Gina Taylor and Kelly Shearer are not the type of people to go looking for ghosts. The longtime friends and neighbors are down-to-earth, practical and very busy moms and professionals – all of which makes the unsettling events of their two entirely unrelated trips to Tuscany even stranger.
Gina, the granddaughter of Italian immigrants, was delighted when she learned of her parents’ plans to treat the family to a holiday in Tuscany to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary. They had rented a villa in the picturesque village of Sarteano, and all 18 of them would have the place to themselves – Gina, two of her three sons, her daughter, her two brothers and their families, and of course, their parents. Their first day they made the long drive from Rome to Sarteano, where they found the Villa Tramonto at the top of a long, winding road. The rambling stone farmhouse was enchanting. Gina looked out the window at the rolling hills and meadows. It was like a dream come true.
Gina and her little boy chose an apartment that was part of the house, with its own entrance and staircase and a room that opened into the central living room. They dined together, then went to bed.
“The next thing I knew, I woke up spooked by a man standing in the corner of the room,” she said. He was wearing a blue jumpsuit, like the type that workers sometimes wear, and had a peace medallion with a long chain around his neck.
“He didn’t say anything to me, and he didn’t do anything; he was just standing there, looking at me.”
She didn’t stop to think; she just reacted. This was her first trip abroad, and everyone had told her to be sure to keep her children and her passport with her at all times. So she grabbed her little boy and the passport and ran to the living room.
“I said, ‘There’s a man in my room, there’s a man in my room!’” Her big brother Jimmy and her father started searching the house. “Of course, there was no sign of the man – but there was an unlocked door that led into the common living area.”
After a thorough search, they locked the door and went back to bed. But Gina took her little boy and went upstairs to join her other son, and from then on, she stayed upstairs.
For the rest of the trip, she didn’t sleep very well, but there were no other strange occurrences.
Except for one thing.
On Thursday, they were packing up to go out for the day and she looked out the window.
“There were men walking around in blue suits, working in the garden,” she said. This time, everyone else saw them, too. “I had never seen these men in blue suits, ever. I said, ‘See? I told you I really did see somebody.’ They still thought I was crazy.”
Gina laughs, a bit sheepishly, when she tells the story. She doesn’t like to talk about it much. Not long after she got back home, her next-door neighbor, Kelly Shearer, mentioned that her family was going to Tuscany for their mother’s 60th birthday celebration.
Kelly’s mother had also reserved a villa that she’d found online. One day she stopped by to visit and Gina showed her the photos from her trip.
“I saw a picture of one of the rooms, and I recognized it from the website,” said Kelly. “I said, ‘Oh my gosh, I think it’s the same house!’”
They both marveled at the strangeness of the coincidence, but Gina said nothing about her unwelcome visitor. “She just told us to have a wonderful trip,” said Kelly. “I kind of wish I had asked more questions.”
Kelly shared a room downstairs with her husband, while the children slept upstairs. She awoke in the night and felt uncomfortable with the children so far away.
“It was the middle of night, and I heard lots of ladies laughing, having fun,” she said. She went down to the kitchen, where the noises seemed to be coming from, but it was completely dark. So she went back upstairs and looked in on her mother and her aunt; they were in their rooms, fast asleep.
She decided to spend the night in the children’s room. The next morning, she broached the subject with her family. “I asked, ‘Did you guys hear laughing?’ and they all said, ‘No, we don’t know what you’re talking about.’”
The next night she decided to sleep in the bedroom with her boys, and in the middle of the night she heard water running in the next room, where her aunt was staying; it sounded as if she were filling the bathtub. “The next day I asked her if she’d had trouble sleeping,” she said. “She had no idea what I was talking about.”
She had initially had her daughter in a separate room, but after that incident, she put the kids together and spent the rest of the trip sleeping with them. “I was spooked,” she said.
But that wasn’t the end of it. The rooms had interior shutters that locked from inside. Kelly locked the outer shutters, then closed the interior shutters and locked them.
“I came back a couple of hours later and they were wide open,” she said. “That continued to happen every night.”
She started sleeping with the lights on, reading as long as she could stay awake. “When I woke up, the lights were off,” she said. “It was like that every night.”
“I didn’t get a lot of sleep, needless to say,” she said. She began sleeping on the train on their day trips, any time she could get a little rest. By the time they were headed home, she was exhausted.
She didn’t share her observations with anyone. “I just kept it to myself and said I wanted to stay upstairs with the kids because their room was so far away,” she said. After she got home, she saw Gina, and they compared notes.
“It was really eerie. The hair literally stood up on my arms as she told me about her late-night visitor,” said Kelly, “but somehow it made me feel a little better, because then I knew I hadn’t imagined the whole thing.”
They’ve laughed about it ever since. Of all the houses, in all of Tuscany, they had had ended up in the same one – and it had been haunted.
You don’t have to go to as far as Italy to add a touch of the supernatural to your vacation. Houston, San Antonio, Austin and Dallas all offer haunted tours. But Galveston tops the charts for Texas ghost sightings.
If your goal is to explore the dark side, consider traveling to one of the following, selected by USA Today as among America’s most haunted cities:
Galveston: A horrifying 6,000-8,000 people died in the country’s largest natural disaster, the hurricane of 1900, and ghost hunters say many of them still linger in the Victorian mansions. “Ghost Man of Galveston” Dash Beardsley’s tours were rated No. 1 Ghost Tour in America by Haunted America Tours for 2010-2011. See ghosttoursofgalvestonisland.com.
Savannah, Ga.: Remember Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil? That’s Savannah, a sweet southern city built on an Indian burial ground and cemeteries of slaves. Its Afterlife Tours even have their own TV program, Spooky Town. See afterlifetours.net.
New Orleans: The War of 1812, epidemics and ghastly murders reportedly left many unsettled spirits in America’s most haunted city. Some famous ghosts are said to haunt these parts, including voodoo queen Marie Laveau and pirate Jean Lafitte. See frenchquarterphantoms.com.
Baltimore: Being the final resting place of Edgar Allen Poe might be enough to attract restless spirits, but Baltimore is also the site of numerous battles. See baltimoreghosttours.com, voted by Baltimore Magazine in 2009 as “Best Creepy History Lesson.”
San Francisco: More than 100,000 Chinese immigrants came to America, most passing through this city, during the burgeoning Gold Rush. Many lost their lives in the mines, on the railroads and in the fields, and some are said to be hanging around Chinatown to this day. See ghosttourdirectory.com/ghost-tours/united-states/california-ca/san-francisco-ca.
Washington, D.C.: The capital reportedly is a Who’s Who of haunts, including Dolley Madison, Andrew Jackson, Abraham Lincoln and John and Abigail Adams. The Nightly Spirits Pub Tours (nightlyspirits.com) gives visitors a chance to enjoy some spirits with their spirits.