hotel del Coronado and the ghost of Kate Morgen. I have a long list of haunted hotels and ghosts to include in the book (which I plan to be very different to any other published haunting book). Self-portrait photography in haunted hotels and B&Bs, is just one of the book’s components.

I did further research on Kate Morgan with this helpful book. “Beautiful Stranger, The Ghost of Kate Morgan and the Hotel Del Coronado” published by Hotel Del Coronado Heritage Department.

I did further research on Kate Morgan with this helpful book. “Beautiful Stranger, The Ghost of Kate Morgan and the Hotel Del Coronado” published by Hotel Del Coronado Heritage Department.

I take self portraits in order to give up full control over the photograph as I have when I’m behind the lens. I really can’t see what is happening around me and behind me as I use my remote shutter tool. I’m opening the door to the unexpected and unexplained; a light or a shadow or some other surprise from these hauntings to appear in my images. It is said that cameras can sometimes record things that are not visible to the human eye. I’m putting this to the test in dozens of haunted hotels waiting capture any energy that may surround me from the ghosts themselves. A few days ago, I set up my tripod and shot in Chicago’s haunted Congress Plaza Hotel with the ghost of a little boy (and possibly an old man as well, who came to check in on what I was doing).  I couldn’t be more pleased with what I came away with that afternoon.

Another great source on the supernatural is National Geographic (always been a favorite of mine). The second image is more from the book on Kate Morgan which contains official accounts of her 1892 visit and why she haunts The Del today.

Another great source on the supernatural is National Geographic (always been a favorite of mine). The second image is more from the book on Kate Morgan which contains official accounts of her 1892 visit and why she haunts The Del today.

Over the next few months, my schedule will be busy. This is an exciting time for me to finally be working on a personal project which is not only challenging but quite exhilarating and daring as some would say. Ironically, being in the presence of ghosts or “the departed”, makes me feel very alive. I’ve been studying the topic of ghosts since my early teens and I feel fortunate to have had a handful of experiences with them thus far; hoping to have more throughout the course of this project. 

My book will be entitled “Ghostel”