The leaves are dancing on the trees and Halloween’s on the horizon. All things spooky: jack 0’ lanterns, witches’ brooms, and the requisite black cat are popping up on doorsteps, porches, and window displays. I’ll be the storyteller for the annual semi-scary “A Visit with the Night Watchman” event at a local museum. So let’s talk ghosts.
First and foremost, I like it when the dead come out and whisper their secrets. I like it when we turn inward to ponder the past. I like it when we embrace all those who came before. I like it especially when we dig beyond the facades of costumes and masks and understand the origins of Halloween as a sacred time, a time when the barriers between the natural and supernatural worlds are lowered and spirits are free to roam.
I am intrigued by the spirits of children long dead who come out to play. It’s not that they hide the other three hundred and sixty-four days and nights a year, it’s just that on the days leading up to Halloween we are more aware. The tiny spirits haven’t been napping in some spectral slumber; it’s us, the living, who have been too caught up in our daily tasks to notice.
And it’s the living children most likely to interact with the dead: a two year old asks his mother to help get the little girl down that he sees dangling from the chandelier; a four year old is sad because she can’t free another little girl trapped in the looking glass; another four year old begs his mother to let him play with “the red-headed boy” that she and others on the tour cannot see.* Children under the age of seven do not have any preconceived notions or fears of “ghosts.” What they see is as real to them as their parents sitting in the next room.
*The first two stories are from “The Haunting of Louisiana,” and the third is from “The Haunting of Mississippi.”
A generation or so back ghost tales were all about blood and gore: disfigured and dismembered ghouls; knife wielding-chain-dragging monsters; and the walking-stalking dead, howling and screeching, seeking victims to devour. Ghosts were thought to travel the same byways as vampires and zombies. These gruesome figures gave spirits a bad rap.
If you’d like to see a friendly ghost, pay attention; they walk among us all the time. They are the flicker of movement caught mid-flight out of the corner of your eye. They are the curtains that stir as they float from room-to-room. They are the soft whisper in your ear. And for me, on one stunning occasion, the ghost was the voice of a child who gave me a predawn wake-up call.
During the research for my book, “The Haunting of Mississippi, I spent one memorable night at a bed and breakfast known as Linden Plantation in Natchez, Mississippi. Jeanette Feltus, the owner, gave me the key to the South Room, the last guest room on the second floor of the west wing. In 1849 owner Jane Gustine Connor used it as a schoolroom for her children. Although small, the room had a lovely canopied bed, an antique dresser, nightstand, original plank flooring, and a fireplace. As with all the other rooms at Linden, the South Room has a private entrance accessible only by an exterior staircase in the courtyard. That weekday evening, I was the only guest. Jeanette retired to her room at the front of the west wing; we were as far apart as two bedrooms could be in the house. I climbed into the high bed, turned out the light on the nightstand, and pulled up the quilted coverlet.
Creak. The distinct sound of a floorboard as someone steps on it. I dismissed it as just the weathered wood rising back up after I clamored into bed.
Creak. Creak. I sat up and looked around. The moonlight pouring through the mullioned window was sufficient to see there was no one in the room but me. The creaking sound continued at irregular intervals as if someone was tiptoeing across the room. Eventually, I fell asleep. At 2:00 A.M., there was no creaking. Just a voice. A quiet little voice. A child’s voice.
“Hello!” Upright, I surveyed the room.
“Hello to you too,” I whispered back.
I waited. No response. I confess that I was disappointed that my little visitor had chosen not to pursue the conversation or make an appearance. She had limited her interaction to a one-word greeting. Yet, I felt privileged that she had made her presence known
In the morning, Jeanette joined me in the formal dining room for a Southern-style breakfast complete with homemade butter biscuits. I sheepishly shared my story. The gracious hostess of Linden poured another cup of tea and smiled, a satisfied smile. One more spirit had joined the ghostly entourage at Linden.
So this Halloween season, relax and let the spirits come to you.