Thursday, June 6, 2013

Ghosts + History = Magic

Some years ago, I was in a college class and the subject of THE BIG earthquake in Missouri came up. Most of the class had never heard about it and the instructor herself was not sure of the year, but I knew it. 1812. (Actually, it was December, 1811 through January, 1812 since it was a series of upheavals, but I was close enough.) And why did I know that date? Because of a ghost story I had read during childhood.

Recently, while doing my "research" and immersing myself in the paranormal reality shows on SyFy, Biography, A & E, TLC, and the History Channel, I started taking notes simply because I was learning not only history, but lots of little factoids that tend to stimulate the writer in me. For instance:

- Casket plates were metal plates that were attached the tops of caskets as identifiers during the winter when the ground was too frozen to dig graves. Since the caskets were stored in a community location, the plates were helpful in keeping the remains of loved ones organized. (Some people collect these things- would you???)

- In the 19th century, there was such a thing as a "baby farm", where illegitimate and otherwise unwanted babies and youngsters were placed. As is so often the tragic case with this sort of thing, the babies were sometimes killed and the poison of choice was arsenic, because its symptoms mimic cholera.

-  I now know of at least two man-made lakes, Norfork Lake in Arkansas, and Table Rock Lake in Missouri. Creating Norfork Lake entailed flooding 400 farms, numerous small towns, and also required moving 26 cemeteries. I have been to Table Rock Lake: when the water is still, you can see some of the buildings down at the bottom. Very eerie.

-  Phenobarbitol was used to treat epilepsy in the 1930's and '40's.

- James Thurber lived in a haunted house at one time and wrote about it in his book of short stories, My Life and Hard Times.

I could go on much longer, but I'm sure you all get the idea. It's amazing how much history you can pick up reading and watching ghost stories! When I was a kid, I loved tales of haunted locations, and learned smatterings of history along the way. As an adult, I've also learned to love history. When the two come together - for me, it's positively magic.

(This piece was previously published at the blog Young Adults You've Never Heard Of .)

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