famous, or influential has plenty of perks—but escaping the spirit world’s
torments isn’t necessarily one of them. Here are six prominent individuals,
both past and present, who have either claimed or been said to have had close
encounters with ghosts.
1. Joan Rivers
living or dead—likely would have wanted to mess with Joan Rivers. But when the
late comedian purchased a swanky Upper East Side penthouse condo in 1988, she found herself facing a formidable foe: the
ghostly niece of financier and banker J.P. Morgan.
Rivers’s new home
was a Gilded Age mansion, which was converted into condos in the 1930s. When
she tried to renovate her own digs, however, she noticed a peculiar presence:
“It was just very strange,” Rivers recounted in a 2009 episode of Celebrity
Ghost Stories, according to the New York Post. “The
apartment was cold. I could never get any of my electrical things to work
correctly.” She also recalled that her pet Yorkshire Terrier refused to enter
the room for months, and she saw strange graffiti on the walls.
building’s elevator operator heard about the strange occurrences, he reportedly
said, “I guess Mrs. Spencer is back.” Instead of going head-to-head with the
specter—who reportedly still thought of herself as “the grande dame of the
building,” according to Rivers—the comedian called in a New Orleans voodoo priestess to cleanse
the home of spirits, and Rivers reported that her dog finally came into the
apartment. But the hauntings soon returned—until Rivers made nice with the
ghost by hanging a portrait of her in the building lobby and leaving flowers
out for her.
In 2015, less
than a year after Rivers’s death, a Saudi prince purchased the penthouse for $28 million. According to
reports, he disliked her decorating style and planned to gut-renovate the
apartment. No word, however, on whether he’s also personally experienced the
ire of Mrs. Spencer.
2. King George IV
Raynham Hall is a palatial estate in Norfolk, England with a spooky
backstory: It’s reportedly haunted by a ghost known as the “Brown Lady of
Raynham Hall”—and it’s said that King George IV once saw the spirit with his own eyes.
The Brown Lady
(who gets her name from her brown brocade dress) became
world-famous in 1936 after photographers from Country Life magazine
allegedly took a photo of her floating down the stairs in Raynham Hall. She’s
believed to be the spirit of Dorothy Walpole, the sister of Great Britain’s
first Prime Minister, Robert Walpole.
noble family called the Townshends built Raynham Hall in 1620, and a member of
the clan—Charles Townshend, an 18th century British secretary of state—married
Dorothy Walpole. The marriage was rumored to have been a bad one, and in 1726
Dorothy died around the age of 40, reportedly from smallpox. (One alternate
tale says that Townshend pushed her down the estate’s grand staircase and she
broke her neck; another claims she died of a broken heart.)
lingered, and Norfolk legend says that when King George IV was the young Prince
of Wales, he slept in the estate’s State Bedroom and woke to see “a little lady
all dressed in brown, with disheveled hair and a face of ashy paleness.” The
future king left Raynham Hall immediately, and swore he would never spend
another hour in the cursed house again.
3. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
At the peak of
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s fame, the Sherlock Holmes author became obsessed with the paranormal. He believed in ghosts,
wrote books about spiritualism and fairies, and attended séances. Sir Arthur
didn’t believe he possessed supernatural powers himself, but in his 1930
book The Edge of the Unknown, he described several chance
brushes he had with spirits.
In one anecdote,
Sir Arthur described waking up “with the clear consciousness that there was
someone in the room, and that the presence was not of this world.” His body was
paralyzed, but he could still hear footsteps echoing across the room. Then, Sir
Arthur said he sensed a presence leaning over him, and heard them whisper,
“Doyle, I come to tell you that I am sorry.” Moments later, the mysterious
visitor vanished, and Sir Arthur’s body unfroze.
Sir Arthur’s wife
slept through the entire thing, but Doyle was convinced that the experience
wasn’t a dream. He believed the ghost to be “a certain individual to whom I had
tried to give psychic consolation when he was bereaved.” The man had turned
down Doyle’s offer “with some contempt, and died himself shortly afterwards. It
may well be that he wished to express regret,” Doyle wrote. As for his sleep
paralysis, the author believed that the spirit needed to borrow power from a
living person to appear in the physical world, and it had chosen him.
Fans of Sting
know he’s no stranger to singing
about ghosts. But in a few interviews, the ex-Police frontman claimed to
have seen one, too.
At the time of
his sighting, Sting had young children and owned a 16th century English
manor house. One night, the musician awoke with a jolt at 3 a.m. He “looked
into the corner of the room and thought I saw [my wife] Trudie standing there
with a child—our child—in her arms, staring at me,” the musician recalled in a 2009 interview with BBC Radio 2.
reached over and noticed that Trudie was still in bed. He “suddenly got this
terrible chill,” he said. “And she woke up and said ‘Gosh, who is that?’ and
she saw this woman and a child in the corner of the room.“
figure disappeared, but Sting’s spooky encounters were far from over: “A lot of
things happened in that house, a lot of flying objects and voices and strange,
strange things happened,” he said. “When you live in old houses, you get this
5. Athenodorus Cananites
remember Roman magistrate and writer Pliny the Younger for his dramatic, first-hand account of Mount Vesuvius’s
eruption in 79 CE, but he could also tell a good ghost story. Around 100 CE,
the scribe wrote a letter recounting the time the Greek Stoic
philosopher Athenodorus Cananites stayed in a haunted house.
“There was in
Athens a house, large and spacious, which had a bad reputation as though it was
filled with pestilence,” the tale began. “In the dead of night, a noise was
frequently heard resembling the clashing of iron which, if you listened
carefully, sounded like the rattling of chains. The noise would seem to be a
distance away, but it would start coming closer … and closer … and closer.
Immediately after this, a specter would appear in the form of an old man,
emaciated and squalid, with bristling hair and a long beard, and rattling the
chains on his hands and feet as he moved.”
The home was
eventually abandoned, and it remained empty until Athenodorus came to town. He
considered buying the property, but was suspicious about its low price. The
philosopher would soon learn that the house was haunted—but surprisingly, this
made him want to buy it even more.
purchased the home, moved in, and stayed up late working, hoping to run into
the ghost. Sure enough, he eventually heard the rattle of chains, looked up,
and saw the old man’s spirit standing in front of him.
pretended to ignore the ghost, but the impatient ghoul beckoned toward
Athenodorus, motioning for him to come outside. He did, and the old man
vanished—but the next day, Athenodorus ordered for the spot he disappeared on
to be dug up. There, he found the ancient skeleton of a man clad in chains.
The bones were
given a proper burial, and the ghost never haunted Athenodorus—or any other
citizen of Athens—again.
6. Dan Aykroyd
experiences with spirits aren’t limited to Ghostbusters. In a 2013 interview with Esquire, he
claimed to have once lived in a Hollywood abode that was haunted by singer Cass
Elliot, from American folk rock group The Mamas & the Papas, along with the
ghost of a man buried under a hillside next to the house.
“I had several
experiences,” Aykroyd recalled. “I saw things moving around on our counter, and
doors opening and closing. The staff also had experiences, direct contact in
terms of tactile touching, and then turning around and there’s no one there.”
One day, Aykroyd
claimed, one of the two ghosts crawled in bed with him while he was taking a
nap. He woke up “in a trance,” he said, and noticed that the bedroom’s
previously closed door was ajar. Then, the actor spotted “a depression in the
mattress, like somebody was getting in there,” he said. Not one to be afraid of
no ghosts, Aykroyd decided to snuggle the spirit instead of screaming for help.