Unless ghosts have found a way to break the second law of thermodynamics (and have then used this knowledge mainly to spook the hell out of people in spooky old houses), every ghost story has some sort of logical explanation. Be it fakes, sleep paralysis, or just a good old-fashioned case of a hotel manager trying to drum up tourism, if you dig deep enough it can be solved without having to call upon the services of an exorcist, psychic, or Scooby-Doo.
One such case was solved by a professor and an opthalmologist over 100 years ago. Writing up the story in a medical case report, W.H. Wilmer described a haunting of a whole family, who began to see and hear strange people moving about in the night after they moved into an old, run-down house.
In 1912, the house of Mrs H and her husband G – as they named in the case report – burned down. For the winter, they were forced to look for an interim home. Finding none of good quality, they ended up taking a house that had not been occupied for the last ten years, aside from the occasional renter. Mrs H described it as being on the sunny side of the street, though oddly no warmth or sun seemed to penetrate through the windows and into that large, rambling house.
It wasn't long after they moved in that they begin to notice strange occurrences, and not long after that before everything went full The Shining.
"G. and I had not been in the house more than a couple of days when we felt very depressed," Mrs H said of the events of that winter. "The house was overpoweringly quiet. The servants walked about on thickly carpeted floors so quietly that I could not even hear them at their work."
The house was as cold as it was quiet, with the very old furnace breaking down two days into their stay. They had decided to stay in the house without the children at first, for that very reason.
"One morning I heard footsteps in the room over my head. I hurried up the stairs. To my surprise the room was empty. I passed into the next room, and then into all the rooms on that floor, and then to the floor above, to find that I was the only person in that part of the house."
When the furnace was repaired, the children arrived, and the whole family began to feel ill, and hear and see things that weren't there. Despite bed rest and iron supplements, Mrs H couldn't shake a headache that had set in two weeks after moving in. Mr H, meanwhile, was having other problems.
"It had always been G.'s habit at night before going to bed, to sit in the dining room and eat some fruit. In this house when seated at night at the table with his back to the hall, he invariably felt as if someone was behind him, watching him. He therefore turned his chair, to be able to watch what was going on in the hall."
A poltergeist will tend to ruin your enjoyment of fruit.
The children became pale, listless, and lost all interest in playing in their playroom at the top of the house. Eventually, Mrs H took them away for a few weeks, leaving him entirely alone with the ghost that liked to watch him eat bananas. He spent those weeks being woken by doors knocking and bells ringing, though when he investigated there was never anyone in sight.
One night, upon her return, Mrs H was woken by footsteps, doors slamming, and pots crashing as if something was going on downstairs.
"Soon I realized that there was no staircase behind the wall, only the thickly carpeted front stairs on which no footsteps could be heard."
All that paled in comparison to what came next, when all residents of the house began to see apparitions.
"On one occasion, in the middle of the morning, as I passed from the drawing-room into the dining-room, I was surprised to see at the further end of the
dining-room, coming towards me, a strange woman, dark haired and dressed in black. As I walked steadily on into the dining-room to meet her, she disappeared, and in her place I saw a reflection of myself in the mirror."
On returning from a night at the opera, Mr and Mrs H did not have a normal one.
"That night I had vague and strange dreams, which appeared to last for hours. When the morning came, I felt too tired and ill to get up. G. told me that in the middle of the night he woke up, feeling as if someone had grabbed him by the throat and was trying to strangle him."
Mr H at first put this down to a prank being played by his wife (I guess strangulation was the 1920s equivalent of being punk'd) until he saw that she was in an unusually heavy sleep, which had only happened since she moved into the house. He had, conversely, been a heavy sleeper before moving in, but now was constantly getting up in the middle of the night to answer a door that hadn't been knocked, or a phone that hadn't been rung.
The family's nurse – who lived with them in the house – soon added to the tales, reporting that on the night that they were at the opera, one of the children had been "attacked". One of them had burst into her room shouting "don't let that big fat man touch me". The next morning, when the child awoke, he asked "why have you been sitting on top of me," and refused to accept the answer that she hadn't.
She was convinced the house was haunted, and had heard the footsteps of an old man walking slowly above her, as well as following her as she walked.
"One night I woke up and saw sitting on the foot of my bed a man and a woman. The woman was young, dark and slight, and wore a large picture hat. The man was older, smooth shaven and a little bald. I was paralyzed and could not move, when suddenly I felt a tap on my shoulder and I was able to sit up, and the man and the woman faded away."
Other members of staff reported having heard furniture being piled up against a door, only to investigate and find nothing. It didn't help calm things down when the family investigated and found that the previous occupants had had the same experiences as they had, nor when all the plants in the house died – though both gave almighty big clues as to what was going on.
A rational explanation was guessed at by Mr H's brother. He believed that everyone in the house had been poisoned, and called in a professor to assist in finding a rational explanation. Pretty soon after interviewing the occupants and conducting a search of the whole house, he found the culprit: bog-standard carbon monoxide poisoning.
"He found the furnace in a very bad condition, the combustion being imperfect, the fumes, instead of going up the chimney, were pouring gases of carbon monoxid into our rooms. He advised us not to let the children sleep in the house another night. If they did, he said we might find in the morning that some one of them would never wake again."
Years later, the theory would be confirmed by ophthalmologists looking at one of the younger children's eyes, whose vision had become distorted.
"Nothing apart from the exposure to a poisonous gas could be found bearing a causal relation to the ocular disturbance," they stated.
It's possible that other hauntings could be attributed to the same cause. Not supernatural forces, just a boiler in need of a service.