Gary is Haunting the House

gary young

Gary Sortor—as he appeared around the time of Dottie and I’s 1969 Ouija board “experiment.”

St. Louis, Missouri (Baden area)

“Gary is haunting the house.” Those are the words that met me when I returned to the Sortor family’s residence in the Baden neighborhood area of North St. Louis following Gary’s untimely passing in 2003, at age 49. They came from his older brother; Kenny. He was waiting outside the home when I pulled into the driveway.  My Grandma Mary (my father’s mother), who lived two houses up the street and had been best friends with Gary’s mother; Dolores, also died that year. The Sortor father; Otho (they called him “Okie”), had passed away in 1980. Only Gary, Kenny and mother Dolores remained living at the residence. Another brother; Terry, had died in a tragic freak accident in 1982, at age 36. Dottie was the only daughter of the Sortor clan. Married, she resided at the time in Spanish Lake. As I had spent the majority of my summers off school at my grandparent’s house, I became well acquainted with the Sortors. My grandmother often served as weekend “babysitter” for Dottie, on occasions when Dolores was out. Dottie and I were closer in age (unlike the three brothers, who were much older).


Gary’s sister—Dottie (and I) outside my grandparent’s home in 1969. Eighteen years later (1987) Dottie would see “the ghost” of my then-deceased Grandpa Joe standing inside the doorway pictured behind us.

The “Ouija board incident” took place in 1969. I was 10 years old. Intrigued by stories my Grandpa Joe had indoctrinated me with about his “ghostly past,” growing up in Chester, Illinois with his spiritualist aunt (specifically in regards to frequent usage of a Ouija board), I badgered Dottie into helping my embark on a “little adventure” after we ran across an old Ouija board, sitting on an old dusty shelf in her parent’s living room closet. With board in hand, we toted it down the steep flight of steps, leading to the dark recesses of the home’s rather “scary looking” cellar, to search out a suitable location in which to facilitate our anticipated endeavor. A small room had been built adjacent to the staircase; complete with door. Originally a “play room” for Dottie (when she was very young), by 1969 it had become a storage area for junk. A musty, old black steamer trunk occupied the room’s immediate center. One single dim light bulb hung from a cord above the trunk. It could only be turned on and off by way of a switch on a panel located upstairs, in the kitchen.

sortor hm 2 frt

The former Sortor family home on Nassau Drive, as it appeared in 2014. (St. Louis, Missouri)

We closed the door to the room, so as not to be disturbed, and seated ourselves facing each other on top of the old trunk. Placing the board securely on our laps between us, we began to ask it questions. At first, nothing. It was a while before the planchette began to actually move. Then it did. The movements, at first, seemed to be slow and jerky. In time, they became more fluid and quick. Dottie immediately accused me of doing it. I, in turn, returned the favor. We then began to giggle, thinking how ridiculous this all seemed. While we were both still young children, each of us knew enough to understand that such things were “not scientifically logical or possible.” So, we furthered by starting to ask the board stupid questions, “condescending it,” and mocking it’s alleged abilities. This, apparently, was the “wrong way” to go about it; as the planchette soon began to swing wildly about. At one point, it seemed to even lift slightly “off the board,” sticking to our tiny fingertips–as if suspended there. Still believing each other was responsible for moving the planchette, we went from giggling about it to all-out laughter.  It was then that the light bulb above us began to sputter and spark. Our laughter subsided, as we both glanced up uneasily, looking towards the failing bulb. Then it went dark; suddenly and without warning.


Grandpa Joe—whose spooky tales from his early Chester days (top two photos) served as the primary catalyst for Dottie and I’s 1969 Ouija board undertaking. *Bottom photo is from 1969 (St. Louis).

I could feel a sudden chill come over me. So dark was the room itself, that all I could see was a narrow slit of light, creeping in beneath the closed door. I couldn’t see Dottie at all, at first. Then I began to slowly make out her darkened silhouette. She seemed to be frozen in place; shaking. Then I heard her. She called out to her mother, Dolores (who was upstairs). We assumed her mother had turned off the upstairs light switch by mistake, not knowing we were both down there. Dottie’s voice and vocal tone grew panicked, “Mom, turn on the light! Turn on the light! Turn on the light!” But once we heard Dolores’ footsteps coming into the kitchen, we knew the light switch had not been touched. We heard her stop when she reached the light panel. “The light is on,” she called out to us. As soon as she said that (almost as if prompted), the light bulb  suddenly “POPPED” back on and grew extremely bright in intensity (unlike previously).


Gary’s original Ouija board. Look—but “don’t touch” (whatever you do).

Dottie screamed, leaping from the trunk and grappling blindly for the door knob. Soon, she was tearing out of the room and fleeing back up the stairs to safety. I was left holding the Ouija board, with the planchette dangling loosely from my finger tips. I then followed her. My heart was pounding. I couldn’t think; only react. By the time I reached the summit of the staircase, I felt light-headed, weak, drained. We returned the board to its original spot inside the living room closet…and never went near it again. I raced back home, eager to tell my Grandpa Joe about what had just happened. He was not surprised. Remaining unimpressed, all he could do was snicker back, “I told you so,” he said, continuing to read his newspaper, never lifting his eyes from the page.

gary 777

Gary Sortor—shortly before his death.

In the early 2000s, I visited the Sortor home during a brief stopover from Oklahoma (where I had since moved). I brought up the 1969 Ouija board incident while talking to Gary. It was then I discovered that not only was it his old Ouija board that we had used that day, but that it was still sitting in the home’s living room closet-right where Dottie and I had originally left it, all those many years ago! For sentimental sake and value, I asked Gary if he wouldn’t mind “giving me the old board…as a kind of memento?” He complied, but not for free–for twenty dollars. I left with it, tucked beneath my arm, taking it with me back to Oklahoma. Shortly afterwards, I was informed Gary had “suddenly died.”


100% WEIRD—After a stray dog attacked and bit Gary’s dog Pokey in 1997, Pokey’s hair color at the bite spot mysteriously changed from his own hair color…to the other dog’s hair color!

I returned to the Sortor home a year or so later to touch base with his older brother Kenny. Kenny; a local amateur wrestler, Vietnam Vet and unofficial crowd mascot for two former St. Louis indoor soccer teams, welcomed me by informing me “Gary is haunting the house.” Dolores confirmed the strange happenings that had been taking place there since Gary’s death. Lights would turn on and turn off, and flicker. The television set in her bedroom would be found on, after it had previously been turned off.  A generic store-purchased framed picture that hung on the wall in the den, above where Gary usually sat, was repeatedly found tilted. “Gary had always disliked that picture, for some reason,” Kenny explained. Strangest of all; what appeared to be “human footprints” began showing up in the new plush carpeting that Kenny and his mother installed following Gary’s death. The prints were found coming out of the room Gary had formerly occupied (which originally was brother Terry’s old room).


Dolores Sortor (left), visiting my Grandma Mary in 1969. Dolores originally purchased the Ouija board for Gary.

Kenny had recently moved into this room. Because he and Gary had the same general foot size, I suggested that the footprints were most likely his–meaning Kenny’s. Kenny gawked back at me with a patronizing glare. “With FOUR toes?” he barked back. See…apparently, before Gary died (while still in the hospital and suffering from diabetes), it had become necessary for doctors to remove the little toe from one of his feet. The imprint in the plush carpeting, ironically, came from the same foot that Gary’s toe had been removed from! Dolores Sortor acknowledged the “strange happenings” in the house. Asking her, “Aren’t you frightened?” She told me, “No. When it happens, and the lights start flickering and such, I just say ‘GARY, QUIT IT,’ and they stop.”


Me—with Kenny Sortor, promoting Back to Da Nang (my 1995 documentary) featuring footage Kenny filmed in 1971 whilst serving with the U.S. Army’s 196th Light Infantry “Charger” Brigade in South Vietnam.

Kenny died in 2008, at the age of 56. His mother Dolores followed him in death two weeks later. The house was immediately sold, and for a mere “$6000,” I was told. No explanation was given as to why. The neighborhood where the house is located is no stranger to “unusual phenomena.” Ghosts and tragedies have long vexed and perplexed many of the households on the block. Back in early 1987, Dolores and daughter Dottie had been visiting my Grandma Mary, two houses away. With Dolores driving, they were in the process of backing out of my grandmother’s driveway. They watched her standing there, at the front door, waving back and smiling (as she always did). Behind her, Dottie noticed something “odd.” It was Grandpa Joe. He wasn’t doing anything, just standing there behind my grandmother. The strange part about it was, Grandpa Joe had died…three weeks earlier, inside that very house.

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