Thursday, September 20, 2018

One Last Good-bye

Among the saddest and most poignant of ghost stories is the tale of a loved one who has passed, or who is passing, coming to say good-bye. I think sometimes it's subtle, like a random thought of a favorite uncle coming to mind for no reason. Or maybe spotting the loved one's favorite-and rare-bird at a particular time. Sometimes it's more obvious, like the person actually "dropping in" or making a phone call. Mine came to me in dreams.

My father passed away shortly after my thirtieth birthday. He and I had a peculiar relationship, more coach-athlete than father-daughter, or at least that's how I characterized it when I reached adult status. When I was small, my siblings assured me that I was his favorite. I don't know about that, but that's what I was told. As I got older, he and I started butting heads about various things, and there was one long-lasting difference of opinion that I don't think was ever completely resolved before he died. I think we basically agreed to disagree, although I don't doubt that he believed he was in the right until long after he crossed over to the other side. (My father could be stubborn that way.)

At any event, my dad diagnosed himself with cancer long before any of his attending physicians did. My father was a doctor and he knew what he was looking at. And because he was a doctor, he knew he didn't want any kind of treatment beyond something for pain when he got to the point of needing it. He did attempt one round of treatment, perhaps for the sake of my mother and the family, but after just that one, his original decision stood. Maybe about five or so months after the news of his illness was shared with the family, he became bedridden. Now, his one goal was to pass away at home, and since my mother was a nurse, and since my brothers, brother-in-law, and husband were willing to take turns spending the night to give my mom a hand in his overnight care, he got his wish: taking his last breath in his own bed with family as his personal hospice. Everyone pitched in willingly to make that happen.

At one point, my mom called the whole family to the house because she was sure he was about to leave us. It turned out to be a false alarm, but a short time after that, my dad came to me in a dream. I dreamed I was in his room and he turned down the sheet and blanket to show me a huge lesion on his leg. "What is that?" I asked him. "Cancer," he replied. I woke up right after that and felt sad and helpless and also somewhat mystified. It was such a strong and clear dream. I was sure he had come to me that night.

Within the week, all of his children were called back to the house again, and this time it was for real. He had lapsed into a coma by then, and we knew it was just a matter of time. I arrived shortly after dinner; my father left us a little after one in the morning with all of us at his bedside.

Jim and I were raising our children in the suburbs, and since it was such a long drive home from my parents' house in the city, and since we were all sad and bone-tired, I decided to crash on the living room couch until the following morning. And that night I dreamed of my father once more.

This time I entered his room and was surprised to see him standing at the bedside, looking like his old self, full of health and positively chipper. He looked at me when I entered and he said, "Time to go."

I remember gazing back at him and saying, "You look great!"

"I know," he replied with his characteristic grin and a bit of a wink.

The rest of that week was pretty sad: helping my mom with the day-to-day tasks and yet planning the funeral, getting an obituary written, making the phone calls, and all the things necessary at the time of a loved one's death. But through it all, I was never completely downhearted; I couldn't be. I felt like he had come to say good-bye, but also to let me know he was healed and happy and that I shouldn't worry about him at all.

We didn't always see eye-to-eye, but my dad was always a dignified man, a strong presence, and a class act. I think he came back to make sure my last memory of him would be exactly that.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Welcome To My World

"Welcome to my world" is a statement I write frequently when I sign one of my books for a reader. For this piece, however, someone else is offering me a welcome, and the world is one that only sometimes (thank you, God) touches mine.

Last week, I wrote about places that were haunted but didn't reveal anything in particular to me when I visited. The week before that, I wrote about places I didn't find out were haunted until after I had been there, and experienced something just a wee bit suspicious. Today is about going someplace that is reportedly haunted and coming away thinking, "Yup, that place is haunted."

On most ghost tours, Jim and I are treated to deliciously scary venues and fascinating history, great photo ops, and usually, not much else. That's fine; we enjoy ghost tours just for the experience. Besides, who doesn't like listening to a bunch of scary stories in the appropriate settings? But there have been at least two places that gave us more than a good story and an interesting site.

The first place was the Ryan Mansion in Galena, Illinois (and a big shout-out to Terri Reid, who suggested the Galena ghost tour in the first place!)  The Ryan Mansion is a 24-room private home/museum that was built in 1876. When we toured it, it had been renovated and restored and it was positively gorgeous. The upkeep is imperative or it could wind up easily looking like that house on the Munsters; as it is, the place is definitely worth a visit, ghosts or not. 

The ghost tour we took was the first I've ever been on that included a ghost box as well as an EMF detector, and dowsing rods for tour participants to play with on site. We went into the front room and were treated to a ghost box session. (For those of you who might not know, the ghost box is a device that picks up both AM and FM radio waves, in theory to allow spirit to use the energy to communicate. If you ask a ghost box a question, at some point it will spit out disjointed answers cobbled together from random words on different wave lengths.) The front room is known to be haunted, and there was definitely an uneasy feeling as random words were tossed out by the ghost box in answer to questions that the guide was asking. Incidentally, all the words spoken by the ghost box made sense in context of those questions.

The guide also handed out the EMF detectors and the dowsing rods so that people could pick up on different energies, or even communicate yes-or-no fashion with the dowsing rods. There was a door in this room that was known to open and close on its own, and if you stand close enough to it with the EMF detector, you will see the lights go up into the active zone as something or someone unseen passes close enough to trigger it. If you ask the dowsing rods about someone being present, they will give you a "yes" or a "no" answer. We got plenty of "yes-es" that night.

 I didn't see anything there, but I could feel something. It was cold, but it wasn't malevolent. It was just there. Perhaps whoever it was felt as curious about us as we were about him/her. So while it wasn't out-and-out scary, it was definitely unsettling, and very tangible. I won't say I was sorry when the guide said that it was time to leave. Especially since I felt as if we were escorted back onto the bus by something unseen.

The second place is from a little longer ago, up in my beloved Door County. There is a company up there called Trolley Tours, and  a ghost tour is one of their mainstays. It doesn't just run in October: it runs as soon as tourist season opens some time in May and keeps going through early November. We took the tour in summer, and had the good fortune of having one of those unusually cool summer evenings that made the tales just a bit more chilling, and the experience jut a bit more shivery.

One of the stops on the tour is a place called the Alexander Noble House, right in the heart of Fish Creek. The house is currently run as a museum and I know I've written about it before, especially since this past year they featured an exhibit called "A House in Mourning" that entailed the entire house being decked out for a Victorian funeral. When we visited last summer, our lovely tour guide had already had some weird experiences there, but then, the place is haunted.

When we visited for our very first time on the Door County ghost tour, we were led up into a bedroom at the top of the stairs and told that the mirror in the room frequently featured images that only showed up in pictures. "You won't see anything when you look at it," the guide explained, "but if you take some pictures of it, you might be surprised when you look at them later." That sounded interesting, so both Jim and I took a few pictures with our cameras.

We were allowed to roam the place for a few minutes after the official house tour ended, and then we were all shepherded back onto the trolley. "I didn't see anything," Jim said as we took our seats. I hadn't either, so as our ride pulled back onto the street and headed toward our next destination,we went through our pictures. He had taken more shots than I had and was just glancing through them quickly. "Nothing," he said.

But that's not what I saw. "Go back a few," I told him. "And look there." In one of the two pictures he had taken in the upstairs bedroom, there was the image of a face in the mirror. "What do you call that?" I asked.

I won't print his answer.

I'm going to be taking another ghost tour within the next few weeks, so if there is anything noteworthy, I will certainly come back and report.

Thursday, September 6, 2018

I Thought This Place Was Haunted...?

Last week, I wrote about running into something paranormal in a place I wasn't expecting it to be. This week, I wanted to write about haunted places I've been that somehow didn't seem all that haunted. And there have been quite a few.

I've been dragging Jim along on ghost tours for years. We started modestly: a Chicago tour with  Richard Crowe, this one by boat along the Chicago River and parts of Lake Michigan. I think Jim probably enjoyed the boat ride more than he did the ghost stories, although he does like the history included on tours. When we had a chance to take a ghost tour in York, "across the pond" in England, I jumped at the chance and he agreed. Now, however, whenever we travel someplace new, he'll ask me if I've looked into a local ghost tour. Cool!

And we've done quite a few of those, both close to us as well as in states not so close. We've hit Savannah, Gatlinburg, Branson, Charleston, Austin, and Williamsburg. Closer to home, we've taken tours in Door County, Galena, and Naperville. During the course of those tours, we were averaging about eight to twelve locations on each one. All of those locations were purportedly haunted. But quite a few of them just felt, well, old.

I read somewhere that if people are told that something can be seen, they are more likely to see it. By that statement, I should have seen all sorts of wraiths popping out everywhere we stopped. That didn't happen, though, so I'm not sure that the stated observation is always true. On most of those tours, I wanted to see something.(Maybe because I'd never seen one before?) But that didn't happen. The Pirate's House in Savannah is a good example of that. Given that the place's earliest foundation was built in 1734, that it has a cellar and tunnel arrangement where unsuspecting sailors were dropped and then spirited away and forced to work on ships they had never wanted anything to do with, and was rumored to be the death place of a certain Captain Flint, one would expect the building to  be crazy with ghosts. And while it is certainly filled with shadows, and the cellar and tunnel area is very unpleasant, it didn't feel haunted, so to speak. It mostly seemed musty and old and damp.

The same was true of Charleston. The tour, as always, was fascinating, especially the bits of history that are included with every tour. And although we walked to all sorts of different historical sites, some of them associated with truly disturbing events, nothing jumped out at us at any particular location. Maybe that's a good thing, though, seeing as how our lodgings in Charleston were actually included on the tour! Big surprise to us, I'll admit. And although there were a corner or two in the place that felt a bit uneasy, nothing actually turned up in our rooms. I guess I should be grateful about that. Maybe I might have had more experiences if our tour had included the Old City Jail, but that place was bad enough during the day with ninety-degree heat and Southern sunshine. I can't even imagine what it would be like at night. (We opted against that tour because the Old City Jail was the entire tour. No thank you.)

The York ghost tour was so long ago that I can't remember all the places that we stopped. Our tour guide was a stage actor, so his stories were well-told and very entertaining. But again, none of the places we stopped at struck me as any more disturbed than the surrounding structures. York is a very old city (can we say Roman Empire?) and by rights should be quite haunted. It probably is. But for some reason, nothing showed itself that night.

On the other hand, because I am not a medium and my sensitivity is probably sporadic at best, it is quite possible that there were any number of ghosts doing the Virginia Reel around us in Williamsburg, or coming at us with ethereal weapons in York, and I would never have known. Maybe I should be grateful that I don't have the Michael Penfield ability of being able to see every dead person and his brother at any given location.

But I didn't mean to suggest that all the ghost tours we have been on have been a complete bust. Next week, I'll finish off this little three-post arc with places that were known to be haunted -  and didn't disappoint.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

When You Weren't Expecting That Ghost

The files of true ghost stories are filled with tales of people who went to a specific place they didn't realize was haunted, and got a big surprise. Or at least a chill and some uneasy feelings.

That's happened to me twice. It's not likely to happen now because I've read and seen so much more about what sites are disturbed or which ones house a spirit or several. But back before I started doing what I do -writing about ghosts and researching them while I'm at it- I wound up at a couple of places that I found out later had "issues."

The first was Fort Riley in Kansas. Now if someone says to me, "I hear Fort Riley has ghosts," I could tell them a little bit about what's going on there. But when we toured the Fort some twenty-eight years ago, I had no idea. Jim and I had taken the kids to visit his sister and her family in Kansas, and one of the outings she suggested was a visit to the Fort. We were up for that; we're both history buffs and Fort Riley has a long and fascinating history.

The Fort is an enormous military installation and we confined ourselves to the historical areas close to the visitors' center. First opened in 1853, Fort Riley is a place of old and historical structures juxtaposed with today's modern military culture. There's a lot to see and I know we didn't see all of it, but we spent part of the day exploring.

At one point, I needed to use the facilities, which were in the visitors' center. I went into the women's room and noted that although the overhead fluorescent lights were all on, the big room seemed dim, nonetheless. It was also cold and uneasy feeling, and I hurried through my routine, washing my hands and drying them as quickly as possible. I felt as if someone was watching me the entire time, and not necessarily in a friendly or welcoming way.

I found out some time later that that visitors' center was in the same building that had been used as a morgue back in the day. Hmmm. Wonder if that had something to do with it. (General George Armstrong Custer was stationed there after the Civil War and reportedly his base house, now a museum, is haunted, but that wasn't where I had my experience.)

Another time, Jim and I went to a company dinner at a restaurant called The Hideaway. The Hideaway's claim to fame was that it had once belonged to Al Capone and due to its place on the Fox River, it was used not only as a speakeasy, but as a destination for bootleggers to unload and store their illegal wares. At the time we went, there was a bar and restaurant on the first floor, rooms for private events on the second, and the third was for offices and staff.

We arrived in the parking lot and Jim - not even me, but my husband, the engineer- took one look at the building and said, "I don't want to go in there." I was surprised and asked him why. "It looks...dark," was all he said. But we were expected at dinner, so in we went.

The first floor was fine: it was loud, rowdy, and cheerful, filled with happy patrons and the wonderful fragrances of a busy steakhouse. That would have been a great place to eat. But we were in one of the private rooms on the second floor. The room itself was both well-decorated and spacious, with white linen table cloths and flowers at the center of every table. But the lighting was dim, almost dark, and there was an oppressive feeling as well.

But we sat down and had a great time, chatting and laughing with his co-workers and their spouses. And then, as always, I had to use the facilities. I wasn't in a hurry to go anywhere on the second floor alone, except maybe the stairs going down. But I saw another lady get up and head in the direction of the restroom, so I told Jim I would go while someone else was there. 

She was already finishing up when I walked in -dang it!- but we smiled at each other as she washed her hands and I headed for a stall. As always, when I'm frightened in the bathroom (and why do these things always haunt the bathroom? Aren't there pleasanter places to hang around?) I become ultra efficient. I could hear the other woman finishing up at the sink and then maybe fussing a little with her hair. There were rustling noises and quiet shufflings as she made herself presentable. At least I wasn't alone.

I could still hear her at the mirror when I stepped out of the stall, ready to exchange pleasantries. And then I found that no one else was there. I understood with a bit of dread that I had probably been alone the entire time since she had already been washing her hands when I arrived. I went to the sink to wash my own and felt as if someone was standing at the doorway behind me, staring at me as if waiting for me to turn around. I was so uncomfortable that I kept changing my position at the sink to keep an eye on the doorway, finally winding up with my back practically to the mirror as I rinsed the soap from my hands. I dried off as quickly as possible and then realized that I didn't want to walk through that doorway. Something was there, I could feel it. Something cold and ominous. On the other hand, the last thing I wanted to do was stay in this dim, horrid-feeling bathroom.

I took a deep breath and had to check myself from breaking into a mad sprint to get back to the table. Jim gave me a funny look when I sat down, almost breathless, and I said, "There's something wrong with that bathroom."

Finally dinner ended, and we could go home. Fortunately, by that time I already owned a copy of Chicago's Street Guide to the Supernatural, by Richard Crowe. As soon as we arrived at the house, I grabbed the book off the shelf and looked up The Hideaway. And there it was. According to Mr. Crowe, The Hideaway was haunted on both the first and second floors, with the second floor being notorious for poltergeist activity, (At least we didn't experience that!)

The Hideaway closed its doors in 2012. I have no idea if the building itself still stands, but if it doesn't, I wonder if the area is finally at peace, or if those restless spirits still wander the site so familiar to them in life.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

A Writer's Memory

A short time ago, I posted about mind games I play with myself that I attributed to my writer's brain. Things like listing attributes of particular items off the top of my head, or cataloguing rock and roll songs, or even bands, into categories. The things we do when bored, eh?

Well, the other thing that I think many writers have is a weird memory. Not all writers I've spoken with do, but an awful lot of them, it turns out, remember minute details, conversations pretty much verbatim, and strange factoids. We can be killers at Trivial Pursuit.

I didn't realize not everyone remembers things that way. One time I was in the car with some friends and a song came on the radio. Someone said, "Who sings this again?" And without thinking, I gave her the name of the band, the year it came out, what grade level we were in in high school when the song hit the charts, and what I was wearing in my most vivid memory of listening to it back in the day. She gave me a very strange look and said, "Do you always do that?"

That. Shortly after the incident, I began to realize that not everyone remembers details like the fact that "The Addams Family" aired in Chicago on Friday nights and starred Carolyn Jones as Morticia. Or that the first time I ever saw Mark Hamill, he was playing Laurie Partridge's boyfriend, Jerry, on The Partridge Family. Then I saw him on General Hospital as the nephew of nurse Jessie Brewer. Well heck, going back to The Partridge Family, the first time I saw David Cassidy, he was playing an angry, diabetic kid on Marcus Welby, MD. I remembered both Mr. Hamill and Mr. Cassidy because they set off the "Cute Guy Alert" in my teeny-bopper brain.

I didn't think I was particularly weird because Jim can do lots of this, too. (Maybe he should be writing?) We can pretty much name every teacher we had in grade school, and what class we had with them. I haven't quizzed him recently, but I can also name every teacher I had in high school, including student teachers, what class each of them taught, and what grade I was in when I had them.
I know Sister Rosetta introduced me to Vivaldi's "Four Seasons" in Cultural Heritage class, and I still remember her final exam where we had to identify the first movement of "Winter". Also, Stravinsky's "Rite of Spring", and a painting of Etruscan flute players.

Then there's the factoids: Alexander Graham Bell's wife was deaf; Pistol Pete Maravich scored 3,667 points during his college career at LSU (people who went to high school with me should smile at that one!); Cat Stevens wrote the Tremeloes' hit "Here Comes My Baby"; Liszt used to bring Chopin to parties with him because Chopin was the chick magnet... All sorts of strange items stuck away in my head that I don't always know are there until they pop out when the topic arises. Or when I'm watching Jeopardy. (Did you know that Ralph Waldo Emerson referred to Edgar Allen Poe as "The Jingle Man"? Got that one from my English prof freshman year at U of I. Also, Lord Byron had a club foot.)

Maybe there's a ton of you out there thinking, so what? I do that all the time, too. If so, perhaps YOU should be writing. I didn't think of it as being connected until I read an interview with Judy Blume who mentioned that she had a memory that hung onto details indefinitely. She then proceeded to describe her first day of Kindergarten, what she was wearing, what the teacher was wearing, and other particulars. Some might say that we all remember things like that because they're big days in our lives. And some of that may be true. But I remember (and I bet Ms. Blume does, too) things from days that weren't so important. Like my favorite nightgown when I was nine years old. I inherited it from my sister when she outgrew it, and I was so happy when I got it. Or how I used to make paper airplanes constantly and hid all the best-flying ones in the bookshelf that held our Encyclopedia Britannica. 

So what have you got stored away in your own memory system? Brilliant flashes of spectacular days? Wistful glimpses of days long gone? The mating habits of preying mantises? It's all good. And if you write, well, it can be even better!

(By the way, the top picture has nothing to do with this piece of writing - I just thought I'd throw that one up there since I hardly ever give it any "press time"!)

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Paranormal Jeopardy, Round 1

I was going to write a totally different piece and then put the answers to my clues from yesterday's Facebook post at the bottom, but I decided to just focus on the answers. What the heck.

Here are the questions:

1. This infamous axe murderer from Fall River, MA lived in a house that is currently a museum and haunted Bed & Breakfast.

2. A doorway between the world of the living and the realm of the dead.

3. The ghost of this young wife of Henry the XIII can be seen running and shrieking at Hampton Court Palace where she was held before being beheaded at the Tower of London (which she also haunts.)

4. My friend Wikipedia defines this term as one used by spiritualists as "A substance of spiritual energy 'exteriorized' by physical mediums."

5. A small town in upstate New York that was settled and is still inhabited by mediums and psychics.

And here are the answers (please note #3 especially):

1. Who is Lizzie Borden?

2.  What is a portal?

3.  Who is Catherine Howard? *

4.  What is ectoplasm?

5.  What is Lily Dale?

* Anne Boleyn is a good guess because she also was famously beheaded by her husband's order. And she also haunts Hampton Court Palace (along with Hever Castle, Blickling Hall, the Tower of London, Windsor Castle, Salle Church, and Marwell Hall. Busy lady!) However, Lady Boleyn is usually seen with her head tucked under her arm, or possibly just headless altogether. She is also a quieter kind of spirit. Catherine Howard, however, is the one who runs and shrieks through Hampton Court Palace. Lady Howard also haunts the Tower of London.

 I could see by how quickly people chimed in that I need to make the questions a wee bit tougher next time around. In the meantime, thanks for playing!

Thursday, August 9, 2018

A Haunt in Your Hotel?

I bring up haunted hotels a great deal: on my Facebook posts, in this blog, even in the current book I'm writing. There seems to be no end of haunted hotels all the way around the planet. That said, I have yet to feel haunted in a hotel. (Gettysburg is the exception, but the dead soldier who visited with me wandered in from the battlefield, and I don't think he had anything to do with where I was staying.)

But truly. I've traveled, not extensively, but enough, since childhood (my dad loved travel) and all through my adult life. We've stayed at hotels, motels, and resorts, and never once have I ever felt that the place I rested my head every night was haunted. I have definitely felt a weird presence or two in dormitories where I've spent a night or more. That's a whole different ball of wax, since universities and colleges are notorious for their hauntings. But I've never yet felt it at a hotel.

I have encountered a bit of uneasiness. Jim and I were on a coach tour of the British Isles and Ireland, and there was a place in Dublin where we spent one night. That whole motel felt a bit strange, sort of dark and uneasy, like something else was hanging around and watching what we did. Jim admitted he felt it, too. But that was it. And see, that's the corker - we were all over England, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland, and the motel in Dublin was the only place we felt anything even close to disturbed. To me, the U.K. and Ireland are like the mother lode for things that go bump in the night. But we got nothing. Maybe a large group of tourists is enough to make even the most extroverted spirits fade into the woodwork? I'll never really know.

BUT things may just be looking up.

For one thing, next month Jim and I and another couple are going to stay at a bed and breakfast down on the Mississippi that is purportedly haunted. The local ghost tour operator wants to put the place on the tour, but the owner has graciously declined. A few times. So there's a possibility I'll run into at least some mild activity there. The owner has assured me that it's a gentle presence that sometimes can be heard whistling, or doing other everyday activities like that. I should be okay even if that happens.

In addition to that, I'm including a hotel in the book I'm currently writing, and lucky for me, my niece works at a hotel. She's an employee of one of the bigger chains, and she has offered to give me a behind-the-scenes tour so I have an idea how hotels are really run. Knowing what I write about, she also volunteered to find out what paranormal things, if any, are going on at her particular establishment. "I know one of the employees died there," she began, and then stopped for a moment while she thought over the details. "Yes. And I know where he died," she added. So that's one place we can all check out. She also offered to look into things a little further to see if she could find any more strange activity around the place. And then she smiled at me. "And there's always room XYZ," she added. (Room number shielded to protect all parties, including the dead ones.) "We're always getting calls from that room [at the front desk]."

I needed a moment to process what she was saying. "You mean, you get calls from the room even though no one's there?"

"Yes," she said. "All the time."

Hmm. Can't wait to see what she digs up about the place before I go meet her there for my tour! And yes, I will be taking pictures to see if someone else shows up!