Grave's End: A True Ghost Story
Ever since it was revealed that Jay Anson's 1977 book The Amityville Horror was almost certainly a hoax - after it was labeled and marketed as a true story - I have approached other such-labeled books about the paranormal with a higher degree of skepticism. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.
When I received Grave's End: A True Ghost Story (Llewellyn Publications) several weeks ago, The Amityville Horror hoax came immediately to mind. The setting of the story, for one thing - a section of southern Brooklyn called Gravesend - seemed just too fitting.
After reading the book, however, and subsequently hearing an interview with author Elaine Mercado, I found the story quite believable - as believable as any tale of poltergeist activity, psychokinetic phenomena, disembodied voices, ghosts and psychic cleansing can be. I've been immersed in this subject long enough and corresponded with enough people with similar or related experiences to know that such things are not only possible, but may be more common than most people would care to acknowledge. The cause of all this phenomena is open to debate - spirits, psychic energy from the living or some other unknown - but there's no denying that it exists and that people experience it on a daily basis. Elaine Mercado's family were some of those people.
The Mercados - Elaine, her husband, and two young daughters, Karin and Christine - bought their house in Brooklyn, New York in the winter of 1982. Although it needed a lot of work and there were some difficulties with the former owners, in many respects it was the house of their dreams. It soon became the house of their nightmares, however. Almost from the beginning, Elaine and Karin (11 at the time) were nagged by the feeling of "being watched." And from there the bizarre phenomena continued and escalated over a 13-year period, and was relieved finally by a renowned ghost hunter and a medium.
Grave's End has all the elements of a good ghost story: an ordinary American family caught in extraordinary circumstances, unexplained phenomena, a threat to health and well-being, surprising revelations about the cause of the haunting, and the "rescue" by the ghostbusters. Elaine Mercado, a registered nurse by profession, unfolds the story in this, her first book, in a sincere, conversational style that lends to its credibility. She avoids sensationalism and hyperbole, and presents the events as they happened to her in a tone that reflects her own astonishment at the puzzling, incredible phenomena and her deep concern for her family through it all.
Paralleling the ghostly phenomena is the disintegration of Elaine's marriage and an eventual divorce. Although her husband does not experience - or perhaps acknowledge - as much of the haunting as Elaine and her daughters, it is a source of tension between the parents. Yet Elaine makes it clear that it is not the cause of the breakup.
And what they endure over the 13 years, measured against almost any other case of a haunting, is remarkable. The feelings of being intently watched by some unseen entity can be unnerving enough, but these quickly are accompanied by a range of physical phenomena: scratching and banging noises, strange behavior of the pet cat that seems to sense something, objects being moved, a roving misty figure, eerie shadows, mysterious balls of light, and even full-blown ghostly apparitions. Most frightening are the episodes of sleep paralysis or night terrors that Elaine and her daughters fall victim to. They awake in the night, unable to move, and with the terrifying feeling of suffocation and an unknown presence in the room. These episodes occur so frequently that the women both expect and dread them.
Most fascinating is the suspected focal point of the haunting: a small dirt room in the basement of the house. It is here that the ghost hunter and his companion medium discover the secret of the haunting. And this is no run-of-the-mill ghost hunter. Elaine is fortunate to enlist the services of Hans Holzer, whose name and reputation bring a great deal of credibility to this story. Holzer, the author of more than 100 books on ghosts, hauntings and paranormal phenomena has a decades-long reputation as an expert paranormal investigator and one of the world's foremost authorities on such matters. (Holzer also wrote the introduction to Grave's End.) And he brings with him a respected medium, Marisa Anderson. Together they are able to contact the entities in the house, who themselves may have been the victims of a centuries-old tragedy.
When reading a story like this, the question repeatedly comes to mind: Why on earth would this family stay in a house where such horrifying things are taking place? To her credit, Elaine Mercado addresses this enigma several times in the book with plausibility. According to the book jacket, in fact, she still lives in the once-haunted house.
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