Is Inverlochy Art School really haunted?
While some people have had strange experiences in the building others have lived or worked there for many years without incident.
But the building has a long term reputation for being haunted and recently it has been the subject of an ongoing paranormal investigation by local paranormal investigation group - Strange Occurrences.
Quite when the haunting started and who ghost is (or was) nobody is quite certain. In most reported cases it is not a ghost which is seen but rather objects appear to move by themselves.
However there has been at least one report of a person seeing the ghost of a young woman - possibly wearing Victorian style servant's clothing - on the first floor landing outside the Print Studio. This unknown woman is often credited as being the spirit which haunts the building but no one knows this for certain. There is certainly a rumour that a young woman died in a fire in this room at some time around the 1920s but no one has found a newspaper report which confirms this although some of the walls in the Print Studio do show signs of a fire in this room at some point. There is also some evidence that a young child drowned in one of the fountains at the front of the building around this period and 1999 a young man sadly was beaten to death in the lane in front of the building.
The first reports of ghostly activities at Inverlochy seem to date from the late 1970s. At this time the house was split into six self-contained flats (as it had been since the early 1900s) but in 1979 the residents were asked to move out because the building going to be demolished to make way for a new hotel.
Some of the tenants loved the old building and thought it should be preserved. They refused to move and began ‘squatting’ in their flats. After all you can’t knock down a house if there’s someone inside it. One of these people was architecture student Martin Hanley - a tenant in the upstairs flat where the caretaker now lives. One night in the early 1980s him and his partner Anna were wondering if it was safe to go out (and leave the house 'unguarded') when a large mirror appeared to ‘leap’ off the wall of its own volition before hitting the wall opposite and sliding slowly (and ‘unnaturally’) down to the floor. Surprisingly they both took this a sign not to leave the building that night!!!
In the early 1980s the tenants – with the support of the local community – won their fight to save the house. It’s long-term future was secured when the owners – Williams Development Holdings – kindly gifted the building and its grounds to the New Zealand Academy of Fine Arts for use as an art school – the Williams School of Art at Inverlochy Incorporated. After some renovations the art school opened its doors in 1985 and has been running successfully ever since (although it is now managed by a separate Trust).
Since the beginning the upstairs flat has been the home of the art school’s caretaker and in the late 1990s this position was held by Sva Brooke White. He had a number of strange experiences while he was living there. In one incident a large bucket full of paste in the Sculpture Room was apparently thrown by an unseen force and another time he had just nailed a large sheet of wood across the door to the room when it was suddenly and forcibly removed by another (or the same) invisible agent. A strange smell seemed to linger in the room and shortly afterwards the building was blessed by a Catholic Priest and later by a local Kaumatua. After this things seemed to calm down and the most recent caretaker, Michael Abbey, says he experienced nothing unusual while he lived there between 2005 – 2011.
But other people are convinced there is still something strange going on in the house. Some people feel uneasy in both the upstairs Print Room and the downstairs Sculpture Room and at least one local medium is definitely convinced the house is still haunted by the spirit of a young woman.
In late 2009 Print Tutor Basia Smolnicki reported a strange experience in the Print Room.
‘One day, I was working on my own, upstairs in the print studio, applying a liquid ground by painting it onto a zinc plate in preparation for doing an etching. I left the plate alone because the ground needs to even out and dry. (You then draw through the hard, waxy surface to expose the metal underneath, which is then etched with acid.) Anyway, it’s a process that takes time so I busied myself cleaning the used brushes in the adjoining room, three metres from the bench withthe zinc plate. Minutes later I returned to the bench to find myplate had been interfered with. A Craig’s jam jar had been placed on top of my waxy ground, leaving a clear impression of the serrated pattern found on the bottom. ‘I was really annoyed about having to repeat the process, and thought the incident very weird. Who, in such a short spaceof time, had chosen a silly jam jar to inflict such mischief? And why?’ ('Spooked - Exploring the Paranormal in New Zealand' -Page 122)
Two days later Bruce Mahalski was cleaning up the downstairs Lecture Room after a class. He left the room for a moment and when he came back somebody or something had taken his empty tea cup and pushed it down onto the mouth of a wet clay sculpture of a devilish looking head before placing the cup back down on the table (see photo below). While he admits that someone could have entered the room and done this he did not hear anybody else downstairs at the time and would be surprised if someone – even a child - would attack and deface another person’s artwork at the school.
This photograph was taken as soon as the damage to the head was noticed.
It is interesting to note that in both cases a round object was used to damage a wet piece of art. There was definitely no-one in the building the second time who knew about the first incident other than Bruce himself.
In the last year the Strange Occurrences Team has seen some unexplained shapes in the dark and got unusual readings on their EMF meters. These are used by ‘ghost hunters’ to detect variations in electrical or magnetic fields – phenomena which are often linked with paranormal activity.
Team members, James Gilberd and Jo Davy, recently wrote a book called ‘Spooked - Exploring the Paranormal in New Zealand’ (Random House, 2011) about paranormal research in New Zealand and their experiences at Inverlochy feature prominently.
Of course the skeptical amongst us will always believe that ‘paranormal events’ are caused or made up by mischievous pranksters. Haunted or not what is certain is that no-one has ever been really frightened by ‘the Inverlochy ghost’ and most people seem to agree that if the house is haunted then the ghost seems to be a very benevolent one.
'Spooked' Book Launch and Exhibition at Inverlochy
Photos by Rob Wilson and Bruce Mahalski (www.mahalski.com)