About ten years ago, a little girl living in the comfortable Boston suburb of Newtonville began talking with a nice grandmotherly lady upstairs whom nobody else in the house had met and whose feet always floated above the floor.
The girl’s parents researched the imaginary friend’s name, Mrs Woodman, along with another name they’d heard from their daughter, Gridley. They discovered that a real Jane Gridley Woodman had lived in their house at the turn of the Twentieth Century. The little girl’s Mrs. Woodman had seven children, as had Jane, with the same number of boys and of girls as Jane’s children.
The visits lasted for years. At some point, the apparition began to ask the little girl for a favor. It was just a hint at first, but Mrs Woodman became more and more insistent as time went on.
Here’s the link:
For a few comments on what happened, please read on.
There is no question that Jane Lawrence Gridley Woodman was a real person. She is mentioned in a few of Emily Dickinson’s letters, as the news story reports. She plays a larger role in William Gardiner Hammond’s Remembrance of Amherst: An undergraduate’s diary 1846-48 (George F. Whicher, editor; Columbia University Press, 1946), the book shown in the story. Young Mr. Hammond was very taken with the teenaged Jane, but Jane married someone else, Dr George Sullivan Woodman, in 1849.
An unattributed 1906 newspaper obituary for Dr Woodman transcribed on a genealogical site confirms that he had practiced in Newtonville at the end of the Nineteenth Century, and that he was buried in Amherst. Jane survived him, as did five of their children, according to the clipping. The site lists two other boys who had died young, citing the Latter Day Saints’ genealogical database. The overall gender break for the seven reported live births was five boys and two girls.
It is very impressive for a five-to-ten year-old to report so much earthly information from a spectral source. An advantage of videotaped testimony is that you can see the faces of the witnesses. These people visibly believe what they are saying, in my opinion. However, the assumption that the girl couldn’t have known by natural means isn’t close to air-tight.
Her mother is the city solicitor for Newton, of which Newtonville is a part. Mrs Kahn appears to have been working as a lawyer for the city at least as far back as June, 2007, which would be late in the series of visits. The girl’s father had been, since January 2001, a board member of the Newton Historical Society. He left their board last year, after more than ten years’ award-winning service.
Ten years ago, the house was listed and mapped in a city tourist publication, as a “historic” site of interest. The brochure dates the house to about 1878, which corresponds with the genealogical site’s placement of Dr Woodman’s practice in Newtonville from 1878 to 1900. The brochure mentions that, as of its July 2002 publication date, the house was under renovation. That would have been before Mrs Woodman’s visits, unless those began while the house was still being worked on. Somebody appears to have been interested in the history of the house before the parents say they began to research the names.
Thus, the opportunity for information leakage is very high. By leakage, I mean that people routinely know more than they know they know. This is especially relevant when one parent is a lawyer for the city, the other sat on the city’s historical society board, and both have restored a landmark old house in the city. The little girl may have picked up on lots of things that might not have stuck in her parents’ recollections. For example, wasn’t there a real estate title search when the family bought the property? The name Woodman, and even the name Gridley, might easily have appeared there, even if the information was not consciously retained by either parent.
The little girl’s sources might also have included other people besides her parents, like neighbors familiar with the house, and possibly familiar with previous spectral encounters, too. Maybe the girl herself might have seen something evocative while visiting the house with her parents during its gutting “down to the studs.”
Then again, maybe not. Experienced readers must suspect by now that the Uncertaintist is equally delighted to uncover powerful unconscious forces as to greet a ghost. Either way, the world is a richer place than it is for those who can find no wonderment in any such things.
Update: Another positive ghost story, where the neighbors’ information plays a part in the naturalistic explanation, is presented here: