Thursday, November 15, 2018

Should a Cowardly Ghost Fanatic Have a Bucket List?

Everybody knows about bucket lists. I don't actually have one pertaining to my life in general, but I have a two-item list pertaining to all things weird and supernatural. You'd think they would be visits to haunted sites, right? Uh, no, actually, they're not.

Even though I read and write about ghosts constantly, I do not have a list of haunted places that I feel a driving need to see. For one thing, some of the most haunted places on the planet include mental institutions, prisons, and places where something really bad happened. Let's go over that list.

1. Mental institutions. Think Transallegheny Lunatic Asylum, purportedly one of the most haunted places in the country. People lived in abject misery there, were tortured in place of actual treatment, and then died, only to be buried on the grounds of this nightmare facility. I doubt very much that anyone or anything haunting the place is going to be either chipper or welcoming. I have a hard enough time with the "neutral" types that walk through my house. Do I really want to run into the spirit of someone who was unwell and then tormented for the rest of his or her life? I don't think so.

2. Prisons. Think either Alcatraz or the haunted Old Charleston Jail in South Carolina. Like their brethren in the mental institutions, these people were also incarcerated and treated very badly. Some of them, in Charleston, were executed there. So what we would have are beings who were probably pretty dark and disturbed to begin with, who then went on to live their lives in a pretty dark and disturbed place. And again, some of those lives ended very badly. I know I don't want to run into a deceased murderer who is still hacked-off at the world and likely to take that out on anyone who passes by. No thank you.

3. Places where something really bad happened. My friend, writer and ghost hunter Sylvia Shults not only spends a lot of time hanging out in the abandoned Peoria Mental Hospital (she wrote a book about it called Fractured Spirits) and doing paranormal investigations got herself. She also got over to the Lizzie Borden House to investigate there. She was so excited when she told me about it. I was so serious when I told her she was crazy. I've heard some of the audiotapes from that night. YIKES. Interestingly, the Lizzie Borden House is a bed and breakfast. You can pay to spend the night there. Someone would have to pay me to spend the night there. There's also the Villisca Ax Murder House in Iowa in case someone in the Midwest is really jones-ing for a site that involved grisly murder. And that murder was never solved so I doubt that any spirit around the entire area is very peaceful. Having been on several ghost tours in Chicago, I've been to the location of the St. Valentine's Day Massacre, and also to the alley where John Dillinger met his demise. Neither place is remarkable on casual inspection, but I wouldn't hang around there after dark for several reasons, and at least one of them is the paranormal aspect of those sites.

My friend Terri Reid and I took a ghost tour once and she was disappointed that "nothing happened." I think that was her way of saying that the haunted places we went to were less active than her own house. That's one difference between Terri and me: I like listening to the history and the ghost stories about a haunted place. She wants to experience things first-hand. I always think no, no, stories alone are good. Stories are enough for me. She might actually prefer an investigation, and considering what her house is like, I guess her idea of paranormal has a much higher threshold than mine.

So what two places would a cowardly ghost fanatic have on her bucket list? 

1. The International Cryptozoology Museum in Portland, Maine. I think it was the first of its kind, although when I researched "cryptozoology museum" other listings popped up in Maryland, North Carolina, and London. There was even a "cryptozoology-museum-near-me" option. Wow! I think my list just got longer!

2. Ghost lights. I write that without a specific place in mind because I don't care if I go to Marfa, Texas, Brown Mountain in North Carolina, or up near Paulding, Michigan on the Upper Peninsula. I'd just like to see actual ghost lights. Once.

I guess I wouldn't mind seeing a Sasquatch out in the Pacific Northwest, either, And maybe the Mothman Museum. So there are tentative third and fourth items.

There's the bucket list of a ghost fanatic who is not in a hurry to see another ghost. None of these have anything to do with hauntings, unless the ghost lights do. But all of them have to do with the weird. I can handle that.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Talk About Imposter Syndrome

Some of us suffer from imposter syndrome, that feeling that despite how well a job we might be doing, we have anxiety that sooner or later someone will expose us as frauds.

My husband, who has been an engineer for almost his entire adult life, has passed several qualifying state and national board-type tests, and has gotten to the point where he is no doubt an expert in his field (he has people dropping in to see him all day long to ask questions on just about everything he deals with) still has his moments of self-doubt.

My own work area is writing about ghosts. As I type those words, even I have to laugh out loud. Seriously? Writing about ghosts? Nonetheless, when I do my annual book signing, or run into someone who knows what I write about, or when a reader contacts me by email, I am frequently told about personal experiences and asked for comments or even suggestions. Sometimes I can help. But frequently, OOPS, sorry, I don't have an answer. I'm not a medium or a psychic, just an off-the-wall fanatic of sorts.

But nothing makes me feel more like an imposter than my own grandson. This kid can flat-out see the dead, and we live in a fairly active house. I think he's gotten pretty good at ignoring things, but there are rooms he doesn't like after dark and he doesn't like the dark itself. I totally understand that: I'm a bit afraid of the dark, myself. So he sleeps with a nightlight, and frequently falls asleep with his bedside lamp on, leaving it to the grown-ups to turn it off for him when we go to bed ourselves.

After all that, it should come as no surprise to anyone that when he says to me "I'm scared," a little bit of a chill goes up my spine. And he's been doing that a lot at bedtime. It got so bad a few weeks ago that we had Jim, student of Native American wisdom, smudge the house. That helped, and our little guy's room felt much lighter for a few days. But it's gradually starting to get that, oh, stuffy, slightly-crowded feeling again. Jim himself said that what he did probably worked for all of twenty-four hours. It wasn't quite that short a period, but it was short.

I think part of the problem is that my grandson has sight. Just like his mother. I think they're both sensitive to everything around them, possibly attract passers-by, and unfortunately, their bedrooms are right next to each other. Holy lights-to-attract moths (or the dead), Batman!

He got up out of bed last night and came  into the living room where Jim was watching TV and I was finishing up some odds and ends, and announced that he was afraid. I took him back to his room and we sat and read a little bit out of a Pokemon book. And then we talked. I always ask him what he's afraid of and he always answers with that universal kid reply: "I don't know." But I think he does know and doesn't want to talk about it. A big hint is that he says he never blows his nose in the dark because he's afraid the noise he makes will be heard and "they'll come after" him. That's not a great thing to hear your grandson say just before everyone goes to bed.

So last night we talked things over. In the end, as always, I reminded him that his bedroom is his own space and that he has the right to tell anyone and everyone to go away and leave him alone. He always looks at me very doubtfully when I say that. I know from personal experience that the dead can be pretty persistent. I sometimes wonder if lacking a physical body somehow makes them forget about things like boundaries and personal space. Whatever the problem is, I finally told him last night that he should start owning his space and that if he has to be a badass to do it, then so be it. Grandma using the word "badass" was good for a laugh and that made both of us feel better.

But I know he's still uneasy, and frankly, so am I. It's not a comfortable feeling to have perfect strangers wandering through your house, whether alive or dead. I wish I knew better ways to teach him to arm himself. When I go to the Expo this year (next week, if you can make it to Davenport, Iowa!) I will start asking other people- with more expertise- for advice.

I'm such an imposter.

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Thanatophobia -Or, Random Thoughts from a Writer of Ghost Stories

 Thanatophobia: fear/phobia of death.

Today is the first day of November, and where I am sitting, the sky is gray and cloud-covered, the trees are somewhere between blazing with color, though a bit dulled by lack of sun, and being totally leafless. I'm grateful yesterday was sunny for the kids running around the neighborhood in their wildly colorful costumes, but by comparison, today looks very bleak.

And that's okay. For someone who writes about the paranormal, today is a treasure trove. It's the time of year when shorter hours of daylight and longer hours of darkness give rise to ideas about ghosts, feelings of uneasiness, and a general tendency toward the brooding mood of autumn sliding inevitably into winter.

This is also the time of year when mortality shoves itself into my face. Do you know that feeling? I write about being visited by the dead. There are times I wonder if, when I myself am among the dead, I'm going to go visit people who are still alive. Will I pop in to see how my grandkids are sleeping through the night? Will I visit my adult children to see how they're holding up with such grown-up concerns like mortgages, car payments, college costs, and retirement savings? I sometimes wonder if, when I'm on the other side of the veil, I will still be able to visit my beloved Door County or even have the ability to will myself to Ireland and Greece and other places around the globe I would love to revisit or see for the first time.

There are times I wonder if music will still matter to me, or if I will be able to pop into a movie theater and see the stories that are being filmed after I've stopped buying tickets and a bucket of popcorn. Someone very close to me passed on before the last Harry Potter movie hit the big screen, and I've often wondered if he didn't find his way into a theater to see how everything turned out.

And books! What magical stories will be delighting readers when I've stopped hitting my local library? As they say, So many books, so little time.

I suppose this particular posting must seem maudlin and depressing. It's not meant to be. When one spends a lot of time writing about the dead (and maybe how they died), one cannot help reflecting upon mortality and how much time is left to wander this planet while still alive and breathing.

I once read that all writers (quite a sweeping generalization, but I know it applies to me!) are hypochondriacs. Because that is true for me, I sometimes wonder if I don't have some kind of vile disease wending its way through one or more of my internal systems, looking for a place to lodge and fester and eventually choke the life out of my body. Since this does not seem to be happening, at least not yet, I continue to write my stories and try to find ways to reach out and entertain what readers I have. But every time I get a strange pain in my side, or a suspicious headache, or cramping sensations in my muscles, that little thrill of anxiety shoots through me even as the pain is already subsiding. I wouldn't say I'm totally terrified of death. I'm not, actually, although I admit I hope to die in a really peaceful way. So I don't think that I actually have true thanatophobia.

In the end, death itself doesn't worry me a great deal. But all the goodbyes? That's another story.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

This Ghost Has No Face

Some years ago, my sister introduced me to a British mini-series with Kristin Scott Thomas. I believe it was called "Body and Soul" but I could be wrong. I didn't watch every episode, and Ms. Scott Thomas did more than one series. At any event, one particular show totally freaked me out because it featured the ghost of a nun -who had no face.

Now, ghosts are scary to me regardless of gender, size, or shape. But that added detail of having nothing where a face should be somehow makes it worse to the Nth degree. And I don't mind telling you that I am writing this in a pool of light surrounded by an otherwise dark house, and I am looking over my shoulder frequently as I type. (The house is not helping: it keeps creaking and popping and shifting and making other weird noises, as is its custom when I write about this kind of thing.)

But back to the theme of faceless ghosts. Since I live in the Chicago area, I am very well-versed in the legend/ghost story of Resurrection Mary. One October I was driving to work listening to the radio, and the topic of that morning's show was none other than Ms. R. Mary. The DJ's were taking calls from listeners and one of the callers told a story about how she, her husband, and another couple had passed a solitary female pedestrian on Archer Avenue, --Mary's usual haunt, for those of you not familiar with the legend-- while they were driving to dinner. It was a wet night, the best condition for seeing Mary, and they grew excited at the idea that they had just come across the famous phantom. The caller went on to relate how as their car passed the lady, she looked out her window and was shocked to see that the woman walking along the road had no face. And then she screamed.

I almost screamed, listening to the story. Seeing Resurrection Mary is one thing; seeing her without her face would put me into a state that would not be pretty to observe.

So I started researching faceless ghosts and found out that Japan has a HUGE tradition of such beings. They are called Noppera-Bo, but from what I can gather, while they are supernatural, they are not necessarily the ghosts of people who also happen to have no faces. Instead, faceless ghosts are a manifestation of a supernatural being called a Mujina. These are actually animal beings whose goal seems to be tormenting people and frightening the bejeesus out of them. There was a whole slew of links to this phenomenon, but most of them centered around a collection of Noppera-Bo stories called The Faceless Ghost and other Macabre Tales from Japan, by Lafcadio Hearn.

Further down the list, however, there was a mention of a faceless nun. I was half-elated and half-horrified. You mean this thing exists outside of that British TV show? It turns out that the Sisters of Providence had one at their St. Mary-of-the-Woods campus, which is about five miles northwest of Terre Haute, Indiana. YIKES. There is an entire article about a particular time when their Foley Hall seemed to be haunted by something, including a nun with no face. The person who wrote the article interviewed one of the sisters who had been present at the time of these sightings. At least three different students had run into her. One complained that the nun always stood between her (the student) and the light, so she could never see what she looked like. But another young woman who had spoken with the sister being interviewed stated flatly that "the nun had no face." 

At the same time as these sightings were happening, there were strange knockings, scratching sounds, and other noises that no one could explain but that terrified those who heard them, both students and sisters. Finally the situation was brought to the attention of the superior general and she arranged for a Mass to be said with the specific intent of calming the supernatural activity. It worked: after the Mass was celebrated, there were no more noises and no more visits by a nun with no face.

The story I read was actually written by a young woman who was a senior at the college and who wrote it up for the campus magazine. It's titled "A Faceless Ghost?" and makes great reading. I'd have included the link here, but I have no idea how to do that! However, if you search for "faceless nun St. Mary-of-the-Woods" that article will come up by title and you will see that the site is the actual web site for the college. Additionally, there are other outside write-ups of the occurrence.

I hope to have Cassie Valentine and Michael Penfield take on a faceless ghost in the near future; we're still working that out as none of us is particularly eager to deal with this. On the other hand, it will hopefully make for great reading.

In the meantime, if you're interested, try searching this subject. I don't want to be the only one having nightmares tonight!

Thursday, October 18, 2018

In Addition to Ghosts

Ghosts are my favorite. Everyone knows that. But I am also fascinated by cryptids like the New Jersey Devil or Mothman, as well as "weird" things that turn up and are usually explained away like the red-haired giants in Nevada who once waged terrible war against the Paiutes and whose bones were purportedly discovered (and ignored) back in the 1920's and '30's. Since it's October, I decided to take a look at Bigfoot to see how widespread he is in this country. And he is literally all over the map.

Most people know there are versions of Bigfoot the world over, the Yeti and the Alma being the most noted. However, there have been Bigfoot (or "big, hairy mammal") sightings all over this country. Many years ago I ran across a book called Weird America and immediately purchased it. I'm sure it's out of print -it's certainly out of date- but every now and then I still pull it out and look at it because it's a compendium of strange stuff from all over the country, categorized by state. I LOVE THAT STUFF. It includes ghosts, of course, but today I went through it looking for Bigfoot. And found all of this.

We know he frequents Oregon, particularly the Dalles. More on that later. But here are other states where he has been documented:

Arkansas:  Greene County

Florida: Outside of Tampa, and throughout the wild and wetlands in the state. He's called the Skunk Ape there, and since he doesn't recognize state boundaries, this same cryptid has also been spotted in North Carolina, Louisiana, and Arkansas.

Illinois:  Murphysboro. And believe it or not, outside the very posh and elegant Medinah Club in Medinah, Illinois.

Kentucky:  Rockcastle County near Mt. Vernon

Michigan:  Sister Lakes

Montana:  Great Falls

New York:  Huntington, as well as loitering around the Office of Tibet in Staten Island (Is the Office of Tibet still there?)

North Carolina:  Mt. Holly, about twelve miles northwest of Charlotte. This was different from the Skunk Ape sightings.

Ohio:  Cleveland and Lorain

Oregon:  The Dalles

Pennsylvania:  Pittsburgh and to the east of the city

Tennessee:  Flintville

Washington:  Mt. St. Helens (this book was written before the volcano blew so I don't know if they're still hanging around that area)

I knew people who saw Bigfoot while on a train that went through the Dalles area. They were a married couple: he was a dentist, she was his hygienist. Neither of them were particularly inclined to my way of looking at things. In fact, he was a pretty hard-core, science-only skeptic. So I was pretty surprised when they told me they had seen a Sasquatch looking at their train when it had pulled up for a rest stop at a small station. Since the train wasn't moving, they had a chance to study the old large, hairy mammal, and told me they saw it standing beside a tree, just staring at the train. The husband told me he estimated its height at between six and seven feet. They looked at it and felt like it was looking at them although they can't be sure if it had spotted them or was just curious about the train itself. Before the train started moving again, it apparently lost interest and wandered back into the woods, so they knew they were looking at an animate creature, not just mistaking a tree for a Bigfoot.

When they reached their destination, they stopped off at a ranger's station to report what they had seen, and the man in the office simply handed them a huge book and told them to write up what they observed. The wife told me the book was filled with other people's experiences and sightings, and that the ranger they spoke with didn't even bat an eyelid when they explained why they had stopped in. He heard the same story, more than once, pretty much on a daily basis. Now, that ranger's reaction, or lack of one, not only ignores the whole Sasquatch does/doesn't exist debate, it pushes the needle all the way over into the does-exist end of the spectrum and almost into the far reaches of ho-hum. Sooo cool.

Seeing a Sasquatch in person is not necessarily on my bucket list, but I wouldn't mind getting a glimpse. 

And I may peruse my old Weird America book still further as I go along, because it also lists lake monsters (Champlain is not the only American lake to have one), ghost lights, and archeological finds that cannot be explained. Hmm. Maybe instead of just leafing through it, I ought to take some road trips...

Thursday, October 11, 2018

'Tis That Other Season

Folklore has it that during the fall, especially around Halloween, the "veil" between this world and the next, the world beyond death, becomes thinner. That being the case, the appearance of apparitions and specters, and perhaps the ability to see them, increases accordingly.

And my house has decided to behave in appropriate fashion.

All of you who read me routinely know that when I write my ghost stories, I experience a rise in noises, footsteps, banging sounds, and knocks throughout my house while I'm working. It gets to the point where I'm not the only one hearing them, so I know it's not just me. Something goes on in this place whenever I write about the denizens of the beyond.

Good friend and fellow ghost-story writer Terri Reid dropped over one afternoon for a visit recently, and just as she was about to leave, standing in my front hall with her hand on the doorknob, she stopped and said to me, "Is this the hall you said is well-traveled?" 

She was referring to my story that a psychic had once told my daughter that our house, while not traditionally haunted, is like a pathway for the dead. And we all pretty much agree that they travel from west to east along that very hallway where Terri and I were standing. I couldn't help laughing at her question. "This is it," I answered.

She just nodded at me, hand still on the doorknob, and said, "Yes, I can feel it, all the energy." She smiled at me and took her leave. (Only a ghost-story writer and a woman like Terri Reid could pull off an exit line like that!) But it did verify for me that another sensitive would pick up on the vibe in that hall, even though I didn't mention it to her during our short visit.

I have been working on book Bridgeton Park Cemetery book 6, as you all know, and of course the house is throwing everything it can at me. Only now, it's not confining itself to those times when I'm at the keyboard. Oh, no, now I'm getting footsteps up and down the hall while I'm taking a shower (really, guys?), movement and shifting in the utility room behind me while I"m cooking dinner, and--best for last-- yesterday when I stood up after putting on my shoes, my pocket knife flew off the bed, followed closely by my St. Benedict medal, which promptly hid itself under a cabinet and way back against the baseboard. The pocket knife I understand: I hadn't gotten it into my pocket yet and maybe the clip of it caught on my pants somehow and sent it clattering to the floor. 

The medal, on the other hand, had to sail at an angle almost perpendicular to how it would have fallen on the floor in order to wind up under that cabinet. Not only that, unlike the knife which wound up close to where I was standing, the medal launched itself several feet away from where it started. And it was my St. Benedict medal, after all. The one I keep with me for protection. (What, me worry?)

There have been other things, too. For instance, I'm pretty sure there's a woman who hangs out in my utility room, right by the door to the garage. I don't know why she's there, or who she is, she's just there. I run into her a lot when I use the powder room at night. But she's different from the other woman who used to cross my front lawn and disappear around the southeast corner of the house. That particular visitor looked to be from a different time, wearing a long blue gingham dress and always with one hand up to the side of her face, as if to hide the fact that I think she's distressed and probably weeping. I saw her a few times, but I think she's gone on. Our house is just a pathway, after all.

So during this month--while we're all enjoying the brilliance of the leaves; the apple harvest that brings pies and cider and (yum!) apple cider doughnuts; the first gatherings around the fireplace; the appearance of sweaters and boots for the fashionable--remember that for a short time, we're more likely to see those that have gone on before us. Keep an eye open for them: everyone likes to be noticed!

Thursday, October 4, 2018

When Ghost Stories Are Very Familiar

Back when I was trying to gain traction by getting a book published, I made it a habit to attend Writing to Get Published classes, How to Get Your Novel Published classes, Becoming a Professional Writer classes, and any other workshop, seminar, or lecture that fit the bill. My community college offered a great many of these, as did local libraries and conferences. I realized I needed to stop going to them when I attended one such class (the last one) and found that I knew more about getting published than the instructor did. Bummer.

Here's the paranormal parallel. I have been seeking out and collecting ghost stories pretty much since the fall of the Roman Empire (or so it seems) and I guess that I may have gotten to the same point as I once did with the writing/publishing classes. I recently attended a lecture on ghosts in the Chicago area. A number of these lectures are offered every October, so I signed up for this particular one weeks ago and dutifully attended, notebook and pen in hand.

Chicago ghost stories are pretty well-known, some of them even nationally. So the lecturer discussed Resurrection Mary, the Eastland Disaster, the Iroquois Theater Fire, the Great Chicago Fire, and Bachelor Grove Cemetery, among others. He was very entertaining, knew his stuff, had a great presentation, and encouraged attendees to speak up and add their own experiences when related. The best part about it was when he talked about going to the actual sites to see about these hauntings for himself. In the end, though, all of the stories were familiar from other classes, books, lectures, and collections. I wasn't disappointed, just a little sad that I seem to have hit that same wall I did when I was looking to get published. 

There have to be ghost stories in Chicago that I'm not aware of yet. I know they will likely involve private residences and personal experiences, but I guess in the end, those will be the only ones I won't already know about. I think that hearing what someone else has lived through or been haunted by is absolutely the BEST. That's one of the reasons I ask people for a ghost story whenever I can. I hear some terrific stories that way.

As for the famous stories, I guess some of the old familiar ones could be fascinating if told a fresh new way. For instance, How Seeing Resurrection Mary Turned My Life Around or My Miracle at Bachelor Grove Cemetery. But at the moment, I'm looking for new stories. If they do revolve around public places, so much the better. Then I can go and look around freely instead of driving by and wishing I could ring a doorbell and ask the residents if their house is haunted.

Some of you who read this blog and also follow my Facebook posts have been really generous in sharing your own -sometimes terrifying- stories and I really appreciate that. Thank you. However, if anyone local ever feels like hosting a ghost story evening, where we can congregate face-to-face and concentrate on scaring the bejeezus out of each other, that would be totally amazing. At least, I think so. If you read my books, you'll know what I mean when I say that we could have our own ghost story night! 

But back to lectures about spirits. I have registered Jim and myself for an evening of ghost stories taking place the night before Halloween. (He would have come to the last one, but it was during the day and thankfully, one of us is employed!) I am wondering if the stories at this next session will all be local Chicago ones that I already know, or if the presenter will include the smaller, personal, and sometimes more disturbing stories in his or her lecture. Fingers crossed on that. I will write about it, I'm sure, after the fact, regardless of how it turns out.