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The Ghost of a Sound (Queries & Comments)

At Twilight on the Western Door we appreciate questions about potentially psychic and paranormal experiences. Below is a slightly edited e-mail exchange between this column and a resident of Glenwood, N.Y.

Q: On Friday, January 2, 2015, at around 10 am my friend and I decided to run at Sprague Brook Park. We usually run the hiking trails in the woods, and the runs last around 1 1/2 hours. Anyways, why I’m emailing you is that during my run when I was completely alone (my friend is a faster runner), I heard sleigh bells or chimes. It happened briefly. They rang for about two to three seconds, then stopped. I was in the middle of nowhere, so to speak. I thought it might be a dog at first but I did not see a dog, or anyone for that matter. It is winter so my line of sight is better this time of year. The ringing happened just once and did not continue. I didn’t know what to make of it so I kept running after a momentary pause.

Even though I continued on with the run, the feelings I had when it happened were quite powerful. I felt like I was “brushing up” on something I can’t explain. I feel I suppressed these feelings as I haven’t told anyone until today… I told my friend who I ran with that day today too.

The event started to bother me during the past week. It just didn’t make sense. What are your thoughts on this? I would appreciate any feedback.

C: Thank you for sending this. Before I tell you what I’m thinking, it would help me to know as exactly as possible where you were when you heard this effect.

Which side of the creek were you on? Were you on the ski trails or the newer bike/hiking trails? Were you in the open on an ATV trail? Were you near any kind of trail at all?

I should also ask about the sound-quality. Did the bells seem to be above you; were they permeating the area around you; or did they seem to have a source somewhere near you, like an actual bell-ringer that could have been on a nearby trail? In short, did the source of the sound seem to have any “spot”?
When you reply, I will give you my assessment.

Q: I bought a map of Sprague Brook this week because I wanted to get a better idea of the area. I also went back yesterday to Sprague Brooke to try to determine the exact location. Unfortunately when I heard the bells I wasn’t paying too much attention to my exact location. I have narrowed it to two locations.

Possible location #1): Near the kiosk that overlooks the gorge/valley. I believe it was about 1/4 mile after this kiosk that I heard the bells.

Possible location #2): On the “new loop trail” near the northern open field.

The sound had a direction and a “source.” As I was returning back from my loop run (finishing my loop) the sound came from my left. I turned my head quickly anticipating seeing something – a dog, I initially thought. I stopped and tried to focus on the area where I heard the sound originate. It sounded about 20-30 feet away. It sounded like sleigh bells… It sounded very real. This is and was the unnerving part.

C: Thank you for the clarification. A spiritualist would probably decide at this point that you had heard from a spirit – or Spirit, as many of them say – and that it had a message for you. A skeptical materialist would probably tell you that there was either some material cause you had overlooked or that you had imagined the event. I take a middle course.

I presume that you have looked as hard as I would and ruled out any material explanations – any real bells or cell phone chimes or any natural sources of the sound you heard. Only when we rule out natural possibilities do we start thinking about supernatural ones. With that understanding and taking your account at face value, here’s the way I would process things.

My guess is that you experienced a relatively routine incident of spontaneous psychic phenomena. (They aren’t all visual: ghosts. They don’t all happen in famous haunted houses or graveyards.) This was a psychic sound effect. I would guess that it was the recreation of some aspect of an event in the past of that spot. You experienced the echo of a moment of time, not its mirage. You experienced “the ghost of a sound.” If that was your first encounter with spontaneous psi (“sigh”), as it’s abbreviated – or at least the first one you recognized – it’s no wonder that it might electrify you.

No one knows why spontaneous psi might happen, but the reports have their tendencies. If your encounter was true to form, anyone else who happened to be in the same place at the same time would have heard the same thing. That effect should not follow you to any other place, and even if you spend considerable time at the site of your original experience, you will probably never hear it again. It was no threat, it was no sort of message, it should be no sign of an escalating pattern, and you are not weird, at least not based only on that report.

Your estimate of the duration of your experience – two to three seconds – is also in the pattern. Most reported spontaneous psychic effects are brief, between one and five seconds.

As for the potential “real” sound your effect could have been: The area in which you had your experience has been settled by whites for around 200 years. You were just uphill to the east from Rt. 240, one of Erie County’s older roads. There would have been farms on each side of it, and the area would have been crisscrossed with horse-and-wagon trails for generations. One of the old farmers in the hood might well have had bells on his cart or sled and gone past the spot of your experience several times in the course of his normal week. Had you seen him with his horses as a collective apparition, it would probably have lasted a few seconds and most likely been soundless, as are most ghosts in the consensus of credible witnesses.

It’s entirely possible that if we put enough time into research, we might even find a mention in somebody’s family papers about the farmer with the bells on his cart. Half the farmers in Erie County could have done the bell-thing, for all I know. I’m not haunted enough by the scenario to look that hard. Even if we did find a match, it wouldn’t prove there was any connection to a living person or a past event. It would merely provide a suggestion. I’m OK with this remaining a mystery, as it would be to any thoughtful person anyway. There is no certainty in matters like these, just a body of inference. I think we have a long way to go before psi is understood as a phenomenon.

©2015 Mason Winfield

Mason Winfield is the author of eleven books on supernatural-paranormal subjects.

Twilight on the Western Door welcomes questions and comments.

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Written by Mason Winfield

Mason Winfield

The founder of New York’s original “supernatural tourism” company Haunted History Ghost Walks, Inc., Mason Winfield studied English and Classics at Denison University and earned a master’s degree at Boston College. In his 13 years as a teacher/department chair at The Gow School (South Wales, N.Y.), he won a 50K cross-country ski marathon and was ranked among the Buffalo area’s top ten tennis players. A specialist in upstate supernatural folklore and an award-winning fiction writer, Mason has written or edited 11 books, including the regional sensation Shadows of the Western Door (1997) and Iroquois Supernatural (Inner Traditions International/Bear & Company, 2011). A lecturer whose talks have been sponsored by Poets & Writers, New York Council for the Humanities, “The Big Read,” and the National Endowment for the Arts, Mason is also a spoken word artist who has appeared at City of Night, Buffalo; Rochester Fringe Festival; and Piccolo Spoletto Festival (Charleston, S.C.).

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