For those of us in the northeast, the Halloween season is a wash-out thanks to Hurricane Sandy. Who has time or will to think of anything other than Sandy's power and danger? People are scurrying about securing their homes and property, buying water and batteries, and battening down the hatches to brave the perfect storm. For die-hard Halloween fans, however, the worst thing Sandy has done is transform the season for all things spooky into a Weather Channel marathon. For those who despise “Frankenstorm” for its power to erase Halloween rather than its unprecedented, hybrid might, I suggest a good ghost story to help pass the darkened hours during the inevitable power outages ahead.
Everybody has a personal ghost story to tell; at this time of year, most tales are fancifully embellished with rattling chains, tombstones, specters in the night, floating orbs, and fearful, pounding hearts. Truth be told, the “average” ghostly encounter is nothing like a Sci-Fi channel presentation. How do I know? My mom told me so.
In my childhood colonial home (built in the early 1920s), my parents' bedroom and my own was separated by the door to the attic, a dark space spanning the total area of the house. I liked playing in the attic, which was filled with old clothes, toys, and my Marx tin doll-house, but often experienced the understandable trepidation accompanying a little girl climbing the creaky stairs in total darkness to reach the light (which was switched on by pulling a long string suspended from a bare bulb in the middle of the staircase). Even with the attic illuminated, I felt as though I was being watched as I played. There was, of course, nobody else in the attic, so I ignored the sensation – until my mother reported seeing my invisible companions emerge from the attic.
It was early morning; my mother was in bed mentally reviewing her to-do list when two people, a gentleman in a WWI Air-force uniform and a woman in a long dress, walked through the closed attic door into the hallway. Afraid, my mother froze. The couple disappeared. (In later years, research revealed the original owner of the house had been an officer in the U.S. Air-force during WWI). Needless to say, I stopped playing in the attic.
You may think you would scream or run in a similar situation, but you can never say with certainty what adrenaline will drive you to do.
When I was a teenager in that same house, I was alone doing homework in the living room when the locked cellar door suddenly started rattling, the doorknob moving from side-to-side as though someone was trying to open it. Maybe I should have run (intruder?), but I didn't. I went to the door, watched the knob moving, unlocked and opened it. There was nobody there.
In addition to my mother's encounter with the attic ghosts, my father clearly heard someone call his name when he was alone upstairs. My husband and I put the family cat in the bedroom, closed the door and went out, only to return and find the cat walking freely around the house when nobody else had returned home to release her. We lived in that house for fifteen years or so; such unexplainable antics were few but memorable; when Dad sold the house, I audibly bid the ghosts farewell.
Through the ensuing years, I've had a handful of encounters with the unexplainable, none more startling than my experience in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.
Gettysburg is my “home away home.” I love it there and visit as often as I can. On one such visit, we rented a lovely brick home near the Lutheran Seminary in town (the center of the Confederate line during the great three day battle of 1863). Late at night, I was awakened by pronounced footsteps and slamming doors in the hallway. As my oldest son had a habit of loudly rising during the night and slamming doors, I thought nothing of it and went back to sleep. The next night, the footsteps and slamming doors awakened both my husband and myself; this time, I got up to scold my son only to find him soundly sleeping. Gettysburg is rumored to be rife with ghosts; my husband and I laughed it off and went back to sleep. On the third night of our stay, we were joking about the ghost in the hallway, possibly a lost Confederate, and wondered aloud if he planned to awaken us again in the pre-dawn darkness. At that point, a round, glass-topped side table promptly fell over. Apparently, somebody was listening.
I suppose inquiring minds could debunk such ghostly encounters, but I don't bother trying. My mother was a devout Catholic, level-headed, and not at all curious regarding the supernatural. My father, a brave WWII veteran, is the same. If Mom said she saw two figures emerge through the door of the attic, I believe her. Ditto for my Dad's spectral greeting. Could the wind have rattled the cellar door on the long-ago evening I was doing my homework? Perhaps. But when you stand staring at a doorknob jiggling on its own, you might feel differently. As for the footsteps and slamming doors in our Gettysburg rental, I have no explanation whatsoever...unless my husband and I dream in unison, and we both have bats in the belfry.