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.