Rants & Essays

Sleep Lab Ghost - Part 2

By R. Patrick Murtha

In part one of this series, I detailed the first appearance of the "Lady of the Psychology Building," or, the Sleep Lab Ghost. This older woman showed herself to a young lady who was taking part in an experiment examining the relationship, if any, between the temporal reference of dreams and body temperature. The second time she showed herself was again during a set of experiments in the Lab but about 3 months after the initial sighting. This is the story.

I had met Mike B during the 3 years I supervised and conducted experiments in the Sleep Lab situated among other labs of the Psychology building's first floor. The Control Room happened to be directly across the hallway from the room Mike used to monitor behavioral theory experiments on eels and, over time, Mike and I conversed about our respective activities. Mike was drawn to the Sleep Lab's rather sophisticated equipment, being one of those "gadget" oriented guys. In our conversations the subject of Kirlian photography, also known as "aura" photography, came up and Mike looked into what was required. Mike decided he would like to build such a device. This resulted in our exploration into the little known field of Kirlian photography (named after the Russian scientist who first discovered the process) and set up the main experimental condition of what would become a rather well known experiment; using the Kirlian process for the very first time to explore the differences between Kirlian photos taken of subjects while awake, while sleeping in Non-REM and then again in REM sleep. The results of our experiment ended up being accepted for publication in the Journal for the Psychophysiological Study of Sleep in 1978 under the title: The Relationship Between Sleep/Wakefulness and REM/NonRem Sleep using Electrographic (Kirlian) Photography (http://www.geocities.com/soho/gallery/3549/kirlian.htm). Because of the limitations of time and funding, we decided that the only way to make sure of a standardized exposure condition would be for Mike to stay in the anechoic sleep chamber the entire night and being alerted to the proper experimental conditions through a set of lights that I would activate from the Control Room. That's what I call dedication! Of course, we did numerous test runs prior to the experiment to ensure no "contamination" from his own "hands on" participation in the experiment. On this particular evening we were in the second night of this particular Subjects' participation, a male freshman volunteer. After hooking him up to the electrodes, plugging him into the box just above the bed, setting up Mikes' Kirlian apparatus and closing the vault-like chamber door, we proceeded with that night's experiment. Everything was going as planned, taking exposures while the Subject was in a relaxed waking state, as he fell asleep, then in Sleep Stages I, II and III and then later during REM sleep as determined by well defined EEG criteria.

Somewhere around 4 AM I was drinking coffee, keeping an eye on the EEG trace and listening to Sacramento's rock station KZAP. I heard some movement from the sleep chamber and I turned down the radio a little to make sure it was just Mike moving around to keep himself awake as he sat in his chair next to the sleeping Subject. I checked the EEG and noted that the Subject was still in a very solid Stage 2 sleep, heading "upward" towards what would be his 3rd REM of the evening. Noting simply that Mike's movements didn't appear to arouse the Subject from his current state, I went back to my book. Then, a few moments later, I heard Mike utter a whispered curse. Then, immediately after this, more movement occurred and then Mike said aloud, "Pat! Hey Pat, you won't BELIEVE this!" I sat up quickly, spilling my coffee on my pants and seeing the EEG pens now wildly scattering ink all over the place as the Subject was awakened by Mikes exclamation. I then bent over and pressed down the "talk" button on the intercom to find out what had happened only to hear the sound of the Chamber's vault door opening and Mike's footsteps running around the corner toward the Control room. Concerned now that perhaps the high voltage mechanism of the Kirlian apparatus had discharged prematurely (75,000 volts!), I met him at the open doorway as he bumped into me.

"What's wrong Mike?" I nearly shouted, my voice booming in the emptiness of the hallway. He pushed past me, looking back into the long and narrow control room.

Mike grabbed my arm, pulled me into the room with him and shouted, "LOOK AT THAT! LOOK at HER!" and he pointed to the wall that separated the control room from the sleep chamber. There, very plainly, was a "mist" emerging from behind and between the shelves on that part of the wall. This mist grew larger and moved steadily into the control room. My jaw dropped in amazement as Mike turned quickly and made sure I was seeing what he was seeing, "I thought I was DREAMING or something! That THING walked right THROUGH me!" he continued, turning back to the apparition.

From floor level to the top of the mist was approximately 5 feet (I measured this later using one of the shelves as reference). As it flowed into the darkened room, I noted that it seemed to emit it's own light; a very dim, milky glow. As it came into the center of the long room it paused and seemed to solidify slightly; so much so that it took on the general shape of a person, then, within seconds, a woman's appearance was evident. She was about 60 years of age wearing what I realized later was the same flower print dress that the young lady had described from her sighting months earlier. The "lady" didn't seem to notice us; if she had she most certainly would have found Mike and I very funny to look at. I stood frozen in time, every hair on my body seemed to be sticking straight out as goose flesh rippled tighter and tighter all over me. I know also that I shivered as if hit by a blast of sub-zero temperature air, though I have no memory of the ambient temperature of the room changing as I perceived it. Mike too was physically affected by it and it was only when I realized that the Sleeper was calling out my name that I snapped out of my trance-like state. The woman appeared to be walking below the current building's floor level for I could only see down to her mid-calf level as she flowed and then merged with the cabinet against the left side wall of the room then disappeared. No hesitation at all was observed as she merged with the cabinetry. I then pulled Mike with me as we returned to the hall on quivering legs. Around the corner to the hallway on the other side of the wall into which the apparition had disappeared. I managed to yell back to the guy in the sleep chamber to stay there and we'd be in in a moment. Mike and I whispered muttered amazement to each other, having just shared a very strange moment, and it was with more than a little trepidation that we stood at the junction in the hallway waiting to see if "she" would appear and continue her journey across the hall and into the rooms on the left side of it. After what seemed like hours, but in reality wasn't longer than a minute or so, we realized that she wasn't going to be seen here and returned around the corner to the control room wondering silently if she'd made a U-turn, but no she did not show herself to us again. Gathering our wits and not wanting to aggravate the situation, Mike and I went into the sleep chamber and said we'd surprised a trespasser and had run him off; we really didn't want to scare the poor guy but despite that the night was ruined and we ended up packing it in for the evening. After the second sighting I did some questioning of custodians, did some research on the property where the Psychology building now stood on the California State University at Sacramento campus and put a notice in the school paper asking if anyone else had ever spotted anything unusual in the area. I was never able to find out who the elderly lady may have been or why she stayed in this particular part of the campus. It remains a mystery to this day.

Mike Burkes, if you read this somehow, somewhere, please email me. I'd love to hear from you again and in the meantime hope you are well and thank you for sharing your technical skills with me and for sharing this singularly unique experience with me.