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Paranormal Events That Have Reasonable Explanations But Still Creep Us Out

We can all think of paranormal stories that have kept us awake at night. Whether it was a run-in with Bloody Mary, an encounter with a Ouija board, or watching Paranormal Activity, otherworldly events have a special way of haunting us. 

It's a comfort to know, then, that sometimes these paranormal stories are more fiction than fact. Even some of the most infamous events that have inspired books and movies have turned out to be more Hollywood and less haunted house.

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  • The Amityville House

    The Amityville House
    Photo: The Amityville Horror / MGM

    On November 13, 1974, 23-year-old Ronald DeFeo Jr. shot and killed both of his parents and all four of his siblings. The house that was home to the murders - 112 Ocean Avenue in Amityville, LI - was purchased by George and Kathy Lutz for a steal just a year later. But soon after moving in, they and their three children reported strange happenings: Doors would be ripped off their hinges, strong odors came and went, a chill would take over the home, and slime oozed from the ceiling.

    One night, George alleged that Kathy transformed into an older woman - a ghost - right before his eyes. Another night, he heard his children's beds slamming up and down, but he couldn't get up to check on them because he was being held down by an invisible force. The family lasted just 28 days in the house, leaving behind all of their possessions, even the food in the fridge. A local TV crew did a report on the house, stayed in it overnight, and declared it definitively haunted. 

    Some of George and Kathy's children, however, have since come forward to say that the events of the book and film titled The Amityville Horror were stretched well beyond the facts. Christopher Quaratino, George's stepson, says George was obsessed with the occult and that he exaggerated some paranormal events that he believed happened when he was a child to create the stories that allegedly occurred at the house.

    Despite the Lutzes' speedy exit from the home, none of the subsequent owners or occupants ever reported any superstitious or out-of-the-ordinary events. Perhaps the final nail in the hoax-not-horror coffin is the fact that DeFeo's defense attorney, William Weber, admitted in an interview that he and the Lutzes concocted the story in order to get a lucrative book deal.

  • The Snedeker House

    The Snedeker House
    Photo: The Haunting in Connecticut / Lionsgate

    In Southington, CT, there was a mortuary-turned-house available for rent. In 1986, the Snedeker family - consisting of parents Carmen and Allen, three sons, one daughter, and two nieces - moved into the simple, white house.

    Aside from finding various remnants from the mortuary, such as toe tags, in the basement, the family soon started experiencing supernatural events that would inspire the movie The Haunting in Connecticut. These events included seemingly sudden, violent changes in the eldest son's behavior, sexual attacks, and apparitions. A pair of local demonologists, Ed and Lorraine Warren, determined that the house was indeed possessed

    It appears, however, that it was all - or at least mostly - for show. The demonologists did a good job of sensationalizing and marketing the horrors, but years later, the author who was originally hired by the Warrens and Snedekers to write their story told of several inconsistencies.

    He was told to ignore any conflicts in the stories relayed by family members and to make the story as sensational as possible. It was also discovered that the eldest son was later diagnosed with schizophrenia. Additionally, although the house was a duplex, the upstairs neighbor never reported any similar apparitions or ghostly events, and no tenants before or since have claimed any supernatural activity.

  • The San Antonio Ghost Tracks

    According to rumors, a fatal school bus crash occurred in the early 1900s in San Antonio, TX. The bus got stuck on the train tracks in the south side of town, and when a train came, all of the children on board were killed.

    Locals said if you parked your car on the tracks and put it in neutral, you would soon feel your car moving over and off the tracks; this was allegedly the children's ghosts trying to save you. People would even dust the back of their cars with baby powder, afterward seeing the hand prints of the ghostly children. 

    However, in 2003, local archivist Matt De Waelsche debunked the story and noted that no such bus accident ever occurred in San Antonio. The accident actually occurred in Salt Lake City, UT, in 1938. De Waelsche, like many skeptics at the time, also noted there was an incline over the tracks, which explained why cars moved when placed into neutral. The fingerprints that believers saw, of course, were simply all of their own fingerprints on the back of their car that became visible once the powder set.

  • One of the most famous hauntings in the United Kingdom turned out to be not so haunting at all. Borley Rectory became a frequent name in newspapers, with frequent tales of fresh spiritual activity. Ghost hunters from all over the world came to see it for themselves.

    It all started in 1918 with Reverend Harry Bull and his family, which included 14 children. The family would tell tales of ghostly visits and odd happenings, and the children would even point to a piano that apparently played music at the hands of an unseen spirit. 

    It turned out that the entire thing was a hoax from the beginning: The Bull children would hide from sight and pull the piano strings with a fire poker; the children and servants would also ring the servant bells while making it look as if no one was around.

    The Bull family encouraged the stories, and by the 1930s, Borley Rectory was well-known for its many "supernatural" occurrences. When Reverend Lionel Foyster took over the rectory in the '30s, he and his wife continued with the paranormal publicity as a way to help make ends meet. In 1938, the home was destroyed by a fire. 

    Not until June 2000 would believers in the Borley Rectory hauntings learn that the whole thing was made up from the start. Louis Mayerling, who considered the house a second home for many years, published a book titled We Faked the Ghosts of Borley Rectory. In it, he revealed how one reverend's eccentricities turned into a myth that was perpetuated by future residents of the home.

  • The Marfa Lights

    Just outside the West Texas town of Marfa, a strange phenomenon is said to occur: When all conditions are just right, mysterious, glowing, orb-shaped lights appear in the sky. They sometimes move up and down ever so slightly, but otherwise they just seem to hover.

    Marfa residents and passersby alike have made note of the lights for decades, with the earliest written account occurring in the 1950s. Many explanations for the lights have materialized: aliens, the ghost of an Apache chief, or the spirits of Spanish conquistadors. 

    The most likely explanation, however, is pretty simple: headlights. Although some Marfa residents claim the lights appeared as early as the 19th century, no written record has ever confirmed this. The first public acknowledgment of the lights actually occurred well after the invention of the automobile.

    In 2011, scientists conducted some research and published their findings, claiming the lights were just car headlights from the nearby highway. The orbs seemed to bounce because the headlights warped as they traveled over the 20 miles of flatland.

  • The Anson Light Highway Ghost

    The Anson Light Highway Ghost
    Photo: Billy Hathorn / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

    About 25 miles north of Abilene, TX, sits the city of Anson. A frequent pastime of both high school and college students is to chase down the Anson Light. The Anson Light could reportedly be found by driving to a cemetery outside Abilene, then following a dirt road adjacent to the cemetery. If drivers then turned their cars around and flashed their lights back down the dirt road, a ghostly light would appear.

    The light is said to be a glowing lantern held by the ghost of a distressed mother, who went out looking for her lost son in a snowstorm - neither of them ever returned home.

    For years, the local legend haunted young drivers looking for a thrill on a Saturday night. Then, in 2011, a professor and some students at Abilene Christian University found the true cause of the mysterious light: headlights from a road not far away. Armed with iPhones and GPS tracking, Professor Richard Beck and his students were able to track the location of oncoming cars, at the same time noting when the light appeared. Overnight, the mystery of the Anson Light was solved.