Phantom odors: Ghosts or coincidence?
Have you ever awakened to the smell of breakfast cooking when nobody is in the kitchen? Or the mysterious scent of a cologne or tobacco smoke when no one else is around?
Phantom odors are a familiar component of the paranormal world. Skeptics, on the other hand, reason that such experiences are explainable coincidences, but these puzzling odors seem to always tie in with a former resident and his or her stroll through life. They become a calling card of sorts.
I don’t claim to have any kind of psychic ability, but an experience back in 2006 had me wondering. That spring, Ed, a family friend was in failing health at a local nursing home. One day I took him a small bouquet of roses. Since Ed was legally blind, he couldn’t read a card or note, but the floral scent was something he would enjoy.
Not long afterwards, Ed passed away.
A week after his funeral service, I remember smelling a peculiar odor of roses in our living room. The scent probably lasted no more than a minute, but it was so strong, I checked to see if maybe we had a Glade Plugin attached to an electrical outlet. Of course we didn’t, but I wish we had; then I could have easily explained the phantom scent.
Instead I thought of Ed’s roses, and figured he had visited me in spirit. Of course I could say the rose scent was just my imagination except that I know it was real.
Throughout the ages, unexplained smells from reported experiences have included bread baking, tobacco (cigarettes, cigars and pipe); former fire damage, perfume, deodorant, hair spray, the occasional the smell of sewer gas or rotted meat.
To the psychic’s line of reasoning, a building can literally absorb these past odors and replay them in short bursts at times.
Does this make any sense? Maybe not, but neither do these encounters with phantom smells.
Over the years, I’ve heard people claim they’ve smelled odors associated with a long-departed soul, and who am I to say they haven’t?
One such instance involved Historic Rosedale, a 200-year-old plantation house in Charlotte. Some reports of spirit activity at the house involve an enslaved woman known as “Cherry.” She served as nursemaid for the children of Harriett Davidson Caldwell, the plantation owner’s wife, who fell ill and died in 1845. As the story goes, Cherry would sneak smokes of rabbit tobacco, much to the chagrin of Mrs. Caldwell’s husband.
The Rosedale website extols Cherry as a much beloved figure in Caldwell family history. “Cherry loved to smoke her pipe but Dr. David Caldwell forbade smoking in the house. Cherry smoked in the girls’ bedroom late at night, taking care to hold her pipe when it wasn’t in her mouth so that the smoke was carried up the chimney.”
A few years ago, a strong smoke odor prompted the staff of Rosedale to call the fire department. When the unit arrived, the rabbit tobacco smoke smell was still apparent to the executive director of Rosedale—a personal friend of mine—and one of the firefighters who happened to be African American.
In this particular case, the phantom odor lingered for the better part of an hour, though the source was never determined.
How was it that the smoke wasn’t detectable to everyone in the house? Was it the power of suggestion or something more mysterious?
Smoke also figures into a story involving my Cousin Renee of Champaign, IL. On June 22, 2007, Renee and her husband were awakened by smoke. They raced outside to see their next-door neighbor screaming in front of her burning house on Brett Court.
Renee and other neighbors ran to the woman’s door to pound and yell, trying to rouse family members trapped inside. Their efforts were in vain. The neighbor’s husband, two children and a family pet perished in the fire.
Understandably, the horror haunted everyone who was there that night. Grief counselors were called in. Firefighters who responded to the blaze visited with the neighborhood children to talk about their fears in an effort to help them heal.
Within a few months, the charred house was demolished and a new one built on the empty lot.
A year later, on June 22, the smell of smoke returned to Brett Court. There was no fire, but Renee, her family and some of their neighbors agreed that they had smelled smoke that day. The odor was especially puzzling since a burning wood stove or smoldering leaves are highly unlikely sources in late June.
The phantom odor in 2008 would have been amazing enough, except that the odor of smoke returned to Brett Court on the anniversary of the fire for the next 10 years.
Photo credit: Ilias81, Wikipedia