BROOKLYN — The leaky water pipes in the Sterling Place brownstone may have seemed like a plumbing problem, but when medium Cathy Towle assessed the situation, she came up with a different diagnosis: a Revolutionary War soldier had been buried on the spot and his spirit was still residing there.
After some communication with the restless redcoat, Towle was able to appease him by blessing him, giving him a splash of Glenfiddich whisky, and asking him if there was anything he needed from her. The answer was yes, something sweet. Towle ran over to Konditori on Fifth Avenue and got him a cookie.
And so concluded another day of work for Towle, a shamanic practitioner and medium who performs home blessings and ghost cleansings at properties across the city. Her services include blessings that push negative energy out of a house and usher in happier vibes, as well as treatments that help houses that are up for sale find a buyer. (Her regular clients include two real estate agents with a well-known real estate firm.)
Not all houses need a deep spirit cleanse, but when it's warranted, Towle will address lingering issues from past occupants who remain on the property in the form of spirits. Her work can take as little as 60 minutes for a smaller apartment and up to several hours for entire houses with tough issues. Prices range from about $350 to $750.
"The next day, the house felt like a new house," said a satisfied client of Towle's, who lives in an 1890 Carlton Avenue brownstone. Before Towle's visit, the grand old house had a dark, heavy feeling to it, especially the staircase, said the homeowner, who felt sheepish about being identified by name.
Towle visited and determined that the spirit of a woman mourning children lost to disease was inhabiting the stairs. A cleansing sent her on her way.
While her husband laughed at Towle's services, the client told DNAinfo New York she was so impressed with the change in the house's atmosphere that she recommended Towle to a friend in Yonkers and also plans to have Towle come back when she renovates the Carlton Avenue house.
"I'm not a hippy dippy person. I don't do yoga. But I can pick up on people's energies," the client said. "I totally believe in what she does."
Towle hasn’t always been "out of the closet," as she puts it, about her particular skill set.
"It's not something in our culture that we recognize that often,” said the diplomatic Towle, who also serves on an NGO committee that promotes spirituality at the United Nations.
Her strong connection with the spirit world started when she was a girl growing up across the street from a cemetery, but she kept it to herself.
Her first career as a graphic designer in the advertising industry fizzled after 9/11 dealt a blow to her clients. She shut her Gowanus studio. Looking for something new to do, she visited a women’s business fair where a counselor asked her if she knew how to do anything else besides graphic designing. Yes, Towle said, she could read astrological charts. “That’s what you should do,” the counselor said. “People need guidance right now, there’s so much fear.”
Towle got certified as a medium by the Forever Family Foundation and started working professionally connecting people with the departed in 2005, something she sees as a form of healing. She got interested in the spiritual histories attached to specific properties after she was involved in a paranormal investigation at the Merchant's House Museum.
Her look and demeanor have little in common with the popular conception of paranormal practitioners. A married mom of two with a calming voice, a swath of silvery blonde hair and black ankle boots, she carts her supplies around in a reusable Whole Foods bags for wine bottles.
She doesn't drink, but the compartments make it easy to tote the potions, oils and herbs she deploys for righting a house's spiritual balance. During a cleansing, she typically moves from top to bottom in a house. First she douses the rooms with "Chinese wash" to get out the old energy. Later she'll spritz everything with homemade "sweet wash," which she stores in an old bottle of Mrs. Meyer's cleanser.
Spirits rarely appear to Towle as physical apparitions. She generally hears them speaking in her mind, she said. She'll also get a tingly feeling at the back of her head and feel a warmth around her heart when connecting with spirits, she said. To homeowners, spirits can manifest as spots where accidents frequently happen, or as minor disturbances such as a hanging pot falling off a kitchen wall when no one is in the room or a light going on in a closet when no one is present.
Towle said Park Slope is rife with spirit life, some of which is connected to the Battle of Brooklyn. Some are spirits who once lived in brownstones that have been chopped up into multiple apartments and are upset because the stove has moved to a new location, she said.
She's worked on houses where murders happened, but truly scary, malevolent spirits are a rarity, she said.
"Mostly it's spirits trying to get the attention of people because they haven't been dealt with properly," Towle said. "I try to give them what they need, which is closure and appreciation."