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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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The Bizarre Death of Bridget Cleary, the Irish "Fairy Wife"
The town of Tipperary, Ireland
The town of Tipperary, Ireland
Amergin, Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

The policemen had been combing the green yards and fields of Ballyvadlea, Ireland, for a week when they finally found Bridget Cleary. The 26-year-old's body had been wedged beneath several inches of clay and a jumble of thorn bushes, but her corpse showed wounds caused by something much worse than branches: Her spine and lower limbs were so badly burned that parts of her skeleton were exposed. She was naked, except for a stocking and one gold earring, and her head was encased in a sack.

The judge would later describe the events leading up to Bridget's death as demonstrating "a degree of darkness in the mind, not just of one person, but of several—a moral darkness, even religious darkness." It was the end of the 19th century, not exactly the Middle Ages, but those involved in the end of Bridget's life had become convinced that she wasn't really herself—and that a supernatural creature had taken her place.

GONE WITH THE FAIRIES

Bridget was the wife of a cooper named Michael Cleary, and the pair were regarded around town as a relatively happy couple. They shared their cottage, in a remote townland near Tipperary, with Bridget's father, Patrick Boland, and had no children. Michael was nine years Bridget's senior and earned a decent salary; she brought in some extra income by working as a seamstress and egg-seller. By all accounts, they were more prosperous than their neighbors, likely thanks to her resourcefulness. As a literate, independent, and fashionably dressed working woman, she was part of an emerging class in a rural society that had long been based in agriculture and the oral tradition.

It was also a society steeped in legends of the supernatural. Fairy belief, in particular, was pervasive in Irish rural societies at the time, and had long coexisted with Christian doctrine. Children grew up hearing legends of the Little People from their earliest days, and learned how to appease them by leaving untasted food on the table, for example, or saying "bless them" whenever the fairies were mentioned. The fairies were blamed for everything that went wrong—lost items, spoiled milk, bad crops. As one County Sligo man interviewed at the start of the 20th century told an anthropologist, "Nothing is more certain than that there are fairies."

Bridget herself was known to be fascinated by the beings, and to take trips to the most fairy-ridden spots around town. She may have visited such a spot on Monday, March 4, 1895, when she went to deliver eggs to her father's cousin, Jack Dunne, near Kylenagranagh Hill. The area was home to a ringfort, an early medieval circular fortified settlement believed, in Irish folklore, to be a "fairy fort," and thus to be avoided at all costs. Yet Bridget often visited the fort, and she likely spent time there that Monday after delivering the eggs.

It was a cold morning, the mountains still covered in the snow that had fallen the previous day, and after the two- or three-mile walk Bridget couldn't seem to warm up once she got back home. She spent the following day in bed, shivering and complaining of "a raging pain in her head."

That Saturday, her father walked four miles in the heavy rain to ask the doctor to call on her. But the doctor wasn't able to visit until the following Wednesday, and by then her husband had also gone to summon him twice. They should have been reassured by the doctor's diagnoses—"nervous excitement and slight bronchitis"—but it wasn't this ailment that worried Michael. He was convinced that the bed-ridden woman in their cottage was "too fine," in his own words, to be his wife, and that she was "two inches taller" than the woman he had known. At some point, Michael had developed the belief that Bridget had been replaced by a fairy changeling as she passed near the fairy fort on Kylenagranagh Hill.

"ARE YOU BRIDGET BOLAND?"

It is likely that this idea was planted in Michael's head by his confidante, Jack Dunne. According to Irish historian Angela Bourke, who has researched the case extensively, the 55-year-old Dunne was a charismatic man rumored to have the power of divination. He was known in the area as a seanchaí, a sort of storyteller well-versed in fairy mythology.

On Wednesday afternoon, after the doctor's visit, a priest visited. He wasn't overly concerned about the illness, but decided to administer the last rites in case it worsened. The ceremony emphasized the fact that Michael could lose his wife, which distressed him even more. He talked to Dunne, who urged him to act immediately, or the "real" Bridget would be lost forever. "It is not your wife is there [sic]," the older man reminded him. "This is the eighth day, and you had a right to have gone to Ganey"—the local "fairy doctor"—"on the fifth day."

The cooper duly visited Ganey following morning. He came back with a mixture of herbs that needed to be boiled in "new milk," the nutrient-rich first milk produced by a cow after calving.

That night, Michael forced the bitter concoction down Bridget’s throat while Dunne and three male cousins pinned her down in bed. Relatives outside the house heard someone—likely Michael—shouting, "Take it, you witch, or I'll kill you!" The men threw urine at her and shook her, yelling, "Away with you; come home Bridget Boland, in the name of God!" Other relatives and neighbors came and went, witnessing her ordeal and hearing her screams, but were too scared to intervene. Michael asked his wife to answer her name three times: "Are you Bridget Boland, wife of Michael Cleary, in the name of God?" The men then brought her to the fireplace and held her over the grate—ordeals by fire were known to drive out the fairies—while they repeated the questioning.

By midnight Thursday night, the ritual seemed to be completed. Bridget was "wild and deranged," according to her cousin Johanna, but her husband seemed satisfied, and her relatives thought there had been some sort of catharsis. The following morning, at Michael's request, the priest said mass in Bridget's bedroom in order to banish the "evil spirits" that were left in the house.

"IT IS NOT BRIDGET I AM BURNING."

An image of fairies from fairies from "The Poetical Works of Percy Bysshe Shelley"
Fairies from "The Poetical Works of Percy Bysshe Shelley"
British Library, Europeana // Public Domain

On Friday, March 15, for the first time in 11 days, Bridget got out of bed and dressed in her usual, fashionable clothes "to give her courage when she would go among the people," as Johanna later told the magistrates. Several family members had joined them in their cottage for tea later in the day when an argument erupted. Bridget had asked for some milk, which had rekindled Michael’s suspicions; fairies are known in folklore to yearn for fresh milk.

Bridget was probably exhausted, and she didn't want to be questioned any more. "Your mother used to go with the fairies and that is why you think I am going with them," she told her husband. Michael was furious. He demanded that she eat three pieces of bread and jam—perhaps to reinforce his control over her—asking her to say her name again. She answered twice and ate two of the three pieces, but when she hesitated for a moment with the third, her husband flung her on the ground and threatened her: "If you won't take it, down you will go."

Michael jabbed his knee into her chest, forcing the bread and jam down Bridget's throat. He began tearing off her clothes, leaving only her chemise, then grabbed a hot stick from the fire and held it close to her mouth. He struck her head against the floor, then set her chemise alight. Within a few minutes, he had also poured paraffin lamp oil over her, encouraging the flames.

As her body was burning, Michael said in front of shocked relatives: "She's not my wife. She's an old deceiver sent in place of my wife." Relatives yelled at Michael to put out the flames, but Bridget "blazed up all in a minute," according to their later testimony. They huddled in fear in a nearby bedroom, the flames soon barricading their way.

Once the flames had died down, Michael wrapped her body in a sheet and shoved it in an old bag. Then he left the house, locking Bridget's relatives inside with the corpse. They waited for about an hour, praying. When Michael returned, he was wielding a knife and threatened to kill Bridget's cousin Patrick Kennedy if he didn't help him bury Bridget's body. "Come on out here now," he shouted. "I have the hole nearly made." The two men carried the body to a boggy area about a quarter-mile uphill from the cottage, and buried it in a shallow hole. Back in the cottage, Michael made the rest of the family swear they wouldn't tell the authorities.

ON A WHITE HORSE

The following morning, an agitated Michael arrived at Drangan church with Dunne. Dunne wanted Michael to speak to a priest, but when the priest saw him kneeling in front of the altar—weeping, tearing his hair, and asking to go to confession—he thought he wasn't fit to receive the sacrament. He spoke to Dunne instead, who hadn't been at the cottage at the time of Bridget's death, but told the priest that Michael had claimed to have burned his wife the previous night. "I've been asking them all morning to take her up and give her a Christian burial," Dunne added. Bewildered, thinking them both insane, the church minister reported their conversation to a police sergeant.

For the next few days, the police searched for Bridget and questioned her friends and relatives. Even though Michael spoke about emigrating or committing suicide to escape the law, he still hoped his "real wife" would come back: For three consecutive nights starting the day after visiting the priest, he waited at the ringfort on Kylenagranagh Hill, where he believed she would appear, galloping on a white horse. He said he would only have to cut the ropes that bound her to the animal so she would be his forever.

On Wednesday, March 20, the Royal Irish Constables issued arrest warrants for eight people from Bridget's circle, as well as Denis Ganey, the "fairy doctor." Two days later, police found Bridget's body. The prisoners were brought before the magistrates on March 25, ushered in by the angry screams of a crowd who had learned of the case through extensive press coverage. On July 5, 1895, after a two-day trial, Michael was found guilty of manslaughter and imprisoned, along with Jack Dunne, Patrick Boland, and four of Bridget’s cousins, including Patrick Kennedy. The judge ruled out a verdict of murder, explaining they all had acted out of genuine belief.

Michael was released in 1910, after which he boarded ship for Montreal. Dunne served a three-year prison sentence before returning to the area, where he kept working as a laborer. "God knows I would never do it but for Jack Dunne," Michael had reportedly said not long after burning Bridget. "It was he who told me my wife was a fairy."

ILLNESS—OR INFIDELITY?

During her illness, Bridget was visited by her aunt, Mary Kennedy, and told her, "He [Michael]'s making a fairy of me now. He thought to burn me about three months ago." Her words suggest this wasn't the first crisis of its kind.

Although we can only speculate about the couple's disagreements, there were rumors in Ballyvadlea that Bridget had a lover. Contemporary newspapers reported Michael saying his wife "used to be meeting an egg-man on the low road" [sic], but the rumors pointed to young caretaker William Simpson, who had visited the Clearys' cottage with his wife the night before Bridget’s death. In his court testimony, Simpson explained he had arrived as the four men were restraining Bridget, and he had asked them to leave her alone.

Although Michael and the other people involved in the killing were never formally psychiatrically assessed, a 2006 article from the Irish Journal of Medical Science suggested that Michael may have been suffering from a psychotic state known as Capgras syndrome, which involves the belief that a person has been replaced by an impostor. The authors suggest Michael "may have developed a brief psychotic episode" as he struggled to deal with his wife's illness, sleep deprivation, and the recent death of his father—news of which had reached him in the middle of his attempted "cure" on Thursday night. In Capgras syndrome, the socio-cultural context of the sufferer determines the nature of the impostor, which can be another person or even a supernatural being, such as an alien or a fairy changeling.

In her discussion of the supernatural beliefs related to the case, Bourke notes that the message of fairy legends is that "the unexpected may be guarded against by careful observance of society's rules." Bridget Cleary was ambitious, independent, and childless; a modern woman. She didn't conform to the patriarchal norm, which may have made her appear, to some in her life, as closer to the fairy realm than to their own.

Even today in Tipperary, her story hasn't been entirely forgotten. The local children have a nursery rhyme that runs: "Are you a witch or are you a fairy, / Or are you the wife of Michael Cleary?"

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U2’s 360-Degree Tour Stage Will Become a Utah Aquarium Attraction
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The immense stage that accompanied U2 on the band’s 360° Tour from 2009 to 2011 is getting an unexpected second life as a Utah educational attraction. It will soon be installed over a new plaza at the Loveland Living Planet Aquarium outside Salt Lake City.

The Claw, a 165-foot-tall structure shaped like a large spaceship balanced on four legs—a design inspired by the space-age Theme Building at Los Angeles International Airport—was built to house a massive speaker system and cylindrical video screen for the band’s performances. Underneath it, a 360° stage allowed U2 to play to audiences surrounding the structure in all directions. To make it easier to tour 30 different countries with the elaborate system, which took more than a week to put together at each concert location, the band had several versions built.

U2 and its management have been looking for a buyer for the 190-ton structures since the tour ended in 2011, and it seems they have finally found a home for one of them. One of the two remaining Claw structures is coming to the Utah aquarium, where it’s being installed as part of a plaza at the institution’s new, 9-acre Science Learning Campus.

A four-legged, industrial-looking video-and-sound-projection rig rises over a crowd at a concert
The Claw at a Dublin concert in 2009
Kristian Strøbech, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

As the only Claw in the U.S., the alien-looking feat of engineering will be "preserved and sustainably repurposed as a Utah landmark and symbol of science exploration and learning," according to the aquarium's press release. As part of the expansion project, the 2300-square-foot stage system will play host to festivals, movies, and other special events in two venues, one with 7000 seats and the other with 350.

The $25 million Science Learning Campus hasn’t been built yet—construction is starting this fall—so you’ll have to wait awhile to relive your U2 concert experience at the aquarium.

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