95: Anastasia’s Ghosts

95: Anastasia’s Ghosts

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Dreams and the Unexplainable

Anastasia’s Ghosts

The more enlightened our houses are, the more their walls ooze ghosts.

~Italo Calvino, The Literature Machine

Albert Anastasia was a ruthless and feared Cosa Nostra mobster; he ran Murder Inc., and, later, the Gambino crime family. On the morning of October 25, 1957, as he sat in the fourth of twelve barber chairs, leaned back, and allowed the barber to place a hot towel on his face, two masked gunmen burst in and unloaded their handguns.

I shared two things with the famed mobster: our birthday and that I lived the first seven years of my life in the graceful Mediterranean home he built on the bluffs of Fort Lee, overlooking the Hudson River and New York City skyline.

Two years after Anastasia’s death, and shortly before my arrival, my father, Buddy Hackett, asked Anastasia’s widow to sell him the home. Years later, after moving our family to California, my father would recount first-person experiences with the spirits that inhabited Anastasia’s house.

Often Buddy would go to the kitchen in the middle of the night for a snack, and as he held open the refrigerator door, he would feel and hear breathing on the back of his neck. He’d ask, “Who’s there?” He saw nothing, but would hear footsteps run down the long corridor away from the kitchen.

The finished basement housed the laundry area, kids’ playroom, furnace room, and bar with screening room. Each year, on the coldest night, and always in the middle of the night, the furnace pilot light would blow out. Wakened by the chill in the house, Buddy would tell of going to the basement in his robe, kneeling down on ice-cold floors, and coaxing the furnace to re-ignite, all the while feeling a warm breath on the back of his neck.

Tina, our nanny for many years, reported one of the oddest experiences. In the playroom, there was a green chalkboard on wheels, encased in a pine frame with a wood ledge for the chalk and erasers. Tina told my parents that while doing the laundry, she heard a voice in the playroom. She entered the room to find a nun in full habit kneeling at the ledge, praying. Tina asked the nun how she got in the house; but the apparition fizzled and disappeared.

My bedroom had aquamarine walls with hand-painted cherubs reclining on clouds in two decorative scenes. I was sure that one of those cherubs’ arm positions would change, at the elbow, back and forth between head-in-hand and hand lying flat on the cloud.

It started with the ghosts in Anastasia’s house. Those moments were the jumping-off point for many discussions with my father about spirituality and afterlife. Those conversations led Dad to comment, “If I can find a way, I will connect with you after death.”

I know Kabbalah by belief and experience, not lifelong study. My father was my conduit to this thinking; he studied Jewish mysticism. He guided me: “Tap in. It’s available to you always. Just believe and be open.” At the same time, he taught his children that Kabbalah was not to be studied until you are of “a wisdom-filled age,” and have enough life experience under your belt to piece together concepts and apply them to your life.

My dad’s life-ending heart attack occurred sometime between nightfall and the following morning of June 30th in 2003. I was living in Montana, hiking daily and feeling fit and strong in all ways. I went to bed on the 29th feeling good, but I awoke several times that night. The morning of the 30th, I felt horrible. In my head, nothing was right. I couldn’t start my day; I was off, way off. I abandoned my planned activities and stayed in the house.

My mother phoned later that morning to say she was home fighting the flu. At her urging, my father had gone to our beach home to hopefully avoid getting ill. She went on to say that she had been trying to reach him since the previous evening; he wasn’t answering the phone.

I felt it as soon as she started to speak. We hung up, and I phoned the firehouse four doors up the beach. My mother arrived to be met by paramedics blocking her from entering the home. She would phone an hour later to confirm what I already knew: Buddy had left this world.

Three months later, the night before my 43rd birthday, I was driving up the California coast to meet my husband. Throughout my life, I have spent many fine days on the Big Sur coast. It has always been one of my favorite places to go and think things through. It was late in the afternoon, and my plan was to pull out at one of the scenic overlooks, light Shabbos candles, and watch the sun set.

The Pacific Coast Highway was empty. I pulled off and parked. I had the scenic overlook to myself. I set my candles on a boulder, lit them, and recited the prayer to welcome the Sabbath into my heart and mind. It was a beautiful, warm September evening, no fog, and just a few wispy clouds high in the sky.

I was looking out over the ocean when it happened.

A brilliant light flashed through the sky. As quickly as it appeared, it disappeared. The light was accompanied by a sound, like tearing a sheet of paper in half, amplified tenfold. The light started high in the sky and fell straight toward the sea, stopping just above my position on the sea cliff, exposing and concealing itself in an instant.

I looked to the highway. Was there oncoming traffic with bright lights that cast this illumination out over the sea? No, no one there. I was alone. I looked back to the light. It was gone. I could not deny what I had just experienced. I felt my father in that moment, and I felt he would be with me always. No matter what came to me in life, he would protect and watch out for me.

A month later, I was with a dear friend, a teacher of Hasidism and Kabbalah. I told her of my experience on the Big Sur cliff, and the sound that accompanied the incredible light. She said I must be very spiritual; what I described is in the book of Tanya. It is called the Kav.

I searched for a definition: “The vector of Divine light which emanated after the initial concealment of Divine light.” The sound is described as the force it takes to create and conceal.

There are individuals who study these concepts their entire lives: man’s fall into darkness and his quest to access the light. For me, I was introduced to this energy in my childhood home. I learned at a young age to trust my intuition and to accept rare but undeniable moments. There are energies that dwell elsewhere and make their presence known to those who listen. These moments have informed me throughout my life.

~Lisa Hackett

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