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Ghosts Come Out to Play on Halloween

Our ancestors, the early Celts celebrated the Feast of Samhain on October 31. They were marking the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter. As balladeer Danny O’Flaherty from the Gaelic-speaking region of Connemara, Ireland shared with me, October 31 was Celtic New Year. These early Celts also believed that on October 31, the barrier between the natural world and the supernatural world was lowered and spirits of the dead were free to wander about.

Our ancestors were not particularly interested in bumping into a spirit or a ghost so they gathered together and built large bonfires to ward off the darkness . . . and the spirits. When it was time to return to their homes, they carved out a gourd and placed an ember from the bonfire inside the gourd to light their way home (the precursor to flashlights). They also covered themselves in animal skins, hoping the spirits wouldn’t recognize them (the origin of our present-day habit of wearing Halloween costumes). On arriving home, they put out food or treats to appease the spirits (how “Trick or Treating” began).

The question becomes do ghosts or spirits of the dead also believe in keeping alive the tradition of celebrating on the Feast of Samhain (October 31)? Do ghosts still favor parading about in larger-than-normal numbers on Halloween? Are we more likely to encounter them on Halloween? Hard to tell. With so many costumed witches, warlocks, skeletons, hairy monsters going door-to-door, who knows what is actually lurking among them. But it is fun to imagine.
The town of Salem, Ma is having a hard time this season. They expected fewer visitors due to Covid but people keep pouring in. The mayor of Salem has gone on television pleading with people that if they don’t have a reservation already at one of the surrounding hotels to please stay away. They are finding it impossible to enforce social distancing and the mask mandate.

So apparently ghost seekers still believe that the barrier between the natural and supernatural world is going down the closer it gets to Halloween and the chances of bumping into a ghost, especially in Salem, home to witches and warlocks, is going up.
Certainly, it’s hard to avoid thoughts of spirits or ghosts with so many decorations, jack-o-lantern, mock tombstones, and plastic skeletons reminding us that Halloween, All Hallows Eve, is approaching. So if I were a ghost would I simply give in and join in? Why not? If that wall is down between the living and the dead, I’d welcome the invitation to the party.

Happy Halloween and let me know if you’ve had an exciting encounter with one of your ancestors this Halloween season.
And for those of you who’d like to hear and see (via photos) a few ghost stories from my book, The Haunting of Cape Cod and the Islands, I will be the guest speak for the Virtual Supper Series at Highfield Hall and Gardens (the museum is haunted by the ghost of Emily) on Thursday, Oct. 22 from 6-7:30 pm via Zoom. https://highfieldhallandgardens.org/event-calendar/special-events/virtual-supper-club-series/

Ghosts on the Move

The ghost of Eugenia Gary haunts Merrehope, a twenty-two room mansion in Meridian, Mississippi. Eugenia died tragically of consumption and was buried in Livingston, Alabama. She neither lived nor died at the mansion. So how is her ghost haunting a house in Mississippi, and why? Docents at the elegant home blame it on her portrait.
Merrehope
The president of the Meridian Restorations Foundation, which opens Merrehope for tours, believes she encountered the ghost of a young girl standing in the front hall wearing an 1860s-era green dress. A positive identification was confirmed with the arrival of her portrait. Eugenia was the daughter of John Gary, formerly of Alabama. Following the death of his daughter, John and his wife purchased, expanded, and restored the mansion in Meridian. “Some of the Gary descendants lived on the Gulf Coast. During Hurricane Camille [1969], their house was destroyed, but they managed to save the portrait of Eugenia which was sent to Merrehope for safekeeping,” says Bebe Stuart Jones of the Meridian Restoration Foundation

The oval portrait of the sweet young girl is heavily damaged, but Eugenia’s face shines through. Most of the current staff believe that Eugenia’s spirit traveled with her portrait and took up residence. Hostess Donna White has a special connection to the teenage ghost. Through marriage, she is a descendant of the Gary family. On her first encounter Donna was alone in the house. “When I came through the double parlor into the main hall it was dark, and then all of a sudden, I ran into Eugenia . . . She was heading away from me towards the back of the house. I called out her name, ‘Eugenia?’ I drew in my breath and she was gone.”

Little Lucy Paine drowned around 1718 in the cellar of her house in Barnstable, Massachusetts. The foundation of the house sat over an underground river. Lucy fell in trying to retrieve her favorite blue ball. Lucy couldn’t swim. Her childish ghostly giggles were heard for decades coming from the second floor nursery.

Two centuries later as her former home went from restaurant to office building, Lucy was lonely. Owners of a new restaurant in town purchased some furniture from the building and Lucy’s ghost hitched a ride.
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Lucy has been spotted at the new location by wait staff and diners alike.

The forty-five carat, three- hundred-and-fifty-million dollar Hope Diamond is said to carry a four-hundred-year-old-curse. The curse travels from owner to owner bringing sickness, death, and ill-fortune to all who wear it. Among the more infamous wearers was Marie Antoinette.

Poor Marie lost her head to the guillotine. Today, the diamond it is on display, but heavily guarded at the Smithsonian’s Museum of Natural History.

And then there’s Annabelle, also under lock and key, at a Connecticut museum. But unlike the horror flick which depicted Annabelle as a ferocious porcelain figure, the real Annabelle is actually a beloved floppy Raggedy Ann doll. However, the reputation that surrounds the doll is such that the current owners keep her behind glass.

Be it doll or diamond the moral of the story: Caveat Emptor. Buyer Beware. When purchasing an antique object, do your due diligence, and May the Spirits Be With You!

Folklore or Fakeloare

It’s relatively easy to fake the presence of ghostly phenomena: flashes of light (often referred to as orbs), static on digital voice recorders (subject to human interpretation), and the wonders of Photoshop.

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The haunted status of Houmas House in Burnside, Louisiana is perplexing to owner Kevin Kelly. According to both visitors and staff, adult spirits abound. A nineteenth-century river boat captain paces back and forth on the Widow’s Walk atop the roof of this antebellum beauty. A second male figure strolls the grounds. “There is a tall, tall black man,” states Houmas House historian Jim Blanchard. “When I first saw him . . . he went behind me . . . and through the wall.” Blanchard believed the ghost knew exactly where he was going. “We were redoing one of the cottages on the grounds, opening up paneled walls that had been added on, and discovered a doorway that had been covered up. The ghost was walking through a doorway that was original to the cottage.” Owner Kevin Kelly agrees that this particular ghost sticks to familiar paths, ignoring contemporary obstacles. “I put a big circular fountain right behind the house. People tell me he walks right through the fountain but doesn’t get wet.”

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Kelly freely admits he has never seen any of the ghosts of Houmas House but wishes that if he could arrange for a ghost to put in an appearance his vote is for movie star legend Bette Davis.” Kelly explains: “In 1963, Miss Davis arrived at Houmas House to film scenes for Hush . . . Hush Sweet Charlotte. People want to see where Betty Davis stayed here at Houmas House. “She is our number one draw.” Kelly wistfully adds, “If I could get the world to believe her ghost was on this property, I’d get millions of people here a day.”

Visitors to the circa 1796 Mrytles Plantation on the National Register of Historic Places can choose either the History or Mystery tour. During the latter, tour guides regale the curious with a laundry list of spooky activities: handprints inside mirrors, footsteps crashing up and down the main staircase, sweet perfume and pungent cigar odors, cold spots, photos of a transparent female figure lurking in the alleyway between the buildings and silhouettes of children who may have been poisoned kneeling on the roof. The plantation also operates as a bed and breakfast and potential guests continue to pose the million-dollar question: “Which room is the most haunted?”
Haunted tales at historic sites do equate to an increase in revenue.


Yet Maida Owens, former director of Louisiana’s Folklife Program, insists a distinction be made between folklore and “fakelore.” “I see nothing wrong with haunted history tours or ghost tours and when combined with good theatre or storytelling they can make exceptional presentations that reflect an area’s culture. Folklore,” says Owens, “are the traditions that have been passed down in a community over time. Fakelore is an obvious commercial embellishment of the past.” Owens adds that fakelore shouldn’t be foisted on a gullible public without some type of warning. “It’s about truth in advertising more than anything else.”
So when visiting a reputed haunted site or trailing along on a local ghost tour, what is the truth? Perhaps we need to look to ourselves. Are we there to be entertained? As we stroll through the bedroom were Bette Davis slept during filming at Houmas House should we be rewarded with the sight of “Bette Davis eyes” peering back at us? The lyrics of the song certainly are apropos: “She’ll tease you, she’ll unease you. All the better just to please you.”
The choice is yours: suspend skepticism and embrace the moment or walk away confident that you haven’t succumbed to fakelore no matter how well told.

Blog # 25 Playful or Pesky Ghosts

There are perks to having a ghost; they can be entertaining, helpful even, or the perfect “fall guy” to take the blame when things go wrong.

The ghosts at Loyd Hall in Cheneyville, Louisiana exhibit a certain playfulness. When Philip Jones, former Secretary for the Louisiana Department of Culture and Tourism, prepared to enjoy his formal dinner at Loyd Hall his silverware vanished. Beulah Davis, resident tour guide, confirms the mysterious disappearance.

“It (the silverware) was there as he sat down, but as he started to eat his food he found several pieces missing. I told him that ghosts do exit here.” Jones’ evaluation of the situation is pragmatic. “I realized there probably is a little bit of truth that this house is haunted.” Beulah Davis feels that the ghostly antics are just “their small way of letting you know they are here.”

Out on Deer Island in Biloxi, Mississippi a few locals believe a ghost pops out of the palmetto bushes to scare off visitors. The ghost appears in the form of a headless skeleton.

In a convoluted twist to this haunted legend, there is pirate treasure buried on Deer Island. A certain nameless pirate (Jean Lafitte?) sailed his ship into Biloxi Bay, came upon the deserted island, and stashed his booty. Before departing the pirate captain cut off the head of one of his crew and left his disgruntled spirit to guard the treasure.

As of this writing, no enterprising salvager has successfully bypassed his gruesome ghost and recovered the treasure.

The Crocker Tavern’s ghost is a screamer. Overnight visitors to this pre-Revolutionary War guest house on Cape Cod are not pleased when Aunt Lydia’s screams piece the night and disturb their slumber. In 1874, Lydia Crocker Sturgis inherited the former tavern from her father. Following her death, her ghost lingers on. “She acts like a caretaker,” says former owner Anne Carlson. One day as Anne was supervising the installation of new mattresses, she inadvertently left the door open. “All of a sudden the back door slammed shut. There was no wind . . . it actually locked behind us. I stood there and said, ‘Aunt Lydia, I don’t believe in you . . . but if you approve of what I am doing in running this property then I don’t want to see you again.” As for the screaming, guests hear a female voice yelling “Help me! Help me!” from inside the house. If Aunt Lydia’s spirit is in trouble, sadly no one knows why. One guest wrote an almost glowing review of this vacation hot spot. “The home is utterly charming—a reminder of our rich heritage—except for the ghost.”

Recent renovations at the 1790 Dr. Wicks House in Falmouth, Massachusetts have disturbed the slumber of the ghost of Julia Swift Wood.

In her will Julia bequeathed her former residence to the Falmouth Historical Society, which opened it for tours. On display are a few of Julia’s favorite possessions including a silver tea set. Each piece is engraved with Julia’s monogram—an S for her maiden name of Swift. Julia’s spirt follows the tours. If someone touches the tea set, Julia steps in, wiping off any offending fingerprints.

Leonard Fuller, tour guide extraordinaire at McRaven House in Vicksburg, Mississippi, is ambivalent about Mary Elizabeth’s ghost. “She diverts our tours. We send the tourists up the back staircase to the old section and tell them to turn left. When I get to the top of the stairs they’re in the bedroom on the right, Mary Elizabeth’s room.

We ask them why, and they say the nice lady told us to come in. We know it’s Mary Elizabeth, who died in childbirth in the bedroom, getting them off track. She likes to torment us a little bit. Sometimes the police will call after we are closed and say every light is on in the house.” Leonard’s eyes flash with a twinkle. “Mary Elizabeth is just having a little fling.”

Like their human counterparts, even adult ghosts revert to childlike antics, act bored, grumpy, possessive, and/or obsessive. Playful and pesky, spirits will continue to find innovative ways to let us know they’re still around.

Blog # 24 – Ghosts VS Pandemics

With too many deaths due to the current Covid 19 crisis one has to wonder if any of their spirits will linger and question what happened? Certainly, their loved ones are grieving and trying to hold on the memory of their fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, grandparents, neighbors and colleagues ripped so cruelly away. And these innocent victims, held in isolation, never had the chance to say good-bye.

Sadly, this has not been the only instance of a pandemic wiping out hundreds of thousands, leaving too many lost souls left in limbo. In the decades between 1853 and 1905, Yellow Fever killed 10% of the residents of the city of New Orleans. The worst year on record was 1853 when 8,000 people died. And their deaths were gruesome. Initial symptoms included chills, headaches, convulsions, delirium . . . and bleeding. Victims bled through the eyes, nose, and ears before dying. Today, this horrible pandemic has mostly been eradicated from the United States due to advance techniques in mosquito control (mosquitoes spread the disease). An effective vaccine had been available since the 1930s but the Yellow Fever vaccine and its usage is still lacking in parts of Africa and South America.
One such victim of the Yellow Fever pandemic in New Orleans never made it to her fifth birthday. She was the daughter of Paul and Marie Gleises. In my book, The Haunting of Louisiana, I called her “Little Girl Lost.” Her fragile spirit haunts the Lafitte Guest House at 1003 Bourbon Street in New Orleans fabled French Quarter.


Tom Duran, a former curator at House of Detention Prison Museum, and a former tour operator in New Orleans, has an affinity for apparitions, especially the young ones. Duran shares the story of a confused child ghost caught in a time warp. The small female figure repeatedly exits a bedroom of the four-story townhouse, walks down the hall, and passes through a gilt-framed mirror mounted at the far end of the second floor landing. “People walk up the main staircase towards the mirror. They see behind them the reflection of a little girl. She’s normally crying and when she appears, she is as real as you or I. People turn around to look at this little girl behind them and when they do she disappears. And that happens time and time again.”


Duran shows a photograph as proof. The enlargement captures a pale form curling towards the doorway. Duran says, “In the photographs I’ve taken during my visits, the ghost is floating out of today what is called Guest Room 22. Rooms 21 and 22 where the former children’s rooms.”


This child ghost clings to the only home she has ever known. Like Alice in Wonderland, she becomes trapped in the mirror. On filming the documentary (on which the book, The Haunting of Louisiana, is based) this television producer and author was witness to an extraordinary incident. The young actress who had been cast to recreate the manifestation of “Little Girl Lost” burst into tears when she glanced at the mirror for the first time. She froze in place and refused to move further down the hallway towards the mirror. Prior to the filming she had been told nothing of the story prior to her arrival at the guest house. The five-year-old actress had only been told she was to portray a little girl and all she needed to do was walk out of a bedroom and down the hallway. She had no pre-knowledge of a mirror or its history. Both her parents were with her the entire time and she was familiar with the crew. While she waited downstairs, she had been happy and laughing. When she walked up the stairs, her entire demeanor changed.

Only when prompted by her father, who stayed out of camera range at the end of the hallway, did she finally walk out of the bedroom, down the hall, past the mirror, and into the waiting arms of her father. After filming (there was only one take), back down on the first floor, the frightened actress shared with her father that she cried because she was so sad at seeing the other little girl stuck inside the mirror. Cleary, she saw something the rest of us did not. Two children, centuries apart, were briefly united in a shared moment of grief.
The lasting effects of any pandemic will never be completely quantified. Stories of spirits will filter down through time. Perhaps, other little girls and boys, who have succumbed to an early demise, will be able to reconnect to playmates they will know only in those brief, inexplicable moments in time.
For more details about “Little Girl Lost,” read Chapter 12 of The Haunting of Louisiana.

Ghost Tales for All

Founded in 1824, Pilgrim Hall is the oldest public museum in continuous operation in the United State. Several years back, I spoke before a gathering of its membership. My knees were shaking. I was surrounded by historic artifacts: Myles Standish’s sword, the cradle of the first child born in New England, and massive paintings that soared from floor to ceiling. And in this hallowed hall I was about to give a talk about ghosts to a conservative, erudite assemblage of individuals dedicated to preserving the early history of our country. Thought to self: This is not a good idea.
One astounding hour later, I still had their attention. I began with a tale of a trio of ghosts at the Orleans Inn (The Haunting of Cape Cod and the Islands/Chapter 16). The inn was built by a sea captain in 1875 whose lineage traces back to Mayflower passenger Constance Hopkins Snow. However, the three ghosts who haunt the inn today sadly, have little in common with the Mayflower or the Pilgrims. It seemed to work as they even chuckled when I related that one of the ghosts, Hannah, a women of questionable virtue, is known to dance naked in the belvedere on top of the inn.

Next, I hit them with a mysterious glassmaker, Adolph Bonique, who could conjure life into a glass flower; the flower would unfold with the rays of the sun and give off a sweet perfume. Adolph was one of the early glassmakers at the Sandwich Glass Factory opened in 1825. And on foggy nights in the town of Sandwich, Massachusetts, the phantom of a man can be seen walking the streets of old town carrying a golden glass cane.
I began to wrap things up with the tale of pirate Black Sam Bellamy and the wreck of his vessel off the coast of Cape Cod in 1717. Although, this true story has several alternate endings, each version concludes with the ghosts of Sam and his mistress wandering the beach near Wellfleet. I left my astute audience with the love story of Captain Ebenezer Linnell and his wife, the golden-haired Rebecca. In 1864, Eben met a horrific end; on his last voyage, a storm threw the captain into the ship’s wheel, a spoke from the wheel punctured his lungs. He was buried at sea. Rebecca learned of his death from a letter from the ship’s first mate. For the next sixty years, Rebecca climbed the steps of the cupola of the home Eben built for her. In the copula, she read and reread the letter describing her beloved’s death. She never remarried. Today, visitors to the Captain Linnell House Restaurant, swear they still see the figure of Rebecca in the cupola wistfully looking out to sea.

With that daunting talk at a prestigious museum successfully behind me, I didn’t flinch when the president of a Catholic women’s club asked me to speak before her group – at the church. Previously, during my production of the PBS documentary, The Haunting of Louisiana, I had been told unequivocally by a Catholic moral theologian, “There is no such thing as ghosts. Ghosts can’t just pop in & out like they are on some divine elevator.”
But, once again, I embarked on an hour-long presentation before a group who did not believe in the existence of ghosts. I relayed the quote from the Catholic moral theologian and his stance’s in opposition to the topic, and then countered with the belief of the Archbishop of the Israelite Divine Spiritual Church: “If you pray hard enough, and the Holy Ghost takes you. You can communicate with spirits; there are times you can see them and they can appear in many disguises.”

A statue in a tomb in Metairie Cemetry. New Orleans, Louisiana


Before there were any objections, I proceeded to share a tale of the reputedly very haunted 1716 Barnstable House. A fire in the 1970s brought out one spirit. According to newspaper accounts and the local fire department when the fire trucks arrived smoke was billowing from the third story attic windows. A fireman spotted a woman in the window with long white hair and rushed up the stairs to save her. He was unable to find her; the attic was empty. After the fire was contained, another fireman was wrapping up the hoses when he was approached by a woman. He thought it odd that she was outside without a coat on such a snowy evening. He was about to suggest she find warmer attire when he glanced down at her bare feet and saw the she was levitating about a foot off the ground.
Then I launched into one of my favorites: The Excessive Compulsive Exhorter ((The Haunting of Cape Cod and the Islands/Chapter 19). I was hoping my audience would relate to a religious figure who dedicated his life to urging people to give their lives to God. Exhorter Stephen Collins was obsessed with getting to church on time. The First Congregational Church in Truro sat on a hill, so Stephen got a horse to race to the top. On one fateful Communion Sunday, the frantic preacher was blind to others slowly making their way up. Consumed with anxiety, Stephen did not see a crippled young boy. He trampled Silas and raced on believing others would pick the boy back up. At the church, the congregation carried the crumpled body of the young lad to the front pew. At the end of the service, Stephen left never to enter the church again. On subsequent Sabbaths, Stephen would stand outside the church and then scurry over to the Burying Acre and kneel before the fresh grave of Silas. On his death the forgiving congregation buried him beside the church. His tortured spirit cannot rest. For even today, the Exhorter’s spirit returns riding a phantom horse. Locals claim they hear the labored wheezing of a horse and hoofs pounding. The ghostly rider dismounts and kneels before a worn headstone, the inscription now illegible to the human eye. His lips move soundlessly in prayer. He remounts and disappears into the night.

So many years apart, my audiences, both at the revered museum and at the church listened in quiet solemnity to these haunted tales. Through the question and answer periods that followed, I learned they were eager to learn more about those who walked the paths of Cape Cod before them. They acknowledged that such tales keep the past alive, and are meant to be shared.
A fervent Yea to the retelling of all such tales.

Blog #22 – Holiday Spirits

Holiday Spirits
Thoughts of Christmas past evoke memories. Memories call forth spirits of loved ones waiting in the wings to rejoin the festivities. At Merrehope in Meridian, Mississippi, brightly lit Christmas trees seek to dispel the gloomy days in the aftermath of the Civil War.
On property deeded to her from her father, Juriah Jackson and her husband built a three-room cottage, now the rear, ground-floor rooms of the current mansion. During the Civil War, Confederate general Leonidas Polk set up headquarters here. In February of 1864, Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman, adhering to his scorched earth campaign, set the torch to Meridian because it had a Confederate arsenal. After five days, Sherman declared, “Meridian . . . no longer exists.” Juriah’s cozy cottage was one of only six homes left unscathed by the time the Union troops moved out.

By 1868, the home returned to private hands. John Gary of Alabama did the first major expansion, adding porches to the front of the house with ruby glass in the main entrance. In 1881, J. C. Lloyd, his wife, and thirteen children began a twenty-three-year residence. In 1908, S. H. Floyd “modernized” the house, installing five bathrooms, electric lights, a stairway, and wainscoting. Floyd also pushed back Juriah’s original cottage to make room for a grand dining room. Owners number six, the Gossetts, took possession in 1915. Otto Tibbette reshuffled the floor plan in 1930 and turned the former lovely home into eight apartments. After seven owners and numerous configurations, the stalwart women of the Meridian Restorations Foundation arrived to face bullet-riddled rooms, glass shards from a former resident’s whiskey bottle rampage, and several cantankerous ghosts.

“If you want to know the truth,” says hostess Donna White, “when I first came to work here, they kept the whole haunted thing pretty quiet. It was kind of hush-hush; nobody told me anything.” The novice hostess had been on site less than three weeks when she realized things weren’t what they seemed. “First thing in the morning you make your rounds. I went into the Periwinkle room. I stopped dead in my tracks. There was the perfect imprint of a body on the bed. I ran downstairs and called one of the other ladies, and she asked me, ‘What’s wrong?’ I told her what I saw, and she just mumbled something like ‘Well, this stuff happens.’” Donna was shaken; it was her first paranormal experience. She stayed downstairs for a while and avoided the upstairs bedrooms. Her reluctance prompted the manger to ask, “You are not going to quit are you?” Donna replied, “No, I’ll hang in here.”

In time, Donna adjusted to the weird quirks and habits of the resident ghosts, including the one who persisted in taking a midmorning nap. “I would open the door to the Periwinkle room and fuss at him. ‘I hope you had a nice rest, but I really don’t like cleaning up after people, so how about next time you straighten up.’” This specter had unresolved issues that ended in a gruesome exit.

In the 1930s, one of the renters in the former mansion turned apartment building was a schoolteacher with two deadly demons—drinking and gambling. The manic-depressive was out of control. “One night,” reports Donna, “he lined up some whiskey bottles on the wood mantle, shot them off, and then shot himself.” His reckless behavior continues in the afterlife.

“We were getting ready for a Christmas party. There was a really big crash upstairs like someone had knocked over an armoire.” Donna suspected that an intruder had gotten into the house. Outraged, she decided to trap the bumbling thief. “I ran around and locked the side door. I grabbed the telephone to call the manager and tell her I was going upstairs to see who ever it was and get them out of here. She’s on the phone and she says, ‘You’re not going up there.’ I said, ‘Yes, I am.’” Donna marched up the front stairs to find nothing—nothing broken, nothing out of place, nothing fallen over. Realization dawned. Hands on her hips, the unfazed hostess planted her feet in the hall between the bedrooms. She barked out orders. “Don’t’ get upset. There’s a party tonight, so just behave. We don’t want to spook the guests.” She softened briefly and let the teacher’s troubled spirit know that if he behaved, he could “come down and join us.” He didn’t take Donna up on her invitation, but, says the pacified hostess, “It stayed quiet up there for the rest of the night.”

This holiday season set a place at the table in honor of loved ones lost, previous owners and their guests. As you ring in the New Year lift your glass and toast all those who came before. Let the past and present mingle and merge. Celebrate life in all its forms.

To find out more about the ghosts of Merrehope (there are more including the Lovely Eugenia who likes to float about the rooms) read “The Haunting of Mississippi,” Chapter 19.

Let the Spirits Come to You

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.

Blog # 20 Out of Body

When I was just eight years old I had major surgery to save my life. My clearest memory of the operation was looking down at myself on the operating table. It wasn’t until I reached adulthood that it dawned on me that this was an odd perspective. How could I possibly be looking down at myself? I began to question if I had had an out-of-body experience. Had I left my physical self to float above in the nether regions among the large covered globe lights suspended from the high ceiling? Had I taken flight? Was I on the verge of becoming an untethered spirit, a ghost of my former self?

This leads to several tantalizing questions: Can spirits of the dead or nearly dead decide where they want to go? Can they chose to be good or evil, naughty or nice?

Since, apparently, I chose to return to my sliced open body, or sucked back in, with limited first-person experience I can only provide brief commentary on the answers.

Let’s start with the whole death and dying situation. Other than those deeply troubled souls seeking to escape the pain of life, who actually chooses to die? Even those brave combat soldiers who risk it all to save a buddy are not actually choosing death rather their gut instinct is to save life. So, putting aside the tragically suicidal, and life’s heroes, if given the opportunity to extend our stay, wouldn’t we?

Knowing death is a given, knowing our shelf life has an expiration date, shouldn’t we all make plans? As a child of eight, clearly, I hadn’t given much thought to my options. Now that I have a few more years on me, it’s time.

For some a prepaid funeral plan and an accompanying will are all the necessary preparations for departure. For others, it’s all about the church service, the candles, the hymns, the prayers. I can forgo the details concerning the disposition of my body, what haunts me, however, is what happens to my essence, my spirit?

If I could choose, my goal would be to return as a kinder, gentler soul, a ghost, a spirit who comforts and coaxes a smile. So, can good intentions pave the way? I’d like to think so. I shall leave instructions that wherever my ashes are scattered, I would like a small cement statue of a young girl and her rag doll be placed near the site. This very statue graces the cover of my first book and the DVD cover of my first documentary, “The Haunting of Louisiana.” To this I would borrow a quote from the poet/essayist Flavia Weedn: “Life is brief and very fragile. Do that which makes you happy.”

Valentine’s Day Rooted in Ghostly Lore

Valentine’s Day is a celebration of love wrapped in a bouquet of romantic traditions. Yet, many of our most haunted tales have a tragic Romeo and Juliet heart-rending ending.


In the rolling hills of Madison, Mississippi, the ghost of a bride-to-be still mourns at the gravesite of her groom, a century and a half after his death. The marriage of Helen, youngest daughter of John and Margaret Johnstone to Henry Gary Vick was set for the spring of 1859 at the Chapel of the Cross in Madison. During their two-year courtship, Helen elicited a promise from often hot-blooded Henry that he would never again use dueling as a means of settling a dispute.
Four days prior to the wedding, Henry traveled downriver to New Orleans. While there he ran into a former classmate. Somewhere between the pleasantries and the reminiscing, a perceived slight escalated into an accusation sullying a man’s honor. They agreed to a duel. Two different versions linger on what happened at the duel. The first says Henry belatedly remembered his promise to Helen and shot his gun in the air, hoping his opponent would be honorable and do the same. The second report states that both men were lousy shots: Henry aimed for his classmate’s forehead and hit a tree; his classmate aimed for Henry’s body but the bullet hit his head. Henry Grey Vick lay dead on the ground. His body was placed on a steamer headed back to Mississippi.
A courier on horseback delivered a note to the bride’s parents: “Henry Vick killed in a duel.” The wedding decorations at the chapel were hastily pulled down and funeral preparations begun. Helen wore her wedding gown to the service. A grave was dug in the cemetery behind the chapel, and Helen had an iron bench installed next to the grave. On balmy spring nights, the ghost of Helen appears in the cemetery, and sits on the bench pinning for her lost love. pics of grave.
In Natchez, Mississippi, a young woman paid the ultimate price for loving the wrong man. In the 1930s, the skeletal remains of a teenage girl were discovered bricked up behind the fireplace wall of what is today King’s Tavern. Buried with her was a jeweled dagger. Somewhere between 1789 and 1820, a barmaid referred to as Madeline had an affair with Prosper King, the tavern’s owner and Mrs. King swiftly ended it. I was so moved by the tale that I penned the following poem:

Madeline. Alluring Madeline
Sweet Sixteen and a dimple in her chin.
Love for the tavern keeper sealed her fate
when the coy barmaid chose the wrong mate.

For the tavern keeper had a wife,
who knew too well how to yield a knife,
Now, alluring Madeline, a pretty little ghost is she,
haunting King’s Tavern for all eternity.

What is purported to be Madeline’s portrait hangs over the restored fireplace today in the tavern. Guests report that the picture occasionally swings violently back and forth. This attractive ghost is also blamed for water dripping from the ceiling, hotspots on the staircase, and tugging at the hair of female customers.

So, whether it be Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, Helen, the almost bride, or the young barmaid Madeline, love does not always have a happy ending. For those of us who love a good haunted tale that endures through time, a love story with a haunted twist. More details about Helen and Henry or alluring Madeline can be found in my book The Haunting of Mississippi.

May all your Valentine’s celebrations be filled with love and happy endings.