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Old October 22nd, 2001, 10:54 PM   #42
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Burnley School Ghost : Seattle, Washington

This story comes from an author (Susy Smith) who researched haunted places from around the United States in the mid 1960's. It is a tad long but I found it quite interesting.

In doing research for this and other stories I have made it a practice never to visit ghost houses with mediums. If a psychic person has happened to be along, I have noted his impressions; but it has not been my purpose to attempt to communicate with the alleged entities who haunt the houses I have visited.

Once, though, I found myself in a haunted school in the company of four mediums, and it was an experience I?ll never forget. This is what happened.

The Burnley School of Professional Art, at 905 East Pine Street in Seattle, Washington, had loud creaky footsteps on the stairs and locked doors that opened in the night for about six years, until they abated somewhat in the spring of 1965. I made an appointment on October 4, 1965, with Jess Cauthorn, the owner-director of the school and one of the Pacific Northwest?s best-known watercolorists, to visit his school and interview several of the students who had heard study the manifestations of the medium Keith Milton Rhinehart, we unexplained activity in the building. Since I was in Seattle also to decided to ask him to join us later and see what psychic impressions he received there.

The Burnley School is on the corner of Broadway and Pine Street, across from a very old public school now known as Edison Tech. The Fran~klin Savings & Loan Association occupies the street-level offices of the building, and the art school takes up the two top floors. The structure was originally designed to be a cultural and art center; and it had studios for ballet and piano and a large auditorium on the second floor to be used for special events. Its first official function was a reception for President William Howard Taft when he visited Seattle to open the Alaska-Yukon-Pacffic Exposition of 1909. For some years a dancing club known as ?Entre Nous? used to rent Christiansen?s Dance Studio in the auditorium, for student affairs which were the big social events of Broadway High School each season.

There was a period when the auditorium was used as a temporary school gymnasium for the overflow from across the street; but the ceilings were so low that basketball players had to invent trick shots- such as banking the ball off the ceiling. When the dancing teacher complained that the noise was disturbing his classes, wrestling mats were brought and placed against the gym walls to muffle the noise.

In 1946, Edwin Burnley, a well-known Seattle artist, opened art classes there and taught many budding painters, including Jess Cauthorn, who now owns the school. The big gym has been turned into a classroom full of adjustable wooden desks at which students work during the day, and which the ghost apparently resents exceedingly. He makes noises at night as if he were moving the desks around-great scraping and scrunching sounds as if he were trying to drag them out of there. He is better in the audio department than the material or physical, for nothing is ever actually disturbed in the morning-except the people who had to listen to the noises the night before.

Jess Cauthorn told me that he, himself, has heard these- manifestations. He had never believed in ghosts until that time. He isn?t really sure that he does now, and yet

?I?m a realistic person,? Cauthorn said, ?but there are some things you just can?t ignore-like the sound of desks being moved in an empty room behind locked doors.?

Jess thought that perhaps the ghost had been more active in recent years because, ?We?ve had to enlarge the school to accommodate more students. This meant going into strange nooks and crannies, opening up heretofore unused rooms and employing the long-locked-up back stairway in order to get to new classrooms. That?s probably what disturbed the ghost, who, apparently had not been too active up until then.?

John B. Nelson, a tall young student, illustrated for me the sound the ghost made on the stairs. He went down and clomped up the wide flight leading from the first floor to the third. The steps are very creaky, and each footstep squeaked in its own specific way. There was no possible doubt that the sound was just that-a footstep on a stair. John said that, when he had been working on a big art project and didn?t want to stop, he had sometimes painted most of the night. When he was all alone in the building, and knew he was all alone, he would hear, at any moment between eleven o?clock at night and three o?clock in the morning, footsteps mounting those stairs. He would naturally go to see who was arriving, but nobody was there. At least, no physical presence was there.

?I was scared to death at first,? said John.

?Can you ever get used to a thing like that?? I asked.

?Not really,? he replied. ?You just learn not to work here alone at night.?

?You wouldn?t get me here alone, even without a ghost,? I said, being somewhat of a sissy about big, empty places.

?New students don?t believe it, of course,? John went on. ?But after they?ve been here some of them work late at night and then they hear it. Jennie Miller . . .? and John nodded toward a girl who had just come into the room, ?didn?t believe it at first. And she even stayed in the building several nights and didn?t hear anything

?But when I finally did,? Jennie interrupted him, ?I went bellowing down the hall. I was all alone here and I wanted to run out, but I was scared to go down the stairs.?

The students got together and devised tests to catch the haunt. With masking tape they fastened thread across doorways about three feet off the floor. The next day, when they were sure that they had been the last ones out at night and the first ones in in the morning, they found some of the threads broken. On another occasion they stretched the thread across the stairway. Then they turned out the lights and waited upstairs. Some time later, they heard the steps come up both flights; but on examination the thread, which a living being would either have broken or knocked down, was intact.

Lest it be suspected that the noises heard on the stairs were just the normal creakings of old buildings, the students ask how that accounts for the fact that when they hear someone climbing, the creaks are sequential in order from bottom to top.

Cauthorn did not want his students alone there at night if there was any possible danger that a robber could be getting into the place in such a clever way that no one could catch him at it. So he had an insurance investigator check over the building carefully. When the place was pronounced perfectly safe, with all the locks and doors and windows secure against intruders, Jennie again worked late in her studio.

?While I was concentrating hard on my sketches,? she told me, ?I heard a bang, and then a creak, and then the sound of somebody walking. Naturally I had all the lights on, and I hurried out into the hail to see who it was. Nobody was there.? Later that night she heard a key go into the lock of the front door and the squeaking sound of the door opening. ?I rushed out and looked down the stairs,? she said, ?but the door was not open and not a soul had come in.

Jennie?s friend, Ellen Pearce, had a studio on the third floor, and they worked there sometimes at night. The main light switch for that floor is on the inside of a room, and you have to grope your way across in the dark to find it. One night the girls heard a moan behind the door of that room, like a human being in great agony. Wondering who could possibly have gotten in there, and what could be happening, they fumbled their way across to the light switch, almost petrified with fright.

?But can you imagine our state when we got the light on and looked behind the door and no one was there?? asked Ellen.

I could. But I said I?d rather not.

Another student, Robert B. Theriault of Seattle, found a certain small room, used by the students for resting and coffee breaks, to be the most sinister of all. Once, when the lights were on in there, he was standing outside the door, but he knew someone was inside because he heard sounds as if magazine pages were being turned, and other movements. However, when he started to enter the room, the rustling stopped, and there was no one in there.

Henry Bennett is a commercial artist who had an apartment on the third floor while he was a student at the Burnley School around 1959-60. Cauthorn told me, ?Hank was responsible for the security of the building at night. But often in the morning I would find the front door, or the fire door, wide open, or at least they would be unlocked when I arrived. Sometimes I really chewed Hank out, but he always insisted he had locked the doors and checked the place over the night before. I didn?t know what to think.?

Bennett confirmed to me that he always carefully locked the building each night. But the doors were often unlocked the next morning, and sometimes even open. ?Many curious things happened while I was living there,? he said. ?You would swear someone was walking up the stairs or moving furniture in some room, or some unseen person was doing construction work on the building. But when I?d turn on the lights, nobody was ever there.? Henry Bennett said that the ghost had not scared him; but he was talking from a distance of five years from the time of the events in which he had been involved.

I was to get close to events within a very short time-for the mediums were gathering. Clyde Beck, a member of the American Society for Psychical Research and an individual who believes in attempting to work with all the equipment of a modern technician, had arrived first, loaded down with movie cameras and tape recorders-none of which were usable when things got interesting. By then we were all in the dark, and he had been unable to secure infrared lights and film. After Clyde, came several of the younger mediums of Rhinehart?s church-the Aquarian Foundation. Then came the feature attraction of the evening-Dr. Keith Milton Rhinehart, himself.

Actually an intelligent young man of twenty-nine, Keith was at that time affecting a mustache and goatee and a loud sports jacket-and he looked more like a beatnik guitar player than the pastor of a church.

He brought a few more people with him; so it turned out to be altogether a much larger group than we had anticipated. Since many people know little about mediums except the reputation some of them have for being fraudulent, I think perhaps I should take a moment here to discuss the subject. Extrasensory perception (or ESP) is not uncommon. Those who have a great amount of it are known as mediums, or ?sensitives,? or ?psychics.? They may be born with the natural talent in large degree, or they may have some slight ability and decide to improve it by sitting for development in classes at which a trained medium presides.

I have sat in a number of development groups myself, and have begun to exhibit an interesting amount of telepathy-I can sometimes see a picture clearly in my mind of something another person is at that moment thinking. I have on one or two occasions gone into a trancelike tate. I was not then completely unconscious, but my mind was withdrawn to the extent that I was not consciously instigating the words that were spoken through my mouth, words that purported to come from a deceased entity. Whether or not what I said came from my subconscious, I cannot state. I am only sure that certain information was given through me which I did not consciously know, and had not acquired normally.

Because of my own personal experience with this, I am aware that the material mediums produce may be genuine. I also know the effort, the countless hours sitting in classes, which many sensitives spend in order that their psychic talents may be developed as fully as possible. For this reason I must say definitely and firmly that all mediums are not fraudulent.

Yet I know that, just as there are quack doctors and shyster lawyers, there are phoney mediums. I have seen some who put on such sham acts that it was disgusting; and I have been furious, not only with them but with the gullible public who allowed themselves to be taken in by such trickery.

Keith Rhinehart is a natural-born medium who also spent years improving his native capabilities, beginning when he was in junior high school. When he is in good form, his powers are excellent. I have seen much evidence that, when he is entranced, genuine information has been given through him that he could have no possible normal way of knowing. This is usually referred to as ?mental? mediumship. Although extremely adequate as a mental medium, Keith prefers to be known as a ?physical? medium-one in whose presence curious physical phenomena occur.

One of his special abilities, it is claimed, is the production of ?apports?-objects that are said to have been dematerialized from somewhere else on earth and then rematerialized inside the seance room. If the room has been thoroughly searched beforehand, the possibility of trap doors and secret compartments and false arms and bottoms to chairs, etc., eliminated, and the medium has been stripped and examined by a doctor, and then apports appear during the seance-it is hard not to consider their appearance as a supernormal manifestation. In the history of psychical research there is evidence for the appearance of apports, under conditions that have been so controlled as to give no opportunity for fraud.

I have seen apports appear in a lighted room under what I considered to be controlled conditions; but still I am reluctant to declare firmly once and for all that the phenomena were genuine. Many investigators much more highly trained than I have also hesitated to commit themselves. This is because there are some mediums who are so adept at prestidigitation that it is difficult for anyone ever to guarantee absolutely that he might not have in some way been hoodwinked.

I am going into this in such detail because of the events which followed at the Burnley School. I want it understood that I do not point an accusation of fraud at anybody for what occurred on the evening I am about to describe. And yet there is no possible way for me to be certain that there was not at least some lighthearted trickery involved. Then again, maybe there wasn?t. After all, we were in a building with a reputation for being haunted.

The members of Keith?s organization who came with him to the Burnley School that night had trained themselves very carefully, sitting hour after hour in dark rooms letting their natural mediumistic talents develop. I felt, and still feel, that they are sincere workers at their trade. In this group were Judith Crane, a very pretty, well- educated young woman who has gained considerable prominence as a medium,, and her fianc?, Donald Ballard, whom she has since married. Don is not a medium and is only a follower of psychic interests insofar as they affect Judy. I can?t help but believe that Don would have been furious if he had observed in Judy or her associates anything he thought was in any way dishonest-yet he was with the Aquarian Foundation members all the time that evening. The two other Aquarians present were Kenneth Bower and Helen Lester. The rest of the crowd that began to tour the haunted school included Jess Cauthorn, his students John Nelson and Jennie Miller, Clyde Beck, and me.

As we moved through the building I took notes on the impressions each sensitive expressed. Some were interesting in the light of the history of the school: It was sensed that there had been dancing and basketball in the big auditorium and that there had been exercise mats there at one time. But all this had been published in various newspaper accounts of the haunting which had appeared over the years, one as recent as June 1965, so the mediums could be given no special credit for their successes even if they were genuine ?hits.? There is always the chance that they may have read the articles.

Several persons stated that a young man had been killed in or near the building long ago, and that he still hangs around and wants to dance and play basketball and have fun as he used to. (Unfortunately for the veracity of the tale, checks with the police since then have revealed no record of a killing in or near the school. An Associated Press reporter made a serious effort to track down verification of a murder, but with no results.)

We first decided to try to hold a seance in an area of the basement that had an unpaved dirt floor and old boards and boxes stacked in the corners. There we turned off the lights and sat at first with o?ly one small candle. After a moment, we put that out and sat in the dank dark. Fortunately for my peace of mind, after later developments, some of the girls decided that there might be rats down there, and so we adjourned upstairs. At that time, none of us was in the least afraid of the ghost.

We finally chose a small room on the second floor, just large enough to hold the ten of us, and we put opaque screens over the windows and turned out all the lights. Just enough glow came in around the edge of the screens from the streetlight outside so that we could dimly see those. closest to us. Keith and I sat on a short couch, and the others milled about in the dark for a while.

In order to learn if there might be any spirit about who wanted to make an effort to communicate, all those in the room except Keith and me put their fingers On the top of a tall stool. Almost at once it began to move around, so fast that they kept up with it only with difficulty. The stool banged itself with great force against the floor and the wall. It was asked to answer questions in code, with one rap for ?Yes? and two for ?No?; and it did give some answers this way to a few questions. But whatever was propelling the stool had no interest in such attempts to talk. It preferred to show off its great force by banging itself senselessly against the wall.

Keith and I got monstrously bored watching this-it is very routine in mediumistic circles. Catching me yawning, he asked if we should call it all off and go home.

?In a few minutes,? I said, ?if nothing else happens.?

Soon the game with the stool palled on the participants, and they all settled down quietly, pulling their chairs into a circle facing Keith and me. After a few moments of extreme silence, when the full impact of the darkness crept over us, I glanced toward Keith-and suddenly realized that he was staring at me fixedly with the most malevolent expression I have ever had directed my way. He kept it up, not moving, for at least three minutes. The way he looked, with his dark hair, glittering eyes, mustache, and goatee, one could almost suspect that the devil himself had become incarnate in our midst. Not being quite unsophisticated enough to believe that, I decided instead that the medium must have been taken over into trance, and prepared myself for a discussion with some spirit entity who was obviously ?earthbound? and must be convinced that he should stop haunting this school. I began racking my brain for suitable phrases from those who had published their experiences involving other such delicate situations.

?Who are you?? erupted suddenly and loudly from the medium.

I jumped a foot and a half into the air and started to shake. ?We?re here to help you,? I quavered. Then I began to explain to him that he had passed through the experience called death and that he must adjust himself to that fact and go away and stop bothering the people at this school-that there were helpful spirits around him who would give him advice and assistance if he would but listen to them.

?I?m not dead,? he shrieked, interrupting me. Then he lunged at me, waving his arms, and shouted, ?Get out! Get out, all of you!? And no matter how much I talked to him he kept repeating this refrain with the appropriate motions. It was coming to my attention that the

techniques that may have worked for those glib writers who had calmed obstreperous entities with a few well-chosen words were not likely to be so successful in my case. I started on a new tack.

?Did you know it is the year 1965?? I asked.

Keith almost leaped out of his seat. ?No, no,? he cried. Then apparently taking a second to estimate, he added, ?That would make me sixty years old. I?m not old. I?m young!? Yet, as if the idea of his death were beginning to penetrate after all, he began to mutter about blood and a knife. ?Blood all over everything,? he said, and then such things as: ?He got me in the back. I just wanted to stay here and play games and dance but John did me in. He did it; blood, blood, it spurted! The knife dripped blood! John did it. He always hated me.? Then, as if taking me for his false friend John he leaned toward me once again, with a look of utter viciousness, and shouted into my face, ?Get out, all of you. Go away and leave me alone.?

As this dialogue is now written, from notes made the day after the episode, I am appalled by how silly it all was. Even as I sat there participating in this drama, the realization was very present that it was overplayed and amateurish. In retrospect the whole evening seems a trivial travesty of a bad movie or a television turkey.

But while the events were going on and I was participating in them, it was rather necessary to take them at face value, which was not in the least comfortable when the entranced medium kept jumping my way threateningly from time to time. Finally, he lunged and waved his arms in my direction just once too often and I got up and moved over to a bench just opposite the couch. The Thing, whoever it was, by then was muttering irresponsibly to himself, and I saw him glance down at my expensive camera which was on the floor beside where my feet had been. Lest he be inspired to break it, I reached over and picked it up.

As I did so, the maniacal look on Keith?s face made me think, ?Oh, if I could just get a picture of this for the book.? I began to sight the camera at him. Fortunately, I did not have time to flash the bulb-for if it is true, as I have since learned that all spiritualists believe, that any flash of light or sudden shock might kill an entranced medium, it might have been I instead of a ghost who was the villain of this piece.

When the camera went up to my eye, Keith cried, ?What are you doing?? and made a leap for me.

I shouted, ?Don?t you touch me!? and kicked him. It was just a little kick and it barely connected with his leg; but he plummeted to the floor as if I had landed a rock on his skull. I didn?t do anything then for a minute but sit and quiver. Then I began to worry for fear the medium was badly injured, because he was lying there prone, breathing as if each gasp might be his last. I had not more than touched him, but it was evidently enough to have caused the entity to lose his hold.

All of us sat with eyes glued on him, to see if he would come out of it; finally, we heaved sighs of relief as we heard the deep sonorous tones of the medium?s special ?spirit guide,? who acts as his ?control? and takes care of him, saying through him, ?This is Dr. Robert John Kensington, and we have things in hand.? Keith, still entranced, but now by his proper control, got up and sat back on the couch, Dr. Kensington apologizing all the while for having allowed him to be taken over by such an irresponsible entity. He said that he had not realized that the spirit was actually insane until he had gotten into Keith?s body; and that the number of mediums present acted as a battery that gave the entity more power.

Keith then came out of his trance, asked for a drink of water, and sat holding his head, complaining of a violent headache. He asked what had happened, and somebody began to tell him. I was doing a lot of thinking, very negatively. If this had all been an act, it was such an overdone performance that it was hardly worthy of Keith?s histrionic ability. . . . yet if it had not been put on-Good Heavens! I?d been in real danger! I turned and said, perhaps a bit sarcastically: ?How did it happen, may I ask, that all of you sat there so calmly while I was being attacked by a maniac??

The Aquarian Foundation members told me that they knew that touching the medium when he was in such a state would have injured him.

?But what if I had been injured??

?You didn?t have a thing to worry about,? they assured me. ?We were surrounding everyone with protective thoughts, so everything was completely under control.? Under control? I almost had a camera wrapped around my head!

Keith had nearly been clobbered, too, Jess Cauthorn told me later. When we had a long retrospective chat about the evening?s experiences he said that he and John Nelson had been sitting on the edges of their chairs, signaling each other, and ready to spring if the medium got one inch closer to me. They had been considering the entire thing to be a clumsy hoax; but they wondered why, if it was a hoax, Keith had not known he was going too far and would be in danger from them if he got the least bit rough. This was part of the whole big mystery. If he was putting on an act, why did he not realize the possibility of being physically restrained by those two men so much larger than he? There were many mysteries about this evening that have never been resolved; and this was one of them. Yet the biggest mystery of all occurred after we left the seance room. It put a slightly different light on the whole performance. But it did not solve anything.

It only made the confusion worse.

Rather depressed by the episode that had just taken place, I had gathered my nerve, my wits, and my camera and walked out of the seance room to try to get another picture or two of the school building.

I was accompanied by Keith and Clyde Beck. The others remained in the room and then spread out, eventually going downstairs. The three of us walked back down the hall and into the auditorium, around a
corner and about fifty feet from the seance room. After discussing the possibility of getting a photo of the large room, and deciding it would be useless to try with my equipment, I started to walk back up the hall. Hearing a funny sound from Keith, I turned to look at him.

His eyes were getting that glassy, glittery look again, and he began to mumble, ?I told you there was something I could do you couldn?t? and other phrases that weren?t particularly intelligible. He approached me

?It?s got him again,? I shrieked, rushing up the hall away from him.

?Clyde, do something!? Clyde did something; he watched to see what was going to happen next. I moved on as quickly as possible, hollering to the people downstairs. Aquarians came bounding up, and as they did the medium began to speak once more in the deep tones of his control. ?This is Dr. Robert John Kensington,? he said. ?The entity got back in once again because there was something he insisted on saying. Will you please call the owner of the building??

Jess Cauthorn was just arriving up the stairs on a run, and he said breathlessly, ?I?m here.?

?Do you recall if there was a rock about the size of a brick in that room where the seance was held?? Dr. Kensington asked.

?No, I don?t think so,? answered Jess. ?I?m almost sure there was not.?

?Well, the entity was trying to say that he had the power to bring apports,? the voice went on. ?Now if you will go into the seance room you will find a rock there close to where Miss Smith was sitting.?

We all rushed into the room, and sure enough, right where my feet had been when I sat on the end of the bench, there was now a smooth, oval rock as large as a brick. It could not have been there when my feet were cringing in that spot a few minutes before.

The next day, at my suggestion, students went into the basement of the school building and reported that they found a hole the exact size, into which the rock fit neatly. It was in an area of the dirt where there were a few other similar stones scattered about. They immediately decided that this was the proof they needed that the whole thing had been a hoax. But it really wasn?t necessarily that convincing. Even if the rock had come from there, this would not prove it wasn?t an apport, because an apport has to come from somewhere; and the spirit would not in that brief interval have gone wandering afar to dig one up. He was said to be haunting this place. If he had decided he wanted a rock to heave at me, would he have thought of looking anywhere else for it?

As can be imagined, we all did a great deal of arguing and conjecturing for days afterward. All except Keith Milton Rhinehart, who went home with a terrible headache and was said to have been confined to his bed. As we thought about the apport and tried to explain it, we realized that the medium, being a rather slight man, could not possibly have hidden so large a rock on his person in order to bring it up from the basement without being observed. If one of the women members of the Aquarian Foundation had managed to secrete it somewhere (in some oversize handbag?) how did Keith, down the hall with me, know about it?

The only answer, except one really dealing with ghosts and apports and other supernormal things, is that the whole event was an extravaganza put on by the entire group of mediums in collaboration, to show the visiting author a good time and give her something to write about. But Keith and all the others knew that I was prepared to write scathingly about them if I discovered them in anything fraudulent, or even in anything particularly suspicious looking. They were aware, moreover, that they had much more at stake than a haunted school, for I was in Seattle investigating whether or not the phenomena of all Keith?s services and seances were genuine; and I had a magazine contact that they knew was eager for the story. Why, under those circumstances, would they play stupid games with me? Why also would Keith have run the risk of being injured when he leaped at me, knowing full well that the non-Aquarians in the group would certainly have defended me?

Although my experience at the Burnley School was effective enough to scare me temporarily out of my wits, it could not have been permanently convincing. Of all the questions raised by this incident, the biggest that remains is this: If the Aquarians had decided to put on an act, why wasn?t it a better act? These were intelligent adults, not children; they couldn?t have been stupid enough to have produced such an overblown, overacted melodrama and expected it to be believed.

But an old, earthbound spirit so dumb as to hang around a school for sixty years without knowing it was time to graduate-be might have acted just the way he did that night. After all, we were in a building in which a great many genuinely unexplainable manifestations bad already occurred.

I came out of this whole adventure with only one conclusion: You?d better keep your cool if you?re going to fool with an old school ghoul.

Every Soul is a celestial Venus to every other soul...Love is our highest word, and the synonym of God. ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
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