GLYNN WASHINGTON, HOST:
Now, you know the supernatural, it often takes blame for things outside our control - the whole, the Devil made me do it thing. And some of you might say excuses, excuses - we make our own futures, we shape our own destinies. Maybe - but then again, maybe not.
STEPHANIE FOO, BYLINE: This story takes place in Annandale, N.J. Ken lived next to a huge 10-acre farmstead, and one day, he was driving past it in his car.
KEN: But I noticed that there was a lot of police activity going on. You know, I never wanted to infringe on them, but I went down to see if my neighbors needed help. They had fallen into foreclosure and the house was being taken over by the sheriff's department. There was a standoff between the sheriff's department and the woman who is the wife of the owner.
FOO: Ken's neighbor was holding a shotgun and wouldn't leave her house.
KEN: And at that point, I said, please, put your guns down. And I don't want to get in the middle of a gun battle. And I was able to disarm Jane.
FOO: Ken convinced Jane to calm down and the sheriff to let Jane have the rest of the day to move out. The sheriff went around the property taking pictures for the bank. And in the meantime, Ken decided to help Jane move her most treasured possessions out of her home.
KEN: She started telling me, why couldn't he just leave us be? We were multimillionaires and we had everything going for us until we moved onto this property and - the ghost, the ghost. John did it. John did it.
I'm like what are you talking about?
FOO: Ken thought she was blaming some nonexistent being for her own failures. The place was creepy, but that's just because they'd taken such bad care of it. Ghosts aren't real.
KEN: In the library of this house, which is the original funerary room, and the fireplace had piece of forged metal on it. In German, it says, don't bother fighting death because death will always win.
And when I was asking the woman what she wanted in the house, I said, I've got a screwdriver, I'll take this off. And she screamed at me, don't you dare touch that. That is John's, General John Van Fleet, and nobody's allowed to ever take that off the mantle. He would be very upset.
So I'm like oh, my gosh, this woman that I've known for all these years, and she was just absolutely a whacko.
FOO: Ken was sad to see his neighbors go, until his wife started admiring the old house. Sure, it was falling apart, but it could be spruced up.
KEN: We wanted to have horses and cows. And we wanted a historic property. That was paramount.
FOO: They were huge history buffs, and the house certainly did have history. Ken did some research and found out that the first owner had been John Van Fleet in 1742. He'd been a general in the Revolutionary War and had lived there with his 10 children. Perfect. Ken called the bank to negotiate details of the foreclosure.
KEN: They said well, it's on 10 acres. A builder can come and knock it down. I told them that house was historic and I said well, do you know that the house is haunted? And with that, the phone dropped and I hear one woman say to another woman oh, my gosh. Go get the photos, go get the photos.
FOO: Remember those pictures that the sheriff had taken for the bank earlier?
KEN: She said, there - we have a picture of a girl floating in the middle of the air by the fireplace in one of the rooms.
FOO: Rumor had it that was John's daughter, Abigail Van Fleet. Neighbors started whispering about stories of Abigail and John floating through the house. There was talk about a curse. So John and his wife decided they wanted to do some investigating. They looked up the history of the house and contacted three of its past owners. Every single one told them the same thing...
KEN: ...That the house was haunted. And this is the kicker. Every single person that has ever lived in this house for the past 10 generations has ended up in bankruptcy. Many of them have become divorced. Several people there have had cancer. The mother of the last owner, she died of mysterious circumstances.
FOO: Ken ignored all the signs. He moved into the house confident that they would end the string of bad luck, until one day when he was painting a room with his son.
KEN: I see this black cloud, this apparition, and it traveled across the room from one side to the other. It almost looked like a swarm of gnats. And it went right into the wall and disappeared. My son, Kenny, runs in from the hallway and that's where the cloud went into. And he said, this thing just came right through the wall - this black mass.
That was an absolute, to me, validation. I was always skeptical, and that is what makes me believe to this very day.
FOO: After that, General John Van fleet started playing with them all the time. Things went missing. A presence filled the room. And it became clear that Ken's family wasn't special. After all, death will always win.
KEN: My wife is absolutely, positively - as well as all my kids - convinced that this house does actually have a curse on it, a bad, bad energy. Every house that I've lived in has been wonderful. We've had a happy home existence. My wife and I have a very tight marriage. Everything has gone to hell in a handbag with this house. And then I came down with stage-four throat cancer. We're heading towards foreclosure ourselves.
FOO: Ken's cancer also gave him short-term memory loss. He can't work, and now his wife holds down two jobs to sustain them. They fight a lot now.
KEN: And the only reason that we maintain a strong relationship is because we always keep it in mind that there's something that's at hand here that we're beyond any control over.
FOO: Well, there's one thing they can do. Ken's looking for a new house, one with a little less history.
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WASHINGTON: Thanks so much to Emile Klein for venturing into the haunted house to get this story - and I would not do it, no way. We'll have a link to Emile's storytelling art project, You're U.S., on our website, snapjudgment.org. That story was produced by Stephanie Foo and Emile Klein. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.