28th August, 2010
The investigation was as good as over. The three of us remaining at the site; Rob, Patrick and I, were sitting upstairs in the glassed-in balcony of the Nurses’ Home with a view over the old Fever Hospital complex. We’d made one last attempt in the upstairs corridor to contact anything that might be present, and despite my being more provocative than usual, there was no reaction. We turned off our voice recorders and let the conversation drift to cars, Top Gear and so forth, to pass the time till the security guards arrived to lock the buildings up. The wind had dropped away to nothing by this time, and the night air had fallen utterly quiet. Then BAM. It sounded like a door slamming downstairs, and we felt its impact shudder through the wooden floor. We looked at each other for a long moment before deciding to head down and check it out.
As we filed quickly down the dusty staircase, I was thinking that either some trespasser had slammed the door or it was some of the timber and old unhinged doors that the builders had left stacked around the walls of the Nurses’ Home that had collapsed onto the floor.
After checking out the entire ground floor we found nothing had fallen over and there was no one inside the building. We settled on the offending door being the small one on the north side that opened out to the covered walkway to the main hospital. It was still open, as we’d left it. Verifying there was no wind, we concluded that there must be some person creeping around the Fever Hospital site. Its isolation on the bush-clad slopes of Mount Victoria in Wellington city had long made it an attractive place for daredevils willing to brave the security patrols to check out the place’s haunted reputation for themselves.
As we left the building to check outside, Patrick closed the offending door securely behind us. We’d not walked ten metres into the car park when we heard another mighty slam, this time from right behind us. We spun round as one. The door remained closed. The air remained still.
This was one of those hair-raising moments you always hope to experience on an investigation, but when it actually happens it ain’t so much fun.
My hair was still standing on end when we went back inside and checked the ground floor of the building once again. But we knew that if anyone had been prowling around in there they’d appear on at least one of the three IR security cameras we’d set up earlier to cover the ground floor. Avoiding the temptation to review the footage straight away (because we were pretty sure there was no one about), we shifted the downstairs corridor camera to cover the slamming door, then we went back around the corner into the hallway and hunched over the video monitor. All three of us stared at the infrared image of the now-motionless door.
After a few minutes of this, I said, ‘This is hopeless. A watched pot never boils.’ So we decided to go off and explore the main hospital one last time. We were relieved to leave the confines of the Nurses’ Home, because we were all independently thinking, Something really does not want us in here.
After this, Rob had to return home (to his wife and new baby – a reasonable excuse, and it'd gone 2am). Patrick and I were left to wait for the security guards. There was no way we were going back into the Nurses’ Home that we’d been effectively chased out of, so we returned to the main hospital, which was still creepy-feeling but benign by comparison. We even went down below, into the rooms that allegedly served as the hospital’s morgue, in preference to re-entering the Nurses’ Home. It wasn’t till the two guards arrived that we braved going inside, quickly packed up our DV camera system and left the site without delay.
Reviewing the DV camera footage showed nothing paranormal, only the usual drifting dust orbs lit up by the cameras’ infrared LEDs. There was no further movement of the door, but at least the video confirmed there were no human intruders in the Nurses’ Home; we three Strange Occurrences investigators were the only living souls on the site, as we’d thought. And if we can rule out wind gusts, what could have slammed that small door so hard, twice, and not been seen?
At the time, we hadn’t heard of the ‘Sister Slipper’ entity, an urban legend so called for the sound of her slippers scuffing the hospital’s wooden floors late at night. Perhaps, in life, it was her responsibility to guard the nurses’ quarters from intruding males with one thing on their minds. Perhaps she even maintained this responsibility after her passing. If so, her methods worked fairly effectively on the three of us!
The following year we conducted two more investigations at the old Fever Hospital, in April and October 2011, but neither time were we allowed into the Nurses’ Home, since it was a building site and so was unsafe. (We think we were let in by mistake the first time.)
The 2011 investigations of the main hospital buildings were quite similar to each other, with only minor, unsubstantiated activity during the investigation period. It wasn’t until after 1.30am when unexplained thumping sounds were heard. By this time, on both occasions, most of the team had already left, and we’d packed up our gear ready for when the guards came to lock up.
On our final investigation, when the guard did finally show up we told him what we’d heard and we did a patrol of the hospital with him, looking for any sign of intruders. There was none, but the guard’s comments were interesting. First, he was surprised we’d even waited round for him. He said he’d been here before for people who were supposed to have stayed late but they’d always abandoned the place before he arrived (presumably out of fear). Also, when he’d been there with a colleague a week ago they’d heard a heavy, metallic scraping, “like a car engine being dragged across the floor.” I thought of the old medical gurney, which was mysteriously found in a different room in the main hospital each time we visited, though it was likely to have been moved by people using the building for other things such as video and photo shoots, or just larking about.
That’s as far as we got with paranormal investigations of the Fever Hospital. It was a combination of bad luck and bad management (on my part) that we never captured hard evidence to back up the experiences we had there (apart from a sound recording of some indistinct, distant thumping). Each time, things happened near the end of the investigation when we were either no longer sufficiently alert and/or had already packed up our gear and were ready to leave. The door slamming incident happened off camera and we had not long since switched off our sound recorders.
The trouble with things happening at the end of a long investigation, when most people are tired or have already left, is the lack of will and personnel to check things out properly and safely. If the thumping sounds in the corridor had been heard earlier, with the whole team present and all recording gear operating, we might have either found the natural cause of the noises (maybe it was just possums playing in the ceiling, the sound magnified by the acoustics and the stillness of night) or else recorded something truly astonishing.
Hysteria is often a problem in paranormal investigations when there is a contingent of the team who lack experience of being in creepy old buildings at night. The power of suggestion can combine with knowledge of reported paranormal events to be triggered by some small, easily explainable event, with the result of emotional overload when the imagination runs hot. I certainly remember being more than a little nervous inside places like old gaols and hospitals during our earlier night-time investigations, until I became used to it. (Lesson learned: team leaders, make sure less experienced investigators are teamed up with old hands.)
The first time we investigated the Fever Hospital, we arrived early in the afternoon at the same time as a group of students, models and photographers from the design & fashion schools of the local university. They had planned to work around outside the hospital grounds but the bucketing rain prevented it. We invited them in to do their shoot while we did our reconnaissance of the site and set up our cameras, an offer they happily took up.
Some of the students joined us as we initially explored the site. In one rather claustrophobic area in the west wing there was a strange, repetitive sound, a bit like suppressed, thin coughing made by someone with TB (you might imagine). One of the young students following us was in tears from fright before we discovered the source of the strange sound. It was a smoke alarm on the last legs of its battery power, making a weird, wheezing sound every two minutes.
Thing is, it’s easy to let your imagination get the better of you in such places, even during the daytime. We had instances during all three investigations of people sensing the presence of something, seeing movement or shadows in their peripheral vision, or otherwise individually perceiving things that could not be confirmed by anyone else or substantiated by sound recording, photography or other hard evidence-gathering methods. We always note these observations and feelings when they occur, in case they start to form a pattern with others sensing similar things later on. If this happens, we have to ensure the experiences are truly independent, otherwise the subsequent observations can be written off because of foreknowledge or suggestion.
The Wellington Fever Hospital was built in 1919 on a hill overlooking the main public hospital in Newtown, as an isolation facility for patients with infectious diseases. In the 1940s it shifted to catering for tuberculosis cases. The building is laid out V-shape, with deep verandahs for patients to sit out in Wellington’s fresh air and sunshine, above the smog of coal fires. The central wing was added in the early 1970s. From some angles the Queen Anne-style building appears more like a resort than a hospital. Except we know that an awful lot of people would have died there in the 60 years it operated as a hospital.
The complex lay empty from 1981 to 1987, when it was taken over by Wellington Polytechnic to serve as their music school. When jazz bassist Paul Dyne began teaching there in 1989, he was surprised to see a face staring out at him from the old Nurses’ Home (the separate, two-storey building at the south of the site, not used by the music school). He later learned there were people squatting in that building. [From The Wellingtonian newspaper, ‘Sister Slipper and other spooky tales’, 24/6/2011.]
In 2014, after another long period of abandonment, the old hospital became the new HQ for the Wellington SPCA. They've made excellent use of a site that was slowly deteriorating due to weather and vandalism and was always an arson risk. The main hospital with its three wings has been earthquake-strengthened and transformed into a modern facility, so is now no longer suitable for ‘our purpose’.
We found a set of plans lying around. The Nurses’ Home is the building at the bottom, connected to the main hospital by a covered path. The angled rooms protruding from the east and west wings are bathrooms, supported by brick arches – a unique architectural feature. The supposed morgue is below the left-most protrusion of the hospital (halfway up on the plan).
The squatters must’ve been there long-term. In October 1997 I went by myself up to the hospital for a look-see. The main hospital was locked up and the Nurses’ Home was boarded up with sheets of plywood. Out of curiosity I pulled gently on the board covering the main entrance to the Nurses’ Home and to my surprise it swung open. I entered with trepidation, which was justified. Not because of ghosts (which I was not particularly interested in at that time) but because of the obvious signs of illegal occupation. The disconcerting graffiti suggested the squatters were pretty screwed up and might even be Satanists (or so I thought at the time). With my trusty pocket 35mm film camera I hastily took a few photos on each level of the building then left before the occupants returned, as I had no desire to meet them.
It was in August 2010, long after the jazz musicians and the squatters had left the building, that I found myself leading a fully equipped team of paranormal investigators into the abandoned Fever Hospital. Aside from some second-hand tales of music students having unpleasant experiences after dark — incidents involving uncanny footsteps and other strange noises heard in the corridors, and unexplained slamming of doors — we didn’t have any particulars to go on. That was until Rob Wilson came to light. He’d contacted us via our website, asking if we were planning to investigate the Fever Hospital and if so, could he come along. I met Rob to discuss this prospect over a coffee and found he’d had an interesting experience in the place.
He told me that some years earlier, when he’d been working as a security guard, he and a colleague (a large man of Nordic origin) were checking the upstairs of the Nurses’ Home when his colleague suddenly took fright and fled at great speed. Rob couldn’t see anything, but assumed whatever caused his massive colleague to panic so would have to be something pretty major, so he decided he’d better leave as well. At this time the only exit was an external fire escape from the window of Room 15 (upstairs, at the south corner). As Rob headed for this room the door slammed right in his face. To make matters worse the door handle fell out, on the inside! Luckily Rob is the type of bloke who’s always prepared. Using his handy Swiss army knife he was able to get the door open and exit the building. When we met, Rob still didn’t know what it was he’d fled from but he was curious and keen to find out.
So Rob’s introduction to paranormal investigation with the Strange Occurrences team turned out to be one of the spookier and more memorable nights we’ve had (usually nothing much happens), and he had an experience that was somewhat similar to his initial one, perhaps vindicating it.
Some thoughts on the art of paranormal investigation
I guess it’s wanting to experience this type of thing – exploring abandoned, creepy old buildings that have a rich supply of anecdotes and urban legend about them, and maybe getting a chill/thrill – that attracts people to paranormal investigation. They either look to join an existing team with equipment and some experience, or it motivates them to form their own team.
In the ten years since co-founding our paranormal group (now somewhat grandiosely named the New Zealand Strange Occurrences Society) I’ve had a certain amount of experience and plenty of time to mull it over. Naturally a few questions arise, such as:
But aside from these soul-searching questions (pardon the pun), exploring scary old buildings like the Wellington Fever Hospital is great fun. And if we can’t have a bit of fun out of a thing, what’s the point in it? Fishing, for example, isn’t just about catching food; it’s the experience of it, the outdoor elements, mateship, the equipment, the hunt, the thrill and skill of landing a great fish. And the bragging about it afterwards, of course.
I’ve had ten years of engrossing entertainment from the paranormal, a path which has led me to study things that previously were not even on my radar, and I’ve met a lot of interesting, cool and very nice people in the process, and visited places that I would not otherwise have set foot in. This is satisfying for reasons similar to why Urban Explorers enjoy what they do. (Urbex is a semi-illegal activity we ‘legitimate’ paranormal investigators publicly frown upon but privately envy.)
As I said in my first article for this magazine – ‘Photography and the Paranormal’ – I know very much less about the paranormal than I do about photography (which is my profession). And I don’t have any faith in the existence of anything classed as paranormal. For me, it’s not enough to just know that a thing exists; I want to find out if it even exists, and only then the how and why of its existence. So as well as having fun, the challenge is trying to find answers to those big questions about aspects of nature and human personality that remain unsolved, some of which are not even regarded as serious questions by people whose views are restricted by certain paradigms. But that’s another article.
- James Gilberd, January 2016, for 'Ectoplasmic Residue' and the New Zealand Strange Occurrences Society
is a blog by James Gilberd - leader and co-founder of Strange Occurrences. Views expressed here do not necessarily represent those of the Strange Occurrences team.
James Gilberd is an amateur paranormalist, writer and musician, and a professional photographer, living in Wellington, New Zealand.