For many of us the new year ushers in the opportunity to reinvent ourselves. We make resolutions to upgrade our physical, mental, and emotional selves. Our to-do list includes losing weight, improving fitness, eating healthier. We strive to be more generous, sympathetic, kinder. But what about spirits who linger in our world? Can they improve, or are they forever frozen at the time of their departure?
In short, can an angry spirit grow mellower over time? Can a sad ghost turn joyous? Can a poltergeist reform?
At the old South Church on the island of Nantucket, the ultra-conservative ghost of Seth Freeman Swift, the original minister (1810-1833), has not veered from his rigid ways. For over three centuries, this disgruntled ghost continues to express his displeasure. If the music director selects a contemporary hymn for Sunday’s service, Seth blocks the entrance to the choir loft. He is a bit of a poltergeist. He’s been known to bar access to the watchman’s level of the bell tower when the trustees allowed the installation of a web cam. Calling on his paranormal abilities, the annoyed Seth removed a seven foot wooden panel from the shaft that held the clock weights, slid the panel across the floor, and wedged it securely from the inside so that the bell tower door could not open. The battle of Seth vs. mortals wages on. The twenty-first parishioners, trustees, and staff grudgingly agree that their resident ghost is unwilling to reform. [The Haunting of Cape Cod and the Islands/Chapter 1].
In sharp contrast to Seth, Chris Brinkley and Tom Pharr, genial hosts of Anchuca Mansion in Vicksburg, Mississippi, are pleased to announce that their ghostly couple is on their best behavior. Chris credits Mr. and Mrs. Hennessys’ reformation to the fact that they got their way. The Hennessys moved into Anchuca in 1875 and for the next forty years raised their children in the spacious home. The couple had formal portraits of themselves mounted in oval frames and on display. Following their deaths, the home changed owners until Brinkley and Pharr remodeled it into an elegant bed and breakfast establishment. From time-to-time, they both saw fleeting images of shadowy figures roaming through the halls. They shrugged off the occasional ghostly visitations until the day they discovered a leak in the dining room ceiling. They called a plumber. He inspected all three floors for the source of the indoor waterfall. His investigation uncovered no broken pipes, no faulty valves, no overflowing drip pans, no logical explanation. The frustrated plumber used his bare hands to dig through the attic insulation in search of any dampness. Then to his astonishment, buried in the insulation, he pulled out an oval portraits of a man. Plunging his hand in again, he extracted a matching portrait of a woman. Chris Brinkley swore that at that very moment, the leak in the dining room, three floors below, stopped. As he retold the tale to me, Chris laughed saying, “I never would have been able to make up a ghost story like that . . . I guess they just wanted out.” To keep the Hennessys happy and to insure the home stays waterfall free, Chris and Tom have rehung the portraits in the front hall. To date, the ghosts of the Hennessys appear satisfied now that they are once again on display. [The Haunting of Mississippi/Chapter 2].
So it appears that some ghosts are willing to amend their ways. And that we can on occasion appease the spirits if we can figure out what they need.
Danny O’Flaherty, former owner of O’Flaherty’s Irish Channel Pub in New Orleans’ French Quarter, believed his music soothed the tormented soul of Angelique, a young Creole girl. Angelique was strangled in the courtyard by her lover, the owner of the historic building. After Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the pub did not reopen. Recently, the nineteenth-century building and courtyard were restored. In an interview I did last year with the new owners, they said that their customers also report sightings of the ghosts of Angelique and her murderous lover Joseph Baptandiere. So even an hurricane can’t dispel ghosts. In New Orleans, a haunted restaurant remains “par for the course.” [The Haunting of Louisiana/Chapter 19]
Ghosts, like mortals, can evolve over time. They may start off mean-spirited (pun intended) but once their demands are met, they can be less troublesome. If your resident ghost has an annoying habit of slamming doors, clamoring up stairs, or moving things about, there is hope. Perhaps, like the Hennessys, a simple fix such as the rehanging of portraits is all that is required.
Will we ever know with certainty if spirits of the dead can slip back and forth between our world and theirs? Perhaps not. In the meantime, maybe the best resolution for 2018 is to learn to co-exist and enjoy life in all its forms.