My sense of empathy has always hovered around the “overdrive” setting, for good or ill. OK, mostly ill. If I watch a sad movie, I’m a wreck: bawling, sniffling, worn out.
If I watch a scary movie (“watch” being an approximate term, as I spend most of the movie with a pillow in front of my face), I can go weeks in fear, jumping from the floor into the bed, so the demons hiding underneath it can’t grab at my feet.
Still, I’ve always been a bit of a skeptic where ghosts are concerned. As such, in September of 1980, when I was given two free tickets to hear a lecture by Ed and Lorraine Warren, I was mildly amused.
The Warrens were the lead paranormal investigators in the case of the now-world-famous house in Amityville, New York, where the Lutz family lasted all of 28 days before they fled from what they said was absolute demonic terror. The case spawned the movie The Amityville Horror, which came out in the summer of 1979, and the Warrens were on the lecture circuit, discussing their techniques. They are also tied to the stories surrounding the more recent Conjuring film series.
Anyway, I thought about not going, but since the tickets were from my boss, I decided it’d be impolite to refuse, and besides, ghosts aren’t real, so what the heck.
The lecture hall at the college where the event was held was typical of that sort of venue in the 70s: dimly lit, with a raked (upwardly sloped) seating plan; movie-theater-like, with room for 200 or so people. As I was eight months pregnant at that time, I was grateful to have seats in the front row, where I could stretch out my legs.
The Warrens came out onto the small stage to polite applause, and were seated. Then, with the exception of a wide spotlight on the two of them, everything went completely dark. I started to feel ever-so-slightly uncomfortable.
Lorraine and Ed Warren
Lorraine then addressed the audience. According to what’s seared into my memory, she said:
For our lecture this evening, we ask that you do not smoke, as cigarette smoke entices and attracts paranormal activity.
As folks put out their cigarettes, I seriously fought the urge to get up and leave. But I was in the front row; if I left right at the get-go, people would definitely out me as the chicken I was. So I stayed.
The lecture and accompanying slide show laid out the general facts about Ronald DeFeo, Jr., who, in 1974, systematically shot his entire family as they lay in their beds. Ed stressed the fact that, even though Ronald used an un-silenced .35 caliber rifle to go from room to room and murder his parents and siblings, none of the neighbors ever heard a single shot.
Also, Ronald remembered that it was 3:15 a.m. when the killing, which he says was ordered by “voices,” began.
The lecture couldn’t get over with soon enough. I skipped out on the question-and-answer session afterwards (they turned on the lights for that, of course, as the spooky-boo part was over), dramatically pressing my hand to my lower back, as if to say, “Ugh, I have to get this pregnant body home to bed.”
And I did just that, until I had to visit the bathroom in the middle of the night, as most pregnant ladies do. I opened my eyes and looked at the bedside clock.
It was exactly 3:15.
I lay there, horrified. But I *had* to get up, you know? Babies take up a lot of room. So I did the only brave thing I could, and dragged my husband out of bed to come with me to the loo, where he sat, half asleep, on the edge of the bathtub, like a good sport. Then we both went back to bed, hand in hand, because somehow that would keep me safe from the menacing ghosts of Ronnie DeFeo’s slain family. That went on for several nights in a row.
There’s a documentary called Devil’s Road: The True Story of Ed and Lorraine Warren that I’m watching right now, instead of doing the work I should be doing. I hope I don’t give myself nightmares, because there’s no one to hold my hand if I need a bathroom break tonight.