2010, March 1: Ghosts for Sale

Avie Woodbury said her house was haunted.

        Woodbury's house, located in Christchurch, New Zealand, apparently displayed a wide variety of paranormal phenomena. Fluids would boil on their own, voices were heard in empty rooms, Woodbury would feel touches on the back of her neck when alone, objects disappeared and reappeared in odd places, and the dog refused to enter certain rooms of the house. A niece of Woodbury's who stayed with her said that she had talked to a unknown little girl in the house.

        When it all became too much to handle, Woodbury paid an "exorcist from a spiritualist church" around $100 [NZ] to perform an exorcism on July 15, 2009, which proved most effective. All of the paranormal shenanigans that were driving Woodbury crazy stopped, and the house returned to quiet normalcy. The exorcism, however, left Woodbury with one unique problem: what to do with the two ghosts that the exorcist had captured and confined to two small vials containing holy water?

        The exorcist had not taken them, and Woodbury did not particularly want to keep them. From what she understood, if the bottles were opened and the holy water was allowed to evaporate, she'd be haunted all over again... so there was no good reason to keep the bottles anywhere near the house. So she did what any modern person would do. She put the bottles up for sale on TradeMe, an internet auction site popular in New Zealand!

Ghost bottles

The two bottles, as shown in the TradeMe auction post [Larger version here].

        The auction started on March 1, 2010, and Woodbury's description of the bottles was very honest -- assuming she wasn't lying, of course. Listed as "TWO CAPTURED GHOSTS," the post explained that she believed the first spirit was that of Les Graham, who died in the house in the 1920's; she was told he liked to spook people, but wasn't very strong. The second spirit she believed to be that of the little girl whom her niece had spoken with, and that it had been released in the house when Woodbury and her partner had been playing around with a ouija board. They were warned she was a very strong spirit, who would only get stronger if left free.

        Since all the paranormal weirdness stopped after the exorcism, Woodbury felt it was reasonable to say the spirits were in the bottles, just as the exorcist told her. To this she added: "I just want to get rid of them as they scare me. But someone might like these to play with. So if you like ghosts, heres two real ones!"

        It wasn't long before the unusual sale caught the attention of local news media -- then national news media. This media attention translated to the auction getting more than 200,000 page views; and, in all, 190 bids were put forward. The auction presumably ended on March 7 or 8, a week after it was posted, and on March 9 news of the strange sale first appeared in international news venues as well. The final ending price of the two phials was $2,830 [NZ]. In interviews Woodbury explained that the money was going to be donated to animal charities... minus the fee she had initially paid the exorcist, of course.

Weird Gets Weirder

        So, who would pay $2,830 [NZ] for two ghosts? Surprisingly, the winning bid belonged to a company selling electronic cigarettes, The Safer Smoke N.Z. Limited... and their actual bid had been around $5,000 [NZ], so they were out to win, no matter what. The reason why the company did this might be evidenced by what they then immediately did with their odd purchase.

        Within days, the front page of their sales website, called Full Life, displayed a link to a survey, where page visitors could watch a video about the purchase, and then vote in a survey for what the company should ultimately do with the two 'ghosts.' At least by May 7 -- it's possible it happened earlier -- the results were being displayed in the website. I don't know how many votes were received in total, but four options had been offered. The lowest number of votes went to "Destroy," which got 8% of the votes, followed by "Display," which took 18%. Next came "Drink" at 33%... and, frankly, I shudder to think about it if someone had!

        The option with the most votes -- 41% of the total -- was "Ask."

        And here is where the details become sketchy, because Safer Smoke N.Z. Limited appears to have gone out of business around five months after that. Not much is left for me to dig up on their Full Life website; a video related to the survey that would have explained what the option "Ask" actually implied is no longer online and their website was never updated with any further information. The fate of the ghost bottles are unknown.

        I see two possibilities: the first, which many will have jumped to by now, is that somehow the ghosts were responsible for the end of the company. The more likely, which is what I'm investigating further, is that the company was likely to die soon anyway when it purchased the bottles and that the purchase itself was an attempt to take something that had gathered national attention and re-focus that attention on the company's website to try to boost sales.

        In either case, we don't know the ultimate fate of the ghost bottles. I've tracked down an address and name that was related to the company at the time of the purchase and I've sent a letter off to New Zealand on the off-chance that it might reach someone who can answer that simple question... but it's pretty unlikely as it's now ten years past the company's end. If I ever get a response, or find out more, I'll update this article.


        My letter came back about seven months after I sent it, with a polite note stating that the person it was addressed to no longer lived at the residence... which isn't a big surprise. Though I must admit I was secretly hoping to receive two ghosts in the mail!

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