A True Ghost Story: Nurse's Haunted House

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By Debra Wood, RN, NurseZone contributor

Elaine Mercado kept sensing someone looking over her shoulder during her first few months in a grand, old home in the Gravesend area of Brooklyn, New York. But seeing no one, the former nursing student banished the resulting tingle and concentrated on her course work and her two daughters.

Footsteps on the stairs and an unexplained physical presence gave way to periods of normalcy in her life as Mercado graduated from nursing school and started working in an emergency room.

Before long, however, when she was home, giggles were heard, bouncing balls of light danced across the ceiling and shadowy figures frequented the baseboards. It would get worse. A gerbil cage hovered, then hit her daughter. The cat acted weird and performed "checking" rituals. But "checking" for what? Despite all the increase in paranormal activity in her home, Mercado felt ashamed and fearful of telling anyone about her life away from the hospital.

"I couldn’t get the words out that I was living in a haunted house, and at work, I was afraid [to say anything]," she said. "It’s a pretty responsible position. How could I say I didn’t sleep last night, because [there was] an invisible force?"

Mercado hosted a party but became uncomfortable at work when her ED supervisor attended the party and saw an apparition dressed in a wedding gown and little balls of light. The supervisor thought nothing of it, but Mercado worried about what her co-workers would say.

Finally, when a hostile, female presence and an intense suffocating dream sent a tearful Mercado scurrying downstairs clutching a pillow to her chest, she knew the time had arrived to take some action about the visitors.

"I was crying, asking, ‘What the hell am I going to do,’ " she said. "If I was triaging myself, what would I do?"

Mercado’s brother suggested hiring a medium. She did. The medium and parapsychologist Hans Holzer arrived to investigate. The medium quickly asked to see the basement and climbed into the crawl space, a dirt room. She began "conversing" with the spirit of a man named Estefan who said he had been working on a track and was buried alive in the area below the dirt room when a collapse occurred in the mid-1800s.

Apparently five people and two dogs suffered slow deaths on tracks running beneath the house, perhaps to a mine, but were not aware they were dead. The frightening contacts with Mercado and her family over the prior months were apparently pleas for help made by the spirit. The medium directed the spirits toward the light and moved upstairs only to discover the woman in white seen by Mercado’s supervisor. The specter apparently perished shortly after her wedding, possibly from suicide. The giggling may have come from three children the medium sensed had died in a fire in a tenement formerly occupying the site where Mercado’s home was built.

Today, Mercado hesitates to conclude the medium discovered all the answers. She would like to learn more about her home and the land it rests on but after investigating, Mercado failed to locate information in the local Hall of Records about a coal plant, bins, tracks or a tenement house.

"I’d love to dig up the dirt room," Mercado said, adding, "with a lot of other people around."

The "cleaning" by the medium may not have been 100 percent successful. At times, Mercado hears banging, smells strange odors and catches glimpses of something unusual. She has watched a young man at her front door dissolve. Over time, she has developed her own solution. When something strange occurs, she mimics the medium’s advice and tells the presence to "go toward the light."

"The house is reasonably comfortable now," she said. "But I’m still not quite sure what really was here."

Mercado no longer feels ashamed of her encounters with the paranormal and wrote a book, Grave’s End: A True Ghost Story, about her experience. She hopes it will help other families facing similar, unexplained phenomena. Living with spirits has left Mercado more open to the existence of spectral activity, an afterlife and near-death experiences.

"I feel a little more sure our consciousness probably survives this life," she said. The experience has made her more accepting of many other unexplained occurrences. "I will at least listen [to others’ stories]. If this stuff could happen to us, how could I negate other paranormal occurrences?"

What’s more, the hauntings have increased her capacity to deal with frightening things and comfortably assume leadership roles. She honors other people’s fears, even if she doesn’t recognize a situation as scary.

Mercado now writes part time and serves as a weekend and evening nursing administration supervisor at a community hospital. She has been interviewed by Dan Akroyd, traveled to book signings and was featured on television programs. And she answers all letters sent by the book’s readers.

Twenty years after buying the house and seven years since the "cleaning," Mercado’s confidence has soared. The events drew her closer to her children. Living with paranormal activity also helped her become more open and accepting of people and life.

"The experience made me a stronger person," she said. "And I’m actually, in total, not sorry it happened."

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