Friday, October 31, 2008
Ghost stories I have known
In an old shop in New Hampshire, off the beaten path and set back from the road, I found a worn little book called Ghost stories I have known (some true). The cover bore what appeared to be an illustration from a 1950s-era children’s book and, even more intriguing, when I opened it, I found the book to be blank. “What?” I thought. “Am I supposed to be able to fill up all these pages? I don’t know that many ghost stories – who tells ghost stories anymore?” And furthermore, I continued in my pondering, why is it “Ghost stories I have known” and not “Ghost stories I have heard?” Okay, I was hooked, so the book came home with me.
Gradually, over time, I jotted down a few memories. Back when I was in graduate school, one of my professors, a man who was deemed to be eccentric amongst the world of academe but who would have been called certifiable in the real world, had some students over to his house for dinner. When we arrived, he announced proudly that his house was haunted and that Clark, a former student, was a medium and could see the spirits. All well and good, I thought, until Clark proceeded to stare past my left shoulder all evening and gently nod his head, as if mentally conversing with a spectral guest to whom I had not been introduced. I took my leave before Clark could start channeling any deceased relatives.
The ghost in the tavern
Years later, I went to the annual meeting for some Carlisle association, and it was held in an historic home that had once been a tavern. During the evening, the hostess regaled us with tales of the ghost who still strode through her halls. More recently, a good friend in town told me of the presences she feels in her home, including a feminine one with a light step and a lovely scent. What I find remarkably similar in all these instances is the complete lack of fear or dread. Odd things simply happen, and they make for interesting conversation afterwards.
Not so with the experiences of a college friend, who reminded me of her time working at WSBK in Boston, which she said I should include in the little book. In the late 1970s, Terry took a job at the television station, working the night shift. Almost from day one, she noticed that videotapes went missing or broke with alarming regularity. The sound of typewriters often emanated from the dark of the empty newsroom. She worked on a skeleton crew, yet the elevators often started up and went to floors where no one was there to call them. Finally, she mentioned the elevator calls to a TV engineer who had worked at the station for years, and he admitted sheepishly that something haunted the station, had for years, as a matter of fact, and that she should never go down to the coffee room alone. He would never say why and, frankly, Terry decided she would rather not know. From then on, she always brought her own coffee from home.
The ghostly janitor
I suppose if I am going to be thorough, I would have to include in my book the story of Charlie, the ghostly janitor who allegedly still walks the halls of the 100-year-old Highland School building. I wrote an article [Mosquito, October 27, 1995] regarding the ghost at Highland after the school had been converted into artists’ studios, and various tenants complained of hearing conversations when no one else was in the building. Persistent cold spots were felt, near the boiler room of all places, and former teachers recalled odd occurrences while working there late on Parents’ Nights, that helped keep the legend alive.
There is a ghost in the house
I have saved my own ghost story for last, just as I did when filling up the little blank book. The summer before I began high school, my parents purchased a rambling brick home that had recently been a rental property. We moved in on a steamy July day and by evening I was ready to settle down in my new bedroom, on the second floor that I had all to myself. No sooner had I turned out the light than a pounding came from the little door in the corner of my room that led to the storage crawl space. After scrambling downstairs, I was reassured by my mother that certainly the fan in my room had made the door bang. Testing her theory, however, I found the door so swollen in the humidity that a battering ram couldn’t get it to move. From then on, my dog slept upstairs with me, and there is nothing more comforting in the night than a snoring Boston Terrier.
Although nothing more disturbed my sleep, the rest of the house was not so quiet. Over the course of the first year we lived there, there were many nights when my Dad was out at meetings and my Mom was in another part of the house reading. On some of these evenings, the sound of the back door opening and footsteps walking through the kitchen, into the hall, and on into my father’s bedroom could be heard. Each time this happened, I assumed my Dad had come home, so I would finish whatever I was doing and then go to say goodnight to him, only to find no one there.
On one occasion, I was doing homework in the living room when the back door opened and the footsteps began. My dog ran to the closed kitchen door, her stubby tail wagging, and crossed to the closed hall door as the steps proceeded into the hall. I finished my chapter and went to let the excited dog in to welcome my father, only to watch her run into my father’s bedroom and come to a complete halt. My Dad came home 30 minutes later.
Haunting may be explained
I honestly can’t recall ever telling my parents about these instances at the time, although I did find out years later that both my parents, as well as my brother and sister-in-law, who lived with us for a short time, all heard disembodied footsteps at various moments. The oddest thing is how we never felt anything strange was happening. There were no cold mists or sepulchral music, and I never called out, “Is anybody there?” It certainly wasn’t a threatening haunting, if haunting it was.
A few years after we moved in, one of my young swimming students was walking me home from the pool when he exclaimed, “You live here? This is the house where my father died – how weird is that?” It seems that his family had been renting our house before we bought it and his father had indeed died there, suffering a heart attack in the living room. How weird is that?
So Happy Halloween, all, and if, after the trick-or-treaters are safely tucked in bed, you still see ghosties and ghoulies and hear things that go bump in the night, let me know. There are still a few pages left in my book. ∆
© 2008 The Carlisle Mosquito