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The Difference Between A Ghost And A Spirit

From the Summit Daily:

Ghosts are tied to the location of their death, usually a sudden or tragic one, and they often don't realize that they are dead. In most cases, they have "unfinished business" as the deceased person does not accept the way in which they died.

We use the word ghost and spirit interchangeably, but there is a strong difference between them.

According to the late Hans Holzer, professor of parapsychology and writer of 119 books on the subject, “Ghosts are similar to psychotic human beings, incapable of reasoning for themselves. … Spirits on the other hand are the surviving personalities of all of us who pass through the door of death in a relatively normal fashion.”

Holzer wrote that ghosts are tied to the location of their death, usually a sudden or tragic one, and they often don’t realize that they are dead. In most cases, they have “unfinished business” as the deceased person does not accept the way in which they died.

The simplest form of unfinished business can be as innocent as a person being attached so strongly to their home that they cannot leave it behind and pass over. They are known as “caretakers” and want to stay to make sure the building is being taken care of properly by future owners, as well as to their approval. At the other end of the scale, unfinished business can take the form of dark energy when a person’s death is extremely violent and unexpected.

Surprisingly, only a small percentage of paranormal sightings are true ghosts. The majority of them are really sightings of what we call “residual energy” — when an emotional event is replayed over and over again, at the same spot, and at the same time.

Spirits, on the other hand, are not tied to one place. It is believed that spirits are discarnate entities, meaning that they are the soul that has survived when a person dies and no longer has a physical body in which to reside. They are free to move from one dimension to another and can return to us at free will. Often it is just a genuine, emotional tie to a loved one, such as wanting a family member to know that a deceased relative is okay, that can be the cause of a visit by a spirit.

Minnie Thomas

The book “Haunted Breckenridge” tells the story of a “caretaker ghost,” Minnie Thomas. Thomas’ cabin sits at 202 South Main Street. She was a longtime resident of Breckenridge, arriving in the 1890s as a young girl. Thomas lived in the cabin for over 70 years, only leaving for a short time to get married and move to Frisco.

However, her husband was a heavy drinker and when the marriage didn’t work out, she returned to her life in Breckenridge, resuming her passions for hiking and skiing. When Thomas died in 1970 following a fall that resulted in a broken hip, she didn’t leave. Her ghost is said to be occupying the cabin to this day.

Jan and Scott Magnuson took over the building in 1986 and turned it into the gift store — Creatures Great and Small — which still exists. The Magnusons sold tasteful gifts such as bear statues and nativity scenes. When they first moved in to start their business, they felt Minnie Thomas’ presence immediately.

First, they were aware of the sound of footsteps coming from the attic and the smell of an old-fashioned scent like rosewater. Thomas’ prized collection of photographs was kept up there and, not surprisingly, the other sound they heard resembled the sound of someone rifling through a box, desperately looking for a lost item. When plates started flying off the walls of the store but not breaking, the Magnusons were not alarmed and assumed it was Thomas passing on her displeasure at having someone take over her home.

The activity in the building lessened as the years rolled on but didn’t go away. Minnie Thomas, it seems, accepts them for the way they are managing the building, but has a sense of mischief. When visiting the attic for stock, Scott Magnuson is often tricked by the simple alarm system the couple uses to call them back down to the store. Of course when he rushes down to assist, the shop is empty!

A psychic who recently visited the store with me remarked that Thomas was a playful character and she saw her watching us, curiously. Soon a man with hob-nailed boots joined Thomas and the smell of beer was obvious. Had her ex-husband come back to visit and taunt her?

Gail Westwood

Gail immigrated from England to the U.S. in 1999 with her husband and two daughters. Originally a personal assistant, she had always had a passion for history and put this to good use six years ago by becoming a historical walking tour guide. She currently operates Breckenridge Tours with her partner Jamie, offering Ghost Tours, Strange but True and also living history tours. Read more about Minnie in “Haunted Breckenridge” and visit us at or call (970) 343-9169 to learn about our Ghostly Tales tour.


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