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[This story contains spoilers for Annabelle Comes Home.]
The cursed doll Annabelle was first introduced to horror audiences in The Conjuring (2013), and proved to be so compelling that the porcelain figure quickly became the subject of her own franchise with Annabelle (2014), Annabelle: Creation (2017) and the latest, Gary Dauberman’s Annabelle Comes Home.
New Line’s Annabelle and Conjuring films are based on accounts that paranormal researchers claim to be true. But with the latest installment, when the theater lights turn back on, viewers may be left with more questions than answers. Fans have no way of knowing which haunted artifacts presented in the film are based on actual ones, and which are Hollywood ploys for quick jump-scares.
To investigate, The Hollywood Reporter spoke to Tony Spera, the real-life Occult Museum curator and son-in-law of renowned demonologists Ed and Lorraine Warren. Here, the curator of the Connecticut-based museum breaks down the legends that inspired the latest film, and how they differ from what made it to the big screen.
The Wedding Dress
In Annabelle Comes Home, a wedding dress in the museum has a strong presence. Within the first half hour of the film, the backstory behind the deadly dress is revealed. Whoever puts the dress on is sure to murder her fiance. Spera debunks the dress’ roots, confirming that a white gown is present in the Occult Museum, but that it’s not known whether or not the dress ever belonged to a bride.
Spera confirms that the killer fiance origin story of the gown portrayed is 100 percent fictional, and was solely designed to up the spine-chilling ante of the film for the big screen. The official story behind the white gown in the Occult Museum that the museum claims to be true is of the White Lady of Union Graveyard, Connecticut. “She has been spotted for decades and decades,” Spera says. “Even recently people have caught a glimpse of this figure.”
According to Spera, one of the supposed witnesses of the White Lady was a young man named Rod Vescey. One night in 2009, Rod was driving past Union graveyard at around 1 a.m after he clocked out of work. He was going down Route 59 when he suddenly felt a presence take form in his passenger seat. Rod glanced over his shoulder, and to his surprise saw a man dressed in ’60s garb. Rod looked away overcome by fear, and then slowly turned to peek again. When Rod looked over, the entity vanished into thin air, just as quickly as it arrived.
Rod refocused his eyes on the road, and in doing so unexpectedly spotted a woman about 35 or 40 yards ahead of him dressed in a white gown with a veil. The White Lady, as she is called, raised her hand up in front of her, as if to say “stop.” Rod sharply pumped the brakes. As soon as he did, the White Lady lunged at the vehicle and went right through his car. When the apparition disappeared, Spera said that Rod felt “a wisp of air go by his right ear,” and he just knew that that sensation was her going through the car. He looked out from the window once more, and saw his side of the road tinted with a brick red hue, as if someone had coated the road with red paint. When the White Lady went through Rod, he “felt a sense of sorrow and compassion, like she was trying to tell him something,” perhaps attempting to imbue the potentially tragic details of her untimely death.
On a separate occasion, when a transformer fire broke out on Route 25, the White Lady supposedly manifested herself to such a degree as to become solid. An off-duty policeman and firefighter were responding to a call when they accidentally struck the White Lady. The impact was so severe that the crash dented their truck. The White Lady was able to become solid that night because “the energy spewing from the transformers gave the spirit the energy to manifest,” Spera explains. All of the local hospitals and police were called, but no accidents were reported — there was no living lady. It is believed that the woman the officers hit was the White Lady of Union Graveyard.
The Annabelle Doll
Spera says the Annabelle doll is accurately portrayed in the films — at least according to the mythology of the museum. The main difference between New Line’s Annabelle and the Occult Museum’s doll is appearance. The Annabelle movie fans are taught to fear has been jazzed up for Hollywood purposes. In real life, the Annabelle doll is not wide-eyed and made of porcelain. It’s actually an innocent-looking Raggedy Ann doll. Regardless of image, the real doll is said to be dangerous.
“Looks are deceiving,” Lorraine Warren, who died earlier this year, told USA Today when discussing Annabelle. “It’s not what the doll looks like that makes it scary; it is what has been infused within the doll: evil.”
Annabelle’s origin story in the films contrasts sharply from the story maintained by the museum. In the nonfiction version of Annabelle, there were two nurses living together in Hartford, Connecticut. One of the nurses was gifted the Raggedy Ann doll by her mother in 1970. Spera believes the mother purchased the doll from a second-hand store. After she received the present, a string of eerie occurrences ensued in the apartment. For instance, the nurse would leave the doll on the couch only to return to find the doll sitting in her bedroom. Other days, she would go out knowing that she had left the doll’s legs uncrossed, and come home seeing Annabelle’s legs intertwined.
The nurses became concerned with the inanimate object’s subtle movements, especially when they discovered parchment paper with the words “help me” written in crayon scattered around the apartment. The women had no idea where the parchment paper came from, as they had none stored in their complex. The parchment notes were nothing compared to what would happen next.
One morning while the nurses were eating at their breakfast nook, “Annabelle’s two flimsy little cloth arms levitated onto the table,” Spera says. When the startling paranormal activity took place, the nurses were oddly fascinated by the doll. One of the nurses deduced that the doll’s actions meant she was trying to communicate with the roommates, so she called a psychic for advice. The medium took no time coming to the nurses’ aid, and quickly held a seance. While hosting the ritual, the psychic reported that she was “sensing the spirit of a young girl about 6 or 7 years old,” Spera says. The psychic went on to impart that the child was killed outside of this apartment complex in a car accident. “Her name is Annabelle, and she’s in that doll,” the psychic said. That’s how the name Annabelle came to be.
After processing what they had heard, the nurses believed that a human spirit was occupying the doll, and began treating Annabelle more like a human than a doll. For a little while everything was fine, until one night Lou, the fiance of one of the nurses, was sleeping on the couch with Annabelle apparently seated on the opposite end.
That night Lou woke up startled and sweaty. One of the nurses asked him what was wrong, to which he responded: “I just had the craziest nightmare. I had a dream that that doll there was crawling up my leg, and got to my neck, and was trying to strangle me to death.” Angrily reacting to the nightmare, Lou picked up Annabelle, and chucked her raggedy body across the apartment floor. Lou belittled the doll shouting that she “is nothing more than a Raggedy Ann doll. … She can’t hurt anybody.”
As soon as Lou launched the doll, he is said to have provoked the demonic presence attached to it, causing “seven psychic wounds to appear on his body — four slash marks on his chest and three on his stomach,” according to Spera. His wounds cropped up like claw marks or scalpel incisions on his flesh. The attack on Lou was indicative that the spirit tied to the doll was far more sinister than any 6-year-old girl.
One might wonder why Annabelle targeted Lou and not the nurses. Spera rationalizes this by comparing Lou’s sensitivity to the doll to poison ivy. “Say you [came across] a poison ivy plant, and I told you not to touch it,” Spera says. “Well, some people can touch the plant and not get poison ivy. … Whereas other people can touch the plant and their bodies [become] riddled with [a rash].”
After the assault, the tormented nurses turned to an episcopal priest in Connecticut for help. As a result of the severity of their predicament, the priest directed them to the Warrens. Once Ed and Lorraine Warren were on the Annabelle case, they had a priest do an exorcism on the apartment to cast out any spirits. Afterward, Ed took the doll with him for safekeeping. After the paranormal investigator placed her in the backseat of his vehicle, he claimed he experienced car trouble on his way home, similar to the car trouble seen during the start of Annabelle Comes Home.
Today, the Annabelle doll remains safely housed behind a glass case in the Occult Museum.
The Mourning Bracelet
In Annabelle Comes Home, when coping with the loss of her father, Daniela (Katie Sarife) puts the museum’s mourning bracelet on her wrist in an attempt to contact her deceased loved one. She puts a photo of her beloved dad into the bracelet, and asks to speak to him. When she does this, she disobeys the “no touching” policy of the museum.
Spera confirms there is no such item in the museum, although he suspects that the object is likely inspired by the museum’s pearls of death.
In the Occult Museum, there is a real set of pearls that a woman was given. When she placed the pearls on her neck, she claimed to feel as though she was being strangled to death. People around her had to yank the pearls off of the woman to save her. “It all goes back to cursed objects,” Spera explains. “Objects that someone put a curse onto.” It could be a bracelet, necklace or any article that someone “performed incantations and rituals over to put bad vibes into, like someone did to the Annabelle doll.” In the same way a priest can bless a holy relic, a satanic worshipper or black magic practitioner can curse a belonging, as exemplified by the pearls of death.
The Feeley Meeley Game
There is no Feeley Meeley game in the Occult Museum (nor is there a samurai suit, in case you were wondering). Spera believes that the inclusion of the game could be reminiscent of the classic Ouija board since both games involve using one’s hands.
With the Feeley Meeley game, one person sticks their hand into a box with 24 objects inside and tries to feel around for the object seen on the card they drew. Whereas, to use a Ouija board, two people, or one person, put their hands on a plastic planchette, and ask a spirit questions. “It’s different than [the Feeley Meeley game], but actually a Oujia board is much more dangerous because you’re asking to talk to spirits — to the unknown realm,” Spera says.
“Once you open the door to the other realm, it’s very difficult to close it,” Spera says. “It’s like opening a window in a log cabin out in the woods thinking a nice monarch butterfly is going to fly in, [but] a wolf, coyote or bear can come through and harm you.” The analogy is fitting for the spirit realm. “You don’t know what’s out there, so you must be careful with what you invite in.”
The Conjuring Mirror
In Annabelle Comes Home, there is a television set in the museum that shows the future when you look into it. When Daniela looks into the set, she becomes frozen, as if the TV were Medusa’s face and she had been turned to stone. Spera says that this TV set was completely fabricated for the film, but that the idea may have come from the conjuring mirror in the Occult Museum.
The mirror was given its name because someone supposedly attempted to conjure spirits on its reflection. With this particular object, a man in New Jersey is said to have sat in front of the wall-mounted mirror for hours on end, continuously asking to summon his deceased family members. “Hey, I want to see you, can you come and talk to me?” he would ask the mirror as he sat in darkness with nothing but a red light bulb behind him. The man beckoned the looking glass for about two weeks. After a fortnight passed, “ugly monstrosities’ faces appeared on the mirror.” The hellish faces were so diabolical that they drove the man to a mental institution.
Spera points out that this type of conjuring is known as crystalmancy: “Crystalmancy is when a spirit is able to present itself on a shiny object such as a TV, a mirror, a plate, glass window, a bumper of a car, etc.”
The Warrens gained possession of the conjuring mirror when the owner’s family called them to their home after he was admitted to the mental institution.
The Werewolf Paw
In the Annabelle Comes Home museum, a werewolf paw is shown to audiences resting on a shelf. Later in the film, a living, breathing werewolf lurks outside the Warrens’ house in the bushes, near their chicken coop. According to Spera, no such werewolf paw exists in the museum, however the werewolf paw was likely invented as a nod to a London case Ed and Lorraine worked on and even penned a book about, Werewolf: A True Story of Demonic Possession.
“There was a case in London where a man would turn into a werewolf,” Spera claims. He didn’t become a werewolf like in the movies, but he would act like a werewolf. The man would growl, turn his fingers into claws, and attack people on the streets of London. “It was the Werewolf of London Case, and the man who came under attack was William (a.k.a. Bill) Ramsey.”
Spera says that the Warrens believed that Ramsey was possessed by the spirit that causes lycanthropy (the supernatural transformation of a human into a wolf). To save Ramsey’s soul, in 1989 Ed and Lorraine brought him all the way to the United States from London to have Bishop Robert McKenna perform an exorcism on him and free him of the evil force.
After the exorcism was carried out, Bill Ramsey said he was free from the evil that was in him. He returned to his former self and went on to live out a normal life.
Once again Daniela breaks the “no touching” rule of the museum when she presses her fingers down on the keys of the museum’s piano. After only a moment the teen’s playing is disrupted when she is spooked by an otherworldly man who appears suddenly playing next to her.
As in the filmic depiction, Spera claims that there is in fact an organ in the Occult Museum and that it belonged to Ed Warren, who obtained it after authorities cleaned out a haunted house owned by Reverend Eliakim Phelps in Stratford, Connecticut.
Eventually, the residence burned down, but before the home went down in flames, it was emptied. Someone from the authority at the city of Stratford reached out to Ed, asking him if he’d be interested in keeping the organ. Ed Warren secured the instrument but unknowingly carried more than an ordinary organ back with him to the Occult Museum.
“Ed could hear the strains of this organ playing at night, so he thought to himself, ‘Geez, someone must have broken into the museum,’ so Ed would jet down the stairs to check,” Spera claims. “Of course nothing was touched, or unlocked. As soon as he’d get to the museum, the organ stopped playing. This [false alarm] happened three times.”
The organ finally quieted after a priest came to bless the museum, as is done on a regular basis. Spera says that “a Catholic priest comes in every two or three months to bless the entire museum, and all of the objects.” In an interview with USA Today, Lorraine Warren once said that the prayers work to “bind the evil — much like an electric fence for a dog.”
Spera says he doesn’t ever want to destroy the museum’s objects because they are evidence of past cases. Besides, if one were to harm an item, that person would merely be destroying the vessel, and releasing the evil from which it is contained. There is also another crucial reason Spera continues to safeguard the objects now that Ed and Lorraine have died:
“[For] students of the paranormal, [the Occult Museum] is like a classroom where I can actually keep [tainted] objects [on display] for peers, and have them get a better understanding,” Spera says.
The Occult Museum is currently closed while it looks for a new location due to zoning regulations.
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