By Erika Webb
Halloween, or All Hallows' Eve, is celebrated in many different ways, based on varying beliefs and traditions.
Trick or treating, costume parties, harvest festivals, prayer, revelry, quiet reflection; the list is as long as the religious, or non-religious, traditions it documents.
Long after the excitement of candy collecting has waned, some of the most self-restraining adults allow themselves a little surge of adrenaline at the sight of the Hunter's Moon hearkening Halloween's approach. They indulge their imaginations, conjure spooky images and engage in the passing down of ghostly lore; and they wonder ... is there life beyond the veil? Do the departed walk among us?
Mary Reed Newland wrote in a blog at catholiceducation.org, "It was in the eighth century that the Church appointed a special date for the feast of All Saints, followed by a day in honor of her soon-to-be saints, the feast of All Souls. She chose this time of year, it is supposed, because in her part of the world it was the time of barrenness on the earth. The harvest was in, the summer done, the world brown and drab and mindful of death. Snow had not yet descended to comfort and hide the bony trees or blackened fields; so with little effort man could look about and see a meditation on death and life hereafter."
The night was a vigil for souls, as well as saints, conducted the night before All Saints Day -- to honor all those saints who didn't have their own feast days. "And," Ms. Newland wrote, "a vigil is never kept on a feast."
Centuries later, vigils in the form of ghost tours and cemetery walks, take place in cities everywhere, some year-round; others in the weeks leading up to Oct. 31.
The tours generally offer interesting historical information and great fun, but does anything otherworldly ever take place?
Last year at Lilian Place something did.
Nancy Long, president of the Heritage Preservation Trust that owns the property at 111 Silver Beach Ave., was guiding a tour on a Friday night. As she began to talk about the home's resident ghost, Lucille, the lights dimmed five times.
"I tend to be a real cynic," Ms. Long said. "I thought the wind or something caused it. But the next night as I told them about the night before, the lights dimmed five times again. Everybody, including me said, 'I saw that!' That time I couldn't excuse it to wind and rain because it was a beautiful, still evening."
The Italianate-style house was built in 1884 for the Thompson family.
Ms. Long said legend has it more than 100 years ago a member of the family awakened to a woman with upswept hair, dressed in the fashion of the late 1800s, pouring water into a pitcher.
"She said, 'Don't be afraid. I'm not going to hurt you. My name is Lucille,'" Ms. Long explained.
For decades thereafter Lucille was blamed for the lights and water turning off and on without human assistance, doors opening and closing at will and other strange occurrences in the home. There have been so many that a book, "The Ghost of Lilian Place," was written and is available for sale at the welcome center.
Susan Hartley Sullivan, of DeLand, has lived all over Volusia County. She said wherever she goes, the souls of the departed seem to follow.
Ms. Sullivan said she's an empath. In psychic terms, an empath is one who is affected by other people's energies, and has an innate ability to intuitively feel and perceive others. The life of an empath is unconsciously influenced by others' desires, wishes, thoughts and moods, according to Nicole Lawler, a healer and empath who described the phenomenon at lifehealingenergy.com.
"There is really no separation from an empath, others here in this world, as well as ancestors passed down through your DNA. Being an empath can be so difficult because you can walk through the spirit world, and walk through the earthly world being grounded to the earth," Ms. Lawler wrote. "We have the ability to merge our consciousness with anything easily, even if we are not aware that we are doing so. We feel more comfortable in the world of Spirit."
Whether in her parents' home on East First Street in Pierson, her aunt and uncle's 100-year-old home "out in the boonies," west of Pierson, or in the new home she had built in Deltona, unexplainable phenomena always occurred.
"My aunt and uncle's house had a lot of history. At night, in my cousin's room, you could hear wind chimes that sounded like little tinker bells," Ms. Sullivan said. "At night it was freezing cold in that room. My aunt would tuck us in tight, but in the morning the covers would be pulled down. It only happened when we heard those bells."
She said her aunt and uncle went to Cassadaga to consult a medium about another matter and the woman picked up on what was happening in the home.
"The medium in Cassadaga said it was an Indian spirit named Belle," Ms. Sullivan said.
The same medium described Ms. Sullivan to her aunt and insisted the girl be brought to the medium.
"She said, 'You have to bring her. I have to talk to her,'" Ms. Sullivan recalled.
That's when she began taking classes with the now internationally known spiritualist medium, The Rev. B. Anne Gheman.
"We built a house in Deltona, near Lake Helen," Ms. Sullivan said. "Right after we built it, I had a strange feeling that we built it on a highway but there wasn't one. That first Christmas we had the tree and the presents. The crackling of paper kept waking me up. I thought it was the cat, but when I got up in the morning the cat was outside."
Throughout the time Ms. Sullivan lived in that house she said things moved, disappeared and reappeared.
"This house ... it was like it was 200 years old, all the stuff going on in there," she said.
Ultimately, she attributed the occurrences to nearby power transmission lines but they weren't acting alone.
"I found out that because of all the loose energy there ... static ... you could hold a fluorescent bulb up toward the lines and it will light up. I found out, years later, that free energy like that is a perfect conduit for clairvoyant type stuff. It's like you're hooked up to a (supernatural) power source if you have any intuitive faculties."
Former Artisan Inn owner Chryst Soety once allowed a paranormal investigation organization to scope out the old hotel on Woodland Boulevard.
DeLand resident Robyn Schmidt, a self-described "novice paranormal investigator" was intrigued by their findings.
The group determined there was an unusual amount of energy in the basement and several investigators were reported to have channeled the spirit of a young woman, Mrs. Schmidt said.
It was noted that one investigator, perhaps overcome by the amount or type of energy felt there, had to be helped from the building.
Over the years there have been numerous reports of a woman seen walking throughout the second floor of the building as well as the basement.
There also were two different male presences seen walking throughout the building, including the restaurant area, the investigators' findings revealed.
Former staff and bar goers frequently reported objects moving by themselves and have told stories of patrons being pushed from their chairs.
Supernatural frivolity was thought to be the culprit on several occasions when employees' belongings would disappear and reappear in a different location, Mrs. Schmidt said.
Unknown sources of laughter and child entities also have been heard and seen in the building, she added.
Mrs. Schmidt said there have been reports of ghost sightings and psychic phenomena at the old Masonic Temple, the Muse Book Store, Florida Victorian Architecture and the former Merlin's Vision storefront.
She also "hears tell" that some city workers refuse to go into the basement -- formerly the morgue -- of the old 1920 Memorial Hospital building at Bill Dreggors Park because of "boxes moving, doors shutting and a feeling of a presence."
In New Smyrna Beach, several places along Flagler Avenue are reported to harbor ghostly apparitions.
In a Yahoo Voices blog, contributor Kathy Browning wrote: "Originally inhabited by Timucuan Indians for more than 2,000 years, many of the legends and haunting in NSB are connected to this tribe. One of the most notorious places for close encounters with the other side is Flagler Avenue."
Lo Lo's Boutique, with its quaint pink canopy, is said to attract a female specter "known to move things around and patrons report seeing cosmetics levitating above the counter."
Ms. Newland also reported patrons at Breakers Restaurant have seen the apparition of a woman burned to death in a hotel fire across the street lurking in the restaurant's upstairs window.
And Volusia's list of popular haunts goes on.
Whether you believe or whether you don't, there's still time before Halloween to stop by one of them or book a tour.