In other words, we were looking for dead people--"just looking for ghosts," as Echo flatly told one real estate agent who asked what he could help us find--spirits who, for various reasons, would rather bang around in an attic and scare the bejeezus out of the living than kick back in paradise with departed friends and loved ones.
Echo Bodine is a professional ghostbuster, or "ghost counselor," as she also calls herself. A psychic and a spiritual healer based in the Twin Cities, she talks to ghosts, and often argues with them as she attempts to coax the more stubborn among them "down the tunnel and into the light."
Though she's been featured on shows such as "Sally Jesse Raphael" and NBC's "The Other Side," I discovered Echo through her latest book, "Relax, It's Only a Ghost: My Adventures With Spirits, Hauntings, and Things that Go Bump in the Night." Echo's otherworldly encounters were so deliciously odd, I couldn't set the book down. There was Bill, a policeman ghost who protected the women who worked in a "massage parlor." When Echo confronted him, Bill confessed that he tore down a shower curtain out of anger when he realized a john was a priest.
On another ghostbusting, Echo met a female spirit who had such a crush on a guy (living) that whenever he brought a woman home, the ghost would slap him silly and throw him against a wall. Best of all, the guy was six-foot-three and enjoyed being tossed around by a jealous wraith! To his landlady's dismay, he insisted that if Echo busted his ghost, he'd move. Ultimately, man and ghost remained united.
Wow, I thought, the dead are just as screwed up as the living.
Eager to meet some residents of the Beyond for myself, I called Echo and asked if she would take me ghost hunting. She graciously assented but regretted that she didn't have any jobs at the moment. I proposed we tour open houses. "Cool," she said, and then, after a pause, blurted, "the governor's mansion! I read that Jesse Ventura told a school tour there's a ghost in his kitchen!" I booked a flight to Minneapolis online as we spoke.
I met Echo at the curb outside the governor's residence on Summit Ave. in St. Paul, where she pulled up in a sporty Geo jeep with a "Mean People Suck" bumper sticker affixed to its rear. A tall, pretty blonde, the 51-year-old has a personality to match her car--spunky and fun, not an ounce of pretension. "I feel lots of vibes here," Echo whispered as we entered the English Tudor Revival style mansion. "I mean, lots of vibes!"
The first thing I learned about ghost hunting is that it's difficult to do when you're in a group of 25, being hustled from room to room by a tour guide who seems to fear for her job, or worse, should any of her lambs stray. "It'll be tough to pinpoint a ghost in all this commotion," Echo told me, as we crossed the main foyer. Besides the stream of tours, gubernatorial staffers and other officials were bouncing between several meetings, including, we were told, The Brain, formerly known as The Body. (We didn't see him, but a press aide did verify later that one evening, when he was alone, the governor went to check on a crash in the mansion's kitchen and found dishes all over the floor.)
I gave Echo space to conduct her psychic snooping, which she performed remarkably inconspicuously. Quiet concentration, mostly. If you didn't know better, you'd think she was trying to make out a distant sound or recall a shopping list.
After the tour, we retreated to a restaurant to debrief. "Well," I demanded, as we dug into salads, "what's the verdict?"
"Oh, the place is haunted, all right," Echo said. "There was a ghost on the first floor, beyond the hallway we weren't allowed down." She closed her eyes. "I can see him better here than I could there. He's an older man. He's got white hair, a white beard. He's very content."
As Echo spoke, her eyelids twitched and her head moved slightly side to side. "He's pleased with his house--and he does consider it his house. He likes that important people live there, that history is being made there ... OK, OK," she added, as if responding to a voice only she could hear. "He doesn't care for the tours. He likes dignitaries, the aristocrats--his word--that come and go."
"Why is he there?" I asked.
"Pride in his home," Echo said, eyes still shut. "He just sits there, often by a window, and he watches people pass by. He's probably the original owner." (Horace Hills Irvine, we learned on the tour, a St. Paul attorney who built the place in 1910.) "Uh-huh, yes, I see. He also enjoys having a cigar--or two." Echo's eyes popped open. "We should find out if anybody smells cigar smoke when Jesse Ventura is not in the mansion!"
Did she feel the need to ghostbust him?
"Wouldn't do any good," she said, shaking her head. "He's determined to be there. In fact, most ghosts are, well, I don't know if stupid is the right word, but hardheaded. Immature."
As Echo explained it, "Ghosts are like everybody else. They just happen to be dead." Which means they have unresolved issues, they cling to what they know, and they're slow to recognize what's good for them. "In death as in life, we have the freedom of choice," Echo said. "Most of us step into the light, where our souls continue to evolve, but some remain in this world--ghosts. Some are afraid they might go to hell. Others want to remain close to someone here; others have someone they are afraid to see in heaven, like an abusive parent. Some ghosts don't even know they're dead! It's sad because ghosts are stuck, neither in this life or the afterlife."
The next day was Sunday, and I counted more than 150 open houses listed in the paper. I suggested we pick the neighborhood with the most homes and hit as many as possible. But I'd forgotten who my partner was. "Let me look that over while you enjoy your coffee," Echo said, taking the paper. Fifteen minutes later, she'd selected three homes--"the ones I got the strongest feelings about."
Our first stop was a "comfortable starter" in Minneapolis' Richfield section. Before we got out of the car, Echo said, "I think we should look in the basement." We offered a quick "hello" to the agent as we headed downstairs. In a corner, we found a workbench, above which hung a row of empty baby-food jars for nails and screws. "There he is," Echo said.
"A spirit--an old, stale spirit, definitely dead--right in front of the bench." She traced a spot in the air. "He spent a lot of time down here when he was alive. He doesn't care about the rest of the house--others claimed that. This was his space."
I looked, I squinted, but I couldn't see a thing.
"He's not here this minute," Echo added. "But his energy is, and it's fresh. He stays here and one other place he likes to spend a lot of time in."
"The American Legion Hall?" I offered.
Echo shot me a startled look. "You're probably right. And there's one nearby!"
At the American Legion Hall, Echo stopped still in the doorway--to adjust her eyes, I assumed, to the cave-like darkness. "Oooh," she said, grimacing, "this place is crawling with vibes." (I noticed something equally disturbing, a flier by the door that read: "Meat Raffle...every Thursday, 6 to 8 p.m.") We bought Cokes at the bar and sat at a table as far from the smoke and strange looks as we could get. After five minutes, we couldn't take it any longer. "Well, no ghosts there," Echo said, gulping fresh air outside. "Just a lot of macho vibes and bravado."
We pulled up in front of a one-and-a-half-story house and stared at it. "Yup, there's a spirit in there," Echo said, still gripping the wheel. "I can feel it. It's a woman. She's on the first floor, in the back, directly beyond the front door. Bet she's in the kitchen."
Damned (so to speak) if we didn't open the door to a hallway that led straight to the kitchen. "She's here," Echo whispered, making a circle in front of the kitchen sink. "It's definitely the spirit of an older woman. Probably a previous owner, now dead."
Touring the house, I tried to tap my own powers. Each room was a showcase of knick-knacks, floral prints, and hand-knitted afghans, pillow covers, place mats, and throw rugs. A lace-covered side table displayed a half-dozen porcelain religious figures. The television was at least 30 years old. I had to agree with Echo. I, too, detected the spirit of an older woman.
The real estate agent stopped us at the door. "She's eager to sell," he said. "She's the original owner, and she's reached that point where she can no longer manage the place by herself."
I tried to think of a way of broaching the possibility of a glitch in her reading of the ghost in the kitchen, but before I could, Echo cleared it all up. "Very interesting," she said. "I bet that woman is taking a nap somewhere."
"When you nap, the soul can leave your body," she explained. "That woman's soul came back to the sink to watch. She's very protective of the house, and I can tell you this--she's not seen any buyers she likes yet."
I'll admit, there's much about the spirit world I don't get. For starters, how consciousness can exist without a living body to feed it. Even more confusing to me is communication with the dead, which entails the living tapping into the "high-frequency vibrations" of the non-living's "energy." No matter how many times I try to wrap my brain around that cosmology, I always wind up cross-eyed.
Still, before I left, Echo gave me a psychic reading that blew me away--creepily accurate details about my life, my concerns and aspirations, she couldn't have guessed. If she's always that good, she's worth whatever she charges. When I asked how she knew this information, Echo said she channeled it through her spirit guide, Lilli, who had consulted my two spirit guides, Jasper and Charlene, friends from my past lives as a Scottish soldier and a German goat farmer. I'm not sure which stunned me most: that I have spirit guides, that I've had past lives, or that I'm probably the first person in the history of reincarnation who wasn't Leonardo da Vinci or Napoleon.
The last house we visited was an unkempt rambler in south Minneapolis. "I don't like the vibes of this place," Echo said, as we waded across the uncut lawn to the front door. Inside, the place was long and narrow, dark and gloomy. Echo stuck her head into the doorway of the back bedroom and jumped back. "Oh my gosh," she gasped. "There's something terrible in there!" She disappeared around the corner. I looked in and saw a small room, empty except for a bed.
Echo called me down to the basement to explain: "I saw images of violence in that room. Physical, maybe even sexual. Let's go."
The real estate agent stopped us at the door, and Echo came clean, telling him that she was a psychic drawn to the house by her intuition. To our surprise, the agent replied with total sincerity that he was fascinated by psychic phenomena. He gave Echo his card, saying he knew of some places that may be haunted if she was curious. Then, making sure no one else was around, he asked Echo what she found. She said there was something creepy about one of the rooms in the back.
"Oh, I know," he said, nodding. "The bedroom."
Then he added, and I'm not making this up: "That's probably the room in which the old man whacked himself."
Echo and I looked at each other, eyes the size of Frisbees.
"I'm not saying anything happened, of course," he added quickly. "Let's just say there's lots of speculation."
Well, yeah. Speculation was the order of the day. Standing in a grubby subdivision house talking about a guy offing himself in the back room, I realized I'd had my fill and was ready to ferry home across the River Styx. Echo and the real estate agent had settled in for a long chat. I eased open the screen door and snuck back to the car to wait.
If you'd like to contact Echo Bodine, for a ghostbusting or a psychic reading (she does readings by phone), visit www.echobodine.com.