Anatomy of a Haunting by Lee Strong (Llewellyn, 2013)

Carlie and Jon Summers moved from their comfortable home in Chicago to rural Iowa when they inherited an old home from Carlie's Aunt Grace, who had died in a mysterious house fire on the property. Although the house had been on the market for two years in 1981, there had been no takers, so Carlie and Jon decided to move to the place where Carlie had lived with her aunt and uncle during some traumatic times in her life.

Upon returning to the dilapidated and spooky house, Carlie's impression was deeply personal and powerful. “To her, the house emanated a sense of desolation and abandonment, as if it were lonely---as if it were waiting for her.” (p.3) Carlie had the strong sense that the house, or whoever occupied it presently, was in dire need of her presence.

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Jon, however, had a different response to the property. “To him, the interior was dark and oppressive; the air was stagnant and heavy and reeked of burnt wood and electrical wiring. In the kitchen, a hole in the roof had allowed access for a family of raccoons or some other creatures into the rest of the house. Their musky urine scent permeated the raw wood surfaces of the floors, countertops, and cabinets. The combination of these odors was so prevalent and overpowering, it made Jon's eyes water.”(p.4) As he continued to investigate his new abode, Jon felt the “icy glare” of someone staring at him, warning him that coming to live in this house was not a great idea. From the get-go Jon received a very bad vibe about the house on Baxter Road and really didn't want to live there.

Author Lee Strong, a member of the Midwest Paranormal Society, the American Paranormal Society, and the American Association of Writers, spent years interviewing Carlie Summers and investigating the story of the haunting of the McPherson House, as the old manse was named for its first owners, 150 years before. The original owners, Ian and his fourteen year old bride, Edith had immigrated from Ireland to America, hoping to start a wonderful and fruitful new life together. Strong avers that the book Anatomy of a Haunting retells the supernatural events as they were told to him by the woman who survived the experience.

The fact that Strong included numerous photographs of the families who had inhabited the house in the past House (and may be haunting it still) added credence to the tale. The pictures, which were peppered throughout the book, forced the reader to stare and ponder over the heinous acts that were committereputedly.

When a series of calamities occurred after Carlie and Jon moved into their renovated house, including Carlie's business associate, Dexter having a debilitating stroke, and the foreman of the team of men who worked on restorations in the house reporting that several of his men had been injured mysteriously on the job, that the Carlie and Jon began to feel extremely uncomfortable in their home. Coupled with other unexplained and frightening ghostly appearances in the house, Carlie and Jon decided to conduct their own investigation into the history of their home to see if they could find out the causes of the bizaare experiences that they were enduring.

Armed with hundreds of old journals left by former residents of the McPherson House, Carlie and Jon searched for the answers as to why several spirits haunted their home. The earliest journals were written by Edith, the young wife, who revealed that she had been raped and become pregnant by a stranger. Once her husband, Ian, who had a vile temper, learned of the pregnancy, he had nothing but contempt for his wife, and for her son, Andrew. Although Ian allowed the child to grow up in the house, Andrew was treated little better than a dog, and upon his eighteenth birthday, Andrew was tossed out of his home by the man who despised him. The seeds of the tragedy that continued to stalk Jon and Carlie were sown in that tale of the first unfortunate souls to inhabit the property. Carlie noted Edith's final entry in her journal to reflect the rejection of her illegitimate boy, “Tonight I am going to ask Ian if there is something we might do for the boy. I don't feel right just throwing him out in the world as we did.” (p. 204)

The torments that Jon and Carlie experienced while living in the home are terrifying and often life threatening. Strong described in such events in excruciating detail. Carlie, in particular, had visions and out of body experiences that brought her into direct contact with the spirits who remained in the house, including Ian, Edith, Andrew, as well as other children who had lived there. Both Jon and Carlie experienced physical torments as well as mental ones.

Throughout Strong's reportedly truthful account of this horrific haunting, the reader can't help but ask the question, “If Jon and Carlie were so terrified of what was happening in this house, if they were so afraid for their lives, why did they stay?” It is nearly impossible to believe that anyone would be so crazy or stupid to remain in a house that threatened to kill them.

However, the answer to that question depends on whether or not one believes in ghosts, and if one believes in possession. Carlie was determined to stay until she freed the spirits of those tied to the house. Had the house driven her beyond the point of rationality? Did she stay because the spirits of the house had taken control over her free will and despite her losses and pain, she was unable to leave, no matter what the cost to her personally, until she succeeded in releasing them?

As we approach the holiday of goblins, ghosts, and ghouls, The Anatomy of a Haunting is an interesting and compelling read. Fast paced and interesting, Strong poses questions for the reader as to their own views on the paranormal. The book will spark discussion on experiences that others may have had with ghostly encounters. An Anatomy of a Haunting is a recommended reading as we usher in the spirits of Halloween.