Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Sprites and Such

We are in that awkward time when kids have returned to school, the weather is still hot one day and then frigid the next. No matter what, nights are beginning to have a feel of Fall to them and the leaves are starting to thin a bit, turning themselves to shades of orange, yellow, red and brown around the edges. It is near the end of October and our next big holiday is Halloween.

It is time to start sharing the stories that I have been holding back, the ones that make the flesh crawl just a bit. As a Southerner exported from the British Isles, I come from a family with a rich tradition of ghost stories. Here are a few for you to contemplate.

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I will start you off with the most recent of my own experiences, on the anniversary of my friend Kenny’s death. I was living alone, in the woods of northeastern Orange county, in a contemporary house with a large vaulted ceiling in the living room. There was a stone façade around the fireplace and above the mantel I had placed an antique mirror that I refinished one weekend when I had nothing better to do.

This mirror was originally made for a dresser, and had the holes in the side where it had been bolted into place. I stripped its old dark varnish to reveal a beautiful grain of oak underneath, and then filled the holes with putty before applying stain to the newly exposed wood. By the time I had varnished the frame, there was a shine and glimmer to the finish and the grain within the wood had been brought out in a way that made me proud. The old glass was speckled with age, but it added to the charm of the mirror.

One cold January morning, I awoke to the sound of a crash in my living room. I jumped from my bed and started instinctively toward the noise when the thought occurred to me that perhaps I had an intruder in my home. I advanced more cautiously, but could not find the source of the noise. Then I looked above the mantel and realized that my mirror had gone missing. When I came around the coffee table, I found it, shattered on the floor. I initially thought that it had simply fallen from the wall when the wire holding it up had pulled loose from the putty in which I had bolted it.

On closer inspection, though, I was perplexed. The mirror had not only fallen from the wall above, but it had done so in such a way to insert itself under an area rug that was within inches of the last stones of the fireplace along the floor. I examined the area and could not imagine any way possible for the mirror to have fallen from above and to have then crawled under the rug. The rug itself was too close to the site of where the mirror would have impacted. It should have landed on top of the rug. Yet, it was not on top of the rug. No, this mirror was neatly tucked about a foot underneath it.

As I thought about how this was possible, I suddenly realized that this was the anniversary of Kenny’s death. I am convinced that he paid me a visit that morning, at roughly the same time of day when he had been taken to the hospital where he had died a few years before.

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In the late 1940s, my parents were severely burned in an oil heater explosion. My aunt was walking out of the room when the flash fire swept through the room. Her calf, the only part of her body left in the room at the time, received 2nd degree burns. My parents were standing right next to the oil heater, looking into it to determine why it wasn’t working. You can likely imagine the extent of their burns. Though they lived and were never scarred from this accident, the severity of their burns was great. Their hair was burned off and they had to be bandaged for weeks while they recovered. It is a bit of a miracle that they survived, but that is not the eerie part of this tale.

At the moment that the explosion took place, my grandmother was visiting with family across the county when their dogs began to bark violently outside. The family went to the window to see what was causing this activity. As they watched, a "ball of fire" fell from the sky into their yard and my grandmother was quoted as saying "Something is wrong. I feel it." The next day, she learned that her daughter and my father had been burned at precisely the moment that the phenomenon they witnessed had taken place.

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My father used to tell of a man in our family who had been sick for many years. He was unable to care for himself any longer and was taken to die into a nursing home. Every time anyone from the family would visit him, he would say that all he wanted was to go home to die. People would comfort him with platitudes and tell him that he wasn’t dying, but no one would offer to take him home. After several weeks in the home, he died.

When he was prepared for burial, it was discovered that he only owned a brown colored suit. He was dressed in this suit for burial and his funeral was held nearby. To go from the church where his funeral was held to the cemetery, the cortège had to pass by his home along the way.

As was custom, people were at his home to see to visitors and they noted that when the funeral procession passed his house, a whirlwind blew up in the sandy yard and traversed underneath the canopy of the oak trees surrounding the house. As it neared the house, the people who were sitting on the porch were astonished to see it blow right up the steps and into the front door of the home. Those who were on the porch claimed to have seen the image of a man dressed in a brown suit move through the screendoor of the house as the whirlwind reached the doorframe. He had finally come back home.

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In the 1950s, a man local to my hometown was found dead, apparently of a single, self-inflicted gunshot wound from a shotgun that lay by his side. When the investigators came along to the scene, they were perplexed by the position of the gun. They at first thought that perhaps Mr. Sholar had been murdered, but they finally decided that perhaps his body had convulsed and moved the shotgun away from him when he died.

He had been a singular man. He was known for his blond flattop and his temper. When he was found, he was wearing a blue shirt and jeans. People who knew him, knew his idiosyncrasies and took them in stride but he had a reputation for fighting and drinking.

One weekend when I was home from UNC in the late 1970’s, my dad told me about a strange encounter that he had experienced with a local woman the weekend before. She had careened into the driveway of his store in her car and had come to a violent stop. When she emerged from the car, she was in a panic--even near hysteria. He calmed her down and asked her just what had upset her so.

She recounted that she had been living in the Sholar house. She claimed to have been standing in her kitchen doing the dishes when she heard a noise in her living room. She walked into the room to find the source of the noise and discovered a strange man standing in her home. She said that he was wearing a blue shirt, that he had on jeans and that he had a blond flattop. When she asked him, "What are you doing in my house?", he turned and vanished through a wall. At that, she freaked out, grabbed her keys and fled to the nearest place where she could find other people around. She ended up in my dad’s store.

After she had recounted this story to my dad, he tried to comfort her. She was overly upset. Dad said he learned later that within a day, she had moved away from the community. As far as I know, she was never to be heard from again. As my dad took in the scene that she had described, he suddenly had an image of Mr. Sholar in his mind again. He suddenly realized that this woman had described Mr. Sholar to the letter…including his clothing as he was dressed the day he died.

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My grandmother Jackson was apparently quite gifted with psychic ability. It was said of her that her nose was so sensitive that if granddaddy Jackson let gas across town, she would reprimand him when he got home from work, but that is a different matter entirely. In addition to having seen the falling fireball when my parents were burned, she had intuition about other things.

During World War II, my Uncle David was serving as captain of a vessel in the Pacific. His ship was capsized in a typhoon, a rather famous story actually, that has been reported on the Weather Channel and in the annals of history. He and his crew were in shark-infested waters for thirty-six hours before they were finally rescued.

On the day that the typhoon hit, which was classified information by the way and not reported in the papers, my mother said she walked into the kitchen of her home to find her mother stirring a pot on the stove while sobbing quietly to herself. When my mother questioned her about the reason for her tears, she said that she was filled with an overwhelming feeling that something was terribly wrong with David. Several weeks later, she received a letter in which his ordeal was described and my mother realized that the day she had found her mom sobbing was the day that David’s fleet had been devastated by the typhoon.

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OK, one last story. My family denies this story when I tell it, but I know what I saw and I know when. My therapist really loves this story, especially the timing of Christmas with the viewing of the Maco Light.

We have all heard the story of the Maco Light near Wilmington. The story is documented in the Robert’s Book of North Carolina Ghost Stories. I can remember that as a kid, simply knowing that the book was on a shelf near me in the school library was enough to fill me with enormous dread. Yet, at the same time, I loved the stories within the book and often had to conquer my fears to check the book out and cause a few sleepless nights.

The Maco Light was described as a phosphorescent light that rose above a set of railroad tracks near Wilmington, NC, and would disappear when approached. The story behind this light was that a conductor named Joe Baldwin had lost his head in a train accident in the 1860s and that the light is from his lantern as he looks for his head. Apparently the light was famous enough to warrant a visit from President Grover Cleveland at one point in his Presidency, but no one could ever explain the light’s presence, despite investigations into its origin.

When I was 5 or 6 years old, I was so hyper about Christmas morning that my family developed a tradition of going to Wilmington for dinner on Christmas Eve. We would always eat at the Marina Restaurant just off the causeway that leads to Wrightsville Beach. The restaurant is no longer there, but back then, it was considered a very fine place to eat. I grew to love Manhattan clam chowder from our visits there. The reason for this visit was to celebrate the season, but also to tire me out so much that I would fall asleep on returning home and the family could then stay up to "welcome Santa".

On one occasion, we topped off our visit to the Marina by a visit to Maco Junction. We drove the few miles outside of Wilmington and found the place where the Light was supposed to be visible and we parked the car. When we descended from the car, we turned back toward Wilmington to find that there was an eerie light hovering above the railroad tracks. This light would dim and brighten like an oil lamp as it floated above the rails. You could see the reflection of the light along the tracks as it continued to shine down the tracks. Eventually, a brave family or individual in a 1957 Chevy drove along the tracks toward the light until just a little while later as they approached ever nearer to the light, it just suddenly vanished. There could not have been a better nor a worse gift for me at Christmas. I was thrilled and petrified to have seen a real, documented ghost.

My therapist laughs when I tell him how this attempt to tire me out wired me up and how much I now secretly hate the Christmas holidays. As I say, some in my family swear that we never went to the Maco Light on Christmas Eve, but I know that my family never went anywhere at any other time because of the store and restaurant. The interesting thing is that no one disputes having seen the Maco Light itself.



Blogger Laurie said...

The best ghost stories are the ones from real life. Thanks for a collection of great spooky stories!

10/30/2005 03:31:00 PM  
Anonymous terrilynn said...

Those are great! I was just telling my kid about the Maco light.

10/30/2005 07:10:00 PM  

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