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.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 behaviour 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.
Interview with Elaine Mercado
UC: How about illustrating a couple of experiences that you had in the house? I’m sure that will serve as a good reason for people to go out and get the book. It really is just a fascinating story. Tell us some of the scariest things that happened – things that really got you frightened or alarmed.
EM: I’d like to read the way I described it because no matter how much I try to say it “ad lib,” somehow the descriptions I originally wrote just say it exactly the way I felt it.
I used to experience it along with my older daughter. Toward the end other people in the house – friends, family – experienced what we grew to call “suffocating dreams.” But they really weren’t dreams because we were awake, but I had no other way to describe them. Just briefly, this is what I wrote in the beginning of the book; this is what it felt like. Picture that I’m in my bedroom, usually with my husband sleeping next to me, who was oblivious to this at that time, and this is what would happen. I would try to go to sleep, and then at some point I’d open my eyes, fully awake. I was aware of my kitchen light that I could see through the bedroom door, I was aware of my cat, I was aware of feeling everything.
Reading from Grave’s End: “The pressure on my chest radiates to my shoulders, pressing them into the bed. It’s as if a liquid weight has spread itself all over my body, paralyzing my limbs and torso, allowing me to breathe but denying me the ability to move. I struggle to open my eyes, but achieve nothing but frustration and failure. I am not asleep; I am fully conscious in a state of panic unthinkable during the day, intolerable in the dark of night, held prisoner by some tortured invisible presence insistent on abruptly invading my slumber. The more I struggle toward freedom, the more I am pushed into the mattress, perspiring, heart palpitating, a scream involuntarily silenced within my throat. Some nights I experience my skin being stroked while I fight to regain control of my body and my sight. Thank God this was not one of those nights. Tonight it lets me open my eyes, shaken but unviolated, frightened but not as frightened as I know I can become.”
UC: That’s disturbing.
EM: That’s what it felt like. It was those things, those feelings, that were the worst part of the haunting for me.
UC: As for the haunting itself, I know you noticed a few little things leading up to that. What were some of the little things leading up to it?
SJ: About how soon after you moved in did the disturbances start?
EM: Immediately. What happened is that we took my brother into the basement. It was really old – it was gross. There were two oil tanks that were painted chartreuse green. He said he started feeling watched but didn’t tell. He figured his sister had bought the house already and maybe it was his imagination, so he didn’t say anything to me.
It was a busy time. My kids were both in school, and I started nursing school, which was an insane period of time. My parents had to baby-sit my children, I had to get them variances to other schools, I was in class, I was in the hospital. Whenever I was alone in the house, I felt like something was staring at my back. I attributed it to tension and not wanting to be alone. I thought maybe I was feeling anxious and tried not to be alone too often in the house. But I certainly didn’t mention it to anybody; I figured it was just me.
SJ: And this feeling happened everywhere except for your daughter’s room, right?
EM: Right. But I didn’t notice that it wasn’t happening there until many years later. That’s the only room I didn’t get the suffocating dreams in, but I didn’t attribute that room as being safe for many years. That was my daughter’s room, so I didn’t spend a lot of time there. There were two bunk beds in this little tiny room.
UC: And what was the Cheesebox Room?
EM: The master bedroom. We called it the Cheesebox Room, but honest to God, I cannot remember why we called it that. But there were a lot of bad rooms.
SJ: But the worst room in the house was the basement, correct?
EM: Well, we had a dirt room. At some point in time, the 30’s or 40’s, the house was moved on wheels from a different location not too far away, and put down on half of a basement. So the basement was only half the length of the house. The back half was the dirt room. There was a crawlspace for plumbing and whatever, and we called that the dirt room. I never opened it or looked at it for a couple of years.
UC: What are some of the things that happened in that basement?
EM: There were not nice things that happened there. One of my daughters and her friends started opening up that room and crawling about. I didn’t know they were doing it. At the same time we started hearing footsteps going up and down the stairs. We heard our names being called. We spent so much time going, “What is it? What? Did you call me?” You do that until you realize something’s going on. We heard laughter. We heard what sounded like garbled voices of men talking.
SJ: You mentioned the things you saw and other phenomena in the house. In the book you talk about these dancing lights and shadows, the scurrying shadows. What did they look like, and how often did you see them?
EM: We saw them once in a while. When the house was active, it was maybe every few days for a few months. Then they would go away. They were about the size of a ping-pong ball, and they had the appearance of a flashbulb when it pops off. They would just kind of go along the ceilings of only the living room, the dining room, and a little bit in the hall before my bedroom. They never ventured anywhere but there. They seemed rather pleasant. There was no fear attached to them at all. We’d notice them, they’d do their thing, and go away.
UC: Whereas the shadows were a little bit more menacing?
EM: The shadows . . . the scurrying shapes . . . they seemed sad. And they seemed like these grayish pillowy type things. They would appear around the baseboards and kind of move about. If you looked at them, it was almost like are they there? Are they not there? Then they would go away. But they brought with them a sense of sadness. Just a kind of down feeling.
The balls of light were interesting. I remember the first time I saw them, I was lying on my stomach watching TV and Karen and Christine were sitting on the couch. I wear glasses. When I first see these things, I think it’s my glasses. I keep moving my head trying to make it happen again. The girls are laughing because they had been seeing them for a while without saying anything to me. Then another one came, and I went, “Whoa, that wasn’t my glasses.” They said, “No, Mommy, we’ve been seeing them.” They thought they were cute.
Scott Johnson: Okay, I guess it’s up to me to get things rolling again. Elaine, you said that your ex-husband absolutely did not believe the house was haunted.
Elaine Mercado: Right. He thought we were nuts.
SJ: What does he think now?
EM: Well, we don’t talk that much about it, but toward the last few years that he was there, he did have some experiences. He saw a very dark presence coming and enveloping him in bed. He saw a skeletal woman sitting at the end of his bed. He had a few really nasty experiences.
SJ: Does he tend to rationalize those as dreams now?
EM: Yes. Yes, he does.
SJ: So we’re still listing him as the non-believing type.
EM: Yeah. I don’t think he wants to believe. That’s okay.
EM: Now, at some point – and this was after I was writing the book – I got a lot more confident as the years went by in that something was in our house. I wasn’t crazy; my kids weren’t nuts; something was in my house. So I decided to ask my neighbor about it. I had already asked my neighbor on the left, and he just laughed at me so I didn’t bother him anymore. But the one on my right . . . we were closer. I asked him, “Tony, did anything strange that you know of ever happen here?” He said, “What took you so long to ask me?” He said that he used to baby-sit there when he was a teenager, and he heard the footsteps and all the noises. Then he refused to baby-sit there anymore. Not just that, but he said a little lady died upstairs in my daughter’s bedroom. You know, this still affects me.
I asked him what he meant, and he said that the old couple’s son married a very, very petite woman. She was 18 or 20 at the time, and Tony was a young boy. He remembers how “wonderfully tiny” her waist was. She was standing on our stoop posing for pictures when they got married. Then she moved in upstairs on the third floor, which eventually was Karen’s room. So apparently a few years later this woman died. Some people said it was a heart attack; some people said she hit her head on the night table and had an aneurysm. He never really got the story straight.
So, that’s three objective corroborations of this lady in the little dress. Then, after hearing the story, how sad was I about it. Oh my God, there was pain here. And sadness. And Tony also said that at some point the son also died. Someone said drowning; someone else said heart attack. So now I zoom back in my head to the old woman who lived here before who was very sad. Well, why shouldn’t she be sad? Look at what happened in her life. So she wasn’t just a little old lady anymore. She was that sadness that I felt looking at her that day.