In 2010, when artist Katherine Taylor-McBroom and her family moved into a rental on Old Hollow Road in North Ferrisburgh, her new neighbors warned her the place might be haunted. “Something is going on in that house,” the previous renter had told them.
Taylor-McBroom brushed it off. She thought they were just trying to scare her.
Over the next year, the artist, her husband and their 2-year-old son encountered so many terrifying sounds, apparitions and other unexplained phenomena that they ended up moving out. The experience, which shook Taylor-McBroom to the core, inspired the haunting collages she produced in a series called “Paranormal Hollow.”
On a recent afternoon, Taylor-McBroom, 39, sits in the small studio in Burlington’s S.P.A.C.E. Gallery where she creates her mixed-media works. Even before the North Ferrisburgh house ordeal, she was drawn to “the other side,” she says, taking inspiration from dreams, memories and the “ghosts” of family history.
Anything can find its way into her collages: weathered book spines; an image by her favorite photographer, Julia Margaret Cameron; a green plastic butterfly plucked from the flower arrangement on her uncle’s casket. One Elvis-themed collage — Taylor-McBroom grew up in Memphis, home of the King — incorporates the gold edges of a bag of airline peanuts. She made the work on an airplane shortly after 9/11 in an effort to distract herself “because I was so terrified we were going to crash,” she admits.
Fear comes up a lot in Taylor-McBroom’s artwork. “Cry, Cry, My House: The Cleansing” (pictured), which hangs prominently in her studio, is a collaged portrait of the Old Hollow Road home. “I had to disguise [the house] because I didn’t want to piss off the landlord,” she says. She photographed the clapboard home from different angles, then combined the resulting images into one twisted, mutant structure. In the windows, faces from old photographs stare out.
Two weeks before Taylor-McBroom moved into the North Ferrisburgh house, she dreamt she was washing dishes there. In the dream, she recalls, when she looked up from the sink, an old woman in a housecoat was in the kitchen with her. “She looked gray, like she was dead,” Taylor-McBroom later wrote.
When she described the old woman to her neighbors, they went ashen, she says. They told her she was describing the previous owner, whose ashes were scattered in the backyard.
Taylor-McBroom was spooked, but she and her family moved in anyway. Right away, she sensed something strange. “It felt like we were being watched all the time,” she says. “Everything just felt heavy, full of people.” Her husband noticed it too, she says, and then they began to hear things.
Footsteps. Shuffling papers. The beeping of microwave buttons. Their space heater rocking back and forth. The TV began turning itself on, flipping rapidly through channels. Doors they closed at night would be open again in the morning.
There were voices, too — laughing, crying and calling out names — says Taylor-McBroom. Sometimes, on the way downstairs from her attic studio, she’d hear someone clearing his throat behind her.
But the most frightening instances, Taylor-McBroom says, involved her son, Henry. One afternoon while she was putting him down for a nap, she says, Henry peered around his mother’s head, as if to look at someone behind her. “Hello, baby,” he said. Taylor-McBroom froze. She told him to tell “baby” to go away. When he did, she watched as his eyes seemed to follow someone out the door.
Up in her studio, Henry sometimes became frightened and fixated on one corner of the room, Taylor-McBroom says. When they would head downstairs together, he would look back and wave goodbye, as if to someone they were leaving behind.
Then, while sitting and rocking her son, Taylor-McBroom felt someone touch her head and run fingers along the back of her chair. It was the last straw; the family moved downstairs for good — the paranormal activity seemed concentrated on the upper floors.
“My biggest fear was to wake up and see someone standing over me,” Taylor-McBroom says, motioning to another eerie collage inspired by the experience. Photocopied images of the artist’s hands, face and hair are arranged in a disorienting swirl as if seen through a kaleidoscope. “I wanted to start with where the fear is,” she says. “The fear of the unknown, the touching.”
Four months after they moved into the haunted house, the family invited the Green Mountain Paranormal Society to investigate. GMPS recorded EVPs (electronic voice phenomena) all over the house, including a harrowing one in Henry’s room that sounded like “Say goodbye.”
When she consulted local psychic Michele Nappi, Taylor-McBroom began to get some answers. The home’s previous owner had left behind a half-moon table in a crawl space, Nappi explained, and the ghost was unhappy that Taylor-McBroom had moved it. Nappi came to the house to burn sage in a cleansing ceremony. She instructed Taylor-McBroom to put the table back where she’d found it and to tell the spirits to leave.
The artist did, but still, the haunting continued.
Taylor-McBroom says she has seen ghosts before. When she was 7, she swears she saw a fortysomething man with a crew-cut in a white T-shirt, holding a jar of pennies, standing behind her mother while she watched TV. “I was so terrified I couldn’t speak,” she says.
More often, she’s seen apparitions of long-gone family members, including her father, who died of a heart attack at age 36. “My dad died when I was 16,” she says. “I refused to accept that the relationship was over after death.”
Some ghosts can be a comfort, Taylor-McBroom says; she smiles as she recalls meeting her dad in dreams. And even the menacing ghosts of Old Hollow Road were good for something. When she finally moved out of the house, Taylor-McBroom found she had the makings of a new body of collage work, guided by the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson: “Thou art to me a delicious torment.”
Katherine Taylor-McBroom’s work is part of S.P.A.C.E. Gallery’s “The Art of Horror” show, which runs through October 31. Visitors to S.P.A.C.E. can see works from “Paranormal Hollow” in her studio there. katherinetaylormcbroom.com