Composite via Hulton Archive / Getty Images and iStock
Composite via Hulton Archive / Getty Images and iStock

6 Famous Figures, Past and Present, Who Claimed to Have Encountered Ghosts

Composite via Hulton Archive / Getty Images and iStock
Composite via Hulton Archive / Getty Images and iStock

Being rich, famous, or influential has plenty of perks—but escaping the spirit world's torments isn't necessarily one of them. Here are six prominent individuals, both past and present, who have either claimed or been said to have had close encounters with ghosts.

1. JOAN RIVERS

A photo of comedian Joan Rivers.
Astrid Stawiarz // Getty Images

Few people—either living or dead—likely would have wanted to mess with Joan Rivers. But when the late comedian purchased a swanky Upper East Side penthouse condo in 1988, she found herself facing a formidable foe: the ghostly niece of financier and banker J.P. Morgan.

Rivers’s new home was a Gilded Age mansion, which was converted into condos in the 1930s. When she tried to renovate her own digs, however, she noticed a peculiar presence: “It was just very strange,” Rivers recounted in a 2009 episode of Celebrity Ghost Stories, according to the New York Post. “The apartment was cold. I could never get any of my electrical things to work correctly.” She also recalled that her pet Yorkshire Terrier refused to enter the room for months, and she saw strange graffiti on the walls.

When the building’s elevator operator heard about the strange occurrences, he reportedly said, “I guess Mrs. Spencer is back.” Instead of going head-to-head with the specter—who reportedly still thought of herself as "the grande dame of the building," according to Rivers—the comedian called in a New Orleans voodoo priestess to cleanse the home of spirits, and Rivers reported that her dog finally came into the apartment. But the hauntings soon returned—until Rivers made nice with the ghost by hanging a portrait of her in the building lobby and leaving flowers out for her.

In 2015, less than a year after Rivers's death, a Saudi prince purchased the penthouse for $28 million. According to reports, he disliked her decorating style and planned to gut-renovate the apartment. No word, however, on whether he’s also personally experienced the ire of Mrs. Spencer.

2. KING GEORGE IV

The coronation portrait of George IV by Sir Thomas Lawrence.
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Raynham Hall is a palatial estate in Norfolk, England with a spooky backstory: It’s reportedly haunted by a ghost known as the “Brown Lady of Raynham Hall”—and it's said that King George IV once saw the spirit with his own eyes.

The Brown Lady (who gets her name from her brown brocade dress) became world-famous in 1936 after photographers from Country Life magazine allegedly took a photo of her floating down the stairs in Raynham Hall. She’s believed to be the spirit of Dorothy Walpole, the sister of Great Britain’s first Prime Minister, Robert Walpole.

An important noble family called the Townshends built Raynham Hall in 1620, and a member of the clan—Charles Townshend, an 18th century British secretary of state—married Dorothy Walpole. The marriage was rumored to have been a bad one, and in 1726 Dorothy died around the age of 40, reportedly from smallpox. (One alternate tale says that Townshend pushed her down the estate’s grand staircase and she broke her neck; another claims she died of a broken heart.)

Dorothy’s spirit lingered, and Norfolk legend says that when King George IV was the young Prince of Wales, he slept in the estate’s State Bedroom and woke to see “a little lady all dressed in brown, with disheveled hair and a face of ashy paleness.” The future king left Raynham Hall immediately, and swore he would never spend another hour in the cursed house again.

3. SIR ARTHUR CONAN DOYLE

A picture of Arthur Conan Doyle with his dog.
Hulton Archive // Getty Images

At the peak of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's fame, the Sherlock Holmes author became obsessed with the paranormal. He believed in ghosts, wrote books about spiritualism and fairies, and attended séances. Sir Arthur didn’t believe he possessed supernatural powers himself, but in his 1930 book The Edge of the Unknown, he described several chance brushes he had with spirits.

In one anecdote, Sir Arthur described waking up “with the clear consciousness that there was someone in the room, and that the presence was not of this world.” His body was paralyzed, but he could still hear footsteps echoing across the room. Then, Sir Arthur said he sensed a presence leaning over him, and heard them whisper, “Doyle, I come to tell you that I am sorry.” Moments later, the mysterious visitor vanished, and Sir Arthur’s body unfroze.

Sir Arthur’s wife slept through the entire thing, but Doyle was convinced that the experience wasn’t a dream. He believed the ghost to be a “a certain individual to whom I had tried to give psychic consolation when he was bereaved.” The man had turned down Doyle’s offer “with some contempt, and died himself shortly afterwards. It may well be that he wished to express regret,” Doyle wrote. As for his sleep paralysis, the author believed that the spirit needed to borrow power from a living person to appear in the physical world, and it had chosen him.

4. STING

The musician Sting performing at a concert.
Nicholas Hunt // Getty Images for Cherry Tree

Fans of Sting know he’s no stranger to singing about ghosts. But in a few interviews, the ex-Police frontman claimed to have seen one, too.

At the time of his sighting, Sting had young children and owned a 16th century English manor house. One night, the musician awoke with a jolt at 3 a.m. He “looked into the corner of the room and thought I saw [my wife] Trudie standing there with a child—our child—in her arms, staring at me,” the musician recalled in a 2009 interview with BBC Radio 2.

Sting then reached over and noticed that Trudie was still in bed. He “suddenly got this terrible chill,” he said. “And she woke up and said 'Gosh, who is that?' and she saw this woman and a child in the corner of the room.''

The ghostly figure disappeared, but Sting’s spooky encounters were far from over: “A lot of things happened in that house, a lot of flying objects and voices and strange, strange things happened,” he said. “When you live in old houses, you get this energy there.”

5. ATHENODORUS CANANITES

"The Greek Stoic Philosopher Athenodorus Rents a Haunted House" by Henry Justice Ford
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Historians remember Roman magistrate and writer Pliny the Younger for his dramatic, first-hand account of Mount Vesuvius’s eruption in 79 CE, but he could also tell a good ghost story. Around 100 CE, the scribe wrote a letter recounting the time the Greek Stoic philosopher Athenodorus Cananites stayed in a haunted house.

“There was in Athens a house, large and spacious, which had a bad reputation as though it was filled with pestilence,” the tale began. “In the dead of night, a noise was frequently heard resembling the clashing of iron which, if you listened carefully, sounded like the rattling of chains. The noise would seem to be a distance away, but it would start coming closer … and closer … and closer. Immediately after this, a specter would appear in the form of an old man, emaciated and squalid, with bristling hair and a long beard, and rattling the chains on his hands and feet as he moved.”

The home was eventually abandoned, and it remained empty until Athenodorus came to town. He considered buying the property, but was suspicious about its low price. The philosopher would soon learn that the house was haunted—but surprisingly, this made him want to buy it even more.

Athenodorus purchased the home, moved in, and stayed up late working, hoping to run into the ghost. Sure enough, he eventually heard the rattle of chains, looked up, and saw the old man’s spirit standing in front of him.

The philosopher pretended to ignore the ghost, but the impatient ghoul beckoned toward Athenodorus, motioning for him to come outside. He did, and the old man vanished—but the next day, Athenodorus ordered for the spot he disappeared on to be dug up. There, he found the ancient skeleton of a man clad in chains.

The bones were given a proper burial, and the ghost never haunted Athenodorus—or any other citizen of Athens—again.

6. DAN AYKROYD

Dan Aykroyd at a film premiere.
Frazer Harrison // Getty Images

Dan Aykroyd’s experiences with spirits aren’t limited to Ghostbusters. In a 2013 interview with Esquire, he claimed to have once lived in a Hollywood abode that was haunted by singer Cass Elliot, from American folk rock group The Mamas & the Papas, along with the ghost of a man buried under a hillside next to the house.

“I had several experiences,” Aykroyd recalled. “I saw things moving around on our counter, and doors opening and closing. The staff also had experiences, direct contact in terms of tactile touching, and then turning around and there's no one there.”

One day, Aykroyd claimed, one of the two ghosts crawled in bed with him while he was taking a nap. He woke up “in a trance," he said, and noticed that the bedroom’s previously closed door was ajar. Then, the actor spotted “a depression in the mattress, like somebody was getting in there,” he said. Not one to be afraid of no ghosts, Aykroyd decided to snuggle the spirit instead of screaming for help.

Additional Source: The Mammoth Book of True Hauntings

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7 of the Most Bizarre Ways to Die
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iStock

While most of us hope death comes with dignity and being surrounded by loved ones, there’s really no telling what fate may have in store. If you manage to avoid some of the most common causes of expiration—heart disease and cancer are statistically the most likely causes to interrupt your existence—there’s an endless series of lesser-known maladies and tragedies that could conceivably cause you to miss the upcoming final season of Game of Thrones.

1. DEATH BY NASAL IRRIGATION POT

A woman uses a peti pot to clear her sinuses
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Neti pots, which are used to irrigate the sinuses of allergy sufferers, resemble teapots with a spout that allows water to be poured into one nostril and come out the other. Usually, the worst case scenario when using one is that you’ll make a huge mess and wind up with a sink full of snot-tinged water. But for two people in Louisiana in 2011, the pot facilitated the transmission of a brain-eating amoeba known as Naegleria fowleri. It’s believed the organism was transmitted by contaminated tap water contained in their residences, which they both used to fill their neti pots.

The amoeba, which is typically found in warm freshwater lakes, causes fatal brain swelling and carries a mortality rate of more than 97 percent—though infection is actually very rare. The fact that the deceased delivered it directly into their sinuses is what led to the fatal outcome. “Normally, it’s totally harmless, doing its own thing in the mud, eating whatever it finds there, going about its business, not bugging anybody,” Dan Riskin, biologist and expert on the Animal Planet series Monsters Inside Me, told Mental Floss last year. That changes when water harboring N. fowleri is violently shoved up someone's nose. That’s why you should never use anything but sterile water in your neti pots.

2. CHOKING IN A COCKROACH EATING CONTEST

Cockroaches are piled on top of one another
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Endurance and eating contests bring their share of peril. There was the case of the woman who died from dangerously low sodium levels after drinking too much water and holding in her urine for a 2007 radio promotion. Gastronomic athletes have died in an attempt to break hot dog eating records. But nothing compares to choking to death on cockroaches. According to CNN, 32-year-old Edward Archbold entered a bug-eating competition in 2012 that was sponsored by a Florida reptile shop. Archbold wolfed down a series of cockroaches and worms, only to find his airway blocked by the influx of their masticated body parts. The medical examiner ruled he asphyxiated on the bugs.

3. GRAPPLING WITH A VENDING MACHINE

A vending machine that offers a variety of options
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Weighing anywhere from 500 to nearly 900 pounds when empty, and even more when fully stocked, vending machines are the closest thing we have to the falling anvils of the cartoon world. When a machine eats bills or fails to dispense Doritos, some people can become agitated enough to think that rocking the unit is a good idea. It isn’t. An estimated 1700 injuries occur each year as a result of tussling with these monuments to snack storage, with roughly four deaths attributable to the duels.

4. POOPING TOO HARD

A man strains while using the toilet
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A fiber-rich diet and sensible cheese consumption should keep most people from enduring a most ignoble end. Straining to pass hard stool can result in something called defecation syncope, or poop-fainting. By holding your breath while bearing down to expel waste, the body’s blood flow is reduced. If you already have compromised arterial blood flow, the low blood pressure can trigger fainting or a heart attack. The University of Miami described two such cases in a 2017 paper. In postoperative hospital care, two patients experienced fatal cardiac events following excessive toilet straining.

5. DEATH BY LAUGHTER

A man laughs hysterically
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Some of us truly can suffer consequences during Home Improvement marathons, though not in the way you’d expect. A 2013 paper published in the British Medical Journal offered a litany of possible consequences from laughing, from the minor (fainting) to cardiac events as a result of preexisting conditions. Infamously, a bricklayer named Alex Mitchell died in 1975 after getting the giggles while watching a BBC sketch show titled The Goodies. Mitchell had Long QT syndrome, a heart rhythm disorder that can be worsened by the exertion of laughing. He went into cardiac arrest and died. His wife, Nessie, wrote the show's producers, thanking them for making her husband’s final moments happy ones.

6. KILLED BY A ROBOT

A robot arm holds up a wrench
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As technology improves, it seems inevitable that a robot will eventually stand trial for murder just as Isaac Asimov predicted. When that day comes, we may look upon late Kawasaki factory worker Kenji Urada as an early casualty. In 1981, Urada attempted to repair a robot at one of the company’s plants in Akashi, Japan. Urada failed to heed protocol, jumping over a fence rather than opening it—which would have triggered the machine to shut down. Instead, one of its massive arms pinned Urada to a nearby machine that cut up engine gears. Workers tried to intervene, but Urada was killed. A similar incident occurred in 2015, when a robot at a Volkswagen plant in Germany grabbed an employee instead of a vehicle part and crushed him to death.

7. FELLED BY AN ATOMIC WEDGIE

A man has his underwear yanked out of his pants
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For anyone who has never attended public school, a “wedgie” is committed when an assailant takes a fistful of a victim’s underwear and yanks, causing the garment to become lodged in the buttocks. While uncomfortable, it rarely proves fatal. An exception came in 2013, when a McLoud, Oklahoma man named Brad Lee Davis had a physical confrontation with his stepfather, Denver Lee St. Clair. After a struggle, Davis took St. Clair’s underwear and pulled it up and over his head, causing the elastic waistband to stretch tightly around his neck. The constriction caused his airway to become blocked, and he expired. Davis accepted a plea deal in 2015. “I did a horrible thing when I gave him that wedgie,” he lamented to authorities. Davis received a 30-year sentence.

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When the FBI Investigated the 'Murder' of Nine Inch Nails's Trent Reznor
Karl Walter, Getty Images
Karl Walter, Getty Images

The two people standing over the body, Michigan State Police detective Paul Wood told the Hard Copy cameras, “had a distinctive-type uniform on. As I recall: black pants, some type of leather jacket with a design on it, and one was wearing combat boots. The other was wearing what looked like patent leather shoes. So if it was a homicide, I was thinking it was possibly a gang-type homicide.”

Wood was describing a puzzling case local police, state police, and eventually the FBI had worked hard to solve for over a year. The mystery began in 1989, when farmer Robert Reed spotted a circular group of objects floating over his farm just outside of rural Burr Oak, Michigan; it turned out to be a cluster of weather balloons attached to a Super 8 camera.

When the camera landed on his property, the surprised farmer didn't develop the footage—he turned it over to the police. Some local farmers had recently gotten into trouble for letting wild marijuana grow on the edges of their properties, and Reed thought the balloons and camera were a possible surveillance technique. But no state or local jurisdictions used such rudimentary methods, so the state police in East Lansing decided to develop the film. What they saw shocked them.

A city street at night; a lifeless male body with a mysterious substance strewn across his face; two black-clad men standing over the body as the camera swirled away up into the sky, with a third individual seen at the edge of the frame running away, seemingly as fast as possible. Michigan police immediately began analyzing the footage for clues, and noticed the lights of Chicago’s elevated train system, which was over 100 miles away.

It was the first clue in what would become a year-long investigation into what they believed was either a cult killing or gang murder. When they solved the “crime” of what they believed was a real-life snuff film, they were more shocked than when the investigation began: The footage was from the music video for “Down In It,” the debut single from industrial rock band Nine Inch Nails, and the supposed dead body was the group's very-much-alive lead singer, Trent Reznor.

 
 

In 1989, Nine Inch Nails was about to release their debut album, Pretty Hate Machine, which would go on to be certified triple platinum in the United States. The record would define the emerging industrial rock sound that Reznor and his rotating cast of bandmates would experiment with throughout the 1990s and even today on albums like The Downward Spiral and The Slip.

The band chose the song “Down In It”—a track with piercing vocals, pulsing electronic drums, sampled sound effects, and twisted nursery rhyme-inspired lyrics—as Pretty Hate Machine's first single. They began working with H-Gun, a Chicago-based multimedia team led by filmmakers Eric Zimmerman and Benjamin Stokes (who had created videos for such bands as Ministry and Revolting Cocks), and sketched out a rough idea for the music video.

Filmed on location among warehouses and parking garages in Chicago, the video was supposed to culminate in a shot with a leather-jacketed Reznor running to the top of a building, while two then-members of the band followed him wearing studded jumpsuits; the video would fade out with an epic floating zoom shot to imply that Reznor's cornstarch-for-blood-covered character had fallen off the building and died in the street. Because the cash-strapped upstarts didn’t have enough money for a fancy crane to achieve the shot for their video, they opted to tie weather balloons to the camera and let it float up from Reznor, who was lying in the street surrounded by his bandmates. They eventually hoped to play the footage backward to get the shot in the final video.

Instead, the Windy City lived up to its name and quickly whisked the balloons and camera away. With Reznor playing dead and his bandmates looking down at him, only one of the filmmakers noticed. He tried to chase down the runaway camera—which captured his pursuit—but it was lost, forcing them to finish shooting the rest of the video and release it without the planned shot from the missing footage in September of 1989.

Meanwhile, unbeknownst to the band, a drama involving their lost camera was unfolding in southwest Michigan. Police there eventually involved the Chicago police, whose detectives determined that the footage had been filmed in an alley in the city's Fulton River District. After Chicago authorities found no homicide reports matching the footage for the neighborhood and that particular time frame, they handed the video over to the FBI, whose pathologists reportedly said that, based on the substance on the individual, the body in the video was rotting.

 
 

The "substance" in question was actually the result of the low-quality film and the color of the cornstarch on the singer’s face, which had also been incorporated into the press photos for Pretty Hate Machine. It was a nod to the band's early live shows, in which Reznor would spew cornstarch and chocolate syrup on his band members and the audience. “It looks really great under the lights, grungey, a sort of anti-Bon Jovi and the whole glamour thing,” Reznor said in a 1991 interview.

With no other easy options, and in order to generate any leads that might help them identify the victim seen in the video, the authorities distributed flyers to Chicago schools asking if anyone knew any details behind the strange “killing.”

The tactic worked. A local art student was watching MTV in 1991 and saw the distinctive video for “Down In It,” which reminded him of one of the flyers he had seen at school. He contacted the Chicago police to tip them off to who their supposed "murder victim" really was. Nine Inch Nails’s manager was notified, and he told Reznor and the filmmakers what had really happened to their lost footage.

“It’s interesting that our top federal agency, the Federal Bureau of [Investigation], couldn’t crack the Super 8 code,” co-director Zimmerman said in an interview. As for Wood and any embarrassment law enforcement had after the investigation: “I thought it was our duty, one way or the other, to determine what was on that film,” he said.

“My initial reaction was that it was really funny that something could be that blown out of proportion with this many people worked up about it,” Reznor said, and later told an interviewer, “There was talk that I would have to appear and talk to prove that I was alive.” Even though—in the eyes of state, local, and federal authorities—he was reportedly dead for over a year, Reznor didn’t seem to be bothered by it: “Somebody at the FBI had been watching too much Hitchcock or David Lynch or something,” he reasoned.

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