Haunted Objects: Uncle Webb’s Tools

By Christopher Balzano & Tim Weisberg

Many people believe we need to find peace when we die before we can cross over to something eternal. After we pass, we want any problems we had to be solved, and for everyone to know how much we cared. Writing a will is a way to get that peace while we are still alive. Each person gets what he or she deserves, and the distribution of belongings is a way for us to assure our soul finds balance upon death. Johnny gets the coin collection he always wanted. Susie gets the wedding dress, so I can be with her on her wedding day. Each grandchild gets money that will help him or her go to college. All the pieces fall into place.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t always happen, and the spirit can’t move on until everything is right with the living. An object becomes the focus of a haunting. In this case, the spirit will continue hanging around, trying to communicate so people can understand. When that item remains a symbol of a strained relationship, the haunting might be even more intense. The need to get the haunted object into the right hands becomes an obsession, sometimes for the living and the dead.

victorian era tools

Collection of Victorian-era and later tools with presentation inscriptions from 1885, includes three commemorative tools related to events in India, including spanner commemorating railway link between Bezwada and Madras, ornamental hammer and chisel in presentation box awarded at Bombay dockyard in 1938, 15-piece set of surgeon’s tools in wood case presented by Church of Scotland to William Peven for missionary services in Africa in 1885, together with British fireman’s axe presented at retirement ceremony in 1919. From the collection of Malcolm S. Forbes. $1,434. Image courtesy Heritage Auctions

While everything on the surface was fine between Jimmy and his father, Webb, there was always something underneath that was unsettling.

Webb was always being confused with other relatives, so early on people suggested he drop his real name, Charlie, and go with his middle one. That suited him fine. There was uniqueness about the name “Webb” that made him stand out, and though many people considered him average, the people who knew him best said there was always something special about him.

Stanley plow plane

Plow plane, Stanley No. 42, Miller patent, type 1, hook, oval trademark, gunmetal, one cutter, tote perfect, filletster bed missing slitter, japanning 99%, fine condition. $22,550

“Uncle Webb was always the center of attention,” said his nephew, Carl, who spent a lot of time with his uncle and cousins growing up. “If he was there, everyone else went to the background. Everyone wanted to hang with him. People just listened, like he was going to say something funny or deep. That guy made most things both at the same time.”

Webb was a contractor who took great pride in his work. Coming from a blue-collar background, he wanted his son to follow in his footsteps and work with his hands and a good tool when he grew up. He told people about the business they would start together, working side by side, like he wished he could have done with his dad.

Jimmy wanted nothing to do with it. He went to college to become a teacher, and while his father eventually came to accept his career choice, he always took little jabs at his son.


This article originally appeared in Antique Trader magazine

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“He wanted Jimmy to be a contractor, but to be honest, Jimmy was all thumbs. He couldn’t even hang a picture,” Carl said. Carl watched the relationship from the sidelines, listening to Jimmy when he talked about his father’s disappointment in him. “I know it gnawed at Jim, but he got over it. It was like he was a teenager stomping his foot. He would pay people to do the easiest repair job, and find a way to slip it into conversation when we were all together. You could practically hear Uncle Webb biting his tongue.”

plow plane

Plow plane, Ohio Tool Co. No. 113, number mark only, ebony retains much original finish, six ivory tips, rosewood bridle, boxwood spindle, center wheel, handled, set of five Ohio Tool irons, longtime storage box, couple of minor chips, fine condition. $34,100

In 2005, Uncle Webb died from cancer. He was still a young man with no thoughts of death and no will. He was not a rich man, so there wasn’t a lot of money to distribute among the kids. Everyone assumed Jimmy would get his father’s tools, as it is the kind of thing you pass down to your son, but Jimmy wanted nothing to do with them. Instead, they went to Carl, who had probably spent more time using them while Webb was alive than anyone else. He became a computer programmer, but understood the need to be useful around the house.

Carl’s house, located a few miles from the mansions of Lakewood, Washington, has been a haven for ghosts since the day he and his family moved in. For more than 10 years he and his wife and two children have shared the space with several different ghosts, although the house is much quieter now. For the most part, they have become used to the haunting and pass it off as part of their lives. They have never called in paranormal investigators or felt threatened.

“I did research, but nothing. No tragedy or little secrets,” Carl said. “Just a house and a family that for some reason is a magnet for dead people.”

The ghosts come and go, but the family can tell the difference between them by the activity in the house. Some move things around. Some run up and down the stairs. Little children are heard giggling at times. The most active spirit is that of a little girl they call Kay, who has a crush on Carl. While Carl dated the woman who is now his wife, Kay would lock the doors and pull the sheets off the couple. For years she would play with an old music box in the dining room, winding it up and moving it around the house. They even heard a humming along with the song. When their first child was born, they could not keep the baby out of the crib.

antique plane

Skew iron cornice molding plane, mid-18th century, yellow birch with double ogee profile, set at 60 degree angle, dark golden brown and smooth patina, excellent condition with some slivers that have separated from base, produced by Cesar Chelor, a slave of New England planemaker Francis Nicholson, who received land, tools and his freedom from Nicholson before he died. $28,600
Martin J. Donnelly Antique Tools

“I thought she might be jealous of the kids, but she protects them. I think it’s kind of sweet. She’s gotten used to my wife and just wants to play. I have no trouble with her now,” Carl said.

The little girl’s spirit has become a part of the family, but it’s the spirit of a different family member that has caused the most disruption. Uncle Webb, who probably would have fallen in love with the house when he was alive, had issues with the family. He and Carl might have been close, but to the dead man, his unspoken intentions had not been followed.

“It started two weeks after the funeral,” Carl said. “I had set up a little work area in the basement and put all the tools down there. One night I was in bed, tired after a long day in front of a [computer] monitor, and I heard a crash downstairs. I went into the basement, and all the tools were scattered around. I know I hung all those tools up and organized everything down there.”

He did not get around to putting the tools away until that weekend. When he observed the mess that Saturday morning, he noticed none of the hooks that held the tools were bent, and the tools were thrown about the basement in places they could not have naturally gotten to. “A hammer was under an old desk I have down there. For it to have gotten there, someone would have had to throw it. It’s a good 10 feet away.”

A few days later, Carl’s wife noticed a picture had fallen off the wall. “It was on the kitchen table. I didn’t put it there and my wife had nothing to do with it,” Carl said. The glass over the picture, which is of his wife during a trip to Europe, was shattered. “There was a screwdriver right through the glass. It was like someone had tried to stab her in the picture.”

His wife was frightened by the incident, even though the family had experience with the paranormal. “I know there are people in my house. This felt differently and we were trying to figure out who it might be,” Carl said.

They got their answer in the next few days.

draw knife/draw shave

Drawknife with folding handles, marked Enders and Oak Leaf, used to shape wood by removing shavings. $50-$100.
Scheerer McCullock Auctioneers

“Uncle Webb had always liked the Beatles,” Carl said. “Radios in our house started to turn on and play Beatles songs. We have a radio in just about every room in the house. They would turn on by themselves and a Beatles song would play. They’d be on stations neither of us even listens to. Three of them have to be hand-tuned, so it’s not like someone hit the scan button or something. I began to wonder if it was Uncle Webb and what he wanted.”

The couple decided Uncle Webb was trying to tell them that he had moved on. Tools continued to be moved and radios continued to play. After three weeks, they began to get tired of turning off radios.

“I asked him to tell me what was wrong. If he had something to say, I asked him to say it. I didn’t really think I would get a response,” Carl said.

That night, all of the radios in the house turned on, all playing the same song. Carl turned them all off one by one and moved to the basement to shut the last one off.

“There it was. All of the tools were in a perfect circle on the floor of the basement. In the middle was a picture of my cousin, Jimmy, and me. That picture had been in the attic in a box of pictures. There is no way it could have gotten into the basement.

“I figured he wanted Jimmy to have the tools. I packed them up the next day and drove to Seattle where he lives,” Carl said. “I didn’t tell him what happened. I just gave him the box and told him they belong to him. He was actually kind of happy about it. You have to put some things aside. Uncle Webb is dead, and I think Jimmy might think it’s been too long. I’m not sure if he ever uses them, but they’re his now.”

Carl reports the music has stopped playing and the pictures now remain where they are hung in his house.

Haunted Objects Stories of Ghosts on Your Shelf By Christopher Balzano and Tim Weisberg

Haunted Objects
Stories of Ghosts on Your Shelf
By Christopher Balzano and Tim Weisberg

To read more uncanny tales involving antique and vintage objects by Christopher Balzano and Tim Weisberg, pick up a copy of “Haunted Objects: Stories of Ghosts on Your Shelf” (Krause Books, 2012).

More information on antique tools may be found in the “Antique Trader Tools Price Guide” or “Antique Trader Antiques & Collectibles 2014 Price Guide” (Krause Books, 2013). All these titles are available at www.krausebooks.com, amazon.com and other book retailers.

You may also call Krause Books at 855-864-2579 from 8 a.m.-5 p.m. CST.

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