Myth Monday: A Few of My Favorite (True) Ghost Stories
Myth Monday: A Few of My Favorite (True) Ghost Stories
Interestingly, I’ve discovered that when reading about things like mythology and folklore, you are inevitably drawn into the world of the supernatural. So many things—like ghosts, for example—that are discussed in mythology crop up again in the modern day, which just adds proof that maybe ghosts are real. You might not believe in ghosts and you’re entitled to your beliefs/non-beliefs, but there are just so many stories that it’s hard to deny that something is going on, and while I have a wealth of examples, I picked just a few of them for this Halloween. Enjoy!
The Ghost of Abraham Lincoln: One of the most haunted buildings in the United States, is, believe it or not, the White House in Washington, D.C. It’s so rife with a variety of spirits (including presidents and first ladies), that even former president and skeptic Harry S Truman once wrote to his wife Bess, “The damned place is haunted, sure as shootin’.”
The most famous and frequently seen ghost is that of our sixteenth president, Abraham Lincoln. Not only is he frequently seen around the White House, he has been known to interact with the living as well. One of my all-time favorite stories hails from the 1940s or thereabouts, during the Franklin D. Roosevelt administration. Roosevelt’s guest at the time was Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands, and, as an honored guest, she was given the Lincoln bedroom suite.
Late one night as she readied for bed, the queen heard a knock at the bedroom door. Queen Wilhelmina opened it and saw a very tall, thin, bearded man standing there, wearing a frock coat and tall stove pipe hat, smiling. He inclined his head and said, “Good evening, madam.” This all would have seemed like a polite gesture from a member of the White House to the royal guest, but the queen didn’t see it that way. She recognized the man in front of her as none other than Abraham Lincoln! She screamed and slammed the door shut, causing several Secret Service agents to coming rushing to her room, finding her in a dead faint. As the men helped her come to her senses, Queen Wilhelmina looked up and saw a bathrobed FDR frantically wheeling his way down the hall to see if she was all right. The queen told the president what she saw … and he wasn’t at all surprised.
The other story I absolutely love is that of when English Prime Minister Winston Churchill was staying in the Lincoln bedroom. One night he emerged from his bath wrapped only in a towel. He glanced up and stopped dead, seeing Abraham Lincoln sitting on the edge of his bed, watching him. Never at a loss for words, Churchill summoned his nerve and said, “Good evening, Mr. President … you seem to have me at a disadvantage.”
Always appreciative of a ready wit, Lincoln smiled, then vanished.
The Ghost at Little Round Top: In 1981, two Civil War reenactors (naturally, I can’t find their names, but I’ve seen them on TV), were sitting on Little Round Top Hill, taking a break from the faux battle when they noticed a man dressed as a Federal soldier trudging wearily through the brush towards them. He stopped to rest, and they chatted a bit until he seemed to summon up his strength. Standing, the stranger handed them two cartridges containing live ammunition—musket balls—then turned and tromped back down the way he came, vanishing into the undergrowth. The two reenactors were alarmed when they realized that the rounds the stranger gave them were live (meaning they were actual bullets, not blanks), since the use of live ammo was strictly prohibited during reenactments. At the end of the reenactment, they couldn’t find the stranger to ask him about the cartridges, which made them uneasy. They had the cartridges examined, and were astonished when they were told that the bullets were actual ammunition from the Civil War. The stranger was never seen again.
The Gray Man: Not all ghosts are scary Some are actually very benevolent, and they actively look out for the safety of the living. One famous example is the Gray Man of Pawleys Island, South Carolina. Since approximately 1822, this ghost of a man in gray clothing has been seen walking along the beach prior to the arrival of fierce hurricanes. Many people have encountered this odd but solid looking specter, and while he often walks by without a word, sometimes he will acknowledge the humans he meets. The locals know that if they see the Gray Man on the beach, they have to clear out and fast. Interestingly, those that have seen the Gray Man and fled the area before the arrival of the hurricane come home to find that their home is standing completely intact, while their neighbors’ houses are all smashed to kindling.
Why would the Gray Man want to protect the living? Well, the story goes that in life he was a handsome and rich young man (thought to be possibly the island’s namesake Percival Pawley, or early resident Plowden Charles Jeannerette Weston, though some have suggested Edward Teach, a.k.a. the pirate Blackbeard) with a beautiful fiancée that he loved very much. One year he traveled to Europe for business, and when he returned home he was so impatient to see his beloved that he rode heedlessly out into the woodlands towards her house, not realizing that recent storms had badly saturated the land. His horse skidded in the mud and threw him into a pool of quicksand, where he drowned as his slave looked on helplessly.
His fiancée was utterly devastated. One day while walking on the beach, mourning, the woman looked up and saw her fiancé standing there before her, wearing the gray suit he had been wearing when he died. Overjoyed, she started to rush to him, but he threw his hands out, begging her to stop. He warns her that a monstrous storm was barreling towards their town, and that she and their families had to flee. Believing him, the woman rushed home to warn their families, and while they were dubious that she had seen her lover’s ghost, they agreed to leave. When they returned home, they were shocked to see their town destroyed … but their houses were unscathed.
Though well known locally, the Gray Man gained national and international notoriety when the show Unsolved Mysteries (bring it baaaaack!) interviewed Jim and Clara Moore, a married couple who encountered and recognized the Gray Man shortly before Hurricane Hugo hit the coast. Their house was miraculously spared in the devastation. More recently, the Gray Man was seen just before the arrival of Hurricane Florence.
The Charles Haskell: Here’s an interesting twist—instead of a haunted house, it’s a haunted ship. The Charles Haskell was a schooner built in a Massachusetts sea port in 1869 and was scheduled to be purchased for cod fishing, but before it ever left port, a deck hand fell from the rigging, broke his neck and died. Seeing this as a bad omen, the captain refused to buy the ship, and the Charles Haskell sat at port for several years before it was finally purchased by Captain Curtis of Gloucester.
Curtis and his crew didn’t experience any real difficulties at first, but that first winter asea, a beastly hurricane roared in, overtaking the Charles Haskell and a dozen other fishing boats in the same area. The crew of the Charles Haskell struggled to maintain control, but the huge schooner veered sharply and slammed straight into another fishing boat, essentially sawing it in half. The vessel went down so quickly no one had time to see which ship it was, and there was no chance to save any of the twenty-six men on board.
Captain Curtis and his crew were heartbroken at the loss of life, but there was nothing that could be done. They attempted to find out where the ship was from, but three similar ships had been lost that night: two from Gloucester, and one from Salem. There was no way to determine which ship it had been, so, with heavy hearts, the crew set sail again in the spring on 1870.
The Charles Haskell wasn’t at sea long before something extraordinary—extraordinarily freaky—occurred. One night as mot of the crew slept, the night watchmen were manning the helm when they noticed several dark shapes moving around the stern of the boat. To their utter horror, twenty-six men—a full crew—climbed up the sides of their ship! Silent, hollow-eyed and faintly glowing, these inhuman men moved about the ship, seemingly tightening sails and rigging, tossing out fishing lines … doing all the work that a living crew of seamen would do. The watchmen were too terrified to raise the alarm, but the noise of the ghosts working roused Captain Curtis, who came out of his cabin to see what was going on. He froze in shock at the sight, and by then much of the crew had rushed up below deck, woken by the noise. The crew began to panic, but the ghosts continued their work, apparently not noticing the living cowering nearby. After a while, the spirit fishermen finished their work, climbed over the sides of the Charles Haskell, and dropped back into the sea. The living crew immediately demanded to return home, and Captain Curtis was quick to agree.
The very next night as the Charles Haskell approached Cape Cod Bay, the ghost fishermen returned. The living crew of the ship was frantic, desperate to get home but frightened of having to work near these specters. Again, the dead continued to ignore the living as they had done before, but as the cursed ship drew within sight of land, the phantom fishers suddenly ceased their work. Standing up, the twenty-six spirits climbed over the sides of the ship again, but instead of disappearing into the waves, the ghosts marched single file atop the black salt water in the direction of Salem.
As soon as the Charles Haskell got to port, Captain Curtis and his crew abandoned it. The haunted ship rotted away in port, eventually sinking to the bottom of the sea.
My story: Luckily, I've only had a handful of experiences that made me go, “???” You’d think that with all my research on ghosts and such that I’d be eager to have a paranormal experience. HELL no! Books and the nimrods on Ghost Adventures are as close to the preternatural world as I’d like to get, thank you very much. Honestly, I’ll be very happy to not ever encounter anything. Ev-er.
But like I said, I have experienced a few things I couldn’t explain. There is one time I saw … I don’t know what … in a room packed with people. And a few of them saw it too.
Many Halloweens ago, my college invited some ghost hunters in to do a little talk—a fun event in the “spirit” of the season. I won’t say who the ghost hunters were, only because I don’t want to see any, “OMG, that guy?!?! He is such a fake!” clogging up my response sections and/or inbox, but I will say that they were both mediums and psychics and are famous. I went because I was interested in what they had, but I’ll admit, I have reservations about people who claim that they can speak to the dead; more often than not, they can't, and they'll bilk grieving people out of a lot of money just for the chance to communicate with their loved one one last time.
So it was a decent turnout, maybe close to fifty students showed up. I sat near the middle by myself (none of my friends were interested), and if I turned I had a good view of the reception room from all angles. I could see the ghost hunters up in the front, a woman and a man, and while they seemed like very nice people, I readied myself for any tricks or open-ended questions to the audience, like, “Who here lost somebody recently? He used to wear a hat?” That would have been a major tip-off to me that these two were hucksters.
Surprisingly, neither one of them made any statements like that. Instead they talked about what ghosts were, the investigations they had done, spirits they had talked to, and even played some EVPs (electronic voice phenomenon—voices and sounds that are picked up on recording equipment that aren’t heard by human ears at the time of the recording) that were particularly messed up. Towards the end, some students had some questions, and while I don’t remember exactly what they were saying, I remember the lady investigator stopping, glancing up towards the ceiling, hesitating, then lifting a hand to point.“I didn’t want to say anything before,” she said slowly, “but there have been two spirits hovering around the whole time we’ve been in here.”
Of course, about two dozen girls screamed in terror and I saw a mob of them make like they were about to dive for cover. Smirking, I glanced up in the direction the lady was pointing in, not expecting to see anything …
That smirk vanished, and I felt my eyes widen and my mouth slowly drop open as my eyes focused on a large, dark oval … spot, I guess … moving in a smooth, even speed overhead, about eight feet up (we had high ceilings, and this thing was about two feet below it.) I jerked, then blinked, squeezing my eyes hard. No, no no, that was just one of those light spots you get after you’ve had a bright light shine in your eyes … it’d change, it’d go away …
Except that it didn’t. It never changed shape or size, maintaining a football-like shape at about a little under a foot long and maybe six inches high. It looked solid, though the color seemed to flash from black to a dark gray with a blurry haze around it and a sort of pale yellow ripple running through it.
As I watched it approach along the wall across from me, a second, much smaller and brighter object zipped up behind it, moving speedily along until it caught up with the first spot and then slowing down, lagging a bit behind but still matching the bigger thing’s speed. This thing was perfectly round, hazy like the first, but more see-through, save that it seemed to flash a kind of alternating yellow and white light. By now I knew I was seeing something and my heart started to pound a little as I ran through what these things could be: smoke? Bugs? Birds? Balloons? Light from a projector? Shadows? Reflection?
But then the weird thing happened; as these two shapes drew closer to the ghost hunters and their equipment, the big spot vanished—not really fading away, it was just gone—and the little spot kind of just winked out. I could not believe what I had just seen, and by then everybody was in a ruckus, with some saying that they had or thought they had seen something, and others looking around going, “Where? WHERE?!?!” The ghost hunters assured us that these were really just curious spirits drawn to our collected energy and they weren’t anything to be worried about. That calmed some of the students down.
I did speak to the lady investigator briefly afterwards. I cautiously described a little of what I thought I saw, which she confirmed. I was still on the fence about it—it was weird, sure, but I couldn’t come up with a reasonable explanation for it. It was just too strange. She also recommended that I try to hone my psychic abilities. I thanked her but in my head I was thinking, “Nooooo freakin’ way.”
The lady investigator lamented that she and her partner didn’t have enough time to do a proper ghost hunt with us that night, but I assured her that it was okay; I, for one, had more than enough spectral creepiness that night.