Troy Taylor is the author of more than 50 books about history, hauntings, and the unexplained in America. He is the founder and president of the American Ghost Society, a national network of ghost hunters that collects accounts of ghost sightings and haunted houses, and uses investigative techniques to track down evidence of the supernatural. He's also a dad.
"Maggie's Toys" By Troy Taylor
Although it's normally been my experience with cases that I have worked on in the past, that children are much less frightened by ghosts and ghostly activity than adults, my own personal experience involved a daughter who was far too young to understand our haunted house when we lived there.
When I first moved to Alton, Illinois, in 1998, I was told that the building in which I opened the History & Hauntings bookstore was haunted by the ghost of a little boy. The structure is an old bakery that was first built back in 1857, and the ghostly boy was supposed to have been the son of a man who worked for the bakery. Apparently, he spent a lot of time in the place with his father, and even sometimes slept on a cot in the back when his father came in early in the morning to prepare the bread dough, and had become attached to it when he died. The story went that he passed away at a very young age, but his spirit remained behind.
I mostly forgot about the story for the next year or so, and then around that time, some of the staff members that I had who worked on weekends began reporting some disconcerting incidents. They spoke of hearing footsteps walking about in the bookstore and hearing paper rattle or whispering sounds when no one else was in the place. Was this merely a case of overactive imaginations at work?
Apparently not, for one day in the early part of 2000, when I was working alone in the store, I was standing at the front counter, laboring over some paperwork, when someone took hold of the back of the sweatshirt that I was wearing and gave it several sharp tugs to get my attention. I turned to see what they wanted and was startled to realize that no one was there. This got my attention, just as whoever had pulled on my shirt had wanted, and I began to think that perhaps weird events in the store were not just the imagination of the staff members at work after all.
A few weeks later, an even more compelling incident occurred, and I no longer doubted that someone was sharing this place with me. I was working in the back of the store and was using a metal pry bar to take apart an old staircase that someone had given to me. I planned to use the wood to make some signs and shelves for the store. As I was working, the telephone rang and I left the metal bar on the stairs and went to answer the call. After a few minutes, I returned to the project but had a slight problem -- the pry bar that I had been using had disappeared. Convinced that I must have left it somewhere on the way to the telephone, I searched the back room and storage area for about 20 minutes. It was nowhere to be found, but still convinced that I had just misplaced it, I went back to work using a large screwdriver and completely forgot about the incident.
Two weeks later, I was once again in the store and walked back to the back room for some supplies. As I walked past, I happened to glance over toward a shipping table that I used almost every day to wrap up packages of books to be mailed out. I had just used the table that morning and when finished, there had been nothing left on it. Amazingly, though, it had something on it now -- the metal pry bar that had vanished two weeks before! It had not been on the table just minutes before but now it had returned from wherever it had been without explanation. There had been no one else in the store that day and no way that it could have ended up there on its own.
In the weeks and months that followed, more eerie incidents occurred, many of which were witnessed by friends, other staff members, and customers who came to the store to shop or to attend one of our tours or events. Over a period of time, many other items appeared and disappeared, including books, important papers, and a variety of other things. Strange sounds were heard and my alarm was set off on a couple of occasions when no one was in (or even near) the building.
These incidents continued for quite some time and then in June 2002, everything changed. In that month, my daughter Margaret (Maggie) was born. At the time, I lived in a loft above the store, but it had never been bothered by the strange events that plagued the bookstore. However, that soon began to change. It seemed that our ghostly little boy was looking for a new playmate.
The first incident occurred when Maggie was only a few weeks old. My wife and I were sitting down to dinner when we heard a crashing sound from the other room. When we went to see what it was, we found that a "welcome" sign that was hanging near the door had somehow managed to travel all of the way across the room and end up on the floor. There was no way that it could have fallen off the nail. It had been hanging in the same spot for almost four years at the time and we had never experienced a problem with it before. We didn't realize it at the time, but this was only the beginning of the strange events to follow in our home. It was almost as if someone had decided to take us up on the invitation that the "welcome" sign had inadvertently offered.
The most chilling event occurred when Maggie was about three months old. She was in her bed asleep one night but woke up and started to cry around 2:00 a.m. (as babies often do). Her cries that came through the baby monitor woke me up and I started to get out of bed and go to check on her. Suddenly, her crying was accompanied by another sound through the monitor -- the faint tinkle of music. Now very concerned, I hurried into her room to see what was going on and discovered that she was now lying quietly, watching the mobile above her bed going around and around and playing music as it turned. Maggie was only a few months old by this time and was much too small to have reached up and turned on the mobile by herself. Someone had actually wound it up completely in order for it to start playing. It had not somehow been triggered on its own because at that time -- we had never used it!
As time went on and the baby got bigger, she was able to sit by herself in the living room and play with toys. This is when I started to notice an interesting (and unnerving) phenomenon that began to take place. This new development was the tendency for her toys to vanish and to operate by themselves. I started to notice the disappearance of certain toys whenever we would go into the other room for dinner in the evenings. We would leave toys out on the rug for her to play with. When we came back, and on many occasions, some of the toys would be gone. They always came back later -- often after a day or two -- and were always found in spots where we had already looked for them. This happened quite often, but for the most part, whatever was making the toys vanish seemed more contented to make them operate by themselves.
An ongoing problem in the house became toys that suddenly started working, singing, or playing music (depending on the toy) when no one is around it. In every case, these toys had to be manually turned on. They didn't just operate on their own, at least under normal circumstances, but often when you least expected it, they would turn on. This happened at all hours of the day and night, from afternoon to the early morning hours, and it was not unusual to hear the sounds of music playing or cows mooing coming from another room -- or even in the same room you were in.
I was home one evening with Maggie and she and I were the only ones in the house. After she had gone to bed, I was sitting in the living room watching television and happened to look over and see our cat crouching on the floor and staring very intently at one of Maggie's toys. The toy was a sort of tall pole with a circle on top that plastic balls could be placed inside of. When the ball was pushed down into one of the slots, music would start playing and the ball would go around and around and then shoot out the bottom. The cat seemed to be looking at something but I wasn't too interested in what it was and went back to watching television.
A few minutes later, I glanced back over and saw that the cat was now closer to the toy and crouched even lower. She looked as though she was ready to pounce and was still staring at the toy. Suddenly, I heard music start to play and the whirring of a ball as it started going around and around the base and then a click as it went out the bottom. Instead of pouncing, the cat frantically ran off into the other room and I confess to being a little startled myself -- especially when I realized that all of the plastic balls that went into the toy had previously been lying in the slots at the bottom of it. Someone would have had to have picked up the ball and placed it into the opening at the top for it to start working. I knew that I didn't do it, and the cat couldn't quite manage it, so that only left our resident little ghost.
We moved out of the loft (and away from Alton) in 2004, but the ghostly little boy remained behind. He still bothers the new owner of the bookstore and the apartment on occasion, but I have been assured that he has never been as active as when he had my little girl to play with.