What was that?

[I am hoping that by changing the date on this, it will go out again. The actual date it was written was on August 16th, but no one got it because of a glitch in the system.]

Today I was working at the Noble House. During the 10:00-11:00 hour, I had one couple come in for a tour and then another couple came in as they were leaving. It was during the second tour of the day that something happened that has never happened before…

This is my fourth season of giving tours at the Noble House. We cycle through three tours, one per year. The first year I worked there, we were doing A House In Mourning: Victorian funerals. We are back on that tour again this year. I know what I’m talking about. Some of the basic things about the house never change. For instance, there is a room upstairs that we have dedicated to the honor of Dr. Gertrude Howe, the last of the Noble family to live in the house before it became a museum. (The house was built in 1875.) No matter which tour we are giving, there is nothing that changes in our discussion of Gertrude and her contribution to the medical profession of pediatrics and her contributions to the community of Fish Creek.

Gertrude Howe’s office as seen from the door looking to the left

I always take my position behind the examination table, in between the paper skeleton and the picture of Gertrude’s graduating class from the University of Illinois College of Medicine in 1940. As usual, I was in that part of the room this morning.

Looking into the right side of Gertrude’s office from the doorway.

The couple I was speaking to was standing in between the chair and the door, slightly forward from the wall. I was giving my schpiel when I heard a sound coming from behind the couple. I’m used to the air conditioning turning off and on throughout the day, so I kept talking, only something was different. When the air conditioning turns on, it stays on until it cools the house to the optimal temperature to preserve the historic artifacts, but this time, it shut off for a few seconds. That caught my attention, but I kept going, then I heard the sound again, and I stopped what I was saying and cocked my ear to hear if it was going to do it again, and it did. It happened about three or four times, like someone breathing — silently inhaling, then audibly exhaling. I apologized to the couple for stopping and told them what I was hearing. Neither of them heard a thing. I was so startled by what had happened that it broke my train of thought, and they could see that I was visibly affected by something. I finally managed to regain my composure and continue with the tour, but this time I was having a little trouble concentrating.

Just as the couple was leaving, I saw my boss at the kitchen door, and I said, “You’re never going to believe what just happened!” I told her and she started trying to come up with possible explanations.

She said, “Well, the air conditioning probably turned on.”

I said, “I’ve worked in this house for four years. I know what the air conditioning sounds like when it comes on, and this was different.”

I had worked my first evening ghost tour a week ago today, and she said, “Because you did the ghost tour last week, you probably let your imagination run away with you.”

I said, “When I’m giving a tour, all I’m thinking about is my schpiel and how the visitors are reacting to it. I hadn’t thought about the ghost tour all day.”

She had to run to another obligation at that point, but toward the end of my day, she came back to talk with me about it again. I started right in to answer the arguments she had made earlier. I told her that I had gone up to the room after she left and looked for where the air conditioning vent was and finally figured out that it’s under the big medical cabinet in the second picture above, but I said that the sound I heard was coming from somewhere between the window and the door, just behind the couple I had been talking to. I said that when it happened the second time, I watched the couple and the breathing wasn’t matching either of their breathing patterns. I also told her that I hadn’t been thinking of the ghost tour at all, and in fact, when I was giving the ghost tour last week, (spoiler alert if you don’t want to know the truth), I knew that not even half of what I was saying was true. I told her that I had felt like I was lying during the ghost tour because there is at least one story we know for a fact, after raising the back end of the house over the winter, is untrue. I didn’t believe what I was saying and I wasn’t spooked by it. I reminded her that when I spoke to her this morning, my words still weren’t all coming out right. I had told her that I didn’t feel the breathing was “maleficent” when I meant “malevolent”. She knows that I’m usually very precise with my words.

On her side, she said she has never heard of anything happening in the house during the daytime. She said that she has never experienced anything in the house herself and she’s usually pretty sensitive to that kind of thing. She told me that other docents have reported incidents, but they all have possible explanations as to how they happened (ie – flickering lights could be something electrical malfunctioning). People have taken odd pictures on the ghost tours, but when she has looked at them, she can see that it might have to do with the lace curtains on the windows or the flash of other people’s cameras or whatnot. From what I told her today, she has no logical explanation for what happened.

She sat back and looked at me and said, “What would you like me to do about this?” She’s a fellow Christian and she doesn’t want to bring in anyone to “exercise the spirits” or anything like that in case it invites something more sinister to inhabit the house. I told her I don’t need her to do anything. She asked if I’m thinking of quitting over this because she has had four ghost tour docents quit suddenly when they got spooked. I told her that I am not afraid of whatever this is. Like her, I have always thought that if there is something in the house, it’s benevolent. She said she has talked with curators from other house museums who have said that the only times they ever had problems was when someone was messing with the house. When some work was being done on one house, for instance, tools kept going missing and then showing up in odd places. She knows that I don’t mess with the house. In fact, I have only sung the praises of Dr. Gertrude Howe because she was a remarkable woman, well ahead of her time. And I think I am about the only docent that cleans the house.

I told her that I am not planning to quit over this. I was a little discombobulated, but not afraid. I never felt like there was a need to be afraid of someone breathing. I tell you, though, sometimes people have asked me if I’ve ever experienced anything in the house, and now I can say yes!

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