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

The Legend—and Truth—of Silverpilen, Stockholm's Spooky Ghost Train

iStock.com/Willowpix
iStock.com/Willowpix

Public transportation is a marvel of modern technology and a boon to city life. But if you’ve ever stood on a subway platform for a half an hour, you know there are caveats. For the people of Stockholm, you can add “haunted” and “will teleport you to another dimension” to the list of potential train complaints.

The Swedish legend of Silverpilen (or "Silver Arrow") goes back to the 1960s, when the Stockholm Metro purchased eight trains made out of aluminum. The material was standard enough for the time, but most Stockholm Metro cars were painted green. The transit authorities decided to leave these bare, which made them stand out from the rest of the cars. That wasn't the only thing that made the trains seem unusual: the interiors were laid out a little differently, and were missing the usual graffiti and advertisements. Soon, a legend was born: for Stockholm's commuters, any component of public infrastructure so pure—so unblemished—must have been a ghost.

An aluminum train said to be Stockholm's Silver Arrow
Stockholm's Silver Arrow
Maad Dogg 97, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Of course, any good ghost train needs a ghost train station. According to legend, the train’s destination was an equally unsettling, totally abandoned station known as Kymlinge. In Stockholm there’s a saying that loosely translates to: "Only the dead get off at Kymlinge." As the corresponding story goes, once you board the Silver Arrow, you never get off. Not because you get murdered, but because the train gets stuck in some kind of time loop and rides on for eternity.

In another version of the legend, the train does stop eventually, but only once a year. At that point, all the passengers have been on the train for so long that they appear to be among the undead, and are unleashed on the city in some kind of scenario out of The Walking Dead.

The truth of Silverpilen, and Kymlinge, is perhaps more interesting: The city of Stockholm was running the stripped-down train as a test. If the public didn't seem bothered by the bare-bones trains, the local transportation agency figured they would be free to construct a cheaper fleet.

But the people of Sweden thought the Silver Arrow—a nickname that seems to have popped up soon after the trains were introduced—looked derelict, and frankly downright dystopian. The creepiness factor was such that even if the train was running and relatively empty compared to a grimy, old, familiar green train, Stockholm locals avoided it. So while the metro used the trains as backups during rush hour for several decades, they were never very popular.

As for Kymlinge, construction on the station began just a few years after the so-called Silver Arrow started running. It was never finished, because the expected demand for the station, tied to a nearby redevelopment project, never arrived. The bare look of the station must have reminded people of Silverpilen—or people just figured if you come across an abandoned, half-finished subway station, and you already have a creepy ghost train, you’re going to pair them up.


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What’s so wonderful about the story of Silverpilen is that, unlike many urban legends, all the major pieces are real: there really is a silver train and a never-finished abandoned subway station. In fact, the cars of the Silver Arrow train weren’t decommissioned until the 1990s. Despite the fact that the train hasn’t been seen on the tracks for generations, the legend has been passed down, and younger generations of Swedes still whisper about its ghostly presence.

And there's still at least one place the out-of-service cars can be seen: at the Stockholm Police Academy. They’re used to train rookie cops on how to deal with in-process crimes on metro trains—though we're guessing that training does not include ghostbusting.

A version of this piece originally appeared on the Let Me Google That podcast.

The Truth Behind Italy's Abandoned 'Ghost Mansion'

YouTube/Atlas Obscura
YouTube/Atlas Obscura

The forests east of Lake Como, Italy, are home to a foreboding ruin. Some call it the Casa Delle Streghe (House of Witches), or the Red House, after the patches of rust-colored paint that still coat parts of the exterior. Its most common nickname, however, is the Ghost Mansion.

Since its construction in the 1850s, the mansion—officially known as the Villa De Vecchi—has reportedly been the site of a string of tragedies, including the murder of the family of the Italian count who built it, as well as the count's suicide. It's also said that everyone's favorite occultist, Aleister Crowley, visited in the 1920s, leading to a succession of satanic rituals and orgies. By the 1960s, the mansion was abandoned, and since then both nature and vandals have helped the house fall into dangerous decay. The only permanent residents are said to be a small army of ghosts, who especially love to play the mansion's piano at night—even though it's long since been smashed to bits.

The intrepid explorers of Atlas Obscura recently visited the mansion and interviewed Giuseppe Negri, whose grandfather and great-grandfather were gardeners there. See what he thinks of the legends, and the reality behind the mansion, in the video below.

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