Julie Black was working late into the night, painting and wallpapering the old Victorian she and her husband had just bought in Petaluma, when she first sensed somebody else in the room.
She felt it like a light rush of air, perhaps someone just brushing past. It was 3 a.m. The feeling persisted for the month she spent working alone in the house, getting it ready for her family to move in.
Black wasn?t superstitious, but she found herself reassuring the presence, ?I hope you like what I?m doing to the house.?
The Petaluma mom is quick to explain, ?I didn?t want to get on anyone?s bad side.?
Still, she kept her sightings to herself. But when her 5-year-old daughter reported seeing a white-jacketed gentleman in her room who made dust bunnies float in the air, Black was convinced maybe there was something to it. Later, she said she met a man whose mother had worked in the house years earlier when it was used as a medical office. He said the doctor died there, in her daughter?s room.
?I never felt scared. I just tried to make peace with him in the beginning,? said Black, who saw whooshing dust and heard a rocker in the attic creak often during the 12 years she lived in the house.
Whether a house is haunted or merely old, drafty, creaky and infested with vermin, a lot of otherwise smart, normal people like Black say they have experienced spooky phenomena they can?t explain in their homes.
A 2008 Associated Press survey found 34 percent of the respondents believe in ghosts; 23 percent reported seeing one. The ?reality? show ?Ghost Hunters? about paranormal sleuthers is one of the highest rated shows on the Syfy network.
Healdsburg Museum Research Curator Holly Hoods said someone comes in every six months or so to report a ghost in their house.
?Usually it?s lights flickering or doors being unexpectedly left open. If someone comes in with a ghost story, I treat it like historical research,? said Hoods. She makes no claims about what causes the weird happenings. But sometimes buried in the history of a place is a spine-tingling tidbit.
She recalls one house that seemed to have ?an unbearable sadness about it? and a strong impression of music. New owners doing some work on the 1870s Victorian found a time capsule with a girl?s name on it, containing a school paper and sheet music. Hoods said she found a news clip from the time about a 13-year-old girl who taught music lessons in that house house and was the fourth child in her family to die ? one month after the date on the capsule.
Despite the fact that most people love to hear a good ghost story, people who experience the bizarre are slow to spread it around.
?You?re afraid of being mocked or laughed at or considered a crackpot. And old buildings do make funny noises. There?s also the difficulty in verbalizing the experience,? said Kit Schlich, who as a member of Petaluma Heritage Homes has heard a number of ghost stories from fellow old house owners. She also confesses with a laugh there is something uncanny that goes on in her own ornate little Victorian.
?There?s one place in my house we call The Hall of Madness,? she said.