Subtitles section Play video Print subtitles In the early 1900s the St. Nicholas Croatian Roman Catholic Church was opened in western Pennsylvania to meet the needs of an influx of Croatian immigrants. Just a few decades later, many of those immigrants wouldn't go near the church. It was said ghosts lurked among the disturbing murals that had been painted by the world-renowned Croatian artist, Maxo Vanka. This man had experienced first-hand the horrors of war. He'd seen bloodshed in all its vivid horror. He'd watched men die before his own eyes. When he worked at night he demanded to be left completely alone with his dark thoughts. It was then while painting the walls and ceiling of the church, he became aware he was being watched. A strange, hooded figure glided past his scaffold; the artist heard mumbling as his body was eclipsed by what felt like a rush of freezing cold air. This is just one of many ghost stories that have throughout time have both entertained and frightened various groups of Catholics. It's no campfire tale, either. It's a very real story of a very real man who was certain specters came into his life. Let's stick with his story for now. As this tale goes, he was hired to beautify the church after it had fallen into a state of disrepair following a fire in 1921. The pastor there, Father Albert Zagar, was a big fan of Vanka's work. Vanka himself had accumulated a lot of support for his painting in Europe, so he was the ideal man to paint what would become one of the most celebrated murals in the world. Vanka was not a crazy man, but he was certainly affected by the horrors he'd seen while serving in the Belgian Red Cross during the First World War. He was a devoted pacifist, but that didn't prevent him from seeing fields stained with blood and hearing the primal moans of dying soldiers. This is reflected in his artwork. He painted scenes in the church that depicted what he had seen during the war, that and how faith in God was the remedy for such horror. Vanka only ever painted at night when there was complete silence in the church. He demanded that no one could enter the place, not even Father Zagar. It was during his first few days of work that he began to hear strange noises, sounds he had never heard before. At first, he just brushed this off as his imagination playing tricks on him. Then on the fourth night, he noticed something about 30 meters away from him, what looked like a robed man moving his arms around. Vanka just thought that somehow Father Zagar had gotten into the church. The only noise he could hear, however, was the sound of Zagar's dog barking wildly. At around two in the morning when Vanka quit work, he met the Father for tea and snacks. “I saw you inside the church,” said Vanka, trying not to sound as if he was censuring the Father. “I wasn't in the church,” was the reply he heard. A few days later Vanka felt a presence again. He looked down from his scaffold, and what he saw was a figure dressed in robes with his head covered by a hood. Vanka squinted just to make sure he wasn't seeing things, but the figure remained below the scaffold, mumbling to himself and making gestures with his hands. Again, Vanka wondered if it was the Father. Maybe the old man was playing tricks on him, he thought. Maybe the Father was just walking around the church, but didn't want to disturb him as he painted. You see, Vanka didn't immediately think he'd seen a ghost. He wasn't the kind of person to believe such a thing. But what had he seen? Vanka went over to the Father's quarters where he found him soundly asleep. After he woke him up he asked him if he had a habit of sleepwalking, because someone was in the church while he was painting. The father just looked at him sternly and took a big gulp. He told Vanka that for some years people had claimed to have seen ghosts in the church. He said the community was scared stiff. He said that many of them had argued about what the ghost was, or who the ghost was. The Father hadn't seen any ghosts himself, but many others had. The only reason he didn't tell Vanka was that he didn't want to scare him. He said from now on, he'd sit below the scaffold while Vanka worked. The next night the two weren't exactly in the same state of mind. Vanka was still shaken by what he'd seen, but the Father just made jokes about the mysterious specter. That smile was soon erased from his face when he heard the same strange sounds that Vanka was hearing. Almost shaking, the father walked towards the noise and said loudly, “If you're a ghost, if you're a dead man, go with God. Peace to you. I'll pray for you. Only, please don't bother us.” At that very moment, Vanka looked over to the fourth pew. There he saw the robed man, only this time he could make the figure out better. He was old, very old, and had an angular face. Then just like that, he disappeared. The Father hadn't seen him, but he'd heard something spooky. He wasn't quite sure if to believe Vanka about the figure, though. It was perhaps this skepticism that caused something to happen that would change the Father's life forever. Later that night as he was sleeping he was awakened by strange noises seemingly pervading his bedroom. He felt a cold shudder down his back; he felt a presence. Again, the Father told the ghost that he would pray for him, that God was with him, but please could he leave the church. A few nights passed and the noises came back. The ghost was obviously not agreeable to the Father's entreaties. When he walked over to the church to tell Vanka about what he'd heard, he got another surprise. This time the ghost walked down the altar and over to the eternal flame. That flame had been lit for eight years and had not gone out once, but as soon as the ghost reached it, it flickered and died. The Father was no longer a skeptic, and so much for eternal. Vanka kept up with the work but always with a sense that something evil was in that church with him. The noises and the apparitions became so regular that he started to stuff bits of cotton in his ears. To prevent him from seeing the ghost out of the corner of his eyes he made blinkers with old newspapers. Word got around about what the artist was seeing. Many people said the pacifist in the war had what they called a “gift of sympathy”. This was why he was able to see the dead. Still today, you can see those quite amazing but also disturbing murals that Vanka painted in the presence of ghosts. For the next terrifying tale, we must leave the USA and head over the pond to the city of London, England. It was there in the bitterly cold winter of 1847 that a young woman had a violent run-in with something not of this world. This woman was just 29-years old and she was incredibly wealthy as well as very attractive. She lived in a palatial mansion that was decorated with fine and art and furniture made by the best hands in Europe. Also sharing the house was a Lord, a man not in any way in intimate relations with the woman. One night she was reading a novel in her exquisite bedroom. It was past midnight, and her eyelids were starting to droop. When she heard the clock strike one she laid the book down on her bed table and blew out the candle. After a few minutes as her mind was about to drift off into the realms of sleep, she witnessed something she couldn't explain. A bright light filled the room. It was through this light that she noticed the young Lord appear. He walked over to her as she sat up in bed, her screams held back by the shock. He grabbed her arm so hard it hurt. In a deep and resounding voice, the man said to her, “There is a hell!” The pain was so much at that point that she passed out. About an hour later she was awoken by an intense pain emanating from her arm. When she lifted up the sleeve on her nightdress, she almost passed out again when she saw a burn that was so bad she could almost see the bone in her arm. The next day she discovered something terrifying. The previous night at the same time she had been attacked, the Lord had become delirious having what looked like a seizure. The servants did their best to help him, but he died just after the clock struck one. We don't know the name of this woman's family, but we know they were very religious people. The woman it's said for years wore a golden band over that burn mark, but the family hardly ever talked about the incident again. Now let's return to stories with names and places. The location of the next tale is La Roche College in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania. This place was built in the 1960s for the Sisters of Divine Providence. It was there where nuns studied, some of whom would see phantoms in their midst. One of the nuns at the college was blind, but she knew the layout of the land very well and so wasn't frightened to wander around. She was well aware that there was a pond not far from the main building, and since she was blind and couldn't swim, she made sure never to stray from the path when in the vicinity of the pond. But as you all know, sometimes fate has an ugly way of expressing itself, even when it comes to a disabled person who's devoted her life to serving God Almighty. One day, as she walked down that familiar path something caused her to slip. She fell sideways into the pond. While it wasn't that deep, she may have got caught in the vines and mud, because the next time she was seen was a few hours later when her pale body was pulled out to the distress of the other nuns. For decades after, people who studied at the college claimed to have seen the apparition of the sister taking that fateful walk. In fact, so many people said they had seen the ghost that in 1996 the college newspaper decided it was time to look into the matter. Not only did some people not believe in the sightings but many folks thought the whole blind nun story was fiction. It wasn't. It turned out that on March 22, 1949, a blind nun named Sister Mercedes Michel had indeed gone out for her daily walk. It was just after 10 am when the other nuns realized that she hadn't appeared that morning to start her lunch duties, something she never failed to do. They soon heard the news. A guy driving past the pond had seen a body. It was Sister Michel. As the story goes, for a few days prior to her fall she had been incredibly anxious about something although she wouldn't tell the other nuns what was on her mind. What was also strange, given her young age, was that the pathologist said the reason she hadn't been able to get out of the pond was the fact that she had had a heart attack. To this day, people still occasionally see her walking along that path, only to fall into that murky water again. Now let's go back in time and look at a place that was once called the most haunted house in England. This wasn't any ordinary house, it was a rectory, the place where the holy person dwelled when he wasn't in the church. In 1862, that person was Reverend Henry Dawson Ellis Bull. He was the reverend of Borley Church in the south of England, so his house was Borley rectory. What's interesting is the church goes way back. Some people say it was built on the top of a monastery that dated back to 1362. This place had a very dark past indeed, according to Borley lore. One of the monks there fell in love and had an intimate relationship with a nun, which was about as big a dereliction of duty as you could get back in those days. The punishment was harsh, to say the least. The monk was executed and the nun was bricked up alive and died within the walls, all the time pleading for God to forgive her for her earthly transgression. Ok, so the first signs that the place might be haunted go back to 1863 while Reverend Dawson Ellis Bull was in charge. It wasn't such a big haunting, with folks just saying they continually heard footsteps in the rectory. When the father was dead and gone his four daughters took over the house. In the year 1900, all of them saw the same thing. That was the ghost of a nun running down the yard. They tried to talk to this nun, but the apparition just disappeared. This sounds like a tall tale, but people took their story seriously. Other incidents occurred around that time, such as people claiming they'd seen headless horsemen riding a carriage around the grounds of the rectory. Time passed, but the stories didn't stop. In the early 20th century, Reverend Guy Eric Smith took over the rectory. One day his wife was cleaning the house when she came across a puzzling thing: a human skull inside a paper bag in a cupboard. This family knew all about the hauntings, but obviously didn't believe in headless horsemen and spectral nuns. They soon did, though, after hearing servants' bells ring by themselves and other strange noises. They were so taken aback by the strange events that they contacted the Society for Psychical Research. When a paranormal investigator from that organization went to the house, he too said he saw and heard strange phenomena, which he put down to ghosts. The family wanted to leave the rectory. The problem was, since everyone knew about the hauntings it wasn't exactly easy to find a replacement. Nonetheless, a replacement came and that was Reverend Lionel Algernon Foyster and his wife Marianne. Did they see strange things? You bet your life they did. The reverend, like the family before him, wrote to the Society for Psychical Research. He said servants' bells kept going off by themselves. He said windows would suddenly shatter into small pieces. Worse still, sometimes objects would fly through the air and writing would just appear out of nowhere on the walls. One of the most frightening incidents was when his young daughter went into a room and the door just locked behind her, even though she couldn't have locked the door herself.