I admit I prefer ghosts with a bit of substance to them. It’s hard to get to know a spirit if he or she is merely a gauzy apparition who occasionally flits by. Or worse yet, the “ghost” is captured as an orb that shows up only in photos taken at night, or a garbled voice played back on a digital recorder. Not a lot to go on. And urban myths about a man with a hook on Lover’s Lane or a female spirit hovering over a deserted country road don’t do a lot to spark my interest.
I want a ghost with a lineage, a past I can track. At the very least, I want a ghost who hangs out at a historic site: a centuries-old house, church, store, barn, battlefield, slave quarters, shipwreck, lighthouse—all excellent choices. Age, sex, occupation, religious or political affiliation, I am an equal opportunity storyteller.
To appear in the pages of my books, magazine articles, or be featured in my documentaries, I need corroborating witnesses. Credible individuals who don’t crave the spotlight but are willing to share their experiences. Over the years I have interviewed museum curators, docents, teachers, a dentist, a voodoo priestess, an archbishop, a maintenance worker, an underwater archeologist, Native American tribal members, artists, musicians, waitresses, bartenders, chefs, fishermen and boat builders. The all have one thing in common; they’ve all encountered someone from the past. And some have closer relationships with their ghosts than others.
Ruth Bodenheimer, who runs the Lanaux Mansion as an elegant guest house on the outskirts of the French Quarter in New Orleans, holds regular consultations with her decorator, Charles Andrew Johnson. The fact that Mr. Johnson has been dead some two hundred years is irrelevant to her. Ruth explains it this way: “He instrumental if I have a major project especially if it’s a costly one. I’ll have a little private chat with him.” Charles Andrew Johnson built Ruth’s home in 1879 so despite his demise, the ghost of Mr. Johnson would certainly know how to restore the mansion to its full glory (The full story can be found in The Haunting of Louisiana/Chapter 15).
The Lanaux Mansion in New Orleans
Antoine has been haunting Tupelo, Mississippi’s Lyric Theatre for as long as anyone can remember. His activities in the present day leave the staff and troupe of actors in turmoil. Box office manager Lisa Hall recounts a typical incident. “We were upstairs in the costume room and had reorganized things. We left and came back a little later, and everything had been rearranged. Nothing was in the same place and there was no one in the building but us.” Executive Director Tom Booth takes a stab at explaining why their ghost is so grouchy. “There was a tornado in Tupelo in 1939 and they used this building as an operating room for the injured, Antoine was probably one of the victims; he was brought here and never left. All I can say is that when we bought the building twenty-six years ago, we inherited Antoine” (for more about Antoine and his antics check out The Haunting of Mississippi/Chapter 16).
The Rose Dorothea with its Phantom Captain
The Provincetown Library on Cape Cod inherited a ship and its ghostly captain. The ship is a half-scale replica of the fishing schooner Rose Dorothea. It is sixty-six feet in length and its mast with the full sail unfurled rises from the second floor to the third floor ceiling of the library. Since the original Rose Dorothea was sunk by a German submarine off the coast of Portugal in 1917, it seems that Captain Marion Perry has chosen the replica to reenact the moment of his greatest glory. Capt. Perry received the coveted Lipton Cup Trophy when he won the 1907 Fisherman’s sailing race between Boston and Gloucester. As he crossed the finish line, he is said to have grabbed a broom and “swept the deck clean,” a symbolic gesture celebrating that he had beaten his closest rival. Patrons of the Provincetown Library insist they can still hear the swish of a phantom broom across the deck of the Rose Dorothea (the full story of the vessel and its ghostly captain can be found in The Haunting of Cape Cod and the Islands/Chapter 20).
These type of tantalizing details are why I tend to prefer old ghosts over new. The vintage ghosts have been around long enough to haunt multiple generations. There are layers to their tales. And there is a certain visceral thrill when uncovering their stories.
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