Penchant for ghost stories

THAT'S THE SPIRIT: James Gilberd researches paranormal activity at the Museum of Wellington City & Sea.
THAT'S THE SPIRIT: James Gilberd researches paranormal activity at the Museum of Wellington City & Sea.

James Gilberd is the leader and co-founder of Strange Occurrences - a Wellington-based paranormal investigation unit. Hannah McKee talks to the author and photographer about five of Wellington's paranormal hot spots.




When it comes to haunted spaces in Wellington, this site would on top of James Gilberd's list. The 1919 building has been used as an isolation ward, a music school, a film set in Peter Jackson's The Frighteners and The Lovely Bones, and was brought back to life with a $3.5 million refurbishment to become the new home for Wellington SPCA. Three years ago, Gilberd's team was spooked after a door unexpectedly flung open, twice.

"We couldn't explain it. It felt like someone didn't want us in there. We wondered if someone had wandered into the building but our cameras showed no one had been there. It could have been a freak wind gust, but there was no wind that afternoon."

Catherine Torrance, the programme director of the refurbishment, says she recalls regular unexplainable occurrences. "Working up there in the afternoons you'd hear children playing in the corridors. It wasn't really spooky, I felt at ease because they seemed quite happy. I got used to it and would just ignore it, but I'd never experienced anything like it before."

Wellington psychic medium Kathy McBride says people claim to have seen a night shift nurse from the site's hospital days, nicknamed "Sister Slippers".


The Courtenay Place theatre, opened in 1912, reputedly has two ghosts. The "Wailing Woman" is said to be the ghost of an ageing vaudeville singer who was booed off stage and ended her life at home later that evening.

Little has been seen or heard of her since the refurbishment in the late 1990s. The second ghost is supposedly Yuri, a Russian dancer who lived locally and worked as a theatre technician. The story goes that he plunged 15 metres to his death from the fly floor - whether he fell or was pushed is not known.

"One trick of his was to wait till I'd turned all the lights out at night and was over the road getting into my car, then he'd turn all the lights on again," former manager John Blake says.

"The whole place would be ablaze and of course I'd have to go back and turn everything off again. That was his sense of humour."

Other theatre staff have encountered seats being thrown down, curtains pulling back and hearing a boys' choir.


Rumour has it the spirit of Albert Liddy remains in the Opera House. He was the architect during construction of the building, completed in 1914. Some theatre workers who have criticised the Manners St building's design have apparently had accidents happen to them shortly afterwards.


The ghost-sighting hot-spot off Abel Smith St was a research focus for Gilberd's book Spooked - Exploring the Paranormal in New Zealand. Reports of ghosts there date back to 1980, when a mirror reportedly came off one wall, flew across the hallway to the other wall, then slid slowly to the floor. Since then several people had spotted a ghost, believed to be a young Maori maid. "I would say it's one of the most potentially paranormal sites in Wellington," Gilberd says.


The museum is a favourite for both Gilberd and McBride, who runs ghost investigations at the site. "We've had a few people hear little noises like unexplainable footsteps and also seen ghostly figures and swinging lights," she says.

McBride also recalls hearing voice-like sounds in the Wahine room while reading the names of particular disaster victims. "I love it there, it's a great place with great energy and great ghosts."

Gilberd says he and his Strange Occurrences team have also recorded strange audio at the museum.

"We aren't saying these things are necessarily ghosts but certainly unexplainable things."

The Dominion Post