Sunday, November 14, 2010

I Smell Dead People

One of the most common paranormal phenomena experienced by investigators is unexplained smells. Among the most common scents reported are cigar/cigarette smoke and floral scents; rose, lavender, and jasmine in particular. While sudden odors may be startling at first notice, most can be explained away through analysis of the surrounding environment. Certain odors can linger for a long time: smoke, fuel, urine, oils and certain plant extracts; how long is dependant on the absorption characteristics of the material they are embedded in. Highly absorbent material like wood can radiate residual odors for many years.

Some investigators believe that certain aromas exist because of paranormal activity. These individuals believe spirit entities can either manifest these smells from memory or that the energy of the spirit generates the residual scent. Because not everyone in an area may perceive this type of paranormal phenomenon, it is theorized that the odors are not physically present in the air at all but that the spirit entity is manipulating the olfactory receptors in the brain of select individuals to trigger a neurological message.

As a nurse, I am familiar with phantosmia, the phenomenon of smelling odors that are not derived from any physical stimulus. And let me tell you, it is usually an indicator of any number of scary illnesses: epilepsy, brain tumors, viral infections, exposure to toxins, drug use (or abuse), schizophrenia, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease to mention a few. Holy Crow! Why chase after ghosts when you sit back in the comfort of your own home and let the real horror begin?

Then again, phantosmia can just be attributed to overactive olfactory receptor neurons or the loss of inhibitory neurons brought on by a bad head cold or sinus infection. So for you more neurotic types, go blow your nose, take a Dayquil and relax (Yeah, you know who you are).
Anyway, why am I talking about all of this? Because I had an olfactory paranormal experience this summer, that’s why. And despite rumors to the contrary, I am not schizophrenic, epileptic, abusing drugs, suffering from Alzheimer’s, or taken a blow to the head in the recent past.  
Back in July, members of the Reno Paranormal group investigated the Levy Mansion.

The Levy House was built in 1906 for William Levy, a prominent mining entrepreneur and local merchant who owned the Palace Dry Goods store (where the Cal Neva Casino now sits). Levy married Tillie Goldsmith of San Francisco and they raised two daughters in their Reno home, Mildred and Tillie (named after her mother, but went by the nickname, Fritzi).

Mildred never married; Fritzi married a San Francisco attorney in 1940. Fritzi and her husband had no intention of living in Reno and no interest in the family home. Since the girls had inherited the mansion jointly, they did the obvious thing and split the property in half.

The mansion originally faced Granite Street, now South Sierra Street. To allow Fritzi to lease her half of the property, a new foundation was poured to the west of the house in what had been an extensive garden and the house was jacked up, turned and moved, becoming 121 California Avenue. The move of the house created some unusual changes, such as the set of French doors that open onto a non-existent balcony, and the pull-chain for a toilet that remained after the commode was removed. Mildred, unmarried, continued to live in the family home until her death in 1976.

This beautiful mansion is three stories, with an attic and cellar. Presently it is occupied by ASM Affiliates, a company that specializes in archeology, history and ethnography. Upon entering the home, the first thing you notice is an impressive staircase leading up to the second floor. A dining room sits off to the right and a sitting room to the left is utilized as the docent’s office. The docent, Allison, planned to remain in house during our investigation, but would be confining herself to her office.

Some of the manifestations that have been reported in the past include:
Sounds of running foot steps have been heard on the second and third floor hallways.
Unexplained cold spots, cool breezes and chills have been felt by individuals, especially in the rooms located in the back of the house on the second and third floors.
Employees of the former tenant, Metro Day Spa, reported items moved and put in odd places.
Feelings of uneasiness experienced in certain parts of the mansion, like the cellar, attic and stairways.

The investigative group met with Allison, the buildings docent, to discuss how the investigation would proceed. Allison then took us on a quick tour and we began our set up. Paul wanted to set up cameras in the areas with reported paranormal activity: the stairways, cellar, attic, and several second floor offices. After all the cameras were in place, lines taped down and everything working properly, we broke into groups and began our investigation.

Paula, Mona and I started out in the cellar. Paula caught a blip on the K-2 meter, and Mona had a sense of some sort of presence, nothing foreboding, though.


After spending some time in the cellar, we headed on upstairs. Pride and Gail noticed a light anomaly on one of the cellar steps, which we debunked as a chip in the cement that was reflecting lighter than the surrounding steps. Paula was having some technical difficulties with one of her cameras, so Mona, John and I headed on upstairs. As we began climbing the narrow staircase on the north end of the mansion leading to the attic, we suddenly smelled something floral, jasmine, I think. The scent was overwhelming. All three of us smelled it. We headed on back down the stairs and the scent followed. It lingered at the top of the stairs. We called to the others, who also smelled it as soon as they topped the second floor landing.

Ever the skeptic, I headed downstairs to ask the docent if there was some sort of automatic air freshener in operation. She said nothing like that was in use due to the historical documents and antiques in the home. By the time I got back upstairs, the scent was gone.

A short time later, both Mona and I smelled a strong scent of cigar tobacco in the attic, but I am always leery of tobacco smells. The house is wooden, and tobacco scent is known to linger for decades.

The rest of the investigation produced little. I didn’t get anything on digital recorder, and my pictures produced nothing. The floral scent is my strongest evidence of paranormal activity in the Levi Mansion, but is also the one I can not prove. I was not the only one that “witnessed” the phenomenon, but still, it is only hearsay.

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